Over the course of my career I’ve made a couple of significantly sideways steps to extend my experience and learning.
The first came at the end of 2004. After a dozen years of working in the IT industry, and having had eight years working for the BBC, I needed a change. Technology was significantly changing the nature of the media industry, but IT seemed stuck in a stereotyped box. I was also increasingly interested in the way that organisations could be changed, not just in bits of tin and wires.
A chance to move into the world of Management and Leadership coaching came up, through a small consultancy who I had used as a client, and I jumped at the opportunity. I spent the next two years working with companies across a wide spectrum of industries, helping people from all sorts of professional backgrounds become better at what they did. I hope that what I did had an impact on the hundreds of people I worked with in those two years, but I know that I learned so much from the experience: from exposure to a wide set of sectors, through the management and leadership theories we worked with, to being able to coach, facilitate and present. I look back on the time as my “cheats MBA”.
In 2006 I returned to the world of IT, and spent interesting and productive spells at Reuters and Imagination. But by 2011 I needed another sideways leap.
Having transformed the way in which technology served the needs of the global marketing agency, I looked around at what could be next. The CIO space looked like a dead end at the time. In the depths of the downturn, and with many of the things that I had delivered at Imagination still regarded as somewhat avant garde in the majority of the industry, I wanted to broaden my horizons again.
I landed in a marketing role at Microsoft – heading evangelism in the UK for developers and IT Professionals. If marketing was the direction of travel for where tech was going, I wanted to spend some time as a practitioner (and get exposure to the supplier side of the industry to boot). My journey has continued to pivot in interesting and sometimes surprising ways ever since.
I’ve been reflecting on all of this after attending last night’s CIO 100 awards, an event and celebration that I was privileged to be a part of this year. The CIO space is interesting again.
Hearing the stories of some of those who rated highly this year, and reading the submissions of many, many more, there is some fascinating stuff going on in the world of IT again. Some of it customer-facing, most of it (crucially to my mind) business- rather than tech-centric.
It’s not all like that, mind you. I also spent time this week at the UC Expo event at Olympia, and Unified Communications as a market is one that is (it seems to me) stuck in a timewarp. “It won’t happen here” seemed to be a common theme in response to conversations about Cloud and commoditisation.
Within all of this, I increasingly think that a journey of technology disruption must begin with the self. Without getting all new age, if you don’t know what it is to take significantly disruptive steps in your own career path, will you ever know how to do it at a greater scale? What are the things that you are doing that put yourself out of your comfort zone, are extending your experiences significantly, and meaning that you’re consistently able to look at the world with fresh eyes?
If you aren’t disrupting yourself someone inevitably these days will probably do it for you. It might not need to be as dramatic as some of the steps I’ve taken over the years, but if you’re looking for stability and you’re in the IT game, you probably will need to look for a new career at some point in the near future. Stability, as alluring as it is, is no longer an option.