What It Takes to Be a Great CIO

David Giambruno, CIO, Shutterstock
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David Giambruno, CIO, Shutterstock

A good, reliable, and competent Chief Information Officer these days must wear many hats. Although a majority of the day might be spent thinking about and talking about technology, there’s a great deal more to the role.

Every CIO must possess core skills covering networking, compute, storage, security, applications, compliance, and understanding your customer’s needs. These are the more obvious areas and aspects that compose the “information” portion of the title and the associated responsibilities. But you also have to be an effective communicator to win people over and to get them to allocate budget and resources for your proposals and plans. They must realize on their own that you can help them improve processes or replace systems.

Believe it or not, I began my career in sales at a broadcasting company. One of my clients was a technology company that recruited me to come aboard with them. They had engineers, but they couldn’t sell anything… I could sell. In the process, I built technology capabilities working with the engineers everyday to understand the “How” and I also made sure to spend a bulk of my time with customers to better understand the “Why”—Why were they using technology?

  ​I encourage young people to pursue— Security and the API economies. One is driven by fear, the other by opportunity. 

As I learned more about what my clients were doing—and also what they were most frustrated with—I started to consider how I was most intrigued by their problems and trying to solve them. As a result of that method to my training, I developed a personal and professional philosophy: I continue to approach everything I do with this 360 view back to the customer’s needs.

The first rule of being a CIO is you have to be obsessed with innovation while at the same time also comfortable with taking risks. Being comfortable with change comes naturally to me. The harder parts involve explaining your job in such a way that you can have influence and demonstrate your value. CIO’s have that job you cannot explain to your mother. So we must be able to explain technology in a way that is approachable and consumable. I like to find metaphors to help people understand what I’m pushing for.

  ​The first rule of being a CIO is you have to be obsessed with innovation while at the same time also comfortable with taking risks 

I also create simple visuals that people can get their heads around. It’s well-known that you need to tell stories to get enthusiasm behind a project; however I believe it’s more effective if they have something to see. Especially when you’re dealing with complex concepts that might be a bore otherwise. Get good at making drawings; people can misinterpret words, but if they are looking right at something they can’t miss it.

As I look ahead at the future of technology and infrastructure, I’ve fully embraced our API-driven world. New technology can be difficult to outline and get buy-in for, but those conversations should begin right away. Take advantage of and rely on what others have built, and then you will increase your speed and efficiency. What used to take years is done in months now. Those benefits are what I highlight when I speak to colleagues and direct reports about the decisions I’m making.

I’m excited about the future of infrastructure. There are some key areas of growth that are still in development. Most notably, I encourage young people to pursue—Security and the API economies. One is driven by fear, the other by opportunity.

Working at Shutterstock, I see a company in transition from an assets provider emerging as a creative platform. That means we must choose and build infrastructure that not only supports the company we are today, but also what we’ll emerge to be over the course of the next decade or two. I am inspired by large projects like this one that involve both scaling and transforming a business at once.

Never sacrifice good work in the name of speed. But you can get so much more done, faster, nowadays. If you’re struggling to find your way forward, look outside of your project and company for what others have done in similar situations. Keep up with the pace. Find energy, not defeat, in what’s happening around you.

The most important aspect of the job is to live in a constantly moving ecosystem. You'll make decisions, and they'll change over time. It's all part of the process. Don't spend a lot of time looking in the rear-view mirror.

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