How to craft a career path to the top


Barclays’ new CIO Darryl West’s journey to the executive level of one of the world’s biggest banks proves that there is no “typical” path to the top of the IT career ladder. In part it was Mr West’s diverse experience that made him attractive to Barclays. In this blog post, he shares some ideas on shaping your career.

I don’t entirely buy into the idea of following a “typical career path” to get to a particular job. And I certainly wouldn’t say that mine has been an archetypal path for a CIO. When I was starting out in the early 1980s, the CIO’s job was quite different to the strategic leadership role as understood by many of today’s large organizations. Yet, given what the role has now evolved to become, I think that my arrival at Barclays is as much about my being someone who was prepared to take risks, grasp new opportunities and look for new challenges, as it is about my qualifications.

That said, there are several lessons I can draw from my own journey, which would apply to anyone who is looking for a career in IT that goes beyond the operational – and potentially reaches all the way to the C-suite:

  • Don’t just study IT, learn about business too
    Being naturally curious about both IT and business is a big advantage. I was fortunate enough to have that interest, and studied both accountancy and computer science at university, which is probably a rare mix. But today’s CIOs need to have a strong awareness of how business operates. Being totally biased, I think that accountancy is probably the best training you’ll get to serve that purpose.
  • Seize the chance for diversity and experience early
    At the beginning of my career, I was fortunate enough to land a role at an international consulting firm. This gave me a fantastic range of experiences, both in terms of projects and people. I’m not saying everyone must be a consultant first, but I think if you can marry training with diversity and experience in your early career, it will hold you in good stead for a future managerial role.
  • Challenge yourself to work in different functions and regions
    Adapt to survive” is a motto that could help to describe my career journey. It’s also a good reflection of many companies’ ongoing transitions to digital-led businesses. So perhaps it’s not a bad maxim for an aspiring CIO. I took a gamble early on by taking an assignment in Paris, working on a massive automation program for the French financial market, without speaking a word of French. I made several similar jumps later on too, into new parts of the business and new cultures. All this helped me to understand the dynamics of the business world, including the customer and marketing sides.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of organizational politics
    My major lessons in organizational politics came during my time at two other banks. I realized that at the top level of organizations, it’s not necessarily about having your ops or IT side – these functional skills are a given. It’s more about how you survive the organizational politics. And about how you build relationships and manage your personal brand. CIOs are all too easily turfed out during restructurings because they don’t manage their brand or relationships effectively.

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