CIOs Uncensored: Graduate School For CIO Aspirants

Columbia's mentoring program lets business technology executives pass on the tribal wisdom.

John Soat, Contributor

August 14, 2008

3 Min Read

Is that the heavy beat of bass drums I hear in the distance, the blaring of brass instruments? It must be a marching band practicing. To think, college football kicks off in less than two weeks.

Speaking of college, this week's feature story on CIO succession, "Who Will Be Your Next CIO: An Insider Or An Outsider?", touches (lightly) on the subject of schooling for the CIO position. It mentions a program run by Harvard professor Jim Cash, sponsored by nGenera, a business process engineering software and services firm.

There are academic programs that teach CIO-type skills, and one of the most established is offered by the School of Continuing Education at Columbia University. The program is called the executive master of science in technology management, and associate director Art Langer is responsible for its curriculum. Langer also is on the faculty of Columbia's Teacher's College and is the author of IT And Organizational Learning (Routledge, 2007).

The degree program was launched in 2004--it ran as a non-degree program for a couple of years before that--and it has graduated about 150 students, Langer says. It's intended as way for people who have worked in IT to get on an executive track. A bachelor's degree is required, along with a minimum of five to seven years of "relevant experience." The part-time course runs for four terms over two years, weeknights and Saturdays, summers off. They accept two groups of 25 students or so a year.

The classes are taught by Columbia professors--corporate finance in the business school, emerging technology in the engineering school--but one of the program's most interesting aspects is its use of mentors. Each student is assigned a mentor, and they meet at least once a month.

The list of mentors, now more than 100, reads like a Who's Who of IT management in the New York tristate area. They come to the program by word of mouth, Langer says, and "I go after them."

After their first term, students propose the projects that will lead to their masters' theses at an all-day Saturday meeting, where mentors choose the students they want to work with. It's "a regular NFL-style draft," Langer says. Also, a mentor has the right to override a student's proposal. For the next three terms, students defend their projects in front of a panel made up of two mentors (neither their own) and a faculty member, simulating the cross-examination of an executive meeting.

The mentors are the heart and soul of the program, Langer says. "Why are they doing this? They're not getting paid," he asks rhetorically. There are networking opportunities, he says, and "obviously, we have a good brand."

Perhaps because it's a way to help shape the next generation of business technology leadership. "It's a chance to guide a talented technologist through the transition from supervisor to business manager and potentially future CEO," writes David Sturm, VP of IT at the New York Public Library, on the program's Web site.

I'm wondering if it has anything to do with access to college football tickets.

Share your thoughts at our blog, CIOs Uncensored.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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