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5 Ways To Escape A Career In IT

CIO-turned-executive coach Susan Cramm offers advice on how to parlay your high-tech skills into a non-tech career.

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Being a CIO doesn't have to be a life sentence. Plenty of IT professionals parlay their positions into non-tech pursuits. Take, for example, Susan Cramm. Currently an executive coach and president of Valuedance, an executive coaching and leadership development firm in San Clemente, Calif., Cramm began her career as a programmer and held the position of CIO and VP of the Information Technology Group at Taco Bell Corporation. Following this, she landed a position as CFO at Chevy's Mexican Restaurants where she led the finance, business strategy, franchising, legal, and information technology functions.

But although the author of the book 8 Things We Hate About IT credits her "independent streak" for starting her own business, Cramm says it takes more than blind ambition to leave behind a position in IT. Here, Cramm offers five tips on how to convert your IT skills into a non-tech career.

1) Do your homework. Like most IT professionals, Cramm cut her teeth as a techie by earning a BA from the University of California, specializing in management and computer science. But according to Cramm, "It would have been impossible [for me to exit IT] if I hadn't have made a couple of key decisions early in my career like getting a financial MBA from Northwestern University." That's because academia is the perfect place to pick up valuable management skills and business expertise that can benefit techies and non-techies alike.

[ See Job Hunting? Here's How To Keep It Discreet. ]

2) Volunteer for strategic roles. Many IT professionals fail to see themselves as strategic business partners. That's a huge mistake, according to Cramm. Serving as CIO at Taco Bell didn't stop her from jumping at opportunities to work on tasks that were less technical and more managerial. For example, when the restaurant giant began undergoing sweeping organizational changes, Cramm says she was quick to join the task force. "I immediately raised my hand," she recalls "I recognized issues that weren't being addressed and opportunities to explore. I really had to sell myself because Taco Bell hadn't really thought about how technology was going to be a key enabler but, in the end, it really was. People needed to see me operate within the general business rather than just from an IT standpoint."

3) Consider consulting. If leaving IT altogether strikes you as too big a leap, consider taking on IT consulting projects within or outside of your organization. By applying their IT skills to business challenges, Cramm says IT professionals are better able to "test different business environments" and get a better feel for common corporate challenges such as market trends and employee attrition. What's more, acting as a consultant allows IT professionals to "figure out how the organization works and how to get things done" in a business environment.

4) Face the business world. Forget about holing yourself up in a cubicle. According to Cramm, techies stand a far better chance of transitioning out of IT if they land themselves a more "business-facing role." The good news is Cramm says IT positions from software development to IT architecture are becoming increasingly business facing as companies begin to see IT as more of a critical business partner than cost center. Still, IT professionals need to be proactive. "Get yourself working on initiatives that are strategic--you'll get a lot more visibility that way," advises Cramm.

5) Forge relationships. It's easy to fall into the habit of fraternizing only with your close colleagues. But Cramm says it's critical IT professionals "develop relationships that are external to IT." After all, she says, there's no underestimating "the potential of what can happen when two people really connect and support each other within the workplace and want to help each other out professionally."

At this year's InformationWeek 500 Conference, C-level execs will gather to discuss how they're rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.

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