back to article Want to be a better CIO? Get a twenty-something to show you the ropes

CIOs need to start getting down with the kids and being mentored by their under-30 employees if they want to hold onto their jobs, a partner at a top recruitment firm has warned. Cathy Holley, a partner at headhunters Boyden, told the Bloomberg Enterprise Technology Summit in London last week that CIOs were in a better position …

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Bronze badge

insightful

You mean, older people have different experience, strengths and weaknesses than younger people? And they might be able to symbiotically learn from one another? Could you ask her where she thinks the Pope takes a shit?

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Re: insightful

Well,,, quite so.

I'm 60 (although sadly not a CIO), and I'd suggest that any mature CIO with the degree of open-mindedness required to accept the concept of being mentored by someone younger doesnt actually need a mentor in the first place.

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Anonymous Coward

Young whippersnappers

I'm mid 40's, in a CIO position and have graduates working for me. Although they are very useful because of their unlimited energy and ideas, I find I have to keep defending my decisions to them, even more so in front of other board members. Hardly a day goes by without me saying "No, you can't do that with that data because that is illegal", "You can't do that because it will bring us out of compliance", "No, while it is possible technically, it invalidates the conditions of our insurance policy covering business continuity". Such comments are responded to with a mixture of blank stares and dis-belief.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Young whippersnappers

I had a similar situation several years ago, I took on a younger person, the guy had no degree and limited experience, but he had lots of enthusiasm. Fast forward 6 months, the guy thought he had graduated developer-master-class, so much so he was trying to questioning and disagreeing with everything I said, so disrespectful to the point he taking to social media and posting our discussions on there.

Unfortunately its a difficult position to be in, my senior role meant I had to remain above it and just attempt to point out his err's.. but nothing would have given me greater pleasure than giving him a back hander!

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Silver badge

Re: Young whippersnappers

The Japanese Kohai-Sempai system has its uses....

"Much to learn, grasshopper!"

On the other hand, it is even more unsettling when the young ones are even more conservative than oneself or are beholden to technical lore valid 15 years ago.

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Re: Young whippersnappers

I'm even more cynical. Of course there is a benefit in a diversity of views and someone with a fresh perspective may see an opportunity to exploit or a risk to avoid that insiders cannot see. But that is likely to be true of outsiders of almost any age group. It's one reason we engage the services of consultants.

However the perspective seems to me to be self-serving. The author is really saying "I want to sell you some people" and good old FUD will do it. There is no magic bullet. Just a set of pros and cons to balance and I'll take the position that the younger people do not necessarily have the experience to perform the balancing act as well as someone with a bit more experience.

And those olds probably have kids who are into one social media fad after another, who want one brand of smartphone this year and another next year, who want to try an app a day. As a consequence, olds with teenage children may well be *better* able to assess the possible benefits that new channels and technologies can offer just because they experience so much of it without having to get in to the details of owning and using every single option. It's like having a free (if ill disciplined) social media research department at home. I know in 2011 I used to communicate with my kids using Skype, last year Facebook and this year WhatsApp seems to be the popuplar option. Of course, throughout, and despite the strenuous efforts of Silicon Valley moguls, good old email has been an ever present constant.

By contrast, the 22-year old graduate with not so much free time and a group of like minded friends may find themselves stuck using one form of technology.

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So good, it's bad

> mentored by their under-30 employees

So if these sub-30s are so good at IT and busting with great ideas, why aren't they all starting their own businesses?

Ideas are ten-a-penny. Knowing what's trending on FB is worthless. Having the abilty to pick the winners is one in a million and combining that with the skill, determination and money to turn them into a success is incredibly rare.

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Holmes

Re: So good, it's bad

Yep, the under-30s know what's trending on FB whereas the over-40s know what's trending on Gartner... (and possibly just as worthless).

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Headhunters giving career advice...interesting..

So a 30-something rent-a-tech with a brand new in-vogue certification where the ink is still wet is going to teach me...nothing, If you are a CIO of a large company you don't get involved with the low level technical aspects, that's why you have the 30-something rent-a-techs that have to spend all their spare time studying for new certifications working for you. You are interested in the business aspect. You must also keep reminding them that although things are technically possible they may not be legally or financially possible as mentioned above.

I've had the fortune to have a few individuals working for me in the past who understood the technical and business aspects of IT - they were 40-somethings BTW.

Headhunters - stick to what you do best. Memorizing buzzwords and acronyms without understanding their meaning and making promises you can't keep.

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Bronze badge

Re: Headhunters giving career advice...interesting..

Whilst the implication is that the CIO should listen to their tech's actually what they need to do is listen to their users, specifically those in marketing, sales and customer service, these are the one's who actually know how useful social media would be to the business and have an idea on how it could to be used.

That is turned into a project that is given out to a capable IT/IS Project Manager and Technical Design Authority to deliver, they will obviously try and engage those tech's who understand the mechanic's of social media to try and deliver what the user community wants; in collaboration with the user community. Obviously if you want the project to be delivered you skunk work it...

Personally, the problem is more that the under-30 employees need to learn to articulate their case to their colleagues and line managers and have their elevator pitch ready for when they meet their senior management.

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Anonymous Coward

"Want to be a better CIO? Get a twenty-something to show you the ropes"

This total barf supposes that 20-somethings have a clue!

Try telling that to most 20-somethings i know who are blown away that my TV is my PC's second screen, or that you can surf the net on the telly!

I'd have expected youth to have a better grasp of IT, but they don't! They think iPhone is everything and are a whizz with Fakebook. Anything else, forget about it!

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Holmes

Or...

How about this? (to both AC and the headhunter)

Stop treating people as gender/age/class groups and look at each one as an individual, from which you might actually be able to learn something.

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Someone in recruitment agency spouts total bollocks. Bear is catholic, Pope shits in woods....

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Silver badge

You can't teach the un-teachable

I've been in the game for ~30 years. I've mentored many. There are also many I have not even tried to mentor.

The first step to mentoring is that the person has to want to be mentored. You cannot mentor someone that is not receptive to mentoring. It is a waste of time to try.

I know an Olympic-level sports coach who refuses some pretty skilled players because, in his words, they are "uncoachable". Even if they are good, they won't improve if they are not going to listen to a coach.

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Bronze badge

Isn't there a saying, "hire a teenager, while they still know it all"?

Isn't the headhunter just extending the age a little?

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What's New and What's Different Here?

In any field, senior personnel age and need to "bring up" their successors.

You start by training them in the basics - reality rather than what they learned at University.

"Do it my way" should be the first approach. Then you give them more leeway as they grow into the job. It works - it has worked for me (NOT in IT) and it's a poor pupil that cannot surpass his master.

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Anonymous Coward

Pardon?

One has to question the age and experience of the agent.

I have come across some very good, open-minded 20-somethings. But I have to say they are the minority, most lacking the experience or imagination to know their own limits and ignorance.

As for agents: often hard working, serious people: but how about they getting some technical education? It really is tiresome when they say the demand is for xyz, not knowing if it is a kind of cheese or an email system, they call Sys V "sys vee" and Python, "pitton". Many need a technical mentor.

Being definitely in the GOM stage of life, I have been one of and worked with plenty of "youngsters". Rather early on, when I was at the upper end of that description, I realised that most of these are more conservative than me and tend to believe that whatever their university lecturer told them is definitive. Alternatively, they learned all their practical skills on some odd version of Linux plus a smattering of Windows and are unaware that all those clever Linux XYZ extensions to the ls or cp command will break that wonderful theirFavShell script on Linux ABC or Solaris or AIX (Posix, XOpen? What are those?). And code reviews? Who needs those? My code runs so it is perfect.

They found all their clever tricks on some internet group full of tricks by someone no better educated than themselves who never even heard of man pages, just typed pseudo-randomly till something worked, or so it seems. As for the command line, what's that? As for their brave, new language - what do you mean? It's not installed on BigFirm's 20,000 servers?

No, one can and must learn from even the newest, shiniest recruit and it is a pleasure, for me, to do so. But good, experienced and active older staff are valuable beyond price. By the way, I dread "full of energy" types. They are far too happy to do something repeatedly, the long way around and inefficiently. Constructive laziness is needed to produce good, stable, efficient work: lazier to do it once, properly than a hundred times, badly and energetically.

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Anonymous Coward

Tradeoff

Typically any given person focuses mainly on technology or on business - not both. Just as most individuals are either extraverted or introverted. True, there are always a few right in the middle. A person who has balanced understanding of technology and business is naturally a huge asset, and can often accomplish things that no team - no matter how big and talented - could pull off.

The trouble is that, if you take a technology specialist and train her to be more sensitive to business issues and "soft skills", there will come a time when she loses touch with the technology - at least the leading edge. That's what has happened to CIOs - as a result of having established a beachhead in the boardroom, they have become too reliant on subordinates for their technical expertise.

The organizations that do this best are those - like Amazon and Google - whose business depends entirely on technology to the extent of being little else. I think you'll find Jeff Bezos is far more in touch with technology than the vast majority of CIOs - because he has to be.

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The thing about mentoring is that it should absolutely be a two way process, this does not mean that it is an equal distribution. Yes the mentor should be leading and providing guidance, but they should equally be getting something back. Mentoring is a leadership skill not a management skill, I find whenever mentoring or teaching (in my spare time I coach martial arts) I get at least as much from the recipient as they do, there is nothing quite so challenging as having someone ask WHY? and then having to explain the process behing the reason.

I saw a comment above where a graduate was making suggestions that were not legally possible or broke policy, if this suggestion came up in a mentoring relationship then the opportunity would have arisen to build that grads knowledge of data protection laws. Mentoring is not an easy thing to do, it requires dedication on both sides, a willingness to communicate and an openness to new ideas. One more thought, who says that only 20 something's need mentors? I know of many people well into their careers who still have mentors sometimes that mentor is a peer who just happens to have a skillset that the recipient would like to acquire.

I particularly liked the comment that some people are uncoachable, and it leads me to restate that not everyone is suitale to be mentored just as not every is suitable to be a mentor

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