CIOs must partner or perish. That was the final subheading in a recent CIO.com article I read that reminded me of my graduate school advisor’s message.

In the early 1990s, the Army enrolled me in their Advanced Civil Schooling program and sent me to the University of Virginia, Computer Science Masters program. While there, I had the privilege of doing my research with the late Dr. Randy Pausch.


CIOs Must Partner or Perish

CIOs must partner or perish

In Forbes, “That ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech’s Hottest Ticket,” the author highlighted several notable hiring decisions from this past summer that CIOs and IT managers should be aware.

“Software companies are discovering that liberal arts thinking makes them stronger.”
  • Workday has 60 open sales positions vs. 51 in their technology development
  • Uber needed 427 brand ambassadors, partner-support reps and other operations wranglers, compared to 168 engineers
  • Facebook has 225 openings right now for sales and business development specialists, compared with just 146 for software developers

As a CIO or an IT manager, you have the first chance to impact your company’s purchasing decisions when it comes to technology, yet, in “CIOs must collaborate with a new ‘digital champion’ – the CEO,” at CIO.com, the author addresses a couple of other important, Price Waterhouse Coopers findings:

  • 68 percent of digital spending comes from budgets outside of an IT department’s budget, a significant increase from 47 percent the prior year
  • 73 percent of 2,000 business and IT executives surveyed say that CEOs are taking more active roles in the pursuit of digital technologies intended to help grow their businesses, compared to 57 percent in 2013

It appears that everywhere you turn, CIOs and IT managers are finding others encroaching on their past domain.

Dr. Randy Pausch’s 1991 Lab: Disney and Sutherland

If you walked into our then, state-of-the-art lab, with two Silicon Graphic workstations at opposite corners of the room, you’d discover their names: Disney and Sutherland.

Randy wanted his students to recognize the genius of two brilliant men who had influenced him in seemingly opposite ways.

  • Walt Disney, the famous entrepreneur, well known for his movies and theme parks, and
  • Ivan Sutherland, a lesser-known computer scientist, a pioneer in the field of computer graphics.

He was sending us his visionary message: apply what you are learning and find ways to tie your work with Graphical User Interfaces to serve the greater community. 


Randy devoted his life to making technology easy to use and accessible for all. I’ll never forget going to visit a disabled child with my colleague Matt Conway and setting him up with the latest technology so that he could play a video game otherwise unavailable to him: Pong.

It was a common game at the time that every other kid could play, but only if you had the dexterity to manipulate the dials that controlled the paddles. After we set up the sensors and the 3D mapping to match this child’s movements, he was set: you should have seen the look of joy on that his face. This was just one way Randy introduced us to the field of Human-Computer Interaction and Design.

Connecting Technology with the User

In my case, Randy realized that my computer skills from my undergraduate days were outdated. For the past seven years, I had been flying helicopters and learning about leadership, teamwork, and communication.

Instead of the usual thesis work via a coding project, Randy took advantage of my strengths while minimizing my weakness and had me research details of the graphical user interfaces used in flight simulators, something very familiar to me.

As a result, I was able to apply my recent flying experiences and tap into then, cutting edge information that Randy, Matt, and I submitted to Presence, a journal publication.

Is the Writing on the Wall?

The real questions for CIOs and IT managers:

  • Can you learn to Speak Their Language, that is, the language of the C-Staff, the CEO, COO, CMO, and CFO, and communicate in a way that combines the brilliance of Disney and Sutherland?
  • Will you lead your teams in a way so that they provide your company what they want and need most?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2022, more than 2 million people will enter the workforce in sales or as educators, while the need for software engineers will be less than 300,000.

As the rest of the workforce becomes more and more comfortable with technology, the key is not whether one has the technical or people skills. Instead, the ones who will be most influential at the boardroom table of the future will be those who are able to communicate most effectively and bridge the two communities.

  • Have you ever wondered why you relate better with some people?
  • What about those with a communication style different than yours?
  • Where is your/their focus… goals, people, relationships, or tasks?
  • Would you like to discover your communication style?

Image courtesy of iosphere at freedigitalphotos.net

Your thoughts?