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Why CIOs need perseverance and other advice from MARTA IT leader Sarah Hsi

Posted on Monday, Jul 17, 2017

Hays Blog: Career advice from MARTA CIO Sarah HsiDo you shy away from risks or embrace them as opportunities? Which approach is more likely to accelerate your IT career?

Get career insights from MARTA CIO Sarah Hsi to help develop your career faster.

Have you ever second guessed your career path?
I never did, but I had a lot of people question my career path for me. In school, in China, I often heard “Are you sure?” when I said I was taking computer and technology courses. There was an expectation that as a woman I would become a nurse or a teacher. It was a time when programming was still done by pen and paper, and no one knew tech would be where it is today. In China, women made up less than 10 percent of the technology field. But I was lucky to also have a lot of support from my mom, and other family and friends. You need a strong support group, one that will never second guess you and your abilities and will always be there to encourage you. 

What’s your favorite part of your job?
I get to see the work the team does and the products they launch being delivered and people using them. We can get wrapped up in the solution, but I love the context of technology making people’s lives easier. For example, we piloted a “Next Train Arrival” board for MARTA for people to see when the next train will arrive in real time. It’s satisfying to see people looking at the board and checking when the next trains would be coming, whether they need to rush, or the relief they have when they see they have time. That’s what I find most rewarding about technology.

How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business?
It’s extremely important. You learn that the business doesn’t have much interest in servers, or storage, or migrations and releases – they just want to see productivity increases, new applications that streamline their work, and solutions that can deliver better experiences for their customers. As a CIO, it is so important to be able to have strong relationships with your business partners to communicate the importance of a strong IT foundation and how IT can add value to their work.

What is the one thing you have to have to be a CIO in your opinion?
Perseverance. There are a lot of problems out there and obstacles that will come out of nowhere, and a lot of setbacks that will make it frustrating and make you question yourself but you just have to continue to move forward. It’s never a smooth process. So you get creative, you believe in yourself, and you persevere.

In your opinion, how important is networking?
It’s a good thing. It provides learning opportunities and opportunities to socialize.  I would say, if you go into networking “just to get somewhere,” then that’s not really the best idea. Networking is an opportunity to help others and form and establish relationships. Pay it forward and be able to share ideas and thoughts from different perspectives.

Is there anything you would have done differently looking back at your career path?
I would get my MBA earlier. I waited 20 years, and I wish I went back to school earlier. For leadership, it helps you learn the financials earlier, you learn better communication skills, conflict resolution. You can get that experience on the job, but the MBA speeds up that process. Go earlier, you’ll earn the money back but you can’t ever get the time back.

What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become an IT leader?
Be willing to take risks and don’t be afraid of uncertainty. Welcome it.

Want to know more? Get your copy of the DNA of a CIO report, or talk to your recruiter today to hear their expert advice.  

Talk to David Brown, EVP, Veredus, a Hays company about the US IT market.

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