US DNA CIO Interview Marie

Interview with Marie Gutgesell, CTO at Nielsen Media Research
DNA of a CIO

How long have you been a CIO/CTO (or other senior leader in IT)?
I’ve been CIO/CTO for 5 years but I’ve been in some level of management for over 20+ years.

Have you always aspired to becoming a senior leader in IT?
First 10 years, I was very focused on being hands on with technology and did not see myself in a senior leadership role. My aspirations changed as I engaged more with Sr. leaders and became more passionate about how I could influence the business and the organization by stepping out of a purely technical role.

Was IT always your career path?
Yes, I have a Computer Science degree and went into University seeking that major.

Have you ever second guessed your career path?
No, I have been very focused and happy with my career path. I have played product management roles outside of technology. This gave me more perspective on how to lead a technology organization and connect back to the business strategy but I don’t think I could consider this a real departure from a career perspective.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
This has changed over time. Today it is definitely about organizational design and talent development. Traditionally it has been about problem solving, connecting to and driving the business strategy, and the satisfaction of building a product that serves clients and is a lasting achievement.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path? How did you overcome this?
There are two: lack of confidence and bridging the gap between people who understand technology and those who don’t. The confidence part came when I had more interactions with senior leaders, CEOs, board members, and realized they didn’t have all the answers either. I came to trust in what I had to offer; that my ideas and my vantage point were valuable.

Bridging the gap is still a challenge. People who have never built software do not conceive that it is every bit the same as a building or a bridge. It has a physical construct, a design, an elegance. You can’t realistically build a basement after the house is completed construction without quite a bit of re-work. The only wisdom I have on this one is patience and perseverance in making the necessary points.

What technical skills are integral to the role?
My opinion is the more technical the better. I make a point to understand and keep up with changes in technology. I think it is very hard to lead big technology organizations if you can’t have a dialogue with every member of the team and understand what they do and how they work. Those technical skills help you understand what questions to ask, what the risks will be, and how to represent the benefits and the risks to stakeholders and clients. My role is to guide the organization forward in an ever changing technology landscape and represent this journey to the non-technical leaders who this impacts.

What soft skills/characteristics are integral to the role?
To the team it is authenticity as technologists can be a quirky bunch; some say leading technologists is like herding cats. They appreciate candor and follow those who they trust understand and represent them. Outside the tech team, it is important to have thick skin and perseverance. You are often in a position where the scope of what can be delivered in a time frame does not meet expectations and/or there are impacts due to defects or over-runs. You must have the ability to weather these difficult moments, take accountability, and seek continuous improvement.

How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business?
It is critically important. You often have to understand more of the end-to-end of the business than any other function. This is what ultimately thrust me into leadership roles.

What is the one thing you have to have to be a CIO in your opinion?
You must be a life-long learner. Your technical expertise goes out of date quickly. You must learn new business areas as you expand your role or change companies.

In your opinion, how important is networking?
Pure networking has not been that important to me. Building cross-functional relationships and alliances is critically important. Building relationships with industry vendors and partners is also important.

How important is social media for networking/helping one achieve their career goals?
LinkedIn is an important part of managing a network. This is my go-to source for keeping track of people and connections.

Is there anything you would have done differently looking back at your career path?
Focus more on people leadership skills earlier in my career.

What advice would you give to the next generation aspiring to become an IT leader?
Understand how business financials intersect with technology. Think about how to build with efficiency and be a cost leader. Besides that, understand the role of information security/ privacy and the technical implications to designing and building security/privacy in from the ground floor not as an afterthought.

As an IT leader, what keeps you up at night?
My worry is the constant battle for information security and privacy. The big question is how to stay one-step ahead of those looking to take malicious actions against your assets.

Where do you see yourself going from here?
I still see a lot of growth for myself. The biggest part of my career is still ahead of me.