A Group of One's Own

By Lauren Gibbons Paul

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Whenever Jay Hemmady has a question about technology --such as whether to upgrade to Microsoft XP, what are the weaknesses in Microsoft's Passport technology or how to increase user satisfaction levels-- he takes the issue to the member's forum on CIN, the CIO Information Network from internet.com. Spending about 20 minutes per day on the site, Hemmady gets feedback from his fellow CIOs on the pressing matters of the day.

"I use their comments to clarify my own thinking and also see what's out there. I pride myself on cutting-edge thinking," says Hemmady, vice president of technology, chief information officer and chief technology officer for Bidwell & Co., a stock brokerage in Portland, Ore. On CIN, he finds CIOs from every industry imaginable -- he finds it very useful to compare notes with those from markets and backgrounds different from his own.

A four-year member of CIN, Hemmady used to belong to real-world networking groups such as the Society for Information Management (SIM) but he prefers the immediacy of online discussion. "I used to go to a lunchtime meeting about once a month or so and I would talk to the person sitting next to me and then listen to a speech. This is much more interactive," he says. In fact, he has cut out all networking and continuing education opportunities that are not immediate and interactive enough.

Benefits of Online CIO Groups
Advantages of joining an online group of CIOs and IT executives:
  • Post technical questions and receive responses from a select group of peers
  • Read articles on the latest technologies
  • Peruse available jobs and post your resume online
  • Identify continuing education opportunities
  • Network for job openings with CIOs and other execs
  • Benchmark technology projects with your peers
  • Most online networks are free (or charge only a nominal fee for participating)

Hemmady no longer attends conferences, calling them "a waste of my time." He peruses online information resources such as ZDNet, CNET, IT ToolBox and InformIT for about an hour a day. These sites "make me feel like I'm up-to-date and current," he says. As for real-world interaction, he gets plenty of that from his membership in the Software Association of Oregon, keeping in touch with fellow members via e-mail.

A Valuable Resource
Luckily for CIOs like Hemmady, the online world presents many rich networking possibilities. For example, CIN (which requires a brief registration process and is open only to senior-level IT managers) offer resources such as member forums, e-mail newsletters, timely articles, relevant links, member columns, and special reports - not bad for free.

Other sites, such as ExecuNet, focus on career management and charge a small fee for membership. Where once you would have had to pony up thousands of dollars per year to belong to a CIO networking group such as SIM (not to mention thousands more to attend the yearly gatherings), today much is available online. The price and the convenience are right. And for many CIOs, the perspective they get from their peers on sites such as CIN is invaluable.

Take John Panicker. The San Francisco-area former CIO of Flipside.com (who is in the midst of a career move) says CIN and similar sites are an excellent way to connect with experienced people.

Panicker recently got involved in a discussion on CIN on whether or not outsourcing software development was a good move. Panicker argued passionately that outsourcing can be fraught with pitfalls. Others on the site gave the view that outsourcing is a great way to speed development time and offload non-core competencies. Panicker appreciated the spirited exchange of ideas. "You have a lot of lively debates. Sometimes people contact you privately by e-mail, too," he says.

Another recent topic: Whether or not the health care industry is lagging behind in its adoption of technology. Panicker maintained that health-care CIOs are missing out on the gains made possible by IT because they hold themselves apart, as different from all other industries. "They assume you have to be a health care CIO to talk about this," says Panicker. The ensuing discussion was opinionated, to say the least.

Like Hemmady, Panicker used to belong to organizations such as the Conference Board and SIM but he found it difficult to squeeze membership in along with everything else he needs to do. "It's hard to find time to go to the meetings. When it's online, it's much easier. You can do it whenever you want," says Panicker, who logs in everyday.

Networking Is King
Top career management activities as ranked by executives:
  • Building a network: 32%
  • Expanding technical expertise: 16%
  • Seeking out developmental assignments: 16%
  • Working "all out" at current job: 13%
  • Keeping resume current: 9%
  • Routinely updating recruiters on job changes: 7%
  • Listing resume with resume databases: 3%
  • Other: 4%

Source: ExecuNet Annual Survey

Panicker also appreciates the articles on sites like CIN and CIO.com. "The articles on new technology or vendors' future course are useful. I actually go back to this resource and use them to help prepare my business case," he says.

A Tool for Job Searching
A few months ago when Panicker left Flipside.com, he turned to his contacts made on CIN to help him with his job search. He found that many of his fellow members were more than happy to take an electronic copy of his resume to give out if they identified an opportunity for him.

"They were really trying to help," says Panicker, who is currently confining his job hunt to an executive search firm.

Many CIOs elect to use online resources when planning a career change. John Weaver was in ERP consulting services at Philips Electronics roughly a year ago when he decided to make a move. Sensing that demand for ERP services is declining in corporate America, Weaver decided to get what he calls "a real job."

His first stop was an executive search firm, where one of the co-founders told him about ExecuNet, a career management site for executives making over $100,000 per year.

Weaver paid $199 for a six-month membership in the site, which offers resources above and beyond the typical jobs site. ExecuNet members receive a newsletter (in both print and electronic format), they can peruse the extensive online jobs database, and they can interact with other executives in the online forums.

The first thing on the site that caught Weaver's eye was the Executive Bookshelf, which is an edited list of the best books for senior executives at various career phases.

"I read a book on how to rewrite your resume. It had been years since I had redone my resume. The book was an eye-opener," says Weaver. He restructured his resume to emphasize projects that he has delivered over the course of his career that increased revenue or decreased expenses for his company rather than simply reciting a chronology of jobs. "Maybe it was a coincidence, but after I reworked my resume I started getting hits," says Weaver.

The experience of pounding the pavement --electronic as well as real-- looking for a CIO position was new and not necessarily welcome to Weaver. "The market was being flooded with senior IT professionals right at the same time that I was beginning to look around. It was disheartening. In the past, I had always had people banging on my door." In addition to real positions in the jobs database, there was support from others going through the same difficult transition.

Networking: A Two-Way Street
One particularly helpful point came during a conversation with ExecuNet's founder, Dave Opton. "He emphasized that I would have to actively participate in the process and take advantage of all the resources ExecuNet has to offer," says Weaver. "It was excellent advice because I was so used to people pursuing me."

Top Job Searches
How did you find your most recent job?

  • Networking: 59%
  • Recruiter: 26%
  • Internet or print advertisement: 15%

Source: ExecuNet Annual Survey

Opton often tells new ExecuNet members that the main thing they bring to the network is an attitude about giving. "If you're prepared to give in any way you can, we can help each other," says Opton, in Norwalk, Conn. Why should a paying customer be so concerned with giving back to the group? For the simple reason that's how a network works.

For example, if you interviewed for a CIO position that was not right for you, the best thing to do would be to share that information with the network so that someone else could have a chance to go for the position. "For most people, the word "networking" makes the hair on the back of their neck stand up. They have a bad feeling about it because they feel like they're asking for something. We talk about linkages, putting people together with opportunities that make sense for them," says Opton, who worked as a traditional executive recruiter prior to founding ExecuNet in 1988. The key is looking at the exercise as a process (career management), rather than a project (to find a job).

In June of last year Weaver posted his resume for a CIO position on ExecuNet. An executive recruiter responded to his resume, arranging two phone interviews and then a face-to-face meeting. Less than six weeks from first contact, he had a firm job offer in hand. He is now CIO at Pure Fishing Inc., a fishing equipment manufacturer in Spirit Lake, Iowa.

Links to organizations in this story




Society for Information Management


The Conference Board

"I'm very happy. I think there's an excellent marriage between my skills and the needs of the organization that I joined," he says. Weaver credits ExecuNet with getting him over the hurdle of getting the in-person interview. "I had quite a few telephone interviews but getting the face-to-face is something of a challenge," he says. Weaver perceived that the positions on ExecuNet were higher caliber and more in line with his abilities, which made for a better match.

All in all, it's hard to imagine what there is to lose by being a member of an online CIO group like CIN. You never know what you're going to find there --some free advice from peers who have been there, a heads-up on a job opening before it's been advertised, or perhaps a chance to benchmark a particular technology with another company. Says John Panicker, "It's a free resource. You might as well take advantage of it."

Lauren Gibbons Paul is a freelance writer in Waban, Mass. Send her an e-mail at laurenpaul@mediaone.net.