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IT leaders aren't all coming from tech

Sharon Florentine | Sept. 25, 2014
Today's IT leadership looks a lot different than in years past. Many are climbing the ladder from marketing, sales and other departments.

The milestones along the traditional path to IT leadership look a lot like this: Earn a computer science degree, serve an IT internship, take development courses, gain coding experience, obtain certifications and sign up for management training specific to technology. However, as IT increasingly becomes a business strategy enabler, IT leaders are being promoted from places like the sales or marketing department.

Francis Li, vice president of IT at technology solutions and services provider Softchoice is a perfect example. Francis's early years at Softchoice began in hardware, and he later moved on to roles in the marketing and sales teams.

This initial experience sparked his interest in and aptitude for information systems, giving Francis the ability to segue into more technical — and he now leads Softchoice's IT department and sets strategy around business intelligence, ecommerce and infrastructure, according to Li.

"I started in July 2002 as a hardware operations person, making sure we were ready to sell hardware to our customers, initiating vendor relationships and customers to move hardware," says Li. "After that, I moved into marketing and eventually to director of marketing; I spent four years in that role. Then, I was given the opportunity to move into telesales and worked up to managing our entire telesales organization," he says.

How Technology Drives Business

Li says he's always had an interest in how technology could be leveraged to drive speed and efficiency in business and how technology could improve return on investment for innovative companies wiling to invest. It was this curiosity about the intersection of business and technology that led him to and through roles in very different departments, and that cross-functional experience gives Softchoice a competitive advantage.

"The multiple perspectives I have on different areas of the business has helped us be much more innovative and 'self-aware,'" says Li. "Because I've been in so many varied roles, I also have the 'street cred' when I'm having conversations with marketing and sales. Because I speak from first-hand experience, I can empathize with the challenges they have. I can help them understand how to either better leverage the technology we do have, or to redesign or re-architect the tech, or make smarter purchasing decisions for the business," he says.

Understanding Internal Customers

It's also important, Li says, to understand business strategy to help line-of-business managers who are using the cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) to make technology purchases without IT's guidance.

"IT infrastructure and technology has come so far in the last few years. In the past, if a manager wanted to spin up some new technology, or deploy a new software solution, they'd have no choice but to go through IT. With SaaS and the cloud, they can bypass IT totally, and that can lead to integration problems, compatibility problems, even personnel and training issues," Li says.


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