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Working as a chief information officer

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The information technology departments of big organizations function a bit like computers -- different workers fulfill different tasks, just like the components of the machine. For example, you could say that database administrators are like RAM, handling information storage, and engineers and programmers are like the CPU, or central processing unit, performing the essential calculations that allow the operation to function.

To extend this analogy a bit further, chief information officers, or CIOs, are like motherboards, the devices that connect all the computer's various parts and allow them to work with maximum efficiency. That's a critical job in most organizations, so it's no surprise that many CIOs are growing in prominence and influence.

What they do:
CIOs lead computer and technology departments for many types of organizations including corporations, nonprofits and government agencies. As information technology advances by leaps and bounds, it becomes more and more integral to business. As a result, CIOs are increasingly joining top management teams. They are responsible not only for making sure that tech systems are updated and working efficiently, but also for setting a strategy for how organizations can use computers to their best operational or competitive advantage.

A growing number of organizations consider their business aims and their IT strategy inseparable. As evidence of this trend, research and consulting firm Forrester Research is working on a new set of recommendations, "an easy-to-follow guide that has at its heart the understanding that there should be no IT strategy, just business strategy with a technology component," Forrester analyst Nigel Fenwick wrote in a recent blog post.

As top technology leaders, CIOs need broad vision. They also need the analytical and organizational skills to oversee the day-to-day operations of their departments, which likely involve hiring, budget management, financial reporting and ensuring government regulations are followed. And it goes without saying that they must have a thorough understanding of the technology itself, from hardware to software to Internet issues to cyber security.

What they need:
There are many routes to the CIO's office, but most include at least a bachelor's degree and many years of professional experience. Substantial education and training in technology-related subjects is a given, as are leadership and business-management skills. Some organizations promote executives from within, while others mount extensive searches to locate the right candidate.

What they earn:
Though most CIOs don't earn nearly as much as CEOs, who pull in an average $434,170 per year, they still make very decent salaries, according to CIOs nationally earn an average $197,641, with the 25th percentile at $133,958 and the 75th percentile at $294,611.

Job outlook:
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which releases data on a wide variety of occupations, doesn't track chief information officers as a solo category, instead including them in the larger category of top executives. This group is expected to see little to no change in the number of jobs available between 2008 and 2018, the agency reports. However, as a general rule, execs who work in growing industries will see stronger job prospects.

Last Updated: 04/04/2012 - 6:04 PM

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