Len Peters is a meat-and-potatoes CIO. He brings a practical perspective on tech leadership to his new position as faculty director of an executive CIO training program that begins this fall at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering.
“At the end of the day, if you're the CIO, no one's going to want to talk to you about technology or business transformation if you can't get things right in IT,” said Peters, NYU’s global CIO from 2016 to 2021 and a former CIO at Yale University, Columbia University Graduate School of Business, and Trilegiant.
“Bottom line: get IT right," Peters said. "If you can’t, go home."
Getting technology right is challenging — and getting it wrong, costly. With tech spend rising cautiously in the face of economic uncertainty and the wake of a pandemic, Tandon is responding to a perceived need for better CIO leadership training, according to Alexis Seeley, director of professional education and opportunity programs at NYU Tandon Online.
The CIO program, which is primarily online but includes a three-day residency at NYU, grew out of conversations around a CISO executive training program launched in March. It is designed for experienced IT professionals with C-suite ambitions and tech executives who want leadership training with an engineering focus, Seeley said.
The Tandon School program is one of only a handful of academic programs devoted to CIO leadership. National Defense University has a CIO certificate program for federal agency personnel, and Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College and the SUNY Institute for Academic and Innovative Leadership (SAIL) at the State University of New York offer CIO certificate programs similar to the Tandon School program.
The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania currently offers a Digital Transformation for CXOs executive training program that covers some of the same tech leadership proficiencies as Tandon’s CIO program.
“We don't see this program as just for aspiring CIOs; it’s also for current CIOs who are looking to grow and expand, because CIOs come in a lot of different shapes and sizes,” said Peters, whose path to IT leadership began with an undergraduate degree in business.
If there’s a reliable route to C-suite success for tech professionals, it’s hard to map. Business training is one place to start, tech experience is another.
Paul Farnsworth’s journey began in the mailroom at a telemarketing company and brought him to his current role as CTO at DHI Group, the software and talent acquisition company. He learned IT on the job, not in a classroom, back when email was a new business innovation.
As IT evolved, Farnsworth climbed the ladder, working in telecom, finance, and SaaS in IT leadership and “mini-CIO” roles, he said.
“I was very lucky in previous roles that I attended board meetings, and I had enough exposure to understand and see the dynamics of what was required to do that,” he said.
Farnsworth also benefited from executive training at MIT’s Center for Information Systems Research and the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, learning about business models deployed by consultants and networking with other tech leaders.
“IT leaders used to be able to have big impacts by specializing in technology,” Farnsworth said. “To be a successful CTO/CIO, you need to be just as strong on the business side. That is complicated because the other critical thing in bringing technology to businesses is: it’s an enormous amount of change management.”