Why today’s teen technologists will become tomorrow’s CDOs

Register now

In my first column for Information Management last year, I argued that technologists make great data scientists because technologists:

  1. Think strategy first.
  2. Have a passion for solving problems.
  3. See technology in a constructive context.
  4. Believe tech is about humans, not hardware.
  5. Value respect, cooperation and collaboration.

Recently I learned that eight analysts from Forrester Research hold similar opinions about the wider realm of digital business.

In the Information Management piece “20 best practices of top chief digital officers,” editor David Weldon reviews the recent Forrester report, “The Key Characteristics of Great Business Leaders: How Savvy Digital Business Leaders Balance Strategy, Governance and Execution.” Weldon argues that the secret to leading digital transformation – an initiative Forrester claims nearly 60 percent of today’s enterprises pursue – is in appointing a chief digital officer. A CDO is “someone who is as adept at business strategy and communication skills” as they are at technical tasks.

Weldon cites Forrester lead analyst Martin Gill and his seven co-authors:

“Successful digital leaders are part business strategist and part technology evangelist… People skills are paramount. Digital transformation isn’t a technology problem, it’s a cultural shift. Successful digital leaders are change agents, adept at softer skills like communication and influence.”

Forrester’s analysts believe digital business leaders must focus on three core activities:

  • Strategy: Articulate a compelling strategic vision of how digital transforms your business.
  • Governance: Engage stakeholders at all levels.
  • Execution: Embrace practical tactics to drive tangible results.

What Weldon and Forrester’s analysts seem to be saying is that CDOs need to be technologists, too. Even in the C-Suite, the essence of a technologist’s mission remains the same: devising strategies that solve technology problems for people, and then collaborating with teammates to bring these solutions to fruition.

But a significant challenge remains: Where will U.S. companies find the digital talent to fill the growing number of positions for CDOs, data scientists and other types of technologist?

My organization believes tweens and teens are the answer. They already make up a quarter of the U.S. population and will account for more than 20 percent of the workforce in the next five years. Plus, my team’s research suggests many in this group have the temperament to become more than technicians; they show the foundational character of true technologists – an optimal mix of hard technical skills and relationship “soft skills” acumen.

Like Forrester, we expect that workers with a technologist’s mentality will be the vanguard of digital business evolution for companies of all shapes and sizes across the country along a broad spectrum of industries for decades to come. However, as I have cautioned in my past several articles, seven myths about technology careers can hinder the growth of the next generation of technologists. We already busted three major misconceptions about working with technology. So, let’s explode another one:

Myth #4: A tech career means being stuck at a desk.”

Weldon extracted some choice words from the Forrester report that aptly debunk the “stuck at a desk” myth:

“Business is digital, and digital is people… Digital leadership is about driving a cultural and behavioral shift… Tomorrow’s business leaders can’t devolve technology decisions to their IT departments.”

Digital transformation no longer happens on a desktop. Increasingly, an aspiring CDO or data scientist will need to learn how to step from behind his or her desk to find the right solution. Those who can hold the future in their hands.

In my next post, we’ll burst the “Money is the main benefit of a tech job” bubble.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.