This content is part of the Essential Guide: Careers in information technology: A CIO guide to getting ahead in IT

Best career advice for IT executives looking to excel in their field

Do you ever find yourself questioning how your well-regarded IT peers manage to get ahead, stay ahead and achieve a sought-after reputation in the IT field? It's likely they've taken to heart career guidance received from others.

SearchCIO-Midmarket site editor Wendy Schuchart sat down with a group of IT executives from a variety of industries at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2012 in Orlando, Fla., in October and asked them, "What is the best career advice anyone ever gave you?"

Responses varied, but one nugget that shone through was that the best career advice typically pertains to the notion that IT is a people's business. Read the transcript from Schuchart's interviews below, and watch the video to learn how to give your career a boost.

Wendy Schuchart: What's the best piece of career advice anyone ever gave you?

Nathan McBride, vice president of IT, AMAG Pharmaceuticals Inc.: I'm going to be completely honest when I tell you this answer, and I've thought about this for a little bit. I worked for a CFO two biotech companies ago who was a great guy -- very pragmatic, very direct individual. One of the things he told me one day, after I'd come into his office with some frustration about a particular functional line, was, "You know, if you don't piss off 20% of the people that you meet every day, you're not doing our job." I've always remembered that one.

He followed that up with another statement shortly thereafter: "Don't ever tell a CFO that you're saving them money. If you go out and you don't spend $50,000, you didn't save me any money because I'm going to spend it somewhere else. You didn't actually save the company money; you just prevented it, yourself, from spending it."

Never approach a CFO with the words, "I'm saving you money," or "I'm going to save you money." Always approach the CFO by saying, "I'm giving you $50,000 to spend on something else by not spending it myself." To that approach, I wouldn't say it won the hearts over for a lot of CFOs, but it certainly made my relationships with them a little bit stronger by respecting that notion of, "I'm not actually saving them any money. I'm a G&A [general and administrative expense] function. I spend it." But by not spending it, I can give them more money to spend somewhere else.

Ray Laracuenta, managing vice president, Gartner Inc.: "If it's not broke, break it" is the best piece of advice ever given to me. You really need to look at something and say, "You know what? It's working, but it doesn't mean this is the final destination." Look for opportunities to change people's expectations, change their belief systems when there's opportunity for growth. Almost anything that seems perfect is probably just waiting to be broken.

My best advice to someone is to look for things that you can break in a constructive, controlled environment, because from the premeditated destruction of a process, a belief system, you can control what you're going to do on the other side versus letting the market break it for you, and then it's completely reactionary-based. Look for every opportunity to put your own company out of business where you can, and develop your next strategy around those plans.

Luis Garzon, senior director of enterprise architecture, Coach Inc.: I think the best piece of career advice I've ever received was to always be myself. It really came down to integrity. You never know how people perceive you during any kind of interaction. You should always try to be yourself and be sincere. Make sure that, at any point in time, you're as transparent as possible. Leave emotion out of it if it doesn't need to be in it. It's really about really being open, and understanding that at the end of the day, you're not working -- even though you're working in IT, you're not working with technology, you're working with people. It's really important that you never forget that.

Lynn Duffy, vice president of operations, Citagus Software Inc.: Treat everyone as if they could be your boss, because they could be your boss today, tomorrow, next year. Never burn bridges; treat everyone as if they could be your boss.

Stewart Seruya, chief security and network officer, University of Miami: Trust your staff, and check up on them, but trust your staff.

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