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Dell CIO's stint on business side was her 'best IT training'

Adriana "Andi" Karaboutis, Global CIO at Dell since 2011 and a finalist for the 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Leadership Award, is getting props these days for turning the computer company's 5,000-strong IT department from order-takers into a dynamic partner to the business. At the recent 2014 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, Senior News Writer Nicole Laskowski asked Karaboutis to talk about her career trajectory. The Michigan native cited her childhood love of math and science, her college conversion from industrial engineering major to computer science and some of her opportunities during her more than 20 years in the automobile industry. Her "best IT training," however, was nowhere near the IT department.

One of the things we're asking CIOs today is how they got to where they are: What does their CIO career trajectory look like? I know that you worked for a long time in the automobile industry. I'd be interested to hear how that influenced your position.

Adriana "Andi" Karaboutis: I've always had a propensity for math, sciences -- a real interest there. So growing up I knew that I wanted to do something in the science/engineering space. I actually started out at university in industrial and mechanical engineering, sort of "touring." I went through the general engineering disciplines and thought it would be either industrial or mechanical and had taken my first FORTRAN course -- which, of course, dates me. And then we moved into Pascal where we did some PL/1 and things like that, and [I] really fell in love with development. And that turned me into computer science.

Kind of fast forward from there, [I] had great opportunities in the auto industry, co-oping, summer-interning and that sort of thing. And then ended up in a fantastic career, a 15-[year] stretch at Ford Motor Company followed by six years at General Motors doing a lot of what I had done at Ford. At that point, after 20 years in the auto industry, [it was] kind of an inflection point to say, "Do I stay in that industry and keep expanding?"

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And I had had some fantastic opportunities. I actually worked in the business for six years. I had worked in Europe 2 1/2 years, so I was actually able to move geography as well as go across to the business side, as they say, to become a customer of IT, which I tell people was the best IT training I've ever had.

I started a conversation with Dell and I was at that inflection point of either staying for the remainder of my career [in the auto industry] or doing something different. I decided that some professional athleticism was a good thing, so I jumped into the tech industry -- and it was completely different!

When you say, having that business experience was "the best IT training" you have ever had, can you be specific? What exactly did it provide you?

Karaboutis: It provided me a lens on the tools and the technology from the business user's perspective, not from the IT perspective -- from the people who back in that day would do the requirements and would have to deal with all the systems. (It was a production control supply chain position [I had]). I was now on the other side of the camera, if you will.

And so it gave me a great opportunity, many opportunities actually, to say, "Ah, now I know why this being this slow at this point is a problem, or how this user interface is so hard, or why this works as well as it does," because you're actually the customer to the person you were before.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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