A Novel Approach to CIO Education

Like some new CIOs, Jim Barton had no IT experience before taking the post at IVK Corp. Unlike all other new CIOs, Barton isn’t real: He’s the protagonist of an upcoming book, You Won’t Last a Year: Becoming an Effective Information Technology Leader, a fictional case study by Robert Austin, chair of Harvard Business School’s CIO executive program, and his predecessor, Richard Nolan, a professor at Harvard and the University of Washington’s Michael G. Foster School of Business.

Austin spoke recently with online editor Brian Watson about the book’s unique approach, and why IT education needs a shot in the arm. This is an edited, condensed version of their conversation.

CIO Insight: Is Jim Barton, who’s a non-IT guy, the CIO of the future?

Austin: There are a certain number of CIOs coming from outside IT, but we didn’t choose a CIO from the outside because we thought that was the norm. It was more of a pedagogical choice because we wanted to walk through the situation that someone without an IT background might face. We didn’t want people to presume that you’d need a lot of background in IT to use this curriculum. So it was more strategic than it was a belief in some trend.

Why did you write a novel about a CIO as opposed to a textbook or a real case study?

Austin: The problem with textbooks is that they convey content without context, and you leave students not knowing how to apply what they’ve learned. It’s like telling the end of a story without the beginning and the middle. The case method is a bit better, but it doesn’t easily provide a platform for building frameworks across class sessions. So we tried to combine them. We get to walk in Barton’s shoes: We watch his decision-making processes, we critique him, and we say what we would have done instead. More importantly, this approach allows us to build across sessions.

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