Expert Voices: Prudential’s CIO Barbara Koster on the Benefits of IT Mentors

For Barbara Koster, IT isn’t only about alignment and meeting business goals. The Global CIO of Prudential Financial, a $37 billion financial services firm, feels a palpable responsibility to help a new generation of IT professionals into the fray, particularly at a time when enrollment in technological fields of study are declining. As part of a partnership with Workforce Outsource Services, a New York City-based non-profit that’s helping to train and employ disadvantaged inner-city students in tech-related fields, Koster’s IT team has taken on five interns, giving them the real-world experience they’ll need to prepare for careers in IT. Key to that experience, Koster says, is mentoring—creating special relationships, imparting words of wisdom and providing encouragement to rising technology leaders. Koster recently chatted with Senior Reporter Debra D’Agostino about her approach as a mentor; her edited comments follow.

Why did you decide to work with Workforce Outsource Services?

My involvement in WOS goes back to the fact that we don’t have a large number of people going into technology careers today. At some point, you have to have a pipeline for that future. So how do we find ways to fill those jobs? It’s through programs like these. I am hoping that it does change the tide and helps more people go into technology.

Prudential currently has five student interns from the WOS program. Do you personally mentor them all?

Many of my direct reports, myself included, are mentors. We are helping the students understand the business environment, and the opportunities available to them in the field of technology. And by that, I don’t merely mean programming. There are many parts to technology, starting with understanding the business requirements, being able to translate business needs into technical language, how to code and test and make sure initiatives are delivering what the business needed, and so on. Part of mentoring is to help students understand how a technology organization works so they can comprehend the different aspects of the job and opportunities to cross multiple functions.

So you ensure that students get that business experience as well?

Absolutely. Technology is only good when it enables the business to solve a problem, and you have to understand the business problem you are solving, otherwise you aren’t making the right technology choices. It’s imperative to train people about the business side as well as IT.

Does Prudential have a formal mentoring program in place for employees?

It does, yes. I mentor both men and women at different levels in the organization. Some are managers, some are entry-level employees. In essence, I am helping them understand how the company operates and how technology helps Prudential today, but I am also encouraging them to look beyond the job they’re assigned to in order to see how technology can improve their environment.

Do you feel more IT executives should mentor up-and-coming technologists?

Without a doubt. I think many people desire to help not just the younger generation but their peers as well. For my part, I go to some of the high schools near where I live and try to encourage young people, especially women, to go into technology. Someone mentored me, and I believe I should do the same for others. It’s the best way to grow complete technologists.

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