Dean Lane is a highly decorated Naval Officer, who served as the Seal Team Officer for the Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet. After graduating with a BA in Psychology and Naval Science from UCLA University, he volunteered for the Navy’s Special Forces, playing a vital role in the Vietnam War.
Embarking on a career in IT after his active service in the US Navy was no easy feat for Dean Lane. However, as a veteran, he possessed the discipline, determination, and perseverance needed to succeed in this field. This challenge unfolded during the 1970s, a time when IT positions had clear paths and hierarchies. To establish himself, Dean Lane had to start from scratch, beginning his journey in IT as a developer.
While progressing in the IT field, Dean Lane continued his support for Naval Services in various capacities, including procurement, shop floor, assembly line, and as a Program Manager for iconic products like the F-18 and the Apache Helicopter. Simultaneously earning his Master’s degree in Business Administration from National University. The distinctive blend of IT and military aerospace experience eventually led him to join Honeywell Aerospace as its Management Information System (MIS), the archaic term for a CIO.
Later in his illustrious career, Dean Lane assumed the CIO role for AlliedSignal, Plantronics, Morton-Thiokol, and Henley-Putnam University. He also contributed as a cyber consultant for Ernst & Young, Gartner, and AT&T. His leadership extended to being the CEO of VariTRAK Inc. and as the founder and CEO of the Office of the CIO—an influential consultancy and community of CIOs, renowned throughout Silicon Valley and beyond. The Office of the CIO boasted members from Symantec, Facebook, Polycom, Brocade, Peet’s Coffee, and 45 other top Silicon Valley companies.
Dean Lane’s literary accomplishments are equally noteworthy. His first book, “CIO Wisdom,” achieved Prentice Hall Worldwide #1 Best Seller status, followed by the sequel “CIO Perspectives,” published by Kendall-Hunt. His most recent work, “CIO’s Body of Knowledge,” published by Wiley & Sons, continues to add to his literary legacy. Notably, the royalties from these books contribute to the non-profit “The CIO Scholarship Fund,” founded by Dean Lane, which has generously given out over $1 million to students in need.
Currently, Dean Lane serves as the SVP and CIO of the Institute of World Politics (IWP) Cyber Intelligence Initiative. Simultaneously, he holds the position of EVP and CISO for Svitla Systems, Inc. With over four decades of experience in cybersecurity and significant CIO roles in reputed organizations, coupled with his military background, Dean Lane’s remarkable journey stands as an enduring inspiration to many.
Describe your career progression from the start to where you are and what were pivotal decisions, moves you made, circumstances, and other facts that facilitated your growth.
As a volunteer, upon graduating from UCLA, I entered the Navy’s Special Forces. Within a few months, I was off the coast of Vietnam and was inserted and extracted multiple times. This is not necessarily the background a hiring manager looks for in a CIO or anyone else for that matter. Nonetheless, upon leaving active duty, I was hired into a large aerospace company as a “systems analyst.”
This did not go over too well with the rank-and-file Information Technology (IT) people since back then, you had to earn the title of Systems Analyst. There was a definite path and hierarchy. The bottom rung was Programmer 1, followed by Programmer 2, then Programming Supervisor, and finally System Analyst.
To “earn my stripes,” I enrolled in Control Data Institute and four days a week, four and a half hours a night, I learned to code in COBOL, Assembler, Fortran, and Basic. While none of that made me a better analyst, learning to flowchart did improve my ability to communicate logic.
I also spent time as a practitioner in procurement, shop floor, assembly line, and as a Program Manager for such products as the F-18, the Apache Helicopter, and a few others. This practitioner experience, combined with my time in IT saw me rise to the position of MIS manager (the ancient term for CIO). This occurred over an 11-year period and that is when I left to join Ernst and Young.
I was headhunted out of Ernst and Young to take a CIO position at Morton Thiokol and became the IT department head for the rocket scientists. After four years with Thiokol, I went to Plantronics and became their CIO. The point here is that once you attain a CIO position it is easier to obtain other CIO positions. Hiring managers want minimal-risk hires and if you do not already have the credential, they are hesitant.
What are the key skills and qualifications that aspiring tech executives in the tech industry should focus on developing to enhance their career prospects?
One of the most important qualities that can be found in a CIO is a functional understanding of the business. If you are a manufacturing company, go work out on the shop floor; move parts, expedite orders, and learn the business.
Most people will certainly tell you leadership is extremely important, and it is, but could those people tell you the difference between leading and managing? There are plenty of Dale Carnegie or Tony Robbins out there to list out for you that you should be a collaborator, a great communicator, and all the other attributes you will find from some academician.
No, this is about you! Who are you and what does it take to be successful. Yes, you need to know something about the newest technology, but unless you are selling a technology product, there is no need for you to ride the crest of the bleeding edge. I have always made a practice of letting others make mistakes and wring out a new product. My bosses have always been satisfied with reduced risk and a respectable second place.
I would strongly recommend being self-motivated, initiative-taking, determined, and mission oriented. Do not let them see you cry. Be positive, but not so bubbling that no one can stand being with you for more than five minutes.
What are some key milestones or achievements that tech executives should aim for at various stages of their career to demonstrate their growth and readiness for higher-level roles?
Reputation is a key ingredient to growth and advancement. It is important to not be a “chest beater,” telling everyone that will listen to how great you are, or soon no one will be listening. Reputation should be built by doing good staff work on every assignment. This will lead to increased responsibility and again doing good staff work at the next level will lead to increased responsibility and so on, and so on. The correct term is hard work. It is also no shame to volunteer or seek increased responsibilities.
Always speak the truth to subordinates, peers, and those higher up on the organizational chart. Building your reputation is both an internal and external endeavor. It must be thought of as a human internet of people. Whatever one does or accomplishes should be thought of as being out there on the human internet in front of every past, present, and future contact. Regardless of where you are in the organization, show wisdom. If you do not know for sure, ask! A person who knows how will always have a job – a person who knows why will always be their boss.
How important is it for tech executives to actively seek out mentorship or coaching opportunities to advance their careers? What benefits can they derive from such relationships?
Having a mentor, or coach, is especially important. In fact, it is so important that you should strive to have many mentors. Mentorship or coaching opportunities come in many forms but only four will be discussed here. Mentorship opportunities inside the organization in which one is working are tantamount to moving ahead and advancing. The more coaches you have within your organization, the more advocates that you have.
Mentors who are at a higher level in the organization can provide greater insight into where the organization is headed and what is strategically important, as well as what qualities the organization seeks in an employee.
Mentors who are peers can provide knowledge of how their part of the organization operates and some of the everyday challenges they face, from their perspective. These mentors, like those higher up in the organization, can become allies.
Mentors also exist at the subordinate level within your organization. These mentors can give you a “hands-on” operational perspective and the heartbeat of the organization.
Mentors outside of your organization provide the ability to candidly discuss issues you are facing that may be tentative if discussed within the organization. These mentors provide unbiased and neutral mentoring opportunities since their only concern is to provide the best possible assistance to you.
In your experience, what role does professional networking play in the career progression of tech executives? How can tech executives effectively build and leverage their networks?
It is important to understand that there is networking and then there is networking. Talking to someone at a conference and collecting a business card could be networking, depending on the follow-on activities, or lack thereof. Networking should be a means of developing relationships. If you and I exchange Christmas Cards once a year and that is the extent of our networking (relationship) then we are networked—once a year. On the other hand, if we talk, meet, or attend an activity, together, every month, then that is a much stronger network (relationship). Strong networking provides mentors, and advocates, and enhances one’s reputation.
It is important to get creative in how one networks. When I go on a two-week vacation, I send a minimum of twelve postcards a day to people in my network (my wife calls me Mr. Postcard). People love to get snail mail when it is personal and not an advertisement. I also keep track of people’s birthdays and make sure to send them a note on the exact day of their birthdays. It must be important to you for it to be important to them. If you miss a birthday do not send a belated note – just wait until next year.
I also started a peer group that met every month. As the organizer, I would ensure that we meet every month at a different CIO’s company. I would work with that CIO and have them select the restaurant that we would all go to after the meeting. Strong networking with them as a group and also on an individual basis.
I also use LinkedIn to network. Facebook and other social media platforms are not professional networking. My LinkedIn statistics, as of this morning, are:
Are there any specific certifications, advanced degrees, or executive education programs that can significantly enhance the career prospects of tech executives in the tech industry? Which ones would you recommend?
I pursued and obtained a master’s in business administration, which provides useful information about business fundamentals such as leadership, communication, critical thinking, and analytical skills. Other than that, executive education programs can be more targeted and provide a more detailed understanding of a specific topic.
The Institute of World Politics (an accredited graduate school) provides degrees and certificate programs for diplomats, soldiers, and spies. I manage the Cyber Intelligence Certification which meets once a week for three hours. After ten (10) meetings the student receives a certification in Cyber Intelligence. This is different from most programs since it includes the U.S. articles of statecraft (e.g., espionage, counterintelligence, etc.) woven together with technology. A unique program that is sure to impress.
Can you share any examples of notable tech executives who have successfully transitioned from one role (e.g., CIO) to another (e.g., CEO) within the same organization or industry? What factors contributed to their success?
Maynard Webb is the first CIO, that I know of, who made the transition from CIO to CEO. Maynard now owns his own business.
Walt Thinfen is another example of a CIO who graduated to the position of CEO and did so within the same organization.
How important is it for tech executives to cultivate a personal brand and establish thought leadership within the industry? What are some effective ways for tech executives to showcase their expertise and gain visibility?
Establishing your own brand is key to advancing. In my case, I always strive to be known as someone who is wise. That is when people seek you out. Speaking engagements are very important as it helps with your brand and your external reputation. I have personally presented at numerous conferences, including being the keynote speaker to 200 CIOs in Russia for CIO Magazine. I have also published three books with all royalties going to a non-profit “The CIO Scholarship Fund” which I established and has given out over $1 million to students in need.
“Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad”. Attributed to British journalist and humorist Miles Kington (1941 – 2008), this aphorism nicely sums up the distinction between knowledge and wisdom.
Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring tech executives who are looking to accelerate their career progression and make a lasting impact in the tech industry?
- Understand budgeting and project management.
- Do not commit to a date unless you can make it
- Do not be a chest beater
- God gave you two ears and one mouth – listen twice as much as you talk
- While keeping abreast of technology, it is infinitely more important to learn the business side of things
- Remember, you are a manager; Delegate – do not try to fix things yourself.
- Build strong relationships (network, network, network)
Read more CXO Ladder stories:
Eric Sigurdson: Follow a Career Where Your Heart Is
Jon G Shende’s Inspiring Path: From SCADA Operator to Cybersecurity Leader