A career in tech or Systems is never clear-cut. Sometimes, it’s all about seizing opportunities along the way. Andy Nallappan, VP and CIO of Broadcom, a global leader in semiconductor and infrastructure software, says it’s less about exact titles you pursue and more about the mentors and colleagues you surround yourself with. Even if you come in with expertise about a particular application or workflow, if your team and bosses believe and you and you, yourself, have an attitude to succeed, then you can accomplish anything – even if that means moving up from a position as an ERP application developer to overseeing all systems.
Having worked within the same company for over 25 years (and going through different name changes and iterations), Nallappan says he never expected to eventually take on this role and has gained invaluable insight during his climb and the networking and circumstances (cloud and corporate) that impacted it. In this third installment of our How to Become a CIO series, Nallappan reveals the power of opportunity and attitude.
The Evolution of a CIO
What sort of roles did you take before becoming a CIO? Tell us a little about your career prior to now.
Every role I’ve had has helped me. I started out as a PeopleSoft app developer at Hewlett Packard in the mid ‘90s. At first, I started in applications and infrastructure, working with ERPs and then moved on to product hosting. I’ve been with pretty much the same company for over 25 years and through four company name changes. When the company changed from a public to more of a private mindset to catch up with the changing technology of the ‘90s, I learned a lot from a cultural perspective and that stayed with me.
In my current role as CIO, I manage the entire data center and infrastructure globally, enabling product development, testing, and labs for the semiconductor and software business. In my team, we manage the tools, host the platform, and manage the standards and common technologies – we call it common software tools – for all of our developers to enable it.
How do you think the role of a CIO and the roles of those who report to them changed over time? Is it mostly job duties that have changed? Have team dynamics changed? What’s your take on that?
I’ve been a CIO for the last eight years and in that time, I’ve seen the role change a lot. Before, a CIO’s duties were mostly to keep the lights on behind the scenes, working data centers, and working with big ERP and back-office systems.
There’s definitely been a paradigm shift throughout the years. IT is changing and it has to be transformed. It has to be the center of a corporation and enable all business functions.
Even now, I have changed the name of my current organization. We don’t call it ‘Information Technology’ anymore. We call it a Global Technology and Solutions Organization. The name change reflects a change in need. Technology is needed everywhere, in all functions and products, whether it be HR, finance, services, legal, marketing, or sales, or the product side. My vested interest is to take care of everybody and create a horizontal approach. It’s more about being a driving organization that empowers others to succeed, than an organization driven by other entities.
Prepping for a CIO Role
What’s the most memorable thing you can recall about transitioning from a non-CIO role to your first CIO job?
One of the things that I’ve learned in my career is the importance of being surrounded by the right people. Others had a lot more confidence and belief in me than I had in myself. That was motivation for me. I never thought I could successfully manage the infrastructure scope of a company because I don’t come from a computer science background – I’m more of an application developer. But my boss believed I could do it. Whenever there was an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to prove myself there, I always opened the door.
You said you started as an ERP app developer. When you think about entering the role, are there certain things people should look out for, or areas of expertise they should have prior?
It doesn’t matter which specific skills you have when you come into the job, or the number of applications or tools you know. It’s more about understanding what is your capacity and capability and having the right attitude and open mind. You will always have an area of strength. So whatever strength you have, whether it is working with applications, infrastructure, architecture, governance or business processes, use it to help you leverage and grow within the role. It doesn’t matter where that foundation comes from, as long as it can help you to expand, scale-out and go into the untraveled territories and explore them. That’s what’s most important.
Breaking Down the Roles of a CIO
How much would you say project management factors into the role of a CIO?
Project management is critical because it gives you the visibility to make sure that your execution and the path to achieving a goal is on the right track. It helps to manage the cost, resources, scope, timeline(s), and risks. It also helps to catch issues ahead of time and enforces a strong structure around the program.
However, project management can sometimes cause friction within your organization. You have to make sure it is embedded in the development and project itself. This way, you can make sure you have visibility into what’s really being done. If it becomes its own thing – which it has at some organizations – then it negates the purpose of being able to track progress in the first place.
How much does real-world experience in IT governance and risk management play a factor? Is there a certain degree one should have prior to stepping into the role?
IT governance, regulations and data privacy are very critical because they impact your financial results, especially with public companies. When I took over the role of CIO, I realized the one thing all developers and IT people dislike is the auditing process due to the work it entails and they didn’t immediately see the value in it. A clean audit reflects the health of an organization, so it is necessary to educate your team on the importance of an audit and the need to follow the process. I’ve outsourced a lot of operations, which really helped my team focus on managing and enforcing governance. It helps to have checks and balances there.
Risk management also is an art because everyone has to take risks. If you don’t, you’re not going to grow and you’re not going to transform. You just need to be able to manage them adeptly.
At this organization, we pride ourselves on taking risks because we have the culture to support it. We measure them precisely and look at the potential impact, but if we never took risks, we wouldn’t be where we are today. So risk management is certainly important to us.
What is the most important skill for a CIO to have that’s not technical? How do you suggest someone hone it?
Learning business processes is critical. When you want to become a CIO, you have to learn how the business works and be able to connect that knowledge to the technology and into your scope. You must learn how you can connect your corporation goals with your scope and learn how to become an enabler and catalyst and understand how to drive value from there.
CIO Best Practices to Follow
Did you find any particular resources useful as you were going up the ladder?
I didn’t go to a specific school, I didn’t get an MBA and I didn’t read any books to become a CIO. Not because those things aren’t useful, but because I never had the intention of becoming a CIO. I didn’t have a roadmap. I was able to climb up the ladder because of the nature of what I did, who I am, how I worked with people and how they saw me. I built a relationship with the people around me like my partners, peers, subordinates and so on. It’s a combination of all of those things.
One thing that’s helped me – and I tell this to my people too – is I never held on to what I was doing. I never got attached to a certain role or skill or got comfortable where I was. If you want to rise up, you have to give up some of those daily administrative tasks and think more strategically. Otherwise, whatever you’re attached to can become a dead weight and prevent you from moving forward.
A Note to Future CIOs
Is there any final advice you’d give to someone hoping to become a CIO one day, whether they come from a Systems background or just overall?
Give up what you’re comfortable doing and be open to trying new things. You have to constantly put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. When you do that, you’ll start to learn, and when you start learning, you’ll grow. So continuously transform yourself and take those lessons of leadership with you along the way.
On top of that, always make sure you are being compensated well, that you are growing (in business knowledge and skill), and that you are surrounding yourself with the right people who enable you to grow. Learning and moving are two of the most important things that’ll help you get to this type of role.