Trailblazing a Modern Path to CIO

min read
EDUCAUSE Rising Voices | Season 2, Episode 3

Finding a path to a leadership role can be daunting. In this episode, hosts Sarah and Wes speak with two young professionals who have forged a path to the CIO position and discuss how they got there.

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Wes Johnson: Welcome to the EDUCAUSE Rising Voices Podcast, where we amplify the voices of young professionals of higher education. I'm Wes Johnson and I'm joined by the amazing, the phenomenal, the great Sarah-

Sarah Buszka: Sarah Buszka. Thank you, Wes. Love that intro. Can you do that every time?

Wes Johnson: I got you, every time, every time. And we're joined by a few other amazing people. So we're going to jump to those introductions. So Sandeep, Tara, I'm going to give you the opportunity to introduce yourselves. We ask at minimum name, position, institution, and then one superpower that you'll share with us, what's one superpower that you use on some regular basis. So Sandeep, we can start with you.

Sandeep Sidhu: Absolutely. Good morning. My name is Sandeep Sidhu. I'm the Chief Information Officer at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. We're in Vancouver, Canada. So I think my superpower is to be able to connect with people no matter where they come from, and when I say that, different professions, different industries. I absolutely love people, and to be able to create bridges, I feel that served me really well, and I truly enjoy it, and one of the reasons why I'm here with one of my bestie, Tara. So off to you.

Tara Hughes: What's up? Gosh, following up on Sandeep is just always so tough. Hi, everyone. My name is Tara Hughes. I am the CIO at Cal State University Monterey Bay. I'm in Monterey Bay, California. And I think a superpower of mine involves people, but it really is rooted in authenticity and empathy. Everything that I do is really driven by wanting to have authentic, connected experiences, and so whether it's technology that we're talking about, or K-pop, you know I'm always going to drop that in somewhere, Sarah, or food, I want to be able to have authentic connections with people, and I think that that really makes the world go round.

Sarah Buszka: I love this.

Wes Johnson: Awesome.

Well, today, I'm very honored to be with this group of phenomenal folks. For folks who can't see, I don't normally dress up, I got my polo buttoned all the way [inaudible 00:02:20]. I'm with some important people today.

Tara Hughes: Going fancy.

Sarah Buszka: I put my collar on, too.

Wes Johnson: Uh-huh. [inaudible 00:02:26] a little bit. Uh-huh. Collared up, buttoned up.

Sandeep Sidhu: Let me tell you, you're pulling it off really well.

Wes Johnson: Thank you, thank you. You know-

Sarah Buszka: I agree.

Wes Johnson: ... [inaudible 00:02:34]. I dress up, I dress up.

So speaking of growth, and the right people are here today, our topic is growth and reflection from a young professional to a CIO. We got two CIOs here who started, obviously, as young professionals at some point. I want to say, excuse me if I'm wrong, both of you were even part of the young professional, the committee as well, right?

Tara Hughes: Yeah.

Wes Johnson: As someone who just joined, I almost feel like I'm literally walking to y'all's path in some way, so it's an honor to be here with y'all, and we can start with this first question and then we can go from there.

So can you share a pivotal moment or experience that significantly influenced your path to becoming a CIO in higher education? So was there a moment or something that said, "Yep, I want to be a CIO"? Did you always know you were going to be a CIO? And I'll start with Tara.

Tara Hughes: So I think for me, there was kind of little breadcrumbs along the way, so there were definitely little milestones. There are two things that really stand out. One is that my first ever EDUCAUSE Conference, I want to say it was in either 2015, 2016, it was in Indianapolis, I had someone encourage me to just go to sessions that I thought had nothing to do with what I was doing. I was running the help desk at the time. And so I went to a session that had all female CIOs and it was just talking about their different paths to leadership. And that definitely planted a seed. I think, though, at the time, I didn't necessarily recognize that that's what was happening.

And then a little bit later on, fast-forward to 2019, I had someone gently push me into doing a proposal for security professionals, and I had no idea what to speak on or present, and through life's wonderful twists and turns, I ended up presenting on imposter syndrome, and that presentation was really in a lot of ways a personal improvement projects of sorts for myself, but that really launched a different path for me because the response that I got was so overwhelmingly positive and authentic. And I was really at a crossroads where I didn't know where I fit in technology. I was a new manager and I felt like, "Well, maybe I'm not technical enough, maybe there's no pathway to keep going," and that response really changed the way that I saw myself and saw how I could meaningfully contribute, and so I think that really took that seed and you started to see some leaves sprouting from there.

Then lastly, just along the way, it's always the people, right? And that definitely continued to plant seeds to where CIO became something that felt achievable and desirable.

Sandeep Sidhu: How do I pull that?

Sarah Buszka: Everyone showed up with their collar on today.

Sandeep Sidhu: I'll share, too, as well. I think there was a point in my career I never thought I would even get into a management or a leadership position. Prior to moving to Canada, I was working as a consultant in Australia, so I did a lot of private sector, public sector consulting, and when I got here, it was a very different landscape and I was hoping to get back into it. Ended up taking on my first true management role at Capilano University, which was going through this transition of being a college to a university. It's a lot of change, which really excited me, and I was able to learn a lot but also contribute from my other experiences.

So I think that was a big change in my career that also helped me think through and open up some different possibilities, and one was leadership. At that time, I wasn't thinking CIO, but soon as I was progressing in my career, the second piece that I think became obvious, I was starting to figure out that a lot of the decisions that impacted me and the university were actually made at the CIO level. It was very tactical and operational for me, which I was totally successful in that, but I wanted to also make a larger impact.

So a number of people I was following in the CIO roles really influenced my thinking, and just as Tara mentioned, I started to see myself in that role, and I made the shift mentally at a point where I thought I'm an aspiring CIO, and I started talking to a few people. And I also soon realized it was a very close-knit community, and in some sense, I also got this impression that you have to break through that, and in some cases you probably need to be invited to it. And perhaps there were moments where I go, "Is that a club that if I don't get invited, then what happens?" I started showing up. I started talking to CIOs.

And when someone tells me, "You cannot do this," not that someone did, it was an impression I had, like I'm going to still do it. I told myself I will get there one day. And funny enough, as I started talking to people about my aspirations, so many people actually showed up from our local provincial IT group to EDUCAUSE, and that's how I ended up in EDUCAUSE Young Professionals Group, where I saw, and that was perhaps the third thing, I saw many other aspiring people like myself and I was able to build that energy and confidence, and I haven't really looked back, and it's been absolutely phenomenal to work with folks like yourself.

Wes Johnson: So I'm hearing a few things here that are very inspiring. One, it sounds like you got to put yourself out there, connect, which is one of y'all's superpowers if I remember correctly. Another thing, I'm hearing a little bit of be brave, which has been a previous superpower of guests on the show. So I'm curious, though, I briefly got to talk to Sarah about this outside of the show, but I've seen some reports specifically for women where when it comes to applying for roles, whether that be in leadership or otherwise, they are less likely to feel ready to apply, therefore they do not apply, and I kind of heard a little bit of that in y'all's stories. At least at some point, you maybe felt like, "Am I sure I can do this?" I'm curious, when did it flip? When was it that you were like, "Hey, I'm ready"? Was there a signal? Was there a sign? At what point it was like, "I do think I'm qualified, and I'm going to go for this"?

Sandeep Sidhu: Tara, you want to go first?

Tara Hughes: No.

Sandeep Sidhu: Actually, my other superpower is delegation, so finding the best people to work with and everyone's successful. I'll take a stab at it. How's that, Tara?

Tara Hughes: Yeah.

Sandeep Sidhu: I think even today, when I walk into work, there's doubts coming in, especially when I am helping make some really difficult decisions, which I've never been at the table to help make those decisions, I'm questioning myself. So there are days. I think the frequency has gone down. The shift happened, and I want to give a big kudos to the previous CIO in this role, she actually tapped my shoulder and she said, "Look, I think you will make an incredible CIO, and here are the reasons why I see certain things with you." And when she left, she actually recommended me for this job. That was the biggest confidence booster for me, and along with that came many others who said, "We know you got this job, and here's a number, here's how you reach out." So that network is absolutely phenomenal, and when you go through that moment of doubt, I reach out to that network.

And I also make sure, I was actually listening to something this morning that truly resonated with me, "When you are taking a fruit from a tree, don't forget who planted that tree." And I'm hoping to sort of keep doing what someone else did for me by creating that energy and that I'm hoping people can reach out to me and say, "Hey, I have this. Can I lean on you?" And that's what, again, YPAC has done for me and still continues to do. Yeah, you just have to be okay to be uncomfortable and question yourself but talk to people who will help you kind of get through it.

Tara Hughes: Yeah, I agree. I think I would say that anything that's been worth doing professionally, I've never been fully ready for, and I think growth comes when you're uncomfortable, and so you have to be willing to put yourself in situations where you might fail. Failure is a good teacher. And it's interesting because we're in higher education, learning is the name of the game, and part of learning is failing, and I don't think that we talk enough about that. It's okay to fail. It's what you do after you fail that's what differentiates you. If you learn from that, you grow from it, and you apply those lessons learned, that completely sets you apart. So I think learning to be okay with failure and get uncomfortable, because such a perfectionist, that has been a huge game-changer for me, but it's recognizing that my feelings are not always a valid part of the equation in determining what I should do next, because if that were the case, I would still be doing probably what I started out doing 10 years ago.

And so I think the other piece to that is really surrounding yourself with people both personally and professionally who see your skills, your talents, your passions, and also your flaws and who can speak truth to you and encouraging you to go in the direction that is meant for you to pursue. If you want to be a CIO, get a mentor that is going to give you some real hard feedback because that's going to help you know what steps to take, where are gaps that you need to fill, and what are strengths that you can really embrace and capture when you're trying to tell your story.

But I don't know that I ever totally feel ready, and this might be a little controversial, but when I get to a point where I feel like I've totally got it, it's probably time to look for something else, because I need to consistently be challenged to keep growing.

Sarah Buszka: Yeah. You know what I'm realizing, and I think this is a lesson I'm continually learning, too, is I think we can really focus on having to feel ready in order to do something collectively in society, not only at work, in our personal lives, in our home lives, and all of those different hats and roles that we wear, and what I'm hearing you both really say is, "I really wasn't ready," or, "I really wasn't as ready as I thought I would be. I had to really push myself out there, get really scared, and just take a risk," or, "I needed someone to give me their vote of confidence and have those words that I can hold onto to really push myself forward in this direction." And you know, I think given that our podcast is really focused on amplifying the voices of young professionals in higher education, I think it's really important for us to hear that and to talk about that, so thank you for sharing that. I think it's a very vulnerable thing to admit and to talk about openly, but that's what we're all about here.

Tara Hughes: Sarah, the one thing that I would add to, at least for me personally, was also I didn't feel as ready as I thought I should, right?

Sarah Buszka: Yes.

Tara Hughes: And the should is also, I think, something that can really trip people up.

Sarah Buszka: Right, right.

Tara Hughes: And really, that's all smoke and mirrors. Every CIO that I have talked to, they're human, they're so human, and they don't necessarily feel as ready as you think they do.

Sandeep Sidhu: Yeah, I couldn't agree more with you. I think this is also something we are fighting because of the industry that we are in. If you think about technology, it's always been we've figured it out and we're going to tell everyone in the perfect way how to solve problems, yet we are imperfect humans ourselves, and somewhere, I've had to personally fight that idea. I couldn't agree more with Tara. I think that anxiety really is sometimes in the way of bringing out the best potential that we have, when we're worried about perfectionism.

I was also thinking about the other day this idea of having fun also comes with that vulnerability along the way. And so when we have fun, we are at our best potential to do the best. We can think better, we can make more clear decisions and not be worried about, back to the mistakes piece. I think it was last EDUCAUSE, was it? I don't know if you know, but there were a number of presentations around failing, how that's one step closer to success, and I thoroughly enjoyed those presentations as well.

Sarah Buszka: Right. Well, we've been talking a lot about failures and some of our reflections on it, and what I'm hearing is our gratitude for it. So I'm wondering if our guests would be willing to share maybe a moment of failure or one of those lessons in learning that you've had from one of your past failures that you think may have shaped your career to move towards becoming a CIO. Maybe I'll start with Tara first.

Tara Hughes: Yeah. I've got a good one. I've got to say this, but...

Sarah Buszka: We might need wine for some of them, but...

Tara Hughes: I think one that it really shaped so much of my growth in leadership, I can literally look back at this situation and note a pivot for me personally. So I was in a leadership role, and it felt like a big deal to take that leap into this role. Hadn't been there very long, didn't necessarily understand some of the politics and relationships that had led to how things operated the way that they did, and so through a series of decisions and circumstances, I ended up doing AV support for an outdoor campus event. I was not in a position to be doing AV support, and I was coming from the mentality of, "No one else is stepping up." Like, "I'm going to be the leader that shows like nothing is beneath me and I am willing to step up and step out."

But I was definitely outside of my lane there, and it turned out that we had MacGyvered this thing from top to bottom, and I was not the right person to be providing that support. And we got to a point where it was so bad, and I'm on the floor like to the right of the stage, and the president looks down at me like, "What is happening?" and I had no answer. I had no way to make that better, and I was crushed, right? And I felt like nobody else stepped in to help me, and it was such a visible failure of not being able to fix something.

What I learned from that experience wasn't just the failure of a technology for that event, it was a failure to ask the right questions leading up to that event to understand why no one was stepping up, but also a failure to understand that I need to understand my strengths and weaknesses, and sometimes setting the example for getting in the trenches and digging is not bad, but you got to know your limitations. I look back and think, "Man, I'm never going to make that mistake again."

The third thing that I learned from that is that my folks didn't have the resources that they needed to be successful, and I ended up experiencing that personally, and I walked away from that thinking, "Budget is not going to be a reason, or personal political vendettas that we have going on. That is not going to be a reason why we don't have the things that we need to make something a success. They need tools to be able to do their jobs well, and if I can't provide that to them, then that's a failure of leadership on my part."

So I learned that in a really personal way. That has really marked a lot of the way that I think about decisions and resources and empathizing with staff when they're struggling to be able to be successful. Sometimes there's these hidden things that you have to know the right questions to ask, but it was a very public failure, and I learned a whole lot from it. I did not enjoy it at the time. I had to send an apology to the president and to cabinet, even though did I necessarily do something wrong? No, but someone had to own it, and the leadership to be able to take ownership and say, "We're going to do better." I still learn lessons from that experience.

Sarah Buszka: Wow, I had goosebumps. I was just imagining you getting that look from the president and I felt my heart stopped. Woo, this was visceral, Tara. Thank you.

Tara Hughes: It's brutal.

Sarah Buszka: Brutal.

Sandeep Sidhu: I think a number of us have probably grown in that client services, customer service space. It is very difficult yet undermined and not recognized that well. Even when we look at from a compensation or importance perspective, they take on a lot. We faced it, we've seen our teams take on. So I am always, just like Tara, trying to understand how it feels, and hopefully having spent so much time in my career in that space is to build that space up for its importance, and particularly when we were talking about technology earlier, I feel this idea of soft skills has been so undermined over time, and that team is particularly always acting in that soft skills, very diplomatic space. Can you imagine when the executives are right in front of you, they deal with them all the time?

So my story of failure, different one, I have a similar one, but I'm going to, just in the interest of making it exciting, I'll share another one, and I think most people who know me know this. This is my weakness, I work too much, and when people see work too much, it does a couple of things. One, it sets an expectation, an unspoken expectation that if I am sending an email at 7:00 PM, or I've sent emails at 2:00 AM, don't do that any more unless it's an emergency, it sets an expectation that you have to keep an eye on it and perhaps you should respond, even though we say we don't expect you to do that. So that has been a constant challenge for me, is to set myself in a space that sets the right expectations for others who work with me, around me in a safe way.

And also do what I say and not just say it. So I constantly struggle with that, and it's been a number of times, very embarrassing, when I've sent an email at 1:00 AM with lots of things I haven't thought through, and that also does not look very professional and also recognizes that we are living in this world of haste and getting stuff done doesn't serve us well. So I've been actively working towards that. A couple of times I've sent emails that I've regretted. I can't tell you which ones. That'll be totally career-limiting. Actually, you know what? I will do that.

One of them, I sent an email. There was a back-and-forth happening between my staff and another leader in a different portfolio, and I'd had a very long day. I read through that email exchange and I decided to step in for my staff and tackle it with this individual in an email possibly way too early in the next day, like somewhere around 1:00 AM or 2:00 AM, and I sent that email, got it off my chest, and that was such a terrible thing to do, and I respected this individual so much, and next morning, I'd forgotten I had sent that email, saw that person in the meeting, I'm like, "Oh, I sent that email," and I was dying in that meeting. I could not wait for that meeting to end. I went over and apologized to that individual because that was such a low moment for me.

And I think that was a big learning moment for me. I think I reduced it. I wouldn't say stopped it. Again, I'm not trying to be perfect here. I've reduced doing that. Our emotional states, paying attention to emotional states is a big learning for me, and the good news is, I still hang out with that individual, and we were at a conference last week and laughing about that incident because we've learned from it and still retained a relationship.

Sarah Buszka: That's beautiful. Thank you both for sharing these failures and these vulnerabilities with us. We feel so honored to have you with us and sharing that. You know, when I was hearing you talking, I was kind of picking up on some commonalities and themes that you both were sharing, some particularly around learning moments and skills and knowing how to ask the right questions, and, of course, thinking about your role as young professionals, certainly serving on the Young Professionals Advisory Committee, YPAC, shout out to the team. I'm curious maybe from your lens if you could pick maybe the top three differentiating skills that you feel young professionals could focus on if they are aspiring to become CIOs in the future, and, tagging onto that, if you've seen any kind of changes in the landscape with those skills, for example, if you thought skills were more technical 10 years ago, how does that compare now? Is it the same or not? Maybe Sandeep, are you willing to go first?

Sandeep Sidhu: I'll give it a shot. Three skills. I think number one has to be communication. What we're doing right now, to be able to share my message respectfully, candidly as well, and be able to make that connection, communication is absolutely number one no matter what industry or what level in an organization you're in.

The second one, I would say relationship-building, and I think Tara talked about authentic relationship-building. It has to be authentic. It cannot be transactional. So ability to nurture that and be able to go to that person, agree to disagree as well when needed. So I think that's the second for me.

The third one, I'm going to leave it a little open, but to me, that learning aspect. Again, Tara did talk about this earlier as well. Being a lifelong learner is a skill as well, to get comfortable with this idea, "Hey, we actually don't know enough," and keep investing in yourself, and a number of research has shown how, and this is leading up to the second part of the question, is how much investment we are making in ourselves and our teams to balance those. I think absolutely technical skills are necessary, but it's not the 90%. It used to be 90%. So how do you create this space for ourselves and others around us to build the emotional intelligence, you know, understanding. I talked about the emotional state. I've been a victim of my own emotional state when I don't know what's going on with me and I'm just responding to it. So I think that 90 to 10 has perhaps gone towards more 60 technical and 40 there. I don't know what the ideal balance is. I think it also depends on the role and the individual as well, but that's certainly shifted over time.

Tara Hughes: That's well said. I think I'm going to try to differentiate because Sandeep said three really good critical skills that I would co-sign on, for sure.

To me, I think I place a high premium on being teachable and humble, regardless of your role, and I think the higher up you go, the more important that is. I think it's really important to continue to stay curious, and I think that packages really nicely with what Sandeep was talking about, being that lifelong learner. But a lot of times if you are teachable, you have humility to know that you are not always going to have every answer, you are not necessarily the smartest person in the room, that you still have things that you have left to learn that someone else might need to teach you, that sets you up to be able to have authentic relationship-building, that sets you up to be able to make meaningful connections, to hear feedback from your staff, from your peers, your colleagues, and to be able to find consensus in spaces that otherwise would be really difficult to achieve, and it impacts your ability to communicate effectively so much.

I think the third thing that I would say is, see, now I'm just adding, like I'm packaging three into one, but I think the ability to, with those, be a good listener, to some degree a better listener than speaker or just as good of a listener, I think that's crucial. And I'm going to add a fourth. I think it's really important to be able to admit mistakes and then know how you're going to correct them.

From my vantage point, I think technology leadership has really shifted from 20 years ago, IT and the CIO, they were the sole authority on technology and how to fix your problem using technology. Tech is so ubiquitous at this point that anybody on campus might discover an app on the App Store, or a plugin, or whatever, that IT is not the sole authority on introducing technical solutions. And so really, I think the leadership has to be one of partnership, engagement, and collaboration, and if you are not creating that space because you are still coming from a really technocratic approach, I think that I don't see a space for that to really work as we move forward.

And I think from the young professional's perspective, I'm not seeing young professionals wanting to work for that kind of leader either. They want to be in collaborative spaces, they want their voice to matter, they want to be able to meaningfully contribute, and if you are not creating an environment that allows for that, not only are you stifling really good creative possibilities, that I don't think you're going to move your organization forward in any kind of meaningful way.

Sarah Buszka: My head is nodding so much. I'm like, "Yes."

Sandeep Sidhu: That is so beautifully said, Tara. I couldn't agree more with you.

Sarah Buszka: Yeah. Mic drop.

Sandeep Sidhu: Let's leave it on this high note.

Wes Johnson: I really appreciate it what both of y'all shared. I've heard some of those same things repeated by some other leaders that I've had the opportunity to speak to, and it seems like a lot of those things are very foundational to create an environment that makes a lot of the harder stuff that's not as fun to talk about about some of these roles, like the decisiveness, the compromise, the hard conversations are much easier to do when you're doing that, what feels to me, foundational work of creating a space where it's safe to talk about and even helpful to talk about failure or that you've built authentic relationships, that you have connections that it makes it easier to do the other side of the work, which isn't always as fun, because budget constraints exist, priority shift, right? So I think it's great that y'all shared that because it kind of gave the, in my eyes, the foundation of for a young professional, "Here's a few things I can start working on now that could prove valuable beyond just my career progression. Getting work done in general would be much more helpful with these things in place."

Sarah Buszka: Yeah.

Well, maybe as a final question to round this out, if we're willing, what kind of advice would you give to young professionals who are aspiring to become CIOs today? What is something they can do today and what is something they can maybe plan for tomorrow or in the near future to set themselves up towards that path of success to becoming a CIO? Either of you can go.

Sandeep Sidhu: That's a big question, that's a big question. I can take a stab at it and then-

Sarah Buszka: Go for it.

Sandeep Sidhu: ... Tara will do the mic drop. How's that?

Sarah Buszka: It's your turn.

Sandeep Sidhu: I have a few things, not just one, that I'm going to highlight. One, know yourself. I don't know how many of us spend the time to know ourselves. I started a little late in my career trying to recognize that number of what, you know, your StrengthsFinder, number of those exercises, and I think in the beginning, I was just doing them, but nothing was really clicking until you do a few of them and at different stages. So know yourself and know what your... When I say weak points, these are the ones when in a difficult moment, they take over you, and it's just who you are, nothing right or wrong, minus impulse control, which can be a weakness, but being spontaneous in a situation can be a strength, and knowing that and situating yourself in that space appropriately is important. So knowing yourself, absolutely.

And where you see that there is that room for growth, A, invest, and B, surround yourself with the people who will complement that for you. So build your team in such a way, and that's why there's a team. There is no one person. So that would be my second one.

The third one, I think when I look at leadership, it's a constantly-evolving space from a technology to... You know, who was talking about AI actively two years ago? So the trends are shifting. Be aware of the trends and know enough to be able to make decisions around it, influence it, but don't fall for the trends. I remember going to university trying to figure out, "Is it going to be networking hardware that I think I'll be successful in? Would it be business analysis? Should I learn this app?" And I remember the time when Java applets came out. I did not do well in that exam, and so many people around me told me, "Your career is over." I'm like, "I haven't even started a job yet." So we've lived through these different trends. I think trends will come and go, but just know enough and how to utilize them in your career.

And the last one I would say, surround yourself with people that believe in you. There are enough people around us who are anchoring us in a wrong way. One is anchoring what? So I think Tara was talking about be humble and there are people who help you kind of find that space, but there's some people who will just spend most of their time just telling you what's wrong. I'm sorry, but that doesn't work for me. I know that that doesn't work for me. If it doesn't work for others, just know that. And I spend more time with people who believe in me. By that, they will also tell me when I'm making a mistake, but their interest is rooted in positive belief in me, and that energizes me.

So those would be a few things I would highlight.

Sarah Buszka: Thank you. That's wonderful. Another mic drop. We've had two mic drops, probably more. Distinctly two at least.

Wes Johnson: We don't have any mics left.

Sarah Buszka: I know. Our collars are blowing off.

Wes Johnson: They wouldn't be able to hear you if it's on the...

Sandeep Sidhu: I'm actually having fun, so I really appreciate that.

Sarah Buszka: We do, too. Thank you.

And Tara, what advice-

Tara Hughes: This is good stuff.

Sarah Buszka: ... would you have?

Tara Hughes: Very similar. I think what Sandeep said about knowing yourself, I would expand on that a little bit in that you need to know who you are and what you stand for. You need to know your values, you need to know your skills. What do you contribute? What is unique about your perspective, your vision, how you can add value to a team? You need to know that in and out because you will be tested. You will be tested by different people, by different situations, and if you don't have a rootedness in that, you will struggle. And so I think that that is so critical, especially as you come up against hard decisions and challenging times. They will come. It's not if, it's will, and the best way to be prepared for that is to have a really confident sense of who you are and what you're about.

I think related to that is understanding then your worth. Where does your worth come from? What does your belonging in a space look like or not? And kind of what Brené Brown has talked a lot about, that our worth and belonging are not negotiated with other people, you have to live with yourself at the end of every day, and so you need to make sure that you are entering into spaces where you walk away and you have integrity to feel good about who you were in that situation, and if you can't, that you have the humility and the courage to apologize and make that right, to Sandeep's point. And so I think really understanding who you are helps you understand where you can go and be successful. If you need me to be someone other than myself, I'm not going to be successful.

And just kind of a little, this is a small anecdote, but for some of my recruitments, I just made a decision I'm going to wear my tennis shoes. I'm not wearing stilettos. I'm going to dress super nice and professionally, but this is who I am. And it's not meant to be disrespectful to the job. It helps that that's a fashion trend right now. And what was interesting is that I've heard feedback like, "Oh, I saw you wearing tennis shoes, and I was really disappointed, but then you were so amazing that it was like, 'Oh, I guess it doesn't matter.'"

And I've actually heard that there's been conversations about the shoes that I was wearing, right? That's fascinating to me. That's probably a whole other podcast you could do. But I think again, it speaks to like my shoes do not impact the work that I'm doing. I'm going to make sure that I show up in a space appropriately dressed and professional, but also recognizing that there is so much more to who I am and what I bring to the table than the way that I look, and if that is a deal-breaker in a certain space, then that's not the space for me.

And that's more of a trite example, but that is very true to I value authenticity, I value supporting people empathetically. If that's not a value of our institution, I'm not going to be successful there, and no matter what I say or do, if I can't change your mind on that, then this isn't the right fit for us. And to be able to have the confidence to know that about yourself and that, "That's not a space that I should enter," that is so empowering. So spend time figuring that out. I think related to that is have mentors. Surround yourself with people both personally and professionally who can help you dig in and really do that work to understand who you are and who you want to become, because they're going to be the folks who are going to help you along the way to get there.

And then I think the last thing is to really embrace the journey. There is no end state. Being a CIO is a great goal. It is not the end goal. I mean, we're seeing so many CIOs that I admire and adore so much moving on to a different chapter in their careers, doing meaningful work in just different ways. It's not bad to have a goal, but the goal is not a thing unto itself. It's just a part of your journey, it's a chapter in your story.

And so I think that you have to be willing to have open hands with it, too, that maybe along your journey, you thought you wanted to be a CIO and you see like, "Man, that's not what feeds me and gives me joy. I want to be able to move in a different direction." That's 100% okay, and that doesn't mean that your goal is any less than. Or that you want to become a CIO and, five years in, you're like, "You know what? That's great. I have a different passion." Or life has just created circumstances where there is something better for me doing something differently. I think we have to be much more flexible with ourselves and give ourselves the grace to adapt, because we don't know what the future looks like in two years from now.

And I just think that young professionals are so ambitious, my concern, and this is the mom coming out in me, I'm sorry, but my concern is that we're so focused on maybe that goal, we burn out before we ever get there. And so we need to really take care of ourselves both mentally, and physically, and emotionally, and spiritually so that wherever we go, it's worth going to and that we're whole and healthy in the process.

Sarah Buszka: I think we've sufficiently dropped all the mics, all of them. They're all dropped.

Wes Johnson: Can you hear what I'm saying? Yeah, like I think they're gone.

Sarah Buszka: They're gone.

Sandeep Sidhu: [inaudible 00:44:31]. I don't know if you noticed that. It's like that's it.

Sarah Buszka: Oh, you, too. This is just so heartwarming. Every time I speak with you, I'm reminded of just how incredible you are and how grateful I am to have you in my life, because I consider you all here mentors, including you, Wes. It's just such an incredible community to be a part of, and I just want to say thank you. Just truly, thank you. I think this has been a healing session for me personally and I certainly hope to all of our listeners, too, because this was very therapeutic.

Sandeep Sidhu: Sarah, that is such a compliment. Sandeep and healing in the same session has never happened. It's usually the other way around, you have me that's healing after that. So I just want to say what an amazing work both of you are doing with this podcast and really bringing out some amazing talented people. And it's a peer mentorship space. It's not one-way, it's two-way, and every time I meet each one of you, I learn something new. And you don't want to know what's going to happen in my next meeting. I'm going to be full of so much energy, I'm like, "Let's do it," and people would be like [inaudible 00:45:46]. So I really appreciate that.

Sarah Buszka: Oh, thank you so much.

Tara Hughes: Yeah, and it's so fun to see an idea actually come to life and blossom, and I know in YPAC, when we were doing our brainstorming session, just kind of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what stuck, I mean, this is amazing to be able to have a podcast and to see the way that you all have planted it and watered it, and to see it really flourish is awesome.

Sarah Buszka: Oh, thank you so much. I'm blushing.

Wes Johnson: Thank you.

Sarah Buszka: I love this. Thank you. Thank you.

Sandeep Sidhu: We have some other ideas about podcasting that we talked about earlier. Maybe the next podcast is about that.

Sarah Buszka: I'm on board. We'll bring more mics so we can drop them.

Thank you in advance, EDUCAUSE, John and Jerry, for that.

Sandeep Sidhu: Actually, that's something, I will build on what you just said. I think EDUCAUSE has certainly stepped up in so many ways in building this community and network. I clearly wouldn't be here today if that did not exist. I'm sure we all remember our first EDUCAUSE. I think, Tara, you talked about it. And I remember the first time I joined the YPAC group as well. So these are a lot of pivotal moments that have shifted, I think, my level of confidence in the community that we've built, and it's phenomenal what they've put together. And it's sustainable. It's not a one-time-done. It keeps feeding itself, and I just love seeing that.

Sarah Buszka: Yeah, me, too. Thank you.

Well, I don't want to give too many spoilers away, but one of our next episodes, we'll be having one of our co-leads of the Young Professionals Community Group, Joseph Caudle, joining us. So there's a lot of folks behind the scenes who have really kind of established this machine, this pipeline of talent and who are running it and growing it, so thank you all for being a part of it, thank you for continuing to grow it and being our partners and friends in this journey in higher education technology. I want to pass the mic. I know, I picked up another one, I found one. I want to pass the mic to Wes to close this out.

Wes Johnson: Well, Sandeep, Tara, even Sarah, thank you all so much. I very much enjoyed this conversation. I got my own secret notes. It was hard to look like I was paying attention while also writing down, "Yeah, I might try that, too." So thank y'all so much for that. I hope this has been helpful to our young professional community. And with that, we are the Rising Voices Podcast. Thank you all so much, and see you and hear you on the next one.

Sandeep Sidhu: Thank you for-

Sarah Buszka: Thank you.


This episode features:

Tara Hughes
Chief Information Officer
California State University, Monterey Bay

Sandeep Sidhu
Chief Information Officer
Emily Carr University of Art & Design

Sarah J. Buszka
Senior Relationship Manager
Stanford University

Wes Johnson
Executive Director Campus IT Experience
University of California, Berkeley