On the morning of our conversation, Rick Swanborg isn’t grading papers or planning his next lecture. He’s dealing with some errors from his payroll processor and going back and forth with the State of Massachusetts on some money he’s already given them. Such is the nature of being part academic, part entrepreneur.
A graduate of Knox College with a degree in mathematics and computer science, Swanborg spends part of his time running ICEX, a company which organizes confidential executive forums as an alternative to traditional research and conferences. He also teaches business strategy and information technology at Boston University’s School of Management. This summer, he takes his expertise online as one of the first instructors in IT World Canada’s TechLearningSpace.com, which will offer courses in architecture, governance and organization as well as IT strategy, measurement and value.
CIO Canada recently spoke with Professor Swanborg over the phone at his home base in Boston.
CIO Canada: You used to be a CIO yourself, didn’t you? How did you get your start?
I got out of college after working my way through IT. I actually started work in IT at the age of 19. My first summer job was working for Deerborn Computer. I started off in running computer operations and then I was programming, writing accounts receivable and financial information systems for them. As such, by the time I got out of college I had essentially the equivalent of two year’s worth of experience. Then I went to Helix and for a while there I ran their IT department. At the age of 29 I was asked to be head of operations for a software company. So I was director of operations, which included overseeing the IT role.
CIO Canada: Your background was in math and computer science. Would you still see those as good prerequisites for aspiring to an IT leadership today?
No. (laughs) If you want to be a programmer for Google or Microsoft, or you want to write operating system code for EMC or whatever, than a computer science degree is the way to go. And most graduates of computer science want to work for the FAA, or Raytheon — putting missile systems together. But in the business field, generally most students today get an MIS degree, but a degree in computer science. And many of them are getting both a business and an IT degree. And businesses are hiring more and more students out of business school, because you’ve got packages out there, and you’re doing a lot more offshoring and other things. There’s less need for people in to write code any more.
CIO Canada: Does the MIS degree really cut it?