“Embrace challenges with the strength of your sisters and brothers before you. Continue to forge the path for the generation behind you. Take pride in who you are and what you bring.”
‘Move Your Feet’:
CIO Anne Milkovich Shares Tips for Success in Tech
Community Spotlight: Dr. Anne Milkovich, Chief Information Officer, Nevada System of Higher Education
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Dr. Milkovich has over 14 years of experience in higher education including CIO and related roles at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Montana State University. Prior to that, Anne spent 20 years in private sector IT fields and business consulting.
Her education includes an MBA and a doctorate in Higher Education Administration, with research in the practice of academic program prioritization. Her IT experience is primarily in the business management aspects of IT: leadership and management; financial planning and investment management; contracts and acquisitions; and portfolio, program, and project management.
Dr. Milkovich was a featured speaker at Internet2’s I2I webinar “Women Leaders During a Time of Change.” Watch the video of the October 12th event! She recently took time out of her busy schedule to share some of her professional insights with Internet2.
Q: You are a part of a large system – eight institutions – at the Nevada System of Higher Education. As a CIO, you are likely expected to evolve, ensure continuity, and increase productivity and efficiencies. How do you stay on top of all your daily responsibilities while keeping focused on the big picture?
A: Leveraging the talent of your people. Most teams have a diverse array of talents and interests. Focus on taking care of the people, so the people can take care of the work. If anyone else CAN do something, LET them. Only do what ONLY you can do. When you focus on taking care of the people, so they can take care of the work, fewer issues will need your attention and you can take time out for bigger picture thinking. Of course, that takes time to build, with strong skills in delegating and coaching, to get there.
Q: During the webinar, you revealed “When I write a memoir it’s going to be called ‘The Accidental Strategist.’” Would you describe your career path and what that means?
A: I have always worked on the human side of technology—technical writing and training, project management, IT finance, and HR management. Many CIOs come from a deeply technical track. I had enough technical depth to write about it and teach it, but I had never held positions in programming, or networking, or traditional hardware and software roles. It’s hard to convince people that you can be a CIO without deep technical expertise, but if you can overcome that obstacle, it’s much better to be a CIO with soft skills than technical acumen. No CIO has depth in every domain of IT; they will have come up one track or another, and they will inevitably err on the side of focusing more on that one area. If you did not rise up through a technical channel, you will work more broadly. You need the ability to sift through the noise to find a signal in every domain and to see through smoke screens that come your way. You need to know how to find the answer, not how to be the answer.
Q: What other kernels of wisdom can you share from your successful career in tech?
A: It’s not about tech, it’s about people and problem-solving. Search for ways to make people’s lives easier and help the world at scale. Don’t think about making yourself seem likable, think about making others feel liked.
And my two universal pieces of wisdom I like to share:
- Ask questions. Asking questions gives you more information before committing to an answer. It shows respect for other people’s knowledge. It makes other people feel valued. It gives you time to think. Asking questions avoids a rush to judgment or a hasty unthoughtful response. No one can criticize you for asking a question. If an answer is contentious, phrase it in the form of a question. It deflects fire. Asking questions pulls the answers out of people, so they feel ownership, rather than trying to push the answers into them, which they will resist.
- Move your feet. When my daughter played volleyball and basketball, the coaches always yelled, “Move your feet!” Don’t stand rooted and reach, that pulls you off balance. Move your feet to the ball. Don’t wait for opportunities in life, move your feet. When someone asks you to do something, don’t be slow to act. Move your feet. Don’t stand and stare at someone in need. Move your feet. If you’re in a bad situation, don’t wallow and whine. Move your feet. Want to be “a mover and a shaker?” Shakers don’t accomplish anything; they just rattle things around. Move your feet.
“It’s not about tech, it’s about people and problem-solving. Search for ways to make people’s lives easier and help the world at scale. Don’t think about making yourself seem likable, think about making others feel liked.”
-Dr. Anne Milkovich
Q: You mentioned during the webinar that the pandemic creates some “societal shifts” in the workforce, and you hope it opens more opportunities in IT for women and people of color. What advice do you have for women and people of color who are reluctant to pursue a career in IT?
A: We stand on the shoulders of giants. I am dumbfounded with respect for the courage of the trailblazers who have gone before us, especially women of color who faced compounded resistance. Embrace challenges with the strength of your sisters and brothers before you. Continue to forge the path for the generation behind you. Take pride in who you are and what you bring. Leverage the negative energy of the naysayers and turn it against them. Prove them wrong. Don’t let your path be altered by the smallness of their minds.
Q: During the webinar, there was a lot of great discussion about the importance of mentoring. Can you share how a mentor has helped you in your career, and pass along advice for those who are seeking a mentor?
A: Formal mentors are a good option, but informal or silent mentors are a good alternative. By informal mentors, I mean your friends and colleagues you have found to give you sound advice in the past. Just talking to someone can help you think through a problem. By silent mentors, I mean people you can model after without seeking their advice. Throughout my career, I have identified people who were ahead of me in their career or their success track. I observed their behavior and thought about it, then adopted their positive attributes. I also identified people who did not appear to be on a successful track. I observed their behavior and thought about it, then made a point to not adopt their counterproductive attributes. When I realized I had outgrown a silent mentor, I looked around and found another. It was a great way to internally recognize my own growth.
“See adversity as an opportunity to turn something to your advantage. You may have to look hard. It might take days or weeks. But unless you’re on the Titanic, there is a way through. Over, under, or around the rocks, the only way out is through.”
–Dr. Anne Milkovich
Q: As a leader, what are your strategies for dealing with adversity? How do you recommend bouncing back from it?
A: I received good advice when parenting young children. Develop competence in at least ONE thing, no matter what it is. When adversity strikes, you can fall back on that ONE thing you are competent at. You can always remember, Yes this is a bad day, but I’m good at that ONE thing. See adversity as an opportunity to turn something to your advantage. You may have to look hard. It might take days or weeks. But unless you’re on the Titanic, there is a way through. Over, under, or around the rocks, the only way out is through. P.S. If you’re on the Titanic, get off.
Q: What are your passions outside of the office?
A: I’m an equestrian athlete. I jump horses over fences. It’s incredibly strength-building and confidence-building, both physically and mentally. When I’m feeling down about adversity, I remind myself that today might have been a tough day, but I can do THAT.
Q: What are you proudest of?
A: Raising three humans to be courteous, compassionate, contributing members of society, who ask questions and move their feet.