Cultivating a Brighter Career Outlook as a CDO in 2020

Being a Chief Digital Officer or Chief Data Officer (CDO) isn't cut and dry. The nuances of the job description aside, some companies don’t even agree CDOs are necessary. If you hold such a role, this isn't exactly an encouraging outlook.  

Being a Chief Digital Officer or Chief Data Officer (CDO) isn’t cut and dry. The nuances of the job description aside, some companies don’t even agree CDOs are necessary. If you hold such a role, this isn’t exactly an encouraging outlook.  

The upside is it’s possible to sell your worth with a potential employer—at least at present. You may have to deviate from traditional self-promotion tactics, but as a data scientist, you’re more than qualified to get the message across. 

The Current Status of the CDO 

CDOCDOs play transformative roles in enterprise technology projects. In today’s modern environment, they help govern the data resources that increasingly decide the fate of corporate undertakings.  

This function doesn’t always translate into a clear cost-benefit analysis. Unlike rigorously defined technology frameworks, such as those used to manage IT services and applications, data science can produce broader outcomes. Both open to interpretation and heavily dependent on outside factors, it doesn’t always have an obvious baseline that would help you explain your value. Whereas professionals in other positions can point to their bottom-line impact, it’s sometimes challenging to demonstrate the value of informed decision-making in dollar terms.  

Does that mean CDOs start looking over their shoulders for termination notices? Maybe—but not yet. C-suite data officers are in high demand at companies looking to grow, but experts warn such positions lack longevity. After a CDO powers their employer’s successful digital transformation, they could struggle to justify their continued role within an organization. 

How to Build Your Case for a Long-Term CDO Position 

Companies don’t have to collect or provide data for customers in order to benefit from data science. This versatility somewhat parallels the original Digital Revolution, when businesses realized the value of structured IT practices en masse, regardless of their industry. Now that every enterprise is online and rushing into the future, they want fresh ways to benefit from the data they generate. 

Merely telling your coworkers how you can improve on their existing processes won’t cut it. Go a step further by discovering new to make your enterprise more functional, and as with any exercise worth doing, show your work 


Exercise communication skills.  

You have access to mounds of data that your stakeholders lack. Try presenting it in a format that makes the value easier to glean. 

Take the time to present your insights using simple language and tell the story in pictures with charts and graphs. As a data scientist, you’re uniquely positioned to differentiate yourself from other leaders who rely heavily on intuition. 

Don’t feel like setting up a department blog or sacrificing slick formatting to the arcane deities of email formatting? Programs like the ObservableHQ notebook make it easy to communicate concepts with a dash of Markdown and some quick, vanilla JavaScript. It also doesn’t hurt that they automatically respond to different viewing platforms, integrate smoothly with tools like d3.js, and reactively update on changes. As self-contained webpages, notebooks also make excellent CV fodder. 

Don’t move heaven and earth trying to come up with topics—you’ve probably already written the code comments that can inspire your evangelistic source material. Take advantage of version-control and commenting tools to work collaboratively. Getting your whole team involved is a great way to craft one-page whitepapers organically and translate big ideas into consumable chapters. The joint effort will also promote pride in your team’s work and can boost their brand loyalty, job satisfaction, and performance.  

Become more inquisitive than your job demands. 

You don’t want to go poking around where you’re unwelcome, but proactive, investigative curiosity is critical to your career success. When someone asks you to start gathering information concerning a particular business process or problem, you should automatically look beyond their narrow scope to see the broader implications. Expanding your purview will help you solve issues, anticipate future demand, and identify patterns that could increase profitability. 

Learn from industry thought leaders—watch Ivy Exec’s webinar series.

Optimize your work. 

The data you gather shouldn’t just pertain to the workplace around you. Whether you start time tracking or perform sentiment analysis on the feedback you receive via email, you can improve your performance by evaluating your work and holding yourself accountable.  

This point tends to escape some executives. Even though they keep tabs on their workers’ habits, they’re not always as diligent about quantifying their own performance.  

If you’re serious about standing out for the quality of your work, reflect on your ability to investigative hunches, spearhead evangelism efforts, and develop successful governance plans. Keep track of your metrics. You’ll find it easier to build a library of adaptable solutions that make it possible to refine your process. 

CDORebrand Digital Disruption. 

Everyone wants to be a disruptor, but most leaders don’t crave risk exposure. Unfortunately, the two go hand in hand. How can you shake things up without first preparing to ride out the aftershocks? 

Risk is scary to many stakeholders. If you have a path to the CEO’s ear, then leverage your influence to repackage the idea. Acknowledge the fact that outward, brand-oriented digital transformations also beget internal changes, but use citable information to reframe these evolutionary consequences as pivot points. 

When you pitch a new project, pull your head out of the data fog. Take a hint from the world of business continuity planning to anticipate problems before they occur. If you can help ease these growing pains, you’ll seem more competent and even tenure-worthy. 

Your Work Revolves Around Preparing for the Future—Keep Thinking About Yours 

CDOs help companies migrate toward innovative business practices, and cultural change is a natural auxiliary benefit. Having an IT background won’t prepare you for the diplomacy and outreach that are required to convince others of your value, so hone those skills as soon as possible. 

Good leaders build bridges and make them easy to cross. Your involvement in the sticky technical details doesn’t exempt you from needing to interface with the rest of your enterprise.  

Chief Data Officer is unlikely to be a lifelong position for most people unless they’re exceptionally charismatic and continuously innovating. Those who generate clear business value — and evangelize on their behalf — will have an easier time maintaining their employment or transitioning to related and more desirable roles. 

Work one-on-one with an executive career coach to learn how you can advance your career!


About the Author

AHJ George is an author and self-represented studio artist. Their work broadly addresses the mediating roles of group behavior and machine-human interfaces on creative expression.