Information Technology Leadership Academy Archives

Background Summary

The current Information Technology Leadership Academy is the result of many dedicated IT managers refining the program over the course of over three decades. The program began in 1990 at the State Training Center under the name Data Processing Manager’s Academy (DPMA). The original and groundbreaking training program provided coursework in project management, resource control, customer service, client negotiations, and effective communications.

By the ninth iteration of the academy, the course content had expanded to include collaborative skills, change management, and strategic and tactical planning. As a result, in 2001 the more vigorous program was renamed the Information Technology Managers Academy (ITMA) to better reflect the wider variety of IT classifications of the program participants. The program continued to evolve through the 2000’s, with class projects researching and developing IT workforce and succession plans and exploring “green” initiatives. In 2010 the name was again updated to the Information Technology Leadership Academy (ITLA) to more accurately describe the program’s emphasis on developing future CIO’s and state IT leaders. The academy continues to serve as a valuable training ground by providing coursework in advanced leadership skills and opportunities for participants to forge professional friendships that last for their entire career.

Past Academies:

Information Technology Leadership Academy (ITLA)


Congratulations, ITLA 31 Class 2024!

This year marked another stellar year of learning, growth, and comradery for the 31st IT Leadership Academy (ITLA) cohort, beginning with a lively Kickoff event at the Department of Technology’s (CDT) Training and Education Center (TEC) on January 11, 2024.

While the 2024 program delivery remained primarily remote in support of many departments’ shift to a hybrid workforce model, additional opportunities to network and interface were added to this year’s curriculum through formal instructional or collaborative sessions in support of their Team Class Exercise, which continues to serve as the culminating experience for the program.

For this year’s Team Class Exercise, the ITLA 2024 Program Coaches, Larry Hicks (formerly with the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), now retired), and Jean Cooper, (now with the California Lottery), were tasked with selecting topics they deemed most critical as they applied to leadership within the 2024 curriculum. Once teams chose their topics, they were directed to develop a presentation that would be informative, innovative, meaningful, and valuable. This year’s topics focused on:

  • Strategic Planning
  • Change Management Simulation
  • Storytelling for Impact
  • Leadership Blind Spots
  • Innovation Trends and Challenges
  • Leading Through a Crisis

Delivered for the first time in ITLA history using a hybrid format, the cohort did not disappoint as they put their creative skills to the test and produced unique, memorable, and thoughtful presentations for the audience that included their Agency Information Officers (AIOs), Chief Information Officers (CIOs), supervisors/managers, ITLA alumni, and other esteemed guests.

The results of their hard work can be found via CDT’s YouTube channel

This year’s in-person graduation was full of good cheer and ITLA spirit. With over 130 guests attending either remotely or in person at the TEC, the 2024 program concluded on April 4, 2024, with dynamic guest speakers who spoke to the power of “why,” the road ahead for innovation in state government, and the importance of embracing the friendships, knowledge, and skills they have gained. Speakers included Jonathan Porat, State Chief Technology Officer, Stephenson Loveson, Chief Information Officer (CIO) for CalPERS, and the cohort’s selected student representatives, Anamika Singh, California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), and Michael Muth, Office of Technology and Solutions Integration (OTSI).

Early in the program, the cohort threw down the virtual gauntlet and vowed to be remembered as “the best of the best.” With their commitment to accountability, engagement, self-reflection, and personal growth, they certainly lived up to the challenge and should be extremely proud of all they have accomplished.  


ITLA 30 logo.


On January 11, 2023, the Office of Professional Development (OPD) welcomed its newest class representing a milestone year – the program’s 30th cohort. This year also marked the first time in three years that ITLA included both in-person and virtual class sessions within its curriculum.

This year’s cohort represented a diverse mix of personal and professional backgrounds from 28 unique agencies and departments. Conducted over a rigorous 17-week period, students were able to meet, network, and support one another in person during lively, interactive sessions such as Business Chemistry, Leadership Branding, and Executive Presentation Skills while attending many ITLA “classics” virtually such as Exemplary Leadership for IT Professionals, Conflict Management, and Strategic Planning.

For their Team Class Exercise Assignment, the cohort was given ample latitude to select any topic included in the 2023 Program Schedule with their assigned team to research, develop, and deliver a thoughtful, interesting, and valuable presentation to their fellow classmates, supervisors, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and Agency Information Officers (AIOs). The goal was for students to take ownership of this highly collaborative experience to create a final product that had real-world applicability with knowledge that could be shared directly with their home departments. Throughout the program, students worked diligently to create interesting presentations on the following, critical topics impacting leadership:

  • Conflict Management
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Human-centered Design
  • Leadership and IT Security
  • Talent Recruitment and Marketing
  • California Digital Citizen Identification
  • BCP Tactics for Success
  • Enterprise Communication
  • Talent Retention
  • Leadership Branding

The results of their hard work can be viewed via the Department of Technology’s YouTube channel.

This year represented another milestone – the academy’s first hybrid graduation where students were celebrated both virtually and in person. With over 150 remote guests in attendance and the support of their direct supervisors, CIOs, and AIOs in person, ITLA 30 commenced on May 4, 2023, with thoughtful, inspiring words from guest speakers, including Kristin Montgomery, Director over Enterprise Information Services with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and the cohort’s student representative, Ricardo Cervantes, Assistant Agency Information Officer with the Labor Workforce and Development Agency.

The ITLA 30 class did an amazing job of sharing their own stories, best practices, and challenges, as well as providing many laughs during their experience. They will be missed and definitely live up to their tagline as being “the most legit.”   


ITLA 28 logo


While every ITLA cohort is unique and special in its own way, this year’s class definitely set itself apart by being the first fully virtual ITLA in the Academy’s rich history. With much excitement and anticipation in the air, ITLA 28 kicked off on January 6, 2021, with 30 students from 21 departments and state entities who were selected based on the thoughtfulness of their application responses and the recommendations of their Chief Information Officers (CIOs).

The Office of Professional Development’s Deputy Director, Brenda Bridges Cruz, who is also the ITLA Executive Sponsor, kicked off the event with a warm welcome and served as moderator. Executive Guest Speakers who shared in the celebration and provided their words of wisdom during the kickoff event were Richard Rogers, Deputy State Chief Information Officer and Chief Deputy Director for the California Department of Technology (now retired) and Marcie Kahbody, Deputy Secretary and Agency Chief Information Officer for the California State Transportation Agency (also an ITLA alum). Additional speakers were this year’s Program Coaches, Lela Kruger, Special Projects Manager for the Department of Motor Vehicles, and Jefferson Willoughby, Chief Information Officer for the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. Also in attendance was one of our esteemed Program Advisors, Michelle Lawson, who serves as the Chief Technology Business Officer for CalPERs. (Lela, Jefferson, and Michelle are all also proud ITLA alumni).

Many changes have impacted the state workforce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic; therefore, this year’s curriculum frequently addressed challenges surrounding remote leadership and recommended best practices to be successful in this new normal. While many ITLA favorites returned, such as Emotional Intelligence, Business Chemistry, and Organizational Change Management, eight new classes were added to the curriculum, including Managing Virtual Teams, Crafting a Leadership Brand, Systems Thinking, and Talking Like a Leader. This year also marked the first time that the Walk Like a Leader experience was aptly renamed to be Zoom Like a Leader and conducted virtually. In addition, the OPD was thrilled to include the well-known Executive Presentation Skills class using a fully remote format, which will prove to be essential as remote working is expected to be the norm in our future workforce.

As with all cohorts, one of the most memorable components of the program is the Team Class Exercise, where students work collaboratively to plan, develop, and deliver a statewide presentation focusing on a critical gap in the state’s IT workforce. This year’s topic could not have been more relevant as the cohort focused on Goal 5 of the Vision 2023 State IT Strategic Plan, which concentrates on building more confident, empowered, multi-disciplinary teams. Tasked with developing a cohesive recommendation and proof of concept for effectively addressing Goal 5, students demonstrated incredible flexibility, professionalism, and dedication to create and deliver their final presentation to over 200 attendees on April 29, 2021. The results of their hard work can be viewed here.

Additionally, the students’ participation in the 2021 CIO Academy was also virtual and they had to be creative in how they marketed themselves and generated interest in their statewide class presentation. Several members of the class certainly delivered by working closely with OPD’s videographer to star in a fun video infomercial.

This year’s virtual graduation took place on May 7, 2021, with some lively guest speakers there to send off our latest cohort. In addition to the ITLA 28 Program Coaches and Advisors were Russ Nichols, Deputy State Chief Information Officer and Chief Deputy Director for the California Department of Technology, and Brian Wong, Chief Deputy Director for the Office of Systems Integration. Both speakers elaborated on the importance of our graduates’ role in state government and recommended they set their goals high, drive the mission of their departments, harness the talents of their staff, and, perhaps most importantly, to be themselves as leaders. The full graduation can be viewed via YouTube.

This year’s cohort deserves much praise for their willingness to collaborate successfully using this new remote medium and be open minded to what is possible as leaders. We wish them success as their leadership journey continues.


ITLA 27 logo


Now in its 27th year, the IT Leadership Academy (ITLA) kicked off the beginning of its newest cohort on January 8, 2020. With over 50 applications received, the top 30 students from 20 unique departments and agencies were selected to represent this year’s cohort, which was ushered in by Amy Tong, State Chief Information Officer and Director of the Department of Technology, and included advice from special guest speaker Adam Dondro, Agency Chief Information Officer for the Health and Human Services Agency. Additional speakers who also shared their wisdom for our newest class included this year’s Program Coaches, Blake Cooke from the Franchise Tax Board and Michelle Lawson from CalPERS, and one of our Program Advisors, Thomas Boon, Chief Information Officer from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development- all of whom are ITLA alumni.

As with past cohorts, this year’s curriculum emphasized the importance of practical, real-world skills critical for our future IT leaders, including Strategic Planning, Organizational Change Management, Human Centered Design, and high-level overviews of what executives need to know about IT project efforts, security, and the IT procurement process. There was also a significant focus on soft skills with the inclusion of Business Chemistry, Emotional Intelligence, and Exemplary Leadership for IT Professionals.

This year’s group started off strong with their team exercise effort, the focus of which was how to leverage existing data resources to deliver value for business and IT decision-making. However, due to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and the unforeseeable postponement of the Academy, it was decided that the team exercise be cancelled. While this was of course disappointing, the students’ positivity, flexibility, and determination to complete the Academy speaks to their exceptional professionalism and leadership skills. Classes resumed in May using an online format, a first for ITLA, and concluded on June 10, 2020.

This year’s graduation was another first for ITLA in that the event was completely virtual. Thanks to the graciousness of our guest speakers and the assistance of the cohort, the event was extremely well received by both students and executives. Finally, this year ITLA began the tradition of establishing an ITLA Wall of Fame with Joe Panora being named as our first inductee to show our appreciation for all his support over the years. Joe is an alumnus of the second Academy (known as the Data Processing Manager’s Academy when he attended). The full graduation can be viewed via YouTube.

While the interruption of this year’s program was unfortunate, the Office of Professional Development sincerely appreciates everyone’s willingness to pivot, lend their support, and share their good humor. This will certainly be an unforgettable year in ITLA’s long history.


ITLA 26 - Emotional Intelligence

ITLA 26 logo


This year the Information Technology Leadership Academy (ITLA) welcomed the 26th cohort of its leadership program on January 8, 2019. Comprised of 30 students, from 19 unique agencies and departments, the class was welcomed by Amy Tong, Director and State Chief Information Officer, and Chris Cruz, Chief Deputy Director and Deputy State Chief Information Officer, along with other special guest speakers, program sponsors, and former graduates.

This year’s curriculum brought back some class favorites, such as Leadership for IT Professionals, Business Chemistry, and Executive Presentations Skills courses, as well as some exciting new additions including Emotional Intelligence, Strategic Leadership, and Change Management Strategies. These classes provided real-world skills and best practices students could take back to their departments.

For their culminating assignment and in support of California’s Vision 2020 Strategic Plan Goal 3: Build a Dynamic Workforce, this year’s class exercise focused on the topic of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and provided practical strategies for how the state’s workforce can incorporate the four talents of EQ: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

Covered California was gracious enough to allow our students the use of their facility to host their Statewide Presentation on May 1, which incorporated a wealth of useful information as well as a lively skit written collectively by the class to help illustrate the do’s and don’ts associated with emotional intelligence. To learn more, the full class presentation is available for viewing.

This year’s lively cohort graduated on May 10, there is no doubt that the knowledge, and skills gained will be as meaningful as the lifelong friendships that formed.

Well done ITLA Class 26!


ITLA 25 - Vision 2020

ITLA 25 logo


On October 13, 2017, the Office of Professional Development (OPD) at the California Department of Technology (CDT) kicked off its newest cohort of the Information Technology Leadership Academy (ITLA). This exciting year marked the 25th cohort of the Leadership Program. The kickoff event included a keynote speech by Amy Tong, State Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Director of the California Department of Technology (CDT), and thoughtful advice and encouragement from Chris Cruz, State Deputy Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Deputy Director of CDT, ITLA Program Coaches and Advisors, and a former ITLA student. In attendance were many IT executives including state Agency Information Officers (AIO), CIOs, deputies and ITLA alumni.

The cohort consisted of 30 students from 21 unique agencies and departments. The program was condensed to a seven-month academy framework where students had to “lean in” quickly to engage their course work, complete a class exercise, and network with their peers throughout the program. This year’s class exercise focused on the State of California’s Vision 2020 framework for achieving one digital government. Students were tasked with developing and presenting a solution for the difficult challenge of increasing customer satisfaction through improved responsiveness, efficiency, and effectiveness of government services. Students also completed coursework focused on critical leadership, collaboration, communication, and presentation skills needed to execute their exercise successfully.

On April 11, 2018, the students live streamed their statewide presentation from Covered California to a large audience which included many AIOs, CIOs, and other interested executives from a wide variety of departments. Their presentation was extremely well received.  It was another exceptional year for the IT Leadership Academy, with this year’s students proudly representing the academy’s silver anniversary.


ITLA 24 - Access IT California



The graduation ceremony and celebration for the ITLA 24 class members took place on June 2nd, 2017. The class was comprised of 30 students from 23 unique agencies and departments. This year’s graduation was a standing room only gala celebration that featured speeches from Amy Tong, CDT Director and State CIO, Chris Cruz, CDT Chief Deputy Director and Deputy State CIO, and other distinguished program sponsors and former graduates.

The students’ diverse backgrounds made this year’s class discussions lively and informative as they shared their experiences and insights on all things IT. This year, the curriculum was designed to front load more classes in the first few months so that students were exposed to one another and their class managers more frequently. This assisted in having them get to know one another more quickly and helped form the ITLA Alumni bond earlier in the program.

The students completed many highly informative courses. The first was Leadership Foundations which taught the RAPID® decision making model and the DISC® communication styles. The Van Write Writing Workshop introduced mind mapping and sentence aerobics. These skills benefited the students in their next course—Executive Presentation skills. All of the students felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment with their ability to overcome their fear of public speaking despite the fact that this is the most dreaded class in the program. The course on the Budget Process taught a foundational understanding of the BCP process that was a benefit to all. A class titled Business Chemistry was highly interactive and enabled students to understand their communication styles as well as recognizing certain traits in others. Other classes focused on the Legislative Budget ProcessPersonal Leadership and Speaker Day, where various leaders discussed their IT career journeys with the class. Closing out the program were the Political Skills and Executive Interview Skills courses.

The class project chosen for this year was Access IT California. The goal of the project was to make web accessibility easy for all state departments to adopt and to build awareness around the need for accessibility. The project was sponsored by the Department of Rehabilitation and the Project Manager was Valerie Stanfield. The class presented an overview of the project at a festive event at the CA State Lottery Auditorium on May 19th. The results of their work can be found at Access IT California.

The students have demonstrated tremendous growth and certainly lived up to their mantra “Do More—ITLA 24!”


ITLA 23 - California Mentor Program (CaMP) and California Security Jumpstart Project

ITLA 23 logo


The graduation ceremony and celebration for the ITLA 23 class members took place on June 10th, 2016. The class consisted of 30 students from 25 unique departments.

This year, the ITLA 23 curriculum started with a two-day course in Leadership Branding where the cohort explored the five practices of exemplary leadership. Next, they learned that “learning how to unlearn is the most important thing for a leader” in the “Using Your Brain to Win: The Human Factor” class. ITLA 23 then studied advanced business writing techniques and learned to communicate under pressure in their “Executive Presentations” day. They explored intricate details of their home department’s budget and were able to apply what they learned by viewing the Governor’s Budget Presentation on January 7th. The new year also brought the Walk Like a Leader assignments when each participant receives a day-in-the-life experience shadowing various executive level program and state IT leaders.

In February, ITLA participants were featured prominently at the CIO Academy (February 24th-25th). Each member of ITLA 23 was assigned to teams for delivering content for the breakout sessions.

Finally, the class put the final touches on two class projects that were part of the program this year.

One project addresses the severe shortage of IT professionals and leaders that California state government faces in the coming years. The California Mentor Program (CaMP) project enhances the skills of the State’s IT staff through intensive one-on-one mentoring. State IT leaders and technical experts mentor IT staff (mentees), to enhance their skills and expand their careers. Mentors and mentees meet a few hours a month, over a six-month time period. Mentors benefit, as they foster and guide future IT leaders for the state, and mentees benefit, as they learn from successful leaders and experts in the technology field. Ms. Deborah Cunningham (DHCS) was the Project Manager of the team.

The California Security Jumpstart Project fills a vital role by providing tools that help state departments classify and categorize their information assets and craft solid business requirements for projects. Sponsored by the California Information Security Office and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, this award-winning project will minimize the risk and potential of a disclosure, breach and/or destruction of Californians’ information assets. Ms. Francoise Le (OSI) was the Project Manager of the team.

The future of technology within the State of California looks very bright thanks to the ITLA 23 class and its many hundreds of hours focused on these two valuable and sustainable projects.


ITLA 22 - The California Business Portal (Go-Biz)

ITLA 22 logo

Congratulations to the ITLA 22 Class of 2014 – 2015!!

ITLA 22 celebrated nine-months of accomplishments when they graduated June 12, 2015. Graduation day was full of excitement and the bitter-sweet acceptance that a truly great experience was coming to an end. Besides forming strong friendships, walking like a leader, honing executive speaking skills, and thinking fast on their feet in mock budget hearings, their biggest accomplishment by far is their project – the California Business Portal.

California Business Portal is a one-stop website where current and future California business owners learn what incentives, permits, regulations, taxes, forms, and financing applies to them. Visitors use interactive tools to get answers to questions about how to start, relocate, or expand a business in California. Or they can visit the online Service Desk for answers to 700 frequently asked questions. Visitors can speak to a live person, or be connected to partner agencies posting business content on Portal like Franchise Tax Board, Secretary of State, Board of Equalization, and Employment Development Department. Over the next year, the site’s sponsor, Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, will onboard more state organizations critical to launching and sustaining California businesses.

ITLA 22 developed the Portal to meet the mission, vision, and guiding principles of the State of California’s IT Strategic Plan. With highly coordinated collaboration across 26 state department representatives, four high-profile partner agencies, and one committed project sponsor, ITLA 22 delivered a product in five-months that far exceeds the Academy’s expectations. We are very proud of this graduating class. Their project will benefit state and businesses alike for years to come.

Judging by the hugs and lively banter among graduates and supporting CIO’s at last week’s graduation, it’s hard to believe ITLA 22 is over. But like the friendships they’ve gained, their leadership-impact and California Business Portal, live on.