My Year in IT: On moving to a cubicle

This is the first post in a series about My Year in IT.

Last year I moved from my central campus office-with-a-window to a cubicle in our IT building.  In preparation for the move my academic books went into storage and I bought a fancy new pair of noise-canceling headphones (which were deemed a necessity for my new digs). The move was a willing change for me, as I had just accepted a one-year position managing the computing service team for our university.

My motivation for this move was driven by the disconnect that I see between academics and operations in HigherEd.  We are a house divided, with few people who navigate the gap. Nowhere is this more obvious to me than in IT, whose technical functions undergird teaching, faculty productivity, and campus communication.  Yet there is near-invisibility of the technicians who sit at their screens all day ensuring that when a professor walks into the classroom they can access the classroom projector, open Blackboard, and log into their storage drive to retrieve their powerpoint slides.

Given that our campuses incorporate cutting-edge digital tools and methods, the impact of IT on HigherEd is ever-expanding. Our libraries house digital repositories, our faculty each have an online presence, and even the campus gym is expected to have wireless.  Added to that are the data needs of campus support services, which are critical for hiring, enrolling, advising, coaching, and so forth.

Serving on the front lines of the campus IT department has given me a window into how all of the campus systems function and interact with each other (and also a view onto how difficult it can be when services don’t function).  I have a growing respect for my highly-skilled colleagues who offer technical support, fix AV, install routers, write programming scripts, manage projects, and implement technology policies.

From where I was sitting a few months ago, to where I sit now, the view could not be more different. Yet it is also very much the same–in both seats I am surrounded by people who work hard and who are passionate about their jobs.  On the academic side my colleagues focus on teaching students and excelling in research.  And in IT, they focus on providing timely and helpful service for clients.  Both are necessary.  Both keep the university humming along everyday.

And I might add that those noise-canceling headphones are now dusty from lack of use.  Instead of tuning out, I’ve been listening and learning constantly, which has reminded me why I got into academia in the first place–to better understand what’s happening around me.  And that is definitely not noise.