Category Archives: MyYearinIT


This is another post in the series about MyYearinIT.

Not too long ago I found myself in a “Strategic IT” meeting we were discussing where we each sit on the curve of change.  The discussion leader drew something a bit like this on his whiteboard and asked us each to come up and put a mark where we would be in the curve of adopting to technological changes.

He then asked: Were we on the leading edge?  Or did we follow the crowd?

graph of change

Various colleagues got up and put a mark somewhere on the curve, most of them right around the big bump (those who tended to jump on the bandwagon with everyone else) and a few afterwards (those folks said that they usually waited to whether a technology was likely to last before they adopted it).  I was one of the last people to go up to the sign and leave my mark.

This is where I put myself (note: I was the only person to draw a picture, but I’m dorky like that):

my boat, in front of the wave of changeI then told the group a story that’s become a touchstone for me…

When I first began canoeing on the ocean, it was pretty scary to be surrounded by wide open water.  The swell could be a low rolling bump that gave a gentle nudge to the boat or the entire ocean could be flat as a pancake, where you had to dig in your paddle to do all the work.  But of course there was also the possibility of really big swell.  And the first time I encountered that, it was unforgettable. Continue reading

I, maverick

This is another post in the series about MyYearinIT.

Because of my IT management role, I recently had the opportunity to complete a leadership profile, and this was my result:

maverick leader descriptionThis “Maverick Leader” description seemed fairly spot-on for me, especially the part that says “You’re always full of new ideas, and almost a little restless” and “If something starts to feel familiar, you’ll probably start experimenting to see whether higher goals can be achieved.”

Yep, that’s pretty much me in a nutshell.

Somewhat related, on a friend’s recommendation I just picked up a copy of Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You, which is not a book that I would have selected for myself.  It’s a bit too “business-y” for my usual taste, but I actually found it a fairly satisfying read.  One thing he mentions that particularly resonates with me, is this:

If you just show up and work hard, you’ll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better.

That’s one reason why I am constantly stretching myself with new goals.  I dislike that space of mastery where there’s nothing new or different on the horizon, where there’s no stretch and pull.  I don’t even mind trying something new and failing at it, because for me there’s so much pleasure in the attempt.

One other point that Newport makes that I’m somewhat convinced about now, is that telling someone to “follow their passion” is likely to lead to failure, and it’s far better to gain skills than to chase a dream.

This NGram analysis traces the rise of “passion” literature, to show how the idea has percolated into popular culture since the publication of “What Color is Your Parachute” and other similar self-help books (certainly this message has become a popular one in the last decade!):
Reading this book has caused me to reflect on my professional journey.  A lot of those steps have been ones born of passion.  But even more have been pragmatic choices that led to job security and financial health, and I have learned to love those steps while I’ve pursued them with the same vigor as the very “passionate” ones.

My Year in IT: Certified

The language, mores, and workflows of IT aren’t all that different from what occurs in other areas of the campus, but it felt important to me that while I was in IT this year that I become adept at IT-speak and processes (just as if I were living in a foreign country and adopting the customs and colloquialisms of that region).

One of the ways that I’ve accomplished the task of learning The Ways of IT, is to seek an ITIL Certification.  In fact, by next month I ought to have two of them under my belt.

I don’t know that getting certified makes me a better IT manager or employee, but it does make me feel like less of an impostor among my colleagues.


My Year in IT: keeping a sense of humor

A post in the series My Year in IT

For me, working in IT has required a healthy sense of humor.

There is the easy, obvious humor that comes from working in an environment that is straight out of an Office episode.  That leads to silly shared memes, bad photoshopping of each other’s headshots, and the occasional inflatable monkey at my desk.  But what it really comes from is that in IT we are working in teams and not solo.

From my years doing historical research in the solitude of an archive, I’d become used to working through problems myself, and developed workflows for my personal productivity that rarely hinged on others.  My first few days at an IT cubicle were a completely different experience.  Paper planes whizzed over walls and news would spread across an entire hall of offices simply by having an audible conversation.  I soon learned how valuable that ‘spread’ of overheard conversations would be, as others in nearby cubes who heard me speak of a problem on the phone might soon pop in and add their two cents to the issue.  And among team members, it became apparent that humor is necessary to diffuse stress and to create strong working bonds with each other (or just to revel in the fact that it is Friday and almost the weekend!)

Humor also comes in handy when one realizes that a problem cannot be fixed.  There is a mantra in IT that “anything is possible with enough resources” and this is usually said in a preface to an explanation of why that desired thing is not possible.  It may be an unplanned system outage, the inability to modify out-of-the-box software, or the impossibility of churning out an immediate web programming change.  Grappling with finite resource limits is maddening, especially when one is aware of the frustration that users feel when something is not working as expected.  Enter, humor.  These moments are not the laugh-out-loud silliness of youtube mishaps, but are times when one has to smile and forge ahead to provide a workaround, or reach out and communicate as clearly as possible what the impact of the problem/outage/malfunction will be.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve needed to keep a sense of humor about myself.  Despite knowing all that I know about technology there are days that my printer isn’t working, times when I need a password reset, and moments when it feels like every click yields an error message.  It is then that I get most exhausted by the tangle of spaghetti powercords in my bag that seem to include every single one except the one that I need and it’s high time to start laughing instead of cursing.  Technology is frustrating even for those of us who spend all day mired in it (or perhaps even more so).

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.

learning about digital humanities, from the inside

For a long time I’ve been thinking how helpful it would be to have some of the expertise of my colleagues in IS&T, in my Digital Humanities course.  At a conference I’d heard about the benefits of embedding librarians within research courses, and it seemed to me that embedding technicians within a DH course would accomplish a similar aim, and would also reinforce the nature of DH as a collaborative discipline.

So today was my first foray in that vein, as Ryan (a member of our server team) attended my class and gave a demo of the inner guts of a PC and a server machine.



IMG_7696It was successful enough that I will try it again in future classes, and may also call on other technical expertise from our IT department throughout the semester.  Because while I don’t think the students need to know all of the details of how a computer works, it is important for them to consider the limitations of various devices and platforms as they imagine the possibilities for their future research projects.

When “the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time…”

A favorite tea (which always reminds me of my friend Sara, who first introduced me to Kusmi)

A favorite tea (which always reminds me of my friend Sara, who first introduced me to Kusmi)

Recently my office moved and I acquired a new set of colleagues, as well as gaining a new set of IT-related responsibilities.  Such changes bring challenges–not the least of which is the necessity of solving problems with new-to-me team members.

As a result of these changes, I found myself at my desk later than I’d expected tonite, trying to understand some messy data and longing for a crystal ball to appear to give some clarity to a process that was feeling really murky.

And then a colleague came around the corner and offered me a cookie.  It was a small gesture and a generous one given that he, too, was staying late and staring at that similarly messy data on his screen.  But that moment of solidarity meant a lot and was so-so much bigger than a few carb-calories.  In a very good way it reminded me of this night and the stranger who offered me a cookie at a moment when I was hopeless.*

It reminded me that I want to be the kind of a colleague who is always there with a cookie when the going gets rough. Because even at the hardest of times (and after the longest of work days), there is always space for kindness.

*And because Proust and because I also had a cup of tea at the ready to enjoy with my cookie…