Archive for December, 2009

The “Trouble-Free Semester” Challenge

Recently I sat down with our Faculty Senate steering committee to discuss ways to engage faculty in short and long-term IT strategic planning. While we had a protracted conversation on the subject, one comment stood out—both for the insight it provided me and for the subsequent conversation and thought that it has sparked. Roughly paraphrased, it was this: “I can’t even begin to think about what technology I may want in the classroom in the future when I can’t trust that the technology that’s there now will work [and she gave an example of a classroom that wasn’t functioning properly]. Give me a semester without any technical problems, and then we can talk.” My gut reaction and immediate answer was, “it’s not possible.”

I can hear you faculty-types now…typical IT answer, always “no.” Guilty as charged, on this one anyway. But in fairness, my thoughts raced to all of the different types of reported “IT issues” we encounter in any given week. A fair number of them aren’t really technical problems—they range from power issues (something was turned off) to user “tinkering” (in a classroom another professor or student may change a setting), to just plain old user error. There are a decent amount of truly technical problems mixed in, of course—and we can, and should, minimize those. But when all issues are lumped together as “IT” problems, well, I feared we would never be able to meet the “trouble-free semester” (TFS) challenge.

I’ve thought about this comment a lot since that meeting, and have revisited it several times in conversation with our Senate chair. Underlying it, I believe, isn’t just a frustration and lack of confidence in the technology, but with the IT department itself (based on tenuous faculty-IT relations with several previous IT directors). So I know, and accept, that my first job must be to cultivate relationships with our faculty and build trust based on open communication, collaboration, and accountability.

With stronger faculty-IT relations, a “trouble-free semester” is not at all out of the question. Together, we can discuss our respective roles and responsibilities in resolving both real and perceived technical problems, and use real data—via Help Desk tickets—to quantify our current level of IT issues, and set targets for reducing/eliminating them. Already, as a result of these initial conversations, we (in IT) are discussing maintenance measures, from regular classroom “check-ups” to automated nightly restarts of classroom computers to reset key settings, to prevent problems *before* they occur.

And so, dear faculty…I believe we *can* create that trouble-free semester, after all. Will you join me in accepting the TFS challenge?

Welcome to the Club

While attending the ECAR Symposium earlier this month I was introduced, by my former boss and mentor, to a number of fellow attendees as the new CIO at Menlo. During one such introduction, a gentleman who didn’t appear to be much older than myself exclaimed, “Wow, are you the youngest CIO in the country?” I’m sure flattery was the intention (I know I look young), even though our country’s first CIO, Vivek Kundra, was only 34 at the time of his appointment (…but not *that* young).

About 25% of all CIOs are under 40, and only 10% are women, according to CIO Magazine’s 2010 State of the CIO Survey. So, as a woman who is under 40, I am definitely among the minority in my profession. The (probably totally innocent) comment about my age served as one of many reminders at ECAR of this minority status. Later in the conference, at a special session for California CIOs, I had a chance to observe the demographics of the 20 attendees in the room: 15 men (75%), 5 women (25%), and 3 apparent ethnic minorities (15%). Only 2 of the 5 women (2/20, or 10%) were CIOs/held their institution’s top IT position; many of the men did, however, their relative percentage is unknown. The average age of the group appeared to be (well) north of 50.

Setting aside both the small sample size and the rather unscientific nature of data collection, the demographics of this group were exactly what one would expect – older, white, men. This is my “peer” group, professionally speaking; except that, it’s not. Gen-anythings, people of color, and women aren’t truly a part of the club, yet.

It’s not that we’re not welcome to join, of course. In fact, I’ve never met anyone who has (purposefully) made me feel uncomfortable or unwelcomed. But as a whole, the “CIO club” is a formidable and somewhat intimidating group—around which I am often self-conscious about what I say or do for fear of either looking foolish myself or reflecting poorly on others in my age group/gender, as the (often) sole young woman in the room. The typical club member simply cannot understand the sensitivity I have to gendered language, or know how difficult it is, as a 30-something woman, to walk into a room of 50-something men and try to make small talk.

As a new CIO, I suppose I am now a de facto member of this club, but I don’t feel like I am an intrinsic part of it. Today, I’m an outlier. Tomorrow….who knows.

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