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A Time for Reflection

As a Catholic liberal arts institution, my college has time set aside every Wednesday from 10 to 11 a.m for “Sacred Hour”. The Norbertine’s value contemplation, and in keeping with that, Sacred Hour is a time for prayer, meditation, reflection, relaxation…pretty much anything you want except for work. No meetings can be scheduled, non-essential offices close, and the campus all but shuts down for one hour per week. Well, sort of.

Turns out that getting people to shut off or shut down for one hour is hard. With all of the talk about creating “work-life balance”, you’d think that we’d be thrilled with an institutionally-mandated break in our day and our week. Where we’re getting paid to do nothing. And there’s no expectation that we’ll have to “make up” the time. But increasingly, we’re having to *remind* people to leave their desks. Cancel their meetings. Not hold office hours or exam make-ups during this time.

Now, I must admit — I’m one of those people who strongly encourages my team to take advantage of the gift of time that Sacred Hour affords us, but spends far too much of it at my desk quietly working. It’s not that I don’t value the time. And it’s not that I don’t think it’s important. I do. It’s just that I am someone who has a really difficult time shutting down. Heck, I have a difficult time even *slowing* down.

And yet, taking time for reflection is every bit as important to being effective in your job as doing the work itself. Maybe more so, in roles where thinking strategically — about the big picture and long term — is a critical component of the job. And maintaining healthy body and mind — through exercise, sleep, eating, meditation, and more — helps us focus more, stress less, think clearer, and just generally be more balanced in the job itself. Or at least it does for me.

Today is Wednesday, and once again I spent the hour between 10 and 11 at my desk. But this time, it was a little different. Today I spent my time thinking about and writing this blog post, a form of personal reflection. So this Sacred Hour, I struck a balance. And isn’t balance what life’s all about, after all?

What a Long Strange Year It’s Been…

Extra brownie points to anyone who knows the musical reference in the title. 🙂

It has been quite a year. It’s been over a year since my last post, but it’s not like I’ve been busy or anything. I just moved across country, started a new job, completed a massive reorganization, oversaw the hiring of about a half dozen new staff, renovated our office suite (which included facilitating the move from private offices to an open-concept, office-less workspace), drafted our strategic plan, and got promoted to vice president. Somewhere along the way, I was named as a “rising star” social CIO on Twitter, wrote a reference guide on classroom technology, and was appointed to the NITLE advisory board. So like I said…

Plenty of time to blog. Or not. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to have Some guy named Rae… included as a 2013 “must read” higher education IT blog. What an honor! And a great reason to do something I’ve been meaning and wanting to do anyway — start blogging again.

So I pledge, dear readers, to write at least once per month for the next year. Maybe more, but certainly no less. And with this post, August 2013 is done…right? 🙂

Finding “The One”

I’ve been a little quiet on the blog recently, but for good reason. In two short weeks I’ll be packing up my belongings, leaving Menlo (and, in fact, leaving California), and taking on a new CIO position at St. Norbert College. Yep, that’s right — I’m changing jobs.

My job search started late last year, and ended in May when St. Norbert and I found each other. Along the way I’ve wanted to reflect on the process here, on my blog, but for obvious reasons I couldn’t…until now.

This was my first experience going through the full executive-level interview process — where the entire campus was involved with, and had a stake in, the process. I’ve held a number of jobs in my life, and been interviewed countless times. But none of my experiences compared to this. I imagine it’s what speed dating must feel like, but instead of picking who you want to date at the end of a 2-minute conversation, you decide who you want to marry at the end of a one-to-two day campus visit.

A visit which, in my case, generally went something like this:

  • wake up at 3 a.m. PST to catch a plane, travel all day, and arrive just in time to have dinner with members of the search committee (luggage arrival at the same time – optional, apparently);
  • wake up at 5:30 a.m. EST to be ready for a 7 a.m. start time (seriously…many of my meetings started before 8 a.m., east coast time, which translates to 5 a.m. or earlier for me!);
  • spend 30 minutes to 1 hour with person after person, or group after group, from the aforementioned start time until dinner (also with members of the search committee), with a presentation for 15-50 people thrown in there somewhere, for good measure;
  • pass out in hotel room before 9 p.m., then…
  • wash, rinse, and repeat.

The whole process was arguably the most exhausting activity I’ve been a part of, but the most exhilarating and enlightening too. There are the highs of getting the initial interview, and the lows of the subsequent wait — did they like me, should I have said something different to question “x”? It can be an emotional roller coaster. An exercise in “what if’s”. It can test your preparation skills, not to mention your interpersonal ones. And it can help you reflect — about the future (for you and for IT), your core values, what’s important.

I learned some things along the way. Well, actually, a lot of things. Among them…I learned that strengths and weaknesses are relative — what one institution sees as a weakness, another sees as a strength. That working for a values-based, mission-driven institution is critically important to me. Where, of course, those values align with my own. I learned to listen to my inner voice (and Frye colleagues, and friends). And that everything happens for a reason.

Along the way, I found some institutions that I wanted to work for, and some that wanted me to work for them. But not at the same time. Then I found a match made in, well…Wisconsin. I came home from my two day “speed date” positively beaming (or so folks tell me).

And in the end, I knew, that I had found “the one”.

I Think I Broke the Internet (or, Why I Love Student Workers)

We received the following ticket at the Help Desk today, courtesy of a former IT student worker and all-around great guy (apparently, super creative too!):

Subject: I Think I Broke the Internet

Dear Menlo IT badasses,

Today I decided I would be a little reckless. I decided it was a good idea to Google Google. Yes thats right, I Googled Google and now the world is melting down around me. There should be some sort of warning on the page to prevent catastrophic events like this from happening.

Anyway, I was hoping that the amazing people at Menlo OIT could perhaps solve this problem as I am sure the world is very mad at me. There are literally TCP/IP packets just pouring out of my computer and out of the ethernet cables in my room. HELP!

I learned my lesson and I promise that I will never do it again if you guys can get me off the hook this time.

Thank you!

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It was really too good not to share. 🙂

 

Imagining the Possibilities: WWYD With VDI?

Virtual desktop infrastructure — otherwise known as VDI — is, without a doubt, a hot topic.

When we first started down the VDI path in January 2011, I agreed to document and share our experiences — for better or for worse — to help showcase the benefits of desktop virtualization. And as a result, I’ve talked and written *a lot* on VDI over the last year. I was a guest blogger on VMware’s End User Computing site (see posts here: VDI Right on the Money; Out on a Limb With Virtual Desktops; and 10 VDI Lessons from the Real World) and have contributed to the eCIO Forum on the subject; I’ve hosted a desktop virtualization workshop and presented in several webinars and conferences (my BrightTalk session was ranked one of their “Top 6 IT Infrastructure Webinars of 2011” — how cool is that?!?); and fielded emails and calls on an almost weekly basis from colleagues looking for recommendations or advice as they begin their own VDI projects.

The topics I’ve covered, and questions I frequently receive, are generally along the lines of:

  • Is it really as easy as vendors make it out to be? (Not always, but what ever is?)
  • Will we save money doing VDI? (Depends)
  • How can we best prepare? (Plan, test, revise, plan, test, and plan some more)
  • Should we even be considering this, especially if the savings are unclear? (Absolutely!)

Most institutions, including my own, are looking towards VDI to improve their desktop management capabilities, save PC refresh dollars, expand access to institutional software, and reduce their carbon footprint — and roughly in that order. These are all great goals, and certainly reason enough to implement virtual desktops. But they are also reflective of incremental (however large) improvements, rather than true innovation.

What do I mean? Well, we’re using virtual desktops to replace physical desktops, but in many (most? all?) implementations, the model we’re implementing against is still the same. Students still do work in computer labs — physical ones with virtual machines or virtual ones, but labs nonetheless. Faculty and staff still have one office with one client connecting to one “desktop”. VDI makes it a lot better, but….

With VDI, so many other things are possible.

Employees, for example, don’t need to be tethered to one device or location, or even one desktop. We could work from our own device(s) or provided ones, or both. We could use one desktop or several, depending on the task we need to accomplish and the software associated with it. We could structure flexible work environments that support the formation and re-formation of cross-functional teams as projects change.

For students, what if we looked at it from a class or individual level, instead of by lab? Perhaps we could provision desktops by student, so that an entering freshman receives her own virtual desktop that automatically updates with software she needs, based on course enrollment. Or we could enable faculty to teach — in real time — with students working remotely “in the field” on laptops and tablets and other mobile devices, but still view and share student work across the class.

We are over a year in to our VDI implementation, and are just now starting to scratch the surface of VDI’s true potential for innovation. Imagine if we started over, designed our ideal environment first, and *then* applied VDI to it…what could we do? What would *you* do?

The Power of a Network

Disclaimer: For the techies in the bunch, I will not be talking LAN or WAN or otherwise. Sorry. This post will be focused on another sort of network — your personal one. 🙂

Nearly a decade ago I was the president of the board for a non-profit, professional association. During my tenure on the board, I realized that there were really only two primary functions of the organization from the members’ perspective — education in the profession, and networking. I never much liked the “networking” piece of it, to tell the truth. For an introvert it always felt uncomfortable and awkward, but somehow, necessary. So I did it…I “networked”…but I never really *got* it.

Fast forward to the present. From my 2009 Frye cohort to members of the Bay Area CIO group, participants on the EDUCAUSE CIO listserv, and social media community of IT and higher education professionals — I now am fortunate to be a part of a number of networks that I both contribute to and recognize benefit from. I tweet and retweet, post questions to the listservs and answer them, and sometimes reach out personally to seek or offer advice.

I’ve made introductions and received them, and been offered writing and speaking opportunities via referral (just one this morning, in fact — w00t!). Just a few weeks ago I was able to connect the colleague of a colleague on the East Coast, to another colleague on the West Coast, to facilitate a job search surrounding a relocation. Now that’s the power of a network!

Perhaps it’s because it’s no longer something I “do”, and simply a part of how I choose to participate in and contribute to our community…but suddenly, I am reasonably well networked. And yet, I no longer “network.” Go figure. 🙂

A Focus on Success

I read about new research recently that looks at why some black men succeed in college. As a research question it seemed a little odd and overly vague to me, but after reading a little bit more about it, I was intrigued.

We’ve all heard the stats — black men make up a painfully small percentage of undergraduate students, and (at least in some parts of the country), a young black man is more likely to be in prison than in college. <sigh> But some black men DO go to college, and succeed there. The researcher (Shaun R. Harper, Ph.D.) decided to focus here — on the success stories — to see if there were identifiable and replicable factors in these successes, instead of continuing to perpetuate a black-men-as-college-failures narrative that helps to “shape America’s low expectations for black men.”

I get where Dr. Harper’s coming from. In the IT world, you don’t have to look too closely to realize that there is a serious shortage of women (and minorities) in the profession. And there’s no lack of discussion about the reasons (some valid, some not-so-much)  — women aren’t good at math and science, it’s a pipeline problem, the demands drive women of child-bearing age out, there’s a lot of sexism, it’s an image problem, and so on and so forth. At every conference I’ve been to, groups band together to discuss the situation and talk about how to bring more women into the profession. But tragically, it seems that these conversations all end up at the same place — with women describing, to one degree or another, the obstacles they have faced in their careers.

At the risk of sounding terribly insensitive…I’m tired of hearing about this. I understand and empathize with my colleagues about their experiences, and the obstacles they have faced, and continue to face, in their jobs. I get it, because I’ve lived it. I’ve been invited to sit at the “big boys table” and had vendors treat my (male) subordinates with more deference and respect than me. But much like Dr. Harper, I would rather focus on why I (and others like me) *have* been successful, rather than continue to belabor our negative experiences.

In his research, Dr. Harper found that there were multiple factors that contributed to black men’s success, and I suspect the same would be true for women in IT. I know that a combination of good role models and mentors, an inquisitive nature, and an aversion to being told that I can’t succeed at something, are all ingredients in my recipe for success. What ingredients are in yours?

Empowerment (A Lesson in Customer Service)

I took a really short business trip recently –fly in one day, meetings the second day, and back out again on the morning of the third day.

My flights were perfect — no turbulence, on time — and I arrived at my destination energized and ready to work. Sadly, the airline had other plans for my luggage — it was “delayed”. Some dozen phone calls later, each with a different (and sometimes conflicting) response about where my luggage was, and an unexpected trip to the shopping mall to secure some clothes to wear for my meetings, my luggage turned up. By that time it was late afternoon on my meeting day, and of no use. I didn’t even open it…I simply turned right around and headed to the airport for my return flight.

Right around the time my luggage did arrive, the airline sent me a notice that my flight had been canceled, and I needed to rebook. So my connecting flight turned into two connections. Then when I got to the airport there was a separate delay in my departing flight, and I was going to have to rebook, again. This time my arrival home would be delayed by 10 hours. Uugh. And then, just when I couldn’t take anything more, the question came: “And how would you like to pay for your bag?”

My bag? The one that you lost, and I called a dozen times about, and that you only returned to me a few hours before I had to leave today? If it had been “delayed” any longer, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, I said. I’m not paying for that! You need to waive the luggage fee.

“I would if I could,” replied the ticket agent.

Really?!? In a giant, multi-billion dollar corporation, the front line customer service staff are not empowered to make a $25 decision to preserve customer satisfaction? Unbelievable.

Of course, the airlines aren’t exactly known for their exceptional customer service. But, sadly, some of our IT departments aren’t, either.

If your front line staff are saying “I would if I could” to customers, ask yourself why. Most people want to help (thus, the saying). *You* need to break down barriers to doing so, and reward proactive decision-making in support of customer satisfaction. In other words, empower them.

More “I can and I will” just may be the result — and how great would that be?

First 2012 Action — Fire Yourself?

Over the holidays I had a chance to catch up on some reading (thanks not only to a week off of work, but sadly, to a terrible winter cold) on everything from important leadership skills, the changing role of the CIO, and effective metrics; to considerations for cloud computing, virtualization, and bring-your-own-device (BYOD). Expect more on many of these topics, soon. 🙂

Among my reading, one article that really stood out was “Fire yourself this Christmas” by Joel Dobbs. Dobbs takes the idea of year-end reflection to a new level — by firing yourself (and then hiring *you* as your replacement), you have the unique opportunity to see your organization as you once did…from a fresh perspective.

Every organization has an institutional “way”, a history of decisions and their rationale, and established relationships and politics. And it’s immensely helpful to know, understand, and be able to work within these. But there’s nothing quite like your first few months at a new institution, when you have an “outsider’s” perspective, and, as Dobbs suggests:

No ownership of previous failures, no credit for prior successes, no investment in prior decisions- just a mandate to set things right.

As we enter 2012—and soon, the 12-13 budget planning season—recapturing that “newly hired” perspective might just change how we establish priorities, focus our initiatives, and identify new opportunities for improvement and growth. Oh yeah — it might also serve to remind us about what we’ve done right thus far. Dobbs doesn’t focus on this as much, but I believe there’s value in recognizing your strengths, too.

So here’s to an early 2012 “firing”…and developing a fresh perspective for the rest of the New Year.

Mission Critical is *Not* the Same as Core

My favorite quote from the 2011 EDUCAUSE National Conference came from Marty Ringle of Reed College (as tweeted by @stevegoldenberg):

No student will come to our school b/c of our amazing administrative computing environment

True. And yet, we spend an awful lot of time (and money, and resources) focused on our IT infrastructures, enterprise systems, and other “back office” technologies. Why? Because without question, some/most/all of these systems are absolutely critical to running our institutions — without them we have no class schedules, or student records, or…well, you get the picture.

But here’s the thing: while these systems are clearly mission-critical to our operations, they are not *core* to our institutions. They are not technologies/services that we uniquely can provide. They do not differentiate our institutions from one another. And, perhaps most importantly, they do not (significantly) advance our primary mission of educating students. And yet, we *must* provide them.

Or must we??


@rclemmons on Twitter

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