As we begin another academic year, please let me take a moment to share a few recent personnel changes in IT and also reflect on some perceptions of technology.
I am pleased to report that we have hired Kevin Partlow as an End-User Support Specialist in the User Services group, providing desktop support. Kevin is no stranger to Skidmore as he helped us over the past two summers with the annual computer deployment. Kevin is filling the vacant line created by the unfortunate passing of our colleague and dear friend Bob Royce this past year. We are excited to have Kevin here to help us move forward. We have another new colleague in Ed Yasko. Ed is a Systems Administrator in the Enterprise Systems group keeping a variety of servers finely tuned. Ed fills the vacancy created when Deanne Palmer retired this past year. Both Kevin and Ed are already doing great work. I am excited to have them on our team. Let me also acknowledge that both Cliff Williams and Tom Harfmann now serve in management roles within our Enterprise Systems group. Cliff and Tom are filling the leadership voids created with the retirements of Betty O’Connor and Deanne Palmer in 2010. Thanks to both of them for stepping up.
Questions I’m often asked by faculty, administration, students (and their families during move-in weekend earlier this month) are “What are IT’s big projects”, or “What is IT’s primary focus”. The problem with either of these questions is they are almost impossible to answer. The current scope of technological impact on a college campus is so broad that there is no “singular” focus. In addition everything we do is “big” to someone or some constituency. If it wasn’t, trust me we would not be working on it.
It’s also why there is no such thing as a “typical day” for myself, and many of my IT colleagues. We certainly are known for the obvious technology services like desktop computers across campus, e-mail, Blackboard, Oracle, the data network, projectors, telephones, etc. However for every one item we are known for, there are a dozen that you may not know about. This includes partnering with many departments on campus for services that have a technology component. Frankly technology impacts an unprecedented amount of the day-to-day work of the college.
Perhaps the skill that my colleagues and I must be most proficient at is that of a juggler. I am sure that we are not alone at Skidmore in needing to juggle various projects and priorities. As a juggler, I always thought that the most important role was the obvious one…don’t drop the ball. It seems so simple and yet can be so complex. I once heard an excellent description of what we must master as a juggler. The REAL challenge is to identify the various balls in play at any moment AND to decide which ones are made of crystal and which are made of rubber. Only after you have clearly identified the make-up of the balls being juggled can you execute the actions that are necessary. A crystal ball is one that must be handled with care and never dropped. The rubber ball still must be processed but when push comes to shove, it can be handled with less urgency because if it drops, it will bounce back up and be there again. As much as I love this analogy, it’s too simple. I think the real things we juggle can be identified as a chain saw, a Faberge egg, and a marshmallow. The chain-saw will hurt you if you are not paying close attention, the priceless egg will do incredible harm to your reputation should you lose control, and the marshmallow…well, why are we even handling that marshmallow in the first place!! So why am I sharing these analogies? It is to emphasize the fact that we must understand what is core to the mission of the college, what is critical to the daily operation, and what is neither. As I mentioned earlier, technology now touches so much of what we all do. My IT colleagues and I must make sure time is spent on the issues that are truly of the greatest institutional importance. It is also why the innocent request of “can you just do X” can be far more complex than it may seem.
So I will continue to hone my juggling skills, as well as my ability to identify and categorize the objects, your objects, that we juggle. All this while saying “I love what I do” which is ironic and rare among my peers since the press shared today that according to a recent study, the #1 most hated job in America was the head of IT. Who knew?
Have a wonderful and productive 2011-2012 academic year.
Justin Sipher - Chief Technology Officer