Thursday, September 09, 2010

My First Day as an IT Director

The following is an excerpt from a book I found to be quite helpful and even fun to read. It is The First Days (as an administrator). In it administrators discuss their first day on the job and what they may have learned from it other than "what a mistake I just made"?

Excerpt from The First Days
Director of Informational Technology
William Leonard, McIntosh College (NH)

When William E. Leonard (Bill) started his job as Director of Information Technology at McIntosh College (a career college which was part of a larger for-profit corporate entity), he brought with him some expectations and beliefs about academia that would quickly be challenged even before his first day and most every day following the first one. And these beliefs and challenges would not be ones limited to proprietary career colleges. So they have a strong message for all administrators.

Bill Leonard originally worked for the family construction business. Bill then earned his degree in Computer Aided Drafting and Design which helped him obtain a position as a technical writer. From that position, Bill soon got into management, and his love for computers and customer support led him to take a position at McIntosh College, a proprietary career college, as its first full-time Director of Information Technology.

Over the years at McIntosh, Bill helped build the technology at the College by adding new labs, equipment and services, and implement­ing a student laptop program and a help desk. Bill also built a team of five full-time IT employees plus a rotating, part-time staff of work study students. This team received local and corporate recognition for its outstanding customer service to students, staff and faculty. During this time, Bill also achieved several industry standard certifications and obtained a BS degree in Business Studies and Information Technology. He has since left academia and currently is the Systems Operations Specialist of Northeast Health Care Quality Foundation (NHCQF), a non-profit, educational health care organization, headquartered in Dover, New Hampshire.

My first day at the college started much like many peo­ple’s first day—with a lot of questions and some anxi­ety about whether this was the right decision. I was hired as the college’s first full-time Information Technology Director and although I was successful at my previous positions, I had never had a position quite like this one. I was worried because I was hired for a technical position by a search committee of non-tech­nical people. Questions kept running through my head. Did they understand what skills were required? Was I the right person for the job? Did they know that I may not have the qualifications for this job? Did I accurately represent myself at the interviews? Who could I turn to for help if needed? Although I had the confidence to land the job, I was not feeling too confi­dent that first day.

I started the day by meeting with Human Resources, and then with my direct supervisor who was the Controller. She told me that the school was lacking in technology and that I was to start spending money to make us cutting edge. I was not sure what that meant—there was not any real direction or plan. I was hired to take that lead.

She directed me to where I would be sitting. Because this was a new position, there was no real office for me, so I was given a table (not a desk) in the Librarian’s office. I was wedged in a corner, and had to move my seat if someone needed to get into the filing cabinet. I later realized this was the best seat in the college as the Librarian had been with the college over 30 years and knew everything about the school and its history. She was also big on technology and helped me understand the needs of the students and faculty.

After I was settled at my table, I went to investigate the rest of the facilities. I made it five feet out of the office when I met up with the Dean of Academics who was on the search committee that hired me, and who obvi­ously had many more cups of coffee than I had that morning. She started talking about a mile a minute about what she thought needed to be done, but my brain was still stuck in first gear just trying to keep up with her. She was telling me how much money had been budgeted for new servers for classrooms, that we needed classrooms networked, that we had just built a new room and had to build a new lab, and a bunch of other things that I did not hear as I was trying to process the first few pieces of information.

She started asking me when I would be buying this equipment and what she could tell the faculty and stu­dents. I had not even walked around yet and seen the computer labs or any equipment. I can remember being stunned by her questions, and I am sure I gave an answer that included such phrases as “needing to evalu­ate the current situation” and “I’ll be putting together some plans” when really I just wanted to be done with that conversation.

As I made my way around the school, I realized that technology was not a real focus. There were no dedi­cated rooms, closets, or areas for any technology. Student servers sat on the floor in one of the comput­er labs and were not secured—anyone could trip over the plug or just turn the servers off, taking down the whole school. The school’s critical business system sat on the floor in the hallway leading into accounting. If I had to work on it, I stood in the hallway, bent over, and I had to move every time someone walked by.

But my favorite discovery was where all the wiring in the school came together—it was draped out of the ceiling in the president’s office to a series of devices on an old classroom desk and resembled a large ball of yarn. And ifyou accidentally bumped it, breathed on it, or looked at it cross the entire admissions depart­ment (a trailer on the front lawn) would go down. No one knew why, they just knew to keep a three foot radius around the giant ball of wires.

I then met up with the facilities director who was load­ing tables into a recently built classroom. He informed me that 25 computers were showing up the next day, and I would need to have them up and running for the start of the next term. This day, my first day, was the Wednesday before Labor Day weekend, and the next term’s start was Tuesday after Labor Day. Okay, I had Thursday and Friday (and of course, the three day weekend if I wanted) to build a lab for Tuesday morn­ing. I did not have an understanding of what was need­ed, I did not know what was coming in for computers, I did not know where they kept any software, and the only person whom I could have asked questions was off until Tuesday. At this point I only had one question in my head: “Did they already fill my previous posi­tion?”

With my head still spinning on how I would get that task accomplished, the facilities person then showed me a beaten up old structure in a closet, which had a computer in it. The unit used to be a Kiosk in a mall where people could use a touch screen to get informa­tion about the college. It had not been used for years, but I was told the President wanted this unit transport­ed to Florida for a display at a conference. The facili­ties director was fixing up the cabinet, and I was sup­posed to get the computer running. I had never seen anything like this and did not have the first idea where it came from or how to get it working.

Later that day the President called me to his office. The President was welcoming and professional and wanted to ask how my day was going. He also wanted to let me know that the aging Kiosk was a priority, and not to listen to people who would say otherwise.

Okay, so as the first day came near an end, I had my first few tasks: Build a new lab out of thin air in two days, and resurrect an ancient machine so it could be used by my new president at a conference in front of dozens of other colleges and their presidents. Clearly I would never be successful at this job—it was just a matter of time before they knew I was not the person for this position.

But I did make it through that first day, and I did end up successful at the job. As that day went on, I found more and more people who were happy to help. I found I did not need people with technical skills to help me; I just needed people eager to help. People were excited that I was there, and everyone had the same goal—to improve services for the students.

As I look back, the things I thought were important on that first day were not. The people who hired me were not technical people, and they did not hire me because of my technical skills. I did not have to wow anyone with what I knew. I needed to let people know I was there to support them, to work across departments, and that I would be responsible to get the job done. Just like every department of a college, the first priori­ty of the technology department is to serve the student. Once I focused on helping the students, faculty, and staff, everything else just fell into place.

Working at a college turned out to be the best experi­ence of my career. My first day as a college administra­tor was the first day I got to help people change their lives.

The First Days: A Collection of Remembrances, Advice, Cautions and Life Changing Experiences The Administrators Bookshelf 2008,
118 pages, hardcopy $22.95, digital format, $18.95

Introduction, Tim Goral,  Editor University Business

Academic Advisor, Andrea Gillie Harris, Pepperdine University
Program Director, Christine Johnson McPhail,  Morgan State U
Academic Department Head, Jimmy L. Boyd, Arkansas State U
Dean, Stephanie Bowlin, Western U of Health Science
Special Assistant to the Provost, Mary Durfee,  Michigan Tech
Chief Academic Officer Johnny D. Jones,  Arkansas Baptist C

VP Business Sheldon E. Socol, Yeshiva U
Director of IT William Leonard. McIntosh College
Asst Director Personnel, Anne S. Johnson, Pomona College
Bursar Ardie Elgersma Western Washington U
V P of Administration, John D. Eldert, Berklee College of Music

Director Student Success,Judith Lilleston College of Westchester
VP Academic and Student Affairs, Joann Mulqueen College of Westchester
Dean of Students, Jack Slay, Jr,, LaGrange College
Director Enrollment Management and Retention Services Danny Cantrell West Virginia State U
University, Eric Gilbertson, Saginaw Valley State
Community College, Neal Raisman, Rockland CC
Proprietary College, Marylin Newell, Andover College
Career College Campus Director, Mark Buch, Alaska Jr C

If you found this chapter from
The First Days:
A Collection of Remembrances, Advice, Cautions ands Life Changing Experiences interesting and worthwhile, you may want to get a complete copy of the book.

It is available through September at the special start of the year and new jobs price of $18.95 hardcopy (with $4.95 s/h)
and $15.00 for a digital version.

Simply click here and get your copy today.                                                                    

The Bookshelf is currently seeking a few authors to write book and booklets or provide an on-line seminar that will help other administrators learn to do their job better and with greater ease.

If you have a topic to suggest for a book, booklet or seminar,

No comments: