Some thoughts on IT management and higher ed

Listening to the spiels of several candidates for the top IT manager in my organization gave me time to scribble down some thoughts on the matter.

I found things I liked about each candidate but also some ideas I disagreed with.

Customer focus is absolutely necessary to maintain energy inside a service group. Introspection and nerdy-focus will implode it. Focusing on the technology makes life mechanized, meaningless, and dehumanized. Server uptime as a metric apart from the context of real people doing real creative work is meaningless. Not just meaningless, but destructive when you imagine it to exist in a vacuum.

Fun alliterative phrases heard:

“critical core competencies”

“support of service assements”

From what I can gather, the “Educause” conference must be a real snore.

Someone said, “Leadership is not just the responsibility of the president…”. Well, yes, in many ways it’s up to him least of all because he is too distant to affect real change. People close to you, people you love, these people can lead. Other, distant people can be safely imitated (for better or worse), but that is only an imagined leadership. Real people, close to you, on the ground need to lead.

Someone else said, “I believe in the value of advanced degrees, after all, it’s the business we are in.” After being in this business for 11 years, I can now say that I actually do not believe in the value of advanced degrees, in general. Often, not all the time, but very often, we are in the “business” of convincing young people to max out their credit cards for a gallon of snake-oil. And it’s not that we are shysters – we want so badly to believe in the value of education and degrees, just like the students do. They are pinning all their hopes and dreams on them and we don’t want them to fail. But the higher-ed bubble of the last 30 years has taken, is taking, it’s toll on many lives right now. With my own children, when they are older, depending on their interest, I will likely advocate some sort of apprenticeship instead. It’s not institutionalized, but has the potential to be far more valuable.

Imagining myself in in the position of these candidates presents a challenging thought experiment. It’s a complicated job with a lot of moving targets. The best way forward does not seem obvious to me at this point, though I have a pretty good idea what I would try to focus on and what I would not.

I’m reading Frederick Brook’s The Mythical Man Month right now. Very good stuff in here, and the clear thinking and writing is dry but exemplary.