Jim Amidon — Just the other day I was working on a project for a local volunteer organization with a friend of mine. We were writing up a document and I emailed it to him for his review. A few minutes later, I got a return email asking me to send him the same document, but in an older format. Turns out his relatively new computer couldn’t open the file.
It wasn’t a big deal and, frankly, it happens all the time.
But it did get me thinking about how fortunate I am in my work at Wabash College, where I have the forward-thinking talent of our Information Technology Services team behind me.
I’m grateful that I never, ever have to think about technology. I have a great computer, current software, and I operate on a lightning fast network.
In fact, the only time I ever think about the technology that fuels my work is when something goes wrong or I make a huge mistake and need help from the IT Services team.
That’s too bad.
In any organization, there are lots of people or groups of people whose seamless, nearly invisible work goes unnoticed — but without them, we’d be sunk.
I don’t really understand HOW the technology I utilize works, but I also don’t take technology for granted. I know how fortunate I am — how fortunate all of us at Wabash are.
Not long ago, my office had reached capacity on a server that stores tens of thousands of digital images we have captured over time. I made a phone call to IT Services Director Brad Weaver, who put Quentin Dodd on the project, and in a short time we had been fully migrated to a new, larger server. Presto!
Except that I know Quentin didn’t just wave a magic wand and make the new server appear. I know he put in a whole lot of time setting up the server, making sure it worked, and then migrating something like 600 gigabytes worth of digital photographs (roughly 180,000 of them).
When we need a new web page, we send an email to our Help Desk. Usually we hear back within minutes that Mark Siegel is at work on the project. And there appears to be no web application we imagine that Mark can’t program his way through.
I manage a secure intranet web portal for Wabash’s Trustees. But let’s be clear: when I say “manage” it’s about the same as me saying I “manage” a space shuttle flight. Monica Brainard actually manages it, and she’s earned a spot in heaven for the gentleness with which she’s taught me how to use the system… over and over and over again.
All of our administrative functions — from direct deposit payroll to prospective student databases — involve technology, and while I have no idea how any of it works, I know people like Alice Moore, Cathy Tymoczko, and Tammy Utterback keep the information flowing.
When I need a software upgrade, it’s typically done for me. When I do have a request, I just shoot an email to Jamie Ross and two days later a student walks in with the software, part, or ink cartridge I need.
On the rare occasions when something goes terribly wrong (when I break something), Mike Heinold is quick to solve the problem, fix the broken part, or provide a replacement.
When Brent Harris and I had the hair-brained idea to webcast most of Wabash’s home basketball games, we sat down with Brad Weaver (who is a basketball fan) and he talked us through it. Soon after, Adam Bowen, our media specialist, had a plan that included three video cameras, a computerized switcher, and all the hardware to make it work.
Now when Brian Shelbourne plays basketball at Chadwick Court, his brother living in Australia can watch him in real time.
It’s not magic or slight of hand or easy.
Technology requires foresight, planning, patience, confidence, and an inclination for what’s coming next. Our IT Services leadership is wise and thoughtful when considering what’s genuinely helpful and important and what’s a passing fad.
All of these examples are just a tiny fraction of the work done by IT Services. There are almost 150 employees like me and all have computers, phones, and printers. There are 850 students using more than 300 public computers and thousands of devices like iPhones, laptops, and Wii gaming systems that batter our campus-wide wireless network.
The staff in Wabash’s IT Services may seem to be invisible because their work is so good, but they are also invaluable.
Without them I’d be reduced to a manual typewriter and a couple of tin cans with a long piece of string.