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Appreciating the ITS staff (#1102)

Topics/tags: Thank you notes, short

Yesterday, I started a series of notes of appreciation for different groups on campus. You can read that first musing for some background [1].

Today I want to express my thanks to the staff of ITS.

You may find that strange, particularly given my incredible and vocal frustration with the byzantine [2] and restrictive policies that have been flowing from ITS recently. But the majority of the ITS staff are not responsible for making those policies and they affect them as much as they affect us, particularly in that they have to deal with the workload consequences of those policies. The policies may spring from the leadership of ITS or they may come from elsewhere (e.g., our Board, our President, our Risk Management Team); the vast majority of ITS are not to blame.

Like everyone, I get frustrated when technology doesn’t work. I get frustrated when it takes longer than I would like to get something fixed.

But you know what? In almost every encounter I’ve had with the ITS staff, they’ve been gracious, helpful, and concerned about supporting the work I do. They deal with my odd and sometimes aggressive personality. They deal with my weird computer configurations. They deal with my really strange questions and complaints [3]. In most cases, they respond promptly [4].

And their jobs are hard. ITS is understaffed. I understand that it is particularly understaffed right now, even for normal times. But these are not normal times. technology needs are ramping up on campus: We have a whole new building, we have faculty and students moving online, we have new policies that create work for everyone [5]. Would you want to help a few hundred people learn how to connect to a VPN to access a variety of resources when the software does not reliably install and some percentage don’t have hardware that they cannot use? [6] I know I would not.

If I were in their place, I’d be grumpy and frustrated [7]. But, as I said, I’ve found staff friendly and helpful [8]. I appreciate that.

I know that people get upset with ITS. It’s horrible when the computer you rely on doesn’t work. It’s worse when it’s brand new and it doesn’t work. But if there’s one things I’ve learned [9] in over thirty-five years as a computer scientist [10], it’s that when things go wrong with computers, it’s either trivial or impossible. As I tell my students, computers are sentient and malicious. The ITS staff I’ve talked to would love to fix things [11], but tracking down bugs can take more time than they have, and I’m pretty sure that the College won’t let them rely on the easy solution of Just replace it with another one.

So, I say Thank you to the staff of ITS. I can’t imagine having to do all that you are doing right now. I can’t imagine having to face the frustrations the people are having with technology and how that affects their interactions. I appreciate that you are working hard to support the employees and students of Grinnell College. I appreciate all the positive interactions I’ve had with you. I apologize if I have been short or unreasonable with you.

For those who are not ITS staff: I ask then when you feel frustrated, you remember that the ITS staff have always been overworked and that they are feeling even more so right now. Please be patient.

For those of you who are writing the technology policies that are making our lives more difficult: Please consider the impacts your policies are having on everyone’s wellness and workload. We are an educational institution, not a Fortune 500 company. Our policies should be more suited to our educational mission.

Thank you.

Postscript: I almost made it through a whole musing on technology without a significant rant. I’ll treat that as a net positive.

[1] You’ll need to skip over the TL;DR.

[2] Or is it Byzantine?

[3] Have I mentioned that I complained that Webex does not allow you to enter 12:00 noon as a time and instead forces you to enter the ambiguous and unacceptable 12:00 p.m. or 12:00 a.m.? That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

[4] Nope, I’m not listing exceptions.

[5] The new VPN policy and the relatively new software policy are two examples.

[6] The latter means getting them the hardware promptly. More work!

[7] Okay, I’m usually grumpy and frustrated.

[8] Or at least as helpful as they can be, given current policies.

[9] It wasn’t to avoid trite phrases.

[10] Ouch! I’m old.

[11] Or, better yet, to have things work perfectly.

Version 1.0 of 2020-07-20.