Things are uncertain where I work. Some if it is because of where I work and what the economic downturn has done. Some of it is because the the world of I.T. is poised on the cusp of massive change. The Old Ways, tried and true though they may be, are about to be swept away. Dealing with an industry that thrives on innovation and rapid advancement (I.T.) while working in Academia, the essence of which seems to deny rapidity at any level is challenging during the best of times. Add to the mix what is perhaps the most convoluted State bureaucracy in the nation and leadership operating under the misguided notion that 64 distinct entities can somehow all be the same just because they’re all in the same State and, well, I’ll say it again: Things are uncertain where I work.
It’s easy to let all of this get to you if you think about it too much. It’s depressing, really. As someone blessed with more than his fair share of Common Sense, working in such an environment can be a soul-sucking experience. No one is empowered to or takes the initiative to make serious decisions without first holding series of meetings involving scads of "stakeholders" under the misguided belief that everyone must be happy with the decision that needs to be made. More often than not this leads to nothing getting accomplished. But at least everyone’s happy!
And then there are the specific incidents of nonsense. Just today I was called to one of my computer labs to open up the backs of the tables where the cabling is run. The fire inspector had noted that there was a power strip plugged into a power strip. This apparently is a no-no. So I get there and am greeted by someone who points me to the table in question. I open it up and proceed to go around the room opening all of the rest of the tables too. This person was confused. "They only said that one," I was informed. I smiled, and said, "I can guarantee you there are at least three more of those hookups in this room!" "But," she sputtered, "we were only told about that one…" "Wrong is wrong," I said, "If it’s wrong there, then it’s wrong everywhere. And if it needs fixing, it needs fixing everywhere. We’re going to do this right or we’re not going to do it at all!" Exasperated, she said (again), but they only found that ONE!" "Oh, so we’re legal-’til-we’re-caught on all of the other ones??" I exclaimed. She looked mortified and almost shushed me, like I had said something horrific–a Truth that dare not be spoken. "I’m going to have to call my supervisor…" "You go ahead and do that," I urged, "I’ll have that conversation with [name]!!"
Why did I even need to have that conversation? It’s pointless crap like that which wears me down. Until the really cool stuff happens.
I have a good deal of flexibility in my job. I can chain myself to my desk if I so choose, dispatching assistants to the labs and classrooms to do "hands-on" work when it needs doing. I can also go myself. After the incident with the power strips, I decided to go in search of why I love working here. I found it in a couple of places. I had an appointment in a professor’s office to try and figure out why his computer had no network connection. This professor is a vocal coach.
At this point I must explain something about being "The I.T. Guy." The I.T. Guy is generally revered. Usually when we show up, it’s to "save the day" from the perspective of the person whom we are there to help. Indeed, most people can’t get out from behind their desks fast enough so we can sit down and "work our magic." Most of them do so and proceed to go about their business as if we are not there. This allows us to experience all sorts of cool stuff! I have had more interesting conversations with people from all sorts of academic disciplines than I can count; just because I was in their office working on their computer for 20 minutes. It’s awesome.
Back to the vocal coach. I’m sitting in his office troubleshooting his computer while sitting at his piano. Yes, piano. Everyone in Crane has a piano in their office, and the network jack just happened to be next to his. So I’m sitting at the piano doing my thing while he coaches his student on a cappella improvisation while singing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." She’s doing well, but clearly in too low a register. "You probably ought to start with C," he said. I instinctively reach down and hit middle C on the keyboard. There is the slightest flicker of surprise (yet approval) on his face for just an instant as he nods at his student who finds her note and proceeds. I was part of her lesson for the day! And I got to listen to her sing.
This sort of thing happens to me all the time. The "hero" there to save the day is frequently invited to stick around, sometimes even to participate in the lecture/discussion to which he has been privy the last 20 minutes while he "figures it out." Sometimes I do. Most times I don’t. Too much to do!
I finished the work day in a basement lab putting the finishing touches on a problem that had gone on far too long with too many "cooks" involved who were about to spoil the soup. There is something very satisfying about kicking them all out of the virtual kitchen, rolling up your sleeves, and just making the soup, dammit! Because you know how, how it should be done, and can "just do it." I did it. And it was indeed satisfying.
It is opportunities like those that make putting up with all the rest of the bullshit worth it. I could go on about how working in the presence of a few thousand 18-22 year olds keeps you young at heart, but that’s fodder for another post, another day. I LOVE my job. More than that, I love where I get to do it. Change is coming, yes. And bureaucracy will never die. But at least I get to experience all of it HERE.