Hi. There is no update for Jim's blog this week. I'll post again next week when we're all back from break. Enjoy your Thanksgiving!
November 2008 Archives
I wanted to take another moment to discuss work-life balance. Sure, we work in a support organization where we carry pagers to respond "24/7". But when not on call, we need to be able to switch out of "work" mode when we go home or we risk burning out. There are many ways to provide work-life balance. Here is how I manage it:
I try something "new" every month.
That may seem like a simple statement, but has helped to shift my focus away from "work" when I am at home. My wife loves the idea; most activities are things we do together, so it's become a special "date night"! Some of the "new" things we've done as part of this experiment:
- Saw a Russian ballet
- Attended a science fiction convention
- Watched a cabaret
- Visited the 35W construction site
- Read a new book from a different genre
- Saw a musical
- Tried a new restaurant
- Got a hot-rock massage at a spa
What "new" things would you try? The idea is to leave your comfort zone, to look at things in a new way. Not everything needs to be big - experimenting with a new restaurant may be enough, if it pushes you out of your usual habits. And it's something fun to look forward to!
But I'll admit that it's not always easy to try something "new" every month. It requires a certain amount of planning and time, and the realization that you may not like everything. But you may find that you really enjoy some of the things you try. For example, my wife and I discovered we like ballet, and are planning to attend another performance in January.
As we head into the holiday season, take an honest look at your work-life balance. Find ways to "unplug" when you are at home (and not on call) and enjoy the other half of your life. If you are like me, you'll become more focused when at work, and more relaxed when at home.
The Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC), also known as the "Academic Big Ten", was established in 1958 as a consortium of twelve primarily Midwestern universities (the eleven members of the Big Ten Conference, plus University of Chicago.) We maintain strong relationships with the other CIC institutions, and often work with each other on very large projects and initiatives.
This week, I was at Northwestern University to attend the CIC Operations & Infrastructure (OaI) committee meeting. The OaI is comprised of IT directors and senior managers, and we meet every 6 months to review and discuss the state of IT at each of the Big Ten universities. Participating in something like the OaI is unique for higher education - you don't see this level of openness and sharing in "industry". At the OaI, we can talk honestly about our experiences with vendors, the initiatives we are working on, and the future growth of our IT areas.
Across the CIC, we see some common themes:
Almost every university in the OaI leverages virtual servers (VMWare, Solaris Zones, Mainframe VM, etc.) to some degree. Like us, most are seeing around 30-to-1 consolidation for light- to moderate-load servers such as file servers, or 8-to-1 for heavier loads. Using virtualization allows us to run more servers using less physical hardware, so we make better use of our data centers.
This year, the economy faces some tough challenges. Budgets are difficult for every institution, so it is not surprising that everyone is going through a similar organizational realignment, like we have done inside OIT. Most institutions are also implementing a hiring freeze.
Every institution reports that storage is their largest growth area, especially as central IT now plays a larger role in supporting research. An additional struggle is how to provide backups that adequately protect that massive amount of data. While everyone uses a different particular solution, most rely on a virtual tape library and a backup architecture that is similar to ours at U of M.
The three limiting factors in managing data centers are: space, power, cooling. This year, it seems that space has become a key issue that needs the most attention. Several institutions reported that they are expanding into other data centers - either by leasing new space, or building new. The U of M is reflected here in our Data Center Initiative to build a new data center, probably near St Paul Campus (but don't expect this until 2010 or later.)
The OaI meetings are also an opportunity for us to compare notes and gain additional perspective. One area that hit home was disaster recovery. Especially for those of us in OIT, we've been hit with some pretty big "mini-disasters" in recent years, the most memorable being the transformer fire on the first day of EFS go-live. But this pales in comparison to the disaster faced by University of Iowa during this year's flood. This video underscores the importance of DR preparedness and effective planning. We are fortunate not to have experienced a similar disaster at the U of M. At the same time, this provides contrast for us here at the U of M - we are the only university in the CIC to have established a dedicated DR team!
The first rule of using Powerpoint is don't use Powerpoint. If you must use Powerpoint, at least don't make your slides distracting, or you risk losing your audience.
At EDUCAUSE last week, I sat in several presentations that were examples of how not to use Powerpoint. The most common mistake was using too much text on a slide. I found myself reading ahead, no longer paying attention to the presenter.
Another typical mistake was using distracting images. The presenter probably included them to help make a point, but unless the image is directly and simply related to the contents of the slide (for example, a chart) then it's a wasted image. A great example is this slide:
When I saw this slide, I paid more attention to the little picture than to the presenter. "Is that a Mac laptop, or a PC laptop?" "Did they render one person, or glue two images together?" "Did they do complete raytracing, or are any reflections missing?" "Why isn't there a reflection of the person in the laptop screen, yet you can see the keyboard?"
Suddenly, I realized that two minutes had passed, and I hadn't heard what the presenter had said.
You may one day need to give a presentation for others. Remember the general rules to give a truly outstanding presentation:
- Avoid distractions.
- Use slides that are visual, not wordy.
- Share your enthusiasm.
- Leave room to talk around the bullet points.
Several of us from OIT (including Jac Hoffsten and Patton Fast) attended EDUCAUSE last week. If you haven't previously attended an EDUCAUSE conference, please let your manager know - I'd like to see others attend next year (Denver, Colorado.) Aside from attending some great track presentations, EDUCAUSE is a terrific opportunity to connect with others in higher education. It's not just for managers; there are great track presentations that cover a wide spectrum of possible audiences.
I'd like to reflect on a particular track presentation that had a great impact on me.
EDUCAUSE has a research center called ECAR. Philip Goldstein presented the results of recent ECAR research on Leading the IT Workforce in Higher Education (ID: ERS0807). The research examined critical topics including the potention impact on the workforce of CIO retirements, succession planning, and leadership effectiveness. The presentation also touched on rising leaders' perspectives on the CIO role.
Update: (12/3/08) EDUCAUSE recently hosted a live event, where Phil Goldstein presented his research. Slides and multimedia are available in the archive.
According to the study, a leadership crisis is looming in higher ed. Goldstein states 48% of the senior-most IT leaders (for example, CIOs) intend to retire by 2018. While the current economy may bring that number down a bit, it's still alarming that only 23% of rising leaders in higher ed aspire to become a CIO. In short, we'll soon lose more IT leaders in higher ed than we'll have to replace them.
One way to address this is through mentoring, to build up the next generation of IT leadership. If you are a manager, engage your staff in some one-on-one meetings. Find out where they want to go, what are their goals. You may be surprised to learn that some of your staff may wish to become a Director or CIO in the next 10, 15, 20 years. Encourage those that are interested to enroll in some of Central HR's half-day seminars on leadership. (The great thing about these is that most are free, so it's not a big deal if you take the class then decide it's "not for me.")
If you are someone who is interested in moving into a leadership role, talk to your manager. If you aren't comfortable discussing it with your manager (for whatever reason) please feel free to schedule some time with me. The point is to discuss your plans for what you want to do. Maybe you want to change career tracks - let us help you get there. Or maybe you want to step into a larger role - we can help find opportunities. Where possible, we want to encourage personal growth so that our teams are filled highly motivated people who enjoy doing the work that they do.
I found it interesting that mentoring IT staff was the center of interest at another track presentation, late on Thursday afternoon. Many of the same topics were discussed, and they closed with this message: if we don't build up the next generation of IT leadership, we are doing ourselves and our institutions a huge disfavor. It's everyone's responsibility to take a part - current IT leaders need to build up those who will provide tomorrow's leadership, and rising leaders need to communicate with their managers if they want advice and help in making that next step.
Now that I have made a few posts to this blog, I've moved the previous posts to the bottom of this page. I'll do a similar cleanup about every week. If you miss a post, look for it in the archives.