Monthly Archive: October 2012

learn to project, but don’t expect to defy physics

A colleague passed along some interesting tips for doing good presentations.  These were originally written by Cory Doctorow.  No 10 states:

“Visualize your voice. Imagine your voice is a laser and try to project it strongly to the opposite wall”

I try to do this and I think I am pretty good at projecting my voice and filling a room.  However, some evaluations I got from a recent presentation remind me that while I can project all I want, I’m not going to defy physics.

Sound diminishes by the increase in distance squared.  That is, if someone is 2 feet away, the volume of my voice reaching them is 4 times (2^2) lower than someone 1 foot away.  You figure that some presentation rooms are 20, 30, even 40′ deep at a small conference, and one’s voice can get awfully quiet to those in the back of the room.

The specific comment was about how there was a fan in the room creating constant noise (and the fan was part of an HVAC system far, far larger than my own, lung-based air-exchange system) drowned out my voice.  How there was a preference that I use the microphone available (and even pass that mic around to others).

I had felt I did a pretty good job projecting and I could hear most others quite well.

This is a short post.  It’s just a remark on my own “revelation” that no matter how much I try to hit that back wall with my voice, how booming I think I am, and how clear I think my voice is that particular day (because sometimes we are a bit hoarse, after all), I cannot defy physics.

So I need to get over it and use the mic…

a bigger step than I realized

It’s been slightly less than 3 months that I’ve been CIO at Menlo College.  While in many, many ways it’s not a conventional CIO position, I am still consistently surprised at how different my work is now compared to before.  I would presume that most people in CIO positions are working in relatively large organizations, where each direct report is a manager unto him or herself.  Here, I have a team of 7 (2 are 50%) including myself so I’m still very hands-on.  In many ways one would think that my job would not be much different from being Assistant Dean for Law Technology at the Santa Clara University Law School.  I am still doing strategic planning, still communicating with schools in the area for collaboration, and still working with a small team to be highly productive, rather than a large organization. You’d think the jobs would be similar.

You would be very, very wrong…

The difference between that job – arguably the CIO of the law school – and this one is significant.  First, the scope.  There is nothing in between being a Director of IT for a unit and CIO for an entire institution that prepares you for the scope of responsibilities.  I can’t imagine one, anyway.  I suppose that a CIO could throw all responsibilities at a direct report to give that sense, but even someone really bad at delegation wouldn’t give everything to one person.  You’d delegate to 3-4 trusted folks.  In which case none of those 3-4 have to deal with the scope.  But at the end of the day, a CIO of a small college like Menlo or a big one like, say, Princeton is still where the buck stops.  When it comes down to it, a CIO has to be at least aware of everything going on.

Even beyond scope, I’m now doing certain activities that I never engaged in before.  Negotiating the price of a SAN – sure, done that.  Negotiating the price of our ERP, then asking for installments to handle our cash flow environment, with a shorter contract under the stipulation that we’d get the same pricing next year?  Totally different.  And having to keep in mind cash flow all the time?  Puts a spin on everything.  Then the phones go down or the wireless network won’t hand out IPs anymore and it’s back in the trenches.  It really has caught me off guard, which is saying a lot because I tried really hard to be ready for anything.

The financials is the big part.  It’s not as simple as “you pay a lot for licensing and hardware refreshes, then use up whatever else is left wisely.”  I have both more and less leeway to use some techniques I found useful in the past.  For instance, I would cycle lean and “heavy” years at the law school.  One year we’d spend a lot on servers and storage – maybe $125,000.  The next year we’d spend $20,000, if not a bit less.  This helped me get that big budget approved, and gave the school a lot of flexibility in the lean years to allow other departments to do stuff.

I can’t do that now.  I am the one budget, so I can’t really give myself leeway by having heavy and lean years.  And while this is a very cooperative environment, the bottom line is that few departments have one-time projects that can be funded through decreased IT needs for that one year then absorbed into operations and budget from then on, while IT’s budget goes up again.  So I have to spend about the same amount year over year on everything.  I can move dollars around and perhaps yes, I can spend a bit more on something this year and less on it next year.  But my budget is not part of a larger overall budget in the same way it was at the law school.

I am also much more sensitive to cash flow.  Because I was abstracted at least one more layer away from the school’s direct finances and the decreased spending in one month by, say, the career center would offset increased spending that same month by Law Tech, I could spend more or less from month to month.  It didn’t matter as much if I had all of my licenses due in the same month.  Here, because my budget is fairly large, if I don’t spread things out I inhibit my own ability to spend.  Almost like our budget is so big that we hold ourselves back in terms of our flexibility.

There are a dozen if not maybe 30 other ways that have shown me, repeatedly, how big of a divide there is between before and now.  But the gulf has proven to be quite large indeed…

having a personal, long-range strategic plan

This is my last night in Memphis, where the 2012 SIGUCCS Conference concluded earlier today.  It’s been a really fascinating conference, and an especially satisfying experience since I am this year’s treasurer.  It’s been 18 months of planning and the work of a lot of people that led to a great and productive event.

One theme came up repeatedly.  More than simply sharing knowledge, a great number of the line staff – directly interacting with students, faculty and staff – and first tier managers demonstrated what I can only describe as an “intense thirst” for professional development guidance.  The emphasis has always been on networking and sharing information.  It has always been about building a community facing similar challenges and coming together to find meaningful solutions.  But there was a twist this year, and it was distinct and pronounced.

One session in particular, by Lucas Friedrichsen from Oregon State and Mo Nishiyama (@synthcat) from Oregon Health and Science University, sparked a number of thoughts.  Lucas and Mo, fundamentally, were discussing the challenges of remaining productive at one’s work, maintaining a healthy work/life balance, yet still obtaining and making use of the professional development opportunities needed to keep advancing in one’s career.  At the core was, I think, the same topic I’d been seeing elsewhere – these are professionals that have done good work, have built up their portfolios/resumes/skills, and are wanting new challenges (whether that means a new job or a new set of responsibilities is different from person to person, but it’s still about growth).  During the discussion and through the twitter backchannel the idea of a “personal strategic plan” occurred to me.

Most likely, there is a strategic plan for your institution.  Usually, the “official,” public one is something along the lines of “we strive to be awesome, using many of the awesome traits we possess, and will also care about the environment.”  In other words, fairly generic.  At Menlo College, where we are drafting our next strategic plan, we have begun with an internal document that is much more specific.  The section for the Office of Information Technology is broken into 7 sections, each of which has at least 10 specific goals, and every goal has a timeline.  This is the kind of document that is actually useful and that translates into tactics.  Every time we consider a technology or other solution, it must fit in with this plan.  If it does conflict, then we will ask why and whether we should redesign our goals (because sometimes something out of band can in fact be a good idea and we should keep an  open mind).

Why shouldn’t one have a personal one, as well?  A strategic plan about how to get to various points in one’s career on a certain timeline.  This would give us a sense of timing, a context for decision-making, and, most importantly, a path that one can keep an eye on and stay relatively close to over time.  This path would then give us milestones for achieving specific goals.