2005 in Review

Today was a University holiday, but my office has been quite a mess for sometime, so I went in to clean it up, and organize things – and doing the physical cleanup reminded me to do a virtual cleanup of my email, which is always a fun thing to go back through for the year and it prompts a 2005 “Year in Review” of sorts.

The year began as my fifth calendar year as Systems Manager in the College of Engineering (February 2005 marked my 8th anniversary as an NC State Employee).

I was coming off several “big” initiatives for Engineering – including the first results of a huge push to revamp the way that the introductory computer course in Engineering was taught, with a focus on teaching students how to use their own laptops they were bringing, rather than Engineering’s custom computing environment – and in turn, a revamp of how we were going to do computing infrastructure in Engineering. Another big part of this that managed to get the ear of the heads of Academic computing at NC State was the “VCL initiative” – using a big web application to schedule access to systems listening via Windows Remote Desktop and X over SSH to provide remote access to applications. All in all, I had spent a fair amount of time making diagrams and talking until I was blue in the face about it all.

It was a important lesson to me in marketing – in order to have a successful initiative, it doesn’t matter how technically sweet it is, or sometimes even the practical impact. In order to get heard, you have to have a clear, succinct message (something that’s pretty difficult for me) and you repeat it, ad nauseum.

As 2005 began though, I had spent the previous 4 or 5 months marketing, presenting, talking, meeting, etc. and had delegated almost every techie thing in the Systems group – so I was a bit lost as to what to do next. I piddled around more than a bit, floundering around for some sort of new marketing mission. Mostly I bitched on campus mailing lists about communication, writing astounding sentences in the process. But I still managed to pull off a few interesting things. I turned conventional wisdom on its head, asking of my staff to post their Activity Notes on the web, publicly for the world to see, question, whatever. And all the worries of doing that (that people would question the activity, would wonder why were doing X instead of Y turned out to be for naught. And the notes bring with them a historicity and a transparency that is, I believe, still unequaled anywhere else at NC State (well, the eXtension wiki’s are coming pretty close). I’m glad to see that my successor in the position is keeping that going.

My boss in Engineering decided to retire, and I managed to get on the search committee – which was interesting.

That event combined with some part-time and full-time staff changes in ITECS made me long to wish that in employment searches or in employee transitions (e.g. “we are not inviting you back”) that you could really tell folks why they didn’t get a job, or what they could improve, or even where they were great at things. But sadly, you can’t really do that. Amazing how legal actions and the “conventional wisdom” of employment has set things up that you never really get a chance to improve on things. I’ve always wished that I could have known exactly why I didn’t get jobs that I applied for in my career. There oughtta be a statute of limitations on your ability to sue, and you could go back a year later and find out why (and by then, you probably could handle hearing it).

At the same time, I was contacted by my now-boss, with what sounded like a interesting opportunity to start something new, bigger than a single college, bigger even that a single University. I decided to take that job. It was probably the first job transition in my life that was done still liking and still wanting to do more in my current job.

More time will tell if it was the right decision. But all indications are that it was. I still miss the future of revamping an educational process in what has become perhaps the flagship College of the flagship Engineering University in NC.

On a macro level I still identify a bit more with the aspects of an Engineering college than what is still largely a system geared to Agricultural Extension – but rural boy that I am, I really look forward to the potential to impact more people, in a more personal way, with the eXtension work, and to help to bring along the Extension system into a new way of communicating and information sharing.

On a micro level, I actually have enjoyed quite a bit less stress not managing people, and maybe more, not being trapped (sometimes of my own volition) in the computing politics of NC State.

It turned out to be a good thing, I think, for the staff that I managed. One staff member took a big promotion into a position managing VCL – something that that my Engineering Boss and I pushed for very hard to get created – so it was nice seeing something I marketed come to fruition (and which he deserved, given that the actual work came largely from him and another of my former staff members). Another former staff member got promoted into my old job, and I think he’s going to do really well. And those two openings given others opportunities there. And change, is always good.

Most of what I do now is techie. Last night I was doing relatively mundane things like upgrading blogs from WordPress 1.5 to WordPress 2.0 – not delegating that is actually less stressful, and doesn’t give me as much time to think. That actually is a good thing. 2006 will certainly bring the need to hire the position I have created, but left unopened, and for me to think a bit more, but for now I’ve enjoyed the respite – and I think there’s some value (and ROI) in someone that does both the planning/design and implementation, even the mundane parts of it.

So 2005 ended in a different position than it began. But the philosophies, the foundation, the goals, the values that I hold dear haven’t changed. I still hold and echo the words of Ellis Redding, from the movie The Shawshank Redemption – words that I have echoed over and over in blog posts and words that I’ve written – that I hope, again for 2006 that I can find the excitement that Red feels on his journey to Zihuatanejo:

I’m so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

Again, this first work day of 2006, I hope.