Do, Learn

Just about a month ago, I asked a colleague–just starting his new job the next day as CIO of a small public university–if he had “that nervous excited feeling that you got as a kid on the first day of school?”

Little did I know that just one month later, I’d be asking that of myself.

Tomorrow, for the first time in six and a half years–and eight and half years prior to that in other roles at NC State University–I’ll be starting the day in a new organization.

I’ve written a number of posts here over the years referencing the Shawshank Redemption–sourced from one seven years ago echoing Morgan Freeman’s character’s words about being institutionalized

These walls are kind of funny. First you hate ‘em, then you get used to ‘em. Enough time passes, gets so you depend on them.

It took a while, and parts of it changed in all three roles that I had at NC State, but like Red, I learned how to become that guy that knew how to get things, how to make things work, how to succeed in my roles there and how to help others do the same.

I started a brand new school across Wake County when I was in second grade. When I got to school, all the other kids were drawing pictures, and I thought we were supposed to draw what we were interested in and wanted to be when we grew up. I sat down and started drawing a picture of the moon and probably the space shuttle—that was the first year the shuttle launched—and a few minutes later I heard the teacher tell a parent that we were all drawing pictures of what we did that summer.

I remember wanting to crawl under the desk just thinking about having to explain how I went to space that summer.

There’s some part of me that still feels like that second grade Jason felt. I’m not sure what the picture is that everyone is drawing. I don’t know the rules. I don’t know the culture. I don’t know my new colleagues, and they don’t know me. I don’t know where anything is yet with my new job.

So, am I nervous? Yes.

I have written before that my goal is to learn by doing meaningful work or more succintly Do, Learn

Sure, it’s amorphous. And I’ve written equally vague hopes I had for the roles I’ve had at NC State — or really any role that I have. Most recently last August where I wrote about my experiences at OSCON and Ariel Waldman’s quote that Doing something changes how we see it.

I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to see that the work that I’ve done have an impact on my local team, and often the division of the University (or recently, Extension) that my team was part of. But for all the passion that I have for the research, teaching, and extension mission of the land-grant university, affecting change within the larger organization is slow, and hard, even more so for a technologist watching the kind of work that they do upend entire industries (including education, though from outside the academy).

I want to do and most importantly, I want to see what I do have a meaningful and positive impact on the organization that I’m part of, and learn enough along the way that to see that work that I do have an even greater impact beyond the organization in concert with my colleagues.

When I started six and half years ago at Extension, I remember having that same second grade nervousness. I had been managing for almost 5 years prior, and while I was leading technical projects, I had given up most of my day to day technical work. In my job in Extension, I had the charge to build from scratch the environment that we would deliver and develop on. At the start, I was it. There wasn’t anyone else–not for the systems work at least. And until I had the opportunity to mentor another systems administrator, the system itself remained mine alone to break and fix and guide.

It’s different now, the last six and half years of doing and learning have given me a confidence again that I can figure anything out.

But it’s also different because I’m not starting alone this time.

I have a lot of experience doing what I do. But the most fundamental lesson that experience teaches me is that I have so much to continue learning.

And I’ve already begun learning things that I didn’t know–just from watching the twitter accounts of my new colleagues. I am greatly looking forward to having the opportunity to continue learning from them and along with them.

And in the few emails and conversations I’ve had we are definitely going to be doing things that will have an impact on the business we’re in.

Like Red, I’m at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain…

But am I excited? Hell yes.