This feature is part of a series focused exclusively on issues impacting higher ed IT administrators. To view the entire series, click here.
There are any number of things most people wish they had known their first day on a job. In our research for this series, we asked 6 higher ed CIOs to share their thoughts. This is what they had to say.
"I don’t know. How much I still have to learn? Just the nature of technology is that it’s always changing, so of course that’s a hugely fun part about it because you’re always learning and growing. As CIOs, we’re technical experts, in some regard. Not deeply technical, but we’re the experts in the area of the application of technology for the institution. But we get tapped for all sorts of things across the institution because of that expertise. I feel like some days, I know as much about other parts of the institution as I do about IT."
"I might change my mind a week from now, but for right now, I wish I had known more about the higher education profession. In addition to that, I wish I’d known more about all the different functional areas of the institution, both on the academic and the administrative side. The reason why I say that is because I think as you come up — I was in the military for 24-and-a-half years and I’d risen through the ranks there and I did fine. I understand technology and I understand how to support somebody else’s different mission. I prided myself on understanding and knowing their mission. And then I moved into higher ed, and I thought I knew the functional areas, but I think when you get to a certain level, you really need to know their calendar, their critical time, what they need to be successful. As a CIO, that’s where you need to spend your time, so it means you have to be engaged across the campus.
I’ve been fortunate to have had mentors. And I continue to do this — to have people I know that are like, 'Hey, that’s my financial aid person at Institution X. I have a person who’s a payroll person at Institution Y.' You know, people I can trust who will tell me, 'Mac, this is what you really need to know and understand,' in addition to my campus colleagues. I have mentors in different functional areas. I learned that later. I wish I had learned that earlier. It’s not like it’s detrimental, like you can’t be a CIO without knowing that, but I think you can be much more effective if you know more about higher education as a profession and the mission of your institution and, more importantly, the functional areas of your current institution."
"I still wish I knew better how to deal with the fact that managing a very small percentage of your employees takes a very large percentage of your time. Most people fortunately have been in good IT departments and on good campuses, and most people just come in and do a good job every day and don’t need a lot of management — and then there’s a few people who need a lot of management. It’s a lot of work."
"Probably, had I had a better understanding of how incredibly different the IT staff who grew up around legacy systems are as workforce and as colleagues versus our younger, what I call your 'client server' generation. I was struck by how different those two groups were working in the same environment. It was very much a generational difference.
Having witnessed, basically, this transition from the era of large, pseudo-mainframe environments into this client server environment, and seeing how the folks growing up in the mainframe environment were very focused on process, on the documentation practices, on the ability to sustain that system. They didn’t move fast, but they maintained a pretty stable, robust system. And then all of a sudden, you bring in all these young kids who are doing the client server world and the app development, and the speed at which they like to work and the kind of lack of interest they have in documentation and in repeatable security practices and those things.
It’s kind of like, in one sense, 'Boy, I wish all my mainframe people could adopt that kind of innovation spirit.' And on the other hand, I wish all my client server people could’ve adopted this practice of documentation and repeatability and robustness and availability and that kind of stuff. I didn’t see those differences early on. As I kind of worked through as being the IT leader and I realized that I had two very different groups of people there, I think I would have probably engaged those groups very differently from day one and probably would have avoided making some mistakes. I guess that’s kind of a long-winded way of saying I should’ve known my audience."
"How much I have to learn every day. We teach the concept of lifelong learning, and we tend to practice it in the business of all the people who work in this organization. We have to be learning every single day. There is no steady state."
"I really wish I had known how important it was gonna be that the CIO be a good fit with the culture and rhythms of the institution. I think that really good people can struggle at institutions where they’re a really bad fit. And conversely, really good people can really, really shine when they’re at an institution where their mindset and their desires and their goals really match well with the institution. I did not understand that when I started as a CIO. That is something now that as I mentor folks who are looking at CIO roles, I encourage them very strongly to really try to get a sense first of who they are and what they want, and then to try to find a way to match that with an institution."
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