Last Tuesday was my last day as an employee of the University of Washington.
I’m excited to say tomorrow I start in a new job as Senior Director for Emerging Technology and Communication with IT Services at the University of Chicago. I’ll be part of the leadership team that Klara Jelinkova, their relatively new Chief Information Technology Officer, has put together. I’ve known and admired Klara as a colleague for a number of years now as she’s held increasingly more responsible positions at the University of Wisconsin and Duke before coming to Chicago in March. Klara is one of the new generation of higher-ed CIOs – whip smart, completely grounded in the technologies, but understanding the role that modern IT organizations must play to work with and serve the university. I couldn’t imagine a better person to work for. The other folks I already know in the Chicago organization (Tom Barton, Greg Anderson, Bob Bartlett) are also top notch, and I look forward to working with a whole new group of colleagues.
While I’m sad to be getting ready to leave Seattle, I look forward to getting to know Chicago, a great and vibrant city. It’s gonna be hell on my downhill skiing, though.
I’ll be blogging about my experiences in getting to know Chicago and our work in IT Services as it happens, but I wanted to at least take a brief look back on my 16.5 years at the UW, and all that we’ve accomplished over those years, because over the course of that time we did play a part in changing the world.
It’s easy to forget that in the 1990s computer professionals at academic institutions were busy inventing the future. When I first came to the UW in 1994 it was not generally accepted in industry that internet protocol networking was going to be the way to go, nor that open protocol applications for email and other purposes would be adopted on a wide scale.
In 1994 we were excited about new emerging Internet applications and standards such as Gopher (invented at the University of Minnesota by my colleague Mark McCahill), IMAP (pioneered at Stanford and the UW by Mark Crispin and colleagues) and z39.50. The World Wide Web had been recently invented at CERN, the European particle physics research lab, and the Mosaic web browser, created at the University of Illinois’ supercomputing center, was wowing us with its ability to integrate images, text, and hypertext links in an open way that made it easy to create rich content.
Since that time we pioneered the use of developing technology time and again, we helped convince major commercial interests that the Internet was the way to bring people and business together online (for better and for worse), and we built a large and growing community of technologists and technology users at the UW.
Some of the areas where we can take some credit for being among the first include developing standardizing on IP-only transport on the network, creating a university web presence, building large collections of streaming audio and video, using IMAP as a widespread protocol for email, building web-based interfaces to administrative systems, creating an enterprise web portal before the word was even in use, creating widely-used independent tools for collaboration in teaching and learning, building a GUI interface for searching library resources, having a web-based single-sign-on system, deploying a campus-wide online events calendar, building web services interfaces to enterprise data, and many more.
Recently, we’ve been engaged in projects to really get a handle on how we organize, manage, and budget for IT work at the university. While not as sexy perhaps as some of our past technical adventures, I believe that being organized about how we plan for, manage, and communicate about IT services is a foundational discipline for being effective, agile, strategic, and innovative in supporting the work of the modern university.
The last couple of years have been tough ones in the UW Information Technology organization. It’s no secret that these are not easy times for public universities in general, and Washington’s state budget picture specifically doesn’t look too rosy. Constant cutbacks and layoffs have become part of “the new normal”, as admittedly outsized ambition and reach has been scaled back to a more modest scale.
Throughout all of the years, the people I’ve worked with at the UW have been a wonderful, extremely skilled and talented group. I’m honored to have worked among them, and I’m extremely proud of having played a part in the UW’s efforts over the years.