Goodbye UW, Hello Chicago!

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.

More on defining collaboration

Is it mere coincidence that all three of the comments on the Defining Collaboration post were from guys named Jim? I think not! Two of the comments wanted to stress that collaboration can (and often does) take place within the context of formal organizational structures and activities. That’s definitely a good point. I didn’t mean to … Continue reading “More on defining collaboration”

Is it mere coincidence that all three of the comments on the Defining Collaboration post were from guys named Jim? I think not!

Two of the comments wanted to stress that collaboration can (and often does) take place within the context of formal organizational structures and activities. That’s definitely a good point. I didn’t mean to imply in the definition that it didn’t. 
What I was trying to distinguish is the difference between the activity of collaboration, which I think of as being free flowing, creative, and non-deterministic, from a traditional command-and-control kind of activity, where someone in authority directs and coordinates the work of others and where repeatable processes are executed in well understood ways. 
The reason I want to make that distinction is that I think it’s at least likely that the two different kinds of work require, or at least can best benefit from, different kinds of tools. So while tools like traditional project management software, forms-processing, and workflow engines are good for the hierarchical structured kind of work, tools like wikis and group task lists are perhaps more useful for collaborative activities. 
I’ll have to think about how to make that clearer in the definition. Thanks, Jims!

A sad day at UW Tech

Today was the hardest day I’ve had in the fourteen years I’ve worked at the University of Washington. Today I dismantled the Emerging Technology organization that I spent the last two years building, and laid off five of the nine eTech staff. As many people already know, UW Technology is dealing with serious budget problems … Continue reading “A sad day at UW Tech”

Today was the hardest day I’ve had in the fourteen years I’ve worked at the University of Washington. Today I dismantled the Emerging Technology organization that I spent the last two years building, and laid off five of the nine eTech staff.

As many people already know, UW Technology is dealing with serious budget problems (here’s a Seattle Times story on it). I don’t claim to understand all of the factors that led to this crisis, but I do know that as a result we are forced to drastically cut our spending. Ron Johnson, our VP, has had to make difficult decisions about priorities – I don’t pretend to know whether I would make all of the same priority decisions, but I do know that I don’t envy him that task. I can understand that in a time of budgetary troubles these difficult decisions have to be made.

I don’t have to pretend to be happy about the result.

I am extremely proud of the eTech staff, the work we accomplished over the last eighteen months, and the relationships we built with a wide set of colleagues and partners across the institution. As a team we forged a unique and special working style, and I will miss it. The eTech staff are a supremely talented and knowledgeable group, and our organization will be the poorer without them.

To my laid off friends and colleagues – I’m sorry it’s come to this. It hurts. I wish you all success and better times ahead.

To the rest of the University and our partners and friends – I’m sorry we won’t have all the anticipated opportunities for forging new work together. We’ll see what capacity remains and where the priorities for our work lie as we regroup and try to move forward.

Kristen’s instructions for installing Movable Type at the UW

Kristen Dietiker dropped an email the other day asking me for some details on installing Movable Type at the UW. She actually took the time to write up a set of instructions for installing MT on the UW’s central unix clusters. Nice work, Kristen!

Kristen Dietiker dropped an email the other day asking me for some details on installing Movable Type at the UW. She actually took the time to write up a set of instructions for installing MT on the UW’s central unix clusters. Nice work, Kristen!

UWTV offers iPhone-friendly downloads

I’m really pleased to see that UWTV is now offering mp3 audio and mp4 video downloads of programs! These will work on all sorts of computers and on portable devices including iPhones and iPods. I’m taking along the video of Elizabeth Kolbert’s talk on global warming and Google’s T.V. Raman’s Computer Science Distinguished Lecturer talk … Continue reading “UWTV offers iPhone-friendly downloads”

I’m really pleased to see that UWTV is now offering mp3 audio and mp4 video downloads of programs! These will work on all sorts of computers and on portable devices including iPhones and iPods.

I’m taking along the video of Elizabeth Kolbert’s talk on global warming and Google’s T.V. Raman’s Computer Science Distinguished Lecturer talk on The Web The Way You Want It to watch on a long plane trip to Florida tomorrow.

uwtv screenshot