Secrets of life as a tech director

Sep 24, 2017 By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

I retired from the IT world five years ago this summer. Unlike coaching or teaching, it's something that I don't miss at all.

I moved from the classroom to IT because it paid well. As a tech director, I made more than double my highest salary as a teacher and three-sport coach.

It's always good to know the rules of the game and to push them to the limit. In Wyoming, educational retirement is based on your three highest annual salaries. Administrators retire much more comfortably than teachers do, hence an IT career change in my final years.

When you're a teenager everyone tells you to do what you're good at, to follow a career that matches your skill set. While there may be a bit of truth in that advice, it is often not the case. Just because you tally a perfect score in science or math on the ACT or SAT doesn't mean you shouldn't become a writer, historian or farmer. The path of life always follows the heart.

When thinking of my life in IT the successes rarely come to mind. The systemic changes, reports written, networks constructed, the miles and miles of cat5e and fiber connected, the countless PCs configured and the unending problems solved just don't rise to the surface. What I (and every single tech I've met) remember is the inanity of the people you have to work with in this career.

One morning as I configured a small computer lab in a teacher's classroom, the guy walked up to me and menacingly announced, "You're not doing your job. I'm meeting with the superintendent today and reporting you. There are three sites on the internet that have the incorrect date. You're slacking off."

This clown thought my position as technology director required me to update every website on the internet.Yes, he did have a meeting later that day with the superintendent, but I don't think the teacher ever reported me. He was fired that afternoon, not because of any influence from me but because of... well, if he actually believed one man was responsible for the millions of sites out there in cyberspace, then he probably had no business working with children.

Sometimes football and IT come into play at the same time. As I was lugging two PCs, one under each arm (the old style steel cabinet variety that weighed about 40 pounds each) down a hallway toward my office when a woman who had constant computer problems blocked my path.

"You're not going anywhere until my e-mail is working right," she threatened.

It didn't matter that I spent at least 20 minutes a day in her office undoing all the mistakes she made since my last visit. She wanted results.

Instead of dropping everything for her I decided to use a head fake I'd taught to receivers and running backs over the length of my coaching career. I dropped my right foot and leaned to the right, she took the fake and moved to block me, a quick spin to the left pinned her against my back. I took a few quick steps towards my office, kicked the door stop off with my foot, and let the door lock behind me.

She pounded on the door for a minute or so then left to report me to the principal, as usual.The problem was, the principal was already in my office with another administrator and one of the custodians.The guys watched the whole thing and were too busy laughing and high-fiving me to pay any attention to the knocking at the door.

It's all in a day's work for someone in IT.

Salesmen and dreamers promote the digital world as a panacea where all problems quickly disappear into a world of bright, shining success.

But the truth is identical to the quote in the Tom Wolfe novel "The Right Stuff" by Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom: "No Bucks, no Buck Rogers."

Behind every seemingly flawless online business meeting, behind every broadcast, every presentation and every training session there is a tech guy or gal diligently working to make the presenter look good. It is all part of the fašade of the modern cyber world.

As my wife Sue and I drove west from Butte, Montana, toward Idaho a few years ago my cell phone rang. A server was down back at work and had to be repaired.

Another dirty little secret of the technology world is that most problems solve themselves by restarting a system.

No matter how many times you tell an end user this, they still call.

I knew we were approaching the mountains and that cell service would be intermittent at best in a few minutes so Sue took the wheel and I began a remote desktop session on my cell phone with the PC in my office. That PC had shortcuts in place for every server in the district, and I restarted the offending server from the highway. In a few minutes I watched it come back online, tested the connection from my office PC, and signed off as we drove on to Coeur d'Alene.

The special education director in one of my districts always had printer problems.She constantly called for help when a document didn't print correctly. It was always a formatting error on her part, but she wouldn't take instruction on how to set margins or format a page.

So, one day I told her I discovered the problem. Her printer cable was rolled up, and the little zeros and ones that make up a binary signal were plugging her system. The zeros were getting through, I said, but the ones were plugging in the corners.

Hook, line and sinker. She pulled her cables straight and taped them to the floor. No more calls. She thanked me one afternoon for solving the problem. I'm sure the improved printing had nothing to do with the very capable woman the district hired to assist her in writing reports.

Technology, the path to a better world.

Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired public school educator.

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