TITLE: The End of a Different Year AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 21, 2006 5:15 PM DESC: ----- BODY: I am coming to the end of my first year as department head, which officially began on August 1 last year. In that time, I have written less about management than I had expected. Why? One ingredient is that I blog using my public identity. I don't often mention UNI or the University of Northern Iowa in my entries, but the blog is located in my departmental web space, and I provide plenty of links off to other UNI pages. For much of what I've thought to write in the last year, I would have had a hard time writing in an anonymous way; too often, it would have been obvious that my comments were about particular individuals -- folks that some of my readers know, or could know, and folks who themselves might stumble upon my blog. In a couple of CS curriculum entries such as this one, I have referred to a nameless colleague who would surely recognize himself (and our current and former students can probably identify him, too) -- but those were posts about CS content, not discussions of my role as head. Why would that be a problem? I think that I am more prone to write these days on negative experiences that occur as an administrator, manager, or dare I say leader than I am to write on positive events. This is the same sort of motivation I have for writing software patterns, negative experiences that happen when programming and designing. But in those cases I also have a solution that resolves the forces. As an administrator, I am mostly still looking for solutions, feeling my way through the job and trying to learn general lessons. And that gets us to the real reason I haven't written much on this topic: I'm not there yet. I don't think I've learned enough to speak with any amount of authority here, and I don't have the confidence to ruminate yet. As I wrote back in May, I thought I might have more time to write in the summer, at least more regularly. But instead of fewer distractions, I think I've experienced more. I've actually had less concentrated time to write. In that same entry, I related a quote from Henri Nouwen that "... the interruptions were my real work." The idea behind this quote is that we must come to peace with the distractions and view them as opportunities to serve. In a rational sense, I understand this, but I am not there yet. Sometimes, interruptions just seem like interruptions. I can go home at the end of a day of interruptions feel like I did something useful, but I also usually feel unfulfilled at not having accomplished my other goals for the day. Sometimes, the interruption really does turn out to be my real task, one that displaces other plans in a meaningful way. The best example of that this summer has been a long-tabled proposal for our department to offer a B.S. in Software Engineering. I definitely have plenty to write about this in the next couple of weeks, but it won't be my colleagues here who might be unhappy with what I say; it will be colleagues at our sister state institutions. This week has been filled with nothing but distractions of the former type. For most of the week, I have felt like a preemptible processor thrashing on a steady flow of interrupts. On the other hand, I did manage to tie up some loose ends from old projects, which should make August a more enjoyable month. In that May entry, I also quoted Chad Fowler's vignette about "fighting the traffic". I have come to realize that, unlike Fowler's cabbie, I don't love to fight the traffic. At least not as my primary job. I know that it is an essential part of this job, so I am looking for middle ground. That's a meta-goal of mine for the coming year. I'd also like to refine how I respond to interrupts and how I schedule and manage my time. This year will tell me a lot about whether I should consider this as a long-term professional opportunity. But now I am ready for a little vacation. I haven't take any break other than at Christmas since long weekends in May and July of 2005. While I am not despairing for my job, I am reminded of a quote I used when starting as head last August 1:

Oft expectation fails, and most oft there
Where most it promises; and oft it hits
Where hope is coldest, and despair most fits.

-- William Shakespeare
All's Well That Ends Well (II, i, 145-147)
Earlier this summer, I had a fantasy of a running vacation: Drive somewhere mostly isolated, and find a home base in a little motel. Get up every morning and run from 5:30 until 9:00 or so, anywhere from 12 to 15 miles. Come back, shower, eat, and nap until noon. Then spend the day reading, writing, and goofing off. Mmmm. But I also have a strong desire to spend some time with my wife and daughters, and so that's what I'll do: hang around home. I'll do some "home"work, relax and read. I'll probably also spend a little relaxed time corralling my work to-do list, to prepare for returning to the office. That will actually feel good. I'll even do some disciplined reading of work e-mail -- but I don't want to be this guy:

Ph.D. comic about working on the beach
If I have to go an extreme, I'd rather be Delbert T. Quimby, a guy from an editorial cartoon by Ed Stein back in 1995. I can't find this on-line and don't have a scanned version of the cartoon, so you'll have to settle for my description. The scene is a cozy den, with a wall full of books. In the soft spotlight at the middle of the room is our protagonist, comfortably dressed, book in lap, glass of wine on the side table. The caption reads, "Eccentric Internet holdout Delbert T. Quimby passes yet another day non-digitally." Back in 1995, such a maneuver was likely viewed as an act of rebellion; today, it would be viewed by many as just plain nuts. But, you know, it sounds really good right now. So who knows? (My students probably consider me to be a Delbert T. Quimby already, not for the wardrobe and dumpy physique but for this neo-Luddite fact: I still have only a dial-up Internet connection at home!) Oh, and I will definitely run a lot of miles next week -- 52 or so -- and blog a bit. -----