TITLE: Searching for a College Sysadmin AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 31, 2007 8:42 PM DESC: ----- BODY: In my last post, I commented on academic searches. One of the articles I linked to gives some pretty good advice to prospective faculty applying for positions at smaller schools. They aren't fallback positions; they are different kinds of positions altogether. In the spirit of that post, I thought I'd share some of my recent experiences with other kinds of academic search. This year, I am involved in a couple of high-profile searches on my campus, both of which matter very much to the faculty in my department. The first is for the chief sysadmin in the College of Natural Sciences, and the second is for the Assistant Vice President of information technology for the university. Both matter to us for the same reasons, though in different doses. In this post, I'll talk a bit about the sysadmin search. Being a medium-sized "teaching university", we do not maintain and manage most of the basic computational resources that we use on a day-to-day basis. In the early years, before the rest of the college and university were deeply into technology, we did. But as our needs grew, and as other departments came to need computer labs and e-mail and the web, the college took on more and more of the systems burden. These days, the college sysadmin team implements and supports the network and server infrastructure for the college, manages the general college labs that our students use, and supports CS faculty labs and computer equipment. Not having the research money to maintain all of our department resources, this has worked out well enough for the last decade or so, with only occasional control issues arising. (One current one involves our web server, which for the last few weeks has been rewriting URLs in such a way as to break my blog permalinks.) So, the college's lead sysadmin has a challenging job to do. There are a lot of technical tasks to do, plus managing student staff and providing user support. The diversity of issues that arise in the college is yet another challenge, ranging from a CS department, a math department, and industrial technology department, and the traditional natural sciences. In some ways, CS demands less personal support from the college, but we do have specific technical needs, sometimes outliers from the rest of the crowd, that we rely heavily on. I'm chairing the college sysadmin search. In the process, I've come to appreciate just how hard it is to find candidates with sufficient technical skills and experience, sufficient "people" skills to work with a diverse audience of users, and sufficient managerial experience. Add to that a salary that is almost certainly lower than market value in private industry, and the task is even tougher. Even with these challenges, we have a promising pool of finalists and hope to begin on-campus interviews soon. Here are some things that I've learned in the last few years and am trying to put into practice for this search:
But I think it's also wrong to skirt the job description for another reason: It's unfair to other candidates who were honest about not meeting the requirements of the position and so didn't apply at all. If you are willing to consider folks in your pool who do not meet the specs, then you might really want to consider some of those who self-selected out of the pool through a sense of honor. And then there is the practical problem of having to relax the requirements fairly for all of the applicants in the pool, not just the one who caught your attention for some other reason.
Maybe I'm too strict on this matter, but this sort of fairness is a sticky point for me. I try to manage my classroom similarly. If I feel a need to repeatedly relax a particular rule, then I probably need to change the rule, not relax it. Otherwise, exceptions tend to favor that certain group of students who are bold or needy enough to ask for exceptions, at the expense of the students who live by the rules quietly. (Can you guess which sort of student I most likely was?)