TITLE: A Missed Opportunity
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: March 02, 2007 4:09 PM
The people always know what's wrong
A month or so ago, I wrote about my involvement in a
search for a college sysadmin.
That search proceeds slowly. In the mean time, the second
search I mentioned -- for an Assistant Vice President of
Information Technology of the university -- has wrapped
up with a disappointing result: a closed search. This means
that the university decided not to hire any of the candidates
in our applicant pool. If you have ever served on a search
committee and put in the many hours required to do a good
job, only to have it closed at the end, you know how
disappointing this can be.
Why close the search? The campus community couldn't get
100% behind any of the candidates. The search exposed some
of the rifts on campus, within the IT community and between
that community and the arms of the university it serves. The
administration felt it better to put our house in better order
before trying to bring someone in from the outside to lead
the organization forward.
Any time a search is closed, there is a sense of disappointment
at the time spent for no tangible gain. In this case, though,
that sense is offset somewhat by a sense of learning. This
search was a discovery process for the campus and new president,
and that is valuable in its own right, if intangible. But there
is a second sort of disappointment, too. Many people on campus
felt that one of the candidate was just what the university
needed -- a leader with a strong technical background and a
strong vision of the future of information technology. Thus
the lament "a missed opportunity".
Personally, I learned a lot about university politics by
participating in this search, as well as developing a better
sense of what sort of person one must seek in a university
CIO. This person doesn't need deep technical skills because
he or she will be doing technology hands-on, but because
he or she must have a deep enough understanding of technology
to evaluate ideas, set priorities, select and mentor a staff,
and educate administration on the needs, opportunities, and
threats that confront the university. Of course, deep technical
knowledge isn't enough, as communication can often dominate
the technical in most non-technical peoples' minds. At least
in the immediate moment, that is; when the technology choices
are bad, suddenly the technical side of the leader matters a
I shouldn't say much about the details of the search publicly,
but let's leave it at this: The quip quoted above from Jason
Yip lit up my screen when I first read it, and because of this
search. When people know what's wrong but can't or won't tell
you, you have a big problem.
Striving for excellence leaves one prone to occasional or even
frequent disappointment. Back to the drawing board.
... but given the wrong leadership,
they won't ever talk to you about it.