You Gotta Commit

When I’m not working as a CIO, my free time is spent with family and hobbies.

Or should I say, feeding suppressed and repressed dreams of what I hope to do – someday – when I do pass the torch to some other toiler in the field.

My particular coping mechanism of choice is music; though if you were to ask my boys, it would be embarrassing them with my music.


Playing for yourself in the comfort of your home is one thing. Playing before others?

Wicked. Crazy. Scary.

And, being a mid-century relic in a new city, breaking into a strange local music scene?

Well. It ain’t for sissies.

For it to work, you gotta commit.

Step up – heck, eat – that mic. Belt it out. There’s no where to hide.

Put yourself out there.

Now, for me, in addition to feeding my inner seventeen-year-old fantasies, it’s a great re-learning lesson of what it takes to excel; for what it takes to stand out.

You gotta commit.

I’m finding that these lessons I’m learning on this part of my personal journey, are equally  (if not more) applicable to what I do for my “day gig.”

To be successful, you gotta commit.

In all of our professional lives, there is nothing more frustrating than finding yourself in a position where progress is stymied by indecision, lack of vision, or a vacuum of leadership.

Sometimes, this happens because of budgetary constraints. Sometimes, because of adversarial managerial practices. And sometimes – sometimes – it happens because stakeholders are simply disenfranchised from any potential upside, for taking action.

The best course of action is, therefore, no course of action.

So, when the most probable outcome is being smacked down, it’s no surprise at all when literally everything – innovation, activity, hope – grinds to a screeching halt.

What is one to do, then, when faced with few prospects, little support, and diminishing returns – but a metric of stuff that you’re on the hook for?

You gotta commit.

Step out on the ledge.


It’s scary. And it’s where you learn to soar.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there –  where you’ll get noticed, and where you’ll grow.

You gotta commit.




Set the Table

Having lived in many different regions of the country over the span of my professional career, has afforded me a somewhat unique perspective on a wide range of spoken – and unspoken – modes of communication with my peers, colleagues, bosses, and direct reports.

Born in the South, I took for granted the “culture of nice” one finds in many workplaces – where one rarely is confronted with unpleasant interpersonal interactions, at least directly; though, you will quickly find out that a “bless your heart!” from a co-worker is as apt to mean “you’re an idiot“, as opposed to implying common cause – passive aggression, meant in the nicest way possible.

While working in Brooklyn, I learned that New Yorkers are actually the nicest people in the world. It’s just that they are incredibly busy, in constant motion between home and work, rushed, and will suffer fools who waste their time not at all. They bruise easily, heal fast, and always let you know precisely where you stand. Zero pretense. Zero… cares given.

In the Midwest, I am discovering a culture of direct pragmatism. They speak their minds. Don’t like to be told what to do, or how to do it. Say what they need to say. Finish. And then move on.

However, wherever I go, I have learned that in order to succeed – personally and professionally – it was critical to let people know who I was. What I believed. What I would put up with. And what I wouldn’t.

Setting the table.

Right from the get-go.

It goes back to the old saying that “good fences make good neighbors” – clearly identified boundaries and expectations allow colleagues, friends and loved ones, to understand where our limits of acceptance, governance – and accountability – begin and end.

So, when you find yourself assuming that people know what you implicitly mean… or when you assume something is “common sense” knowledge… or when you don’t speak up, for fear of inducing an unpleasant confrontation with a prickly co-worker, remember – clearly stating your beliefs, expectations and standards, at the start of any project (or relationship), will make all following interactions infinitely easier to manage, maintain, and – ultimately – more likely to succeed.


Advice to a Friend

May your 2017 be entirely good, gracious, and kind.


This has been a year of many transitions – for myself, for my family, and for far too many of my close friends.

For me, a great new job.

For my family, a new town, a new state, a new set of schools and friends. New beginnings, in return for so many hard goodbyes.

And, while some of these transitions have been trivially easy, others have proven to be – jarringly – life altering.

Several of my friends went through similar transitions this year.

One such friend asked me for advice, when they suddenly – and quite unexpectedly – found themselves back on the job market.

This friend – like the majority of my contemporaries – has the heavy mantle of someone who has lived quite a full life, and the corresponding responsibility of being the primary financial support for their family, squarely upon their shoulders.

Below, I share my advice to them (highly redacted); not because I believe my advice to…

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You’re Not in the Customer Service Business – You’re in Constituent Services

Being a higher ed administrator – particularly an administrator working in technology – you might naturally assume that you are in the business of supplying basic customer services to the people you serve.

And, mostly, that is a fair assessment.

However, a more accurate portrayal of what higher ed CIOs, CTOs, and CDOs provide might be more cogently defined as constituent services: that is, enabling levels of service that not only address basic requests and needs from your areas of responsibility, but further encourage leaders to become fully engaged advocates for their charges, proactively acting for the good of the group or individual under your leadership.

In government, this most often takes the form of an elected official facilitating requests from their constituents: seeking an approval for a project, filling a pothole, or expediting a passport request.

In higher ed, successful CIOs do much the same. The job isn’t just much fixing problems (though that is critical) or setting strategic vision (even more critical) – it’s providing the framework through which the people and areas you are responsible for can execute their jobs.

Supplying exceptional infrastructure and equipment. Providing reliable solutions in an efficient and timely manner. Creating responsive systems to track and fulfil requests.

Being transparent and informative in a fluid and plastic environment of shared governance and shared responsibilities.

The gap between Customer Service and Constituent Service may seem like a difference without a distinction.

However, one entails action, whereas the other can be – and too often is – entirely passive.

Great leaders are advocates for the people they serve.

You’re not in Customer Service. You’re in Constituent Services.


Entertainment and Experience – the “New Engagement”

Think about how you now “consume” your favorite entertainment.

It’s not enough to merely “watch” Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Westworld, or The Walking Dead.


You binge watch. You stream.

You follow the show’s Twitter accounts. Lurk their Facebook pages. Troll – or be trolled – on Reddit, and the show’s sub-Reddits.

Obsessing over every leak, spoiler, and clue, as to what will occur next in the storyline; divining Instagram and Snapchat feeds like ancient augurs, sifting through entrails, teasing out possible glimpses of things to come.

We no longer sit back passively, and absorb.

We engage. And we participate.

We create podcasts. Create YouTube Channels. Write blogposts. Follow the latest recaps.

Our entertainments are now multivalent experiences; where being unengaged, means being left out.

Where FOMO – the fear of missing out – makes – or breaks – the success of multimillion dollar enterprises.

What does – or can – this mean for education?

De minimus, we need to consider that we now exist in an engagement – and more importantly, experience – economy ; those institutions, and individual instructors, who embrace this new reality, will substantially differentiate themselves in the marketplace.

Holistic learning environments, and experiences, will be normative, and not the exception.

Classes constructed as learning communities will be able to leverage the zeitgeist and prevalent behaviors that the rising cohorts of digital natives possess, and will be able to imagine pedagogies and methods not possible a few short years ago.

This will necessitate changes in the way we construct courses… changes in the way we assess mastery over materials and concepts… and changes in the way we evaluate and reward educational professionals in their tenure and promotions journeys.

It’s exciting to realize that this is not only now possible, but moreover, quite probable.

The question is – who will be the leaders in this New Engagement?



Being Mindful,While Not Yelling At You to Get Off My Lawn

Seems like I can’t look anywhere lately, without being told to be “mindful.”

“Mindful? You mean, paying attention?”

No – being present in the moment.

“Well… I am here.”

No – critically examining each thought and moment, without being critical of the rightness, or wrongness, of your way of thinking of that given moment.

[Here, my head explodes].

Look. I kinda get it. Reflect upon what’s happening, as it’s happening, without judgement. Learn to be accepting. Engage.

And, I think I actually have experienced something, akin to zen, a few times in my life, while in the act of creation: writing a network handler, overnight, under deadline, awakening the next morning to some of the best code I had written to then (and perhaps, since), but not really remembering all the details of exactly how I had done it… spending days working through a thorny technical problem, before having a Eureka! moment, while making a sandwich… and – more recently -solving a tough budget challenge after the tenth attempt, with a clarity that was missing in tries one through nine.

But, I don’t know if mindfulness really played into it, as much as everything simply coming together – only after hours and hours of concentration and effort and worry and toil.

Back in the day, I guess I would have just called this work.

And, maybe, mindfulness is just that – work.

Because if it’s only emptying your head of thought, we’d be living in the most mindful society conceived of by man; plenty of empty-headed people about.

No. I reckon that those hours I spent, listening to Yes and Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath and Jackson Browne and Elton John and the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and James Taylor, weren’t me goofing off. That was me, being mindful.

Hours reading science fiction? Mindful.

Hanging out with friends? Mindful.

Fishing? Yeah. Mindful.

But – does mindfulness really make us more focused? Kinder to our friends and kittens? Able to better cope with stress?

Solve world peace?

Beats me. I’m trying to pick a better Instagram filter.




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Campus WiFi: a “Tragedy of the Commons”

This Fall at Drury University, we’ve made a substantial number of investments in our Springfield campus networking infrastructure, as well as introducing long-awaited improvements to our day school user experiences:

  • We’ve upgraded our internet connection, from 400Mbits to 1Gbit;
  • We’ve replaced our campus core appliances, tripling our backbone throughput;
  • We’ve upgraded the first of our main campus residence halls to multigigabit ethernet (with plans to augment three additional academic buildings before the end of the current term);
  • Finally – just this week – we’ve rolled out wireless printing to our students.

An auspicious start.

We have much, yet, to do.

For example, an early set of discoveries I made, when I came aboard as CIO, was that:

  1. We used WPA2 Enterprise Authentication for our WiFi (good), but did not have a mechanism for allowing consumer student network devices (Rokus, Smart TVs, game boxes, etc.) to securely connect to our network, without a separate, student purchased wireless router attached to our network (super bad); and,
  2. We allowed students to attach their own wireless routers to our wired infrastructure (super duper bad).

Clearly, we didn’t want to relax our WPA2 Enterprise Authentication, already in place, just to accommodate consumer wireless devices.

Our compromise solution: MAC Authentication. MAC Authentication is used to authenticate devices, based on their physical MAC addresses.

It’s not the way you’d want to generally secure your entire network, but it does provide an easy enough authentication methodology for consumer devices to use, with a modicum amount of oversight for our Technology Services team to manage who – and what – connects to our network.

Allowing these types of devices to connect to our network (somewhat) securely, fixes only part of the problem; we still have a large number of “outboard” wireless routers attached to our network; some more open than others.

All insecure as all get out.

In order to secure our network and reduce the interference that these devices are causing in our dorm spaces, we need to shut all of these devices off. Permanently.

But – to abruptly disable all external routers, without a sufficient grace period to move student devices to the new (approved) way of connecting to our network, will only make students angry, and extremely disgruntled.

The situation is made even more complicated, because we had created de facto a campus wifi equivalent of the Tragedy of the Commons. The Tragedy of the Commons is an economic theory of a situation within a shared-resource system, where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users, by depleting that resource through their collective action.

How so?

Well, we have a communal resource (our campus wired network) that is freely available to all students. Our WiFi network was heretofore not up to snuff, in being able to handle the number and variety of wireless devices our students were bringing to campus. They could attach their own routers and attach them to our wired network – solving their problem of poor access to our wireless network, and allowing their wireless devices to connect reliably – but interfering with the common campus WiFi network, or perhaps even their neighbor’s router next door, operating on the same channel.

Install your own external router, and your problem is solved.

Your neighbor trying to use the free campus WiFi, however, is screwed.

As I said, our very own Tragedy of the Commons.

The challenge, then, is to inform and influence our students that it is ultimately in everyone’s best interest if they don’t act in their own individual best interest; a problem that is as much cultural and political, as it is technical.

And another reason why I love working as a CIO in higher ed – where one can apply politics, economic theory, and technical chops, to improve student learning and outcomes.

As I said: an auspicious start.

We have much – very much – yet to do.