Deaf geographies, and other worlds.
A couple of weeks ago, in response to my post ‘What becomes of the broken hearted’, one of my current colleagues tweeted:
There was me thinking your post was going to be about how hard it was going to be leaving all your amazing ILRT colleagues 🙂 Look forward to seeing which song lyrics you choose for that one!
What he’s referring to is the fact that by the end of tomorrow, I will no longer work in IT Services at the University of Bristol. Instead, I will be a full time researcher in Deaf Historical Geography.
Although I’m delighted to be moving on, I’m also sad to be leaving the department… and so here, in a few words, are my thoughts on the last four years. Obviously, I can’t cover everything. So, setting aside the people (who I am very fond of, and hope I don’t lose contact with) and the cake culture (which I am also fond of, and has made me more portly than when I arrived) here are three things that I think are specific to IT Services at Bristol that I’ve particularly enjoyed, three I haven’t… and that final song.
Three things I’ve enjoyed
The first thing that popped into my head when I started thinking about this was that I’ve enjoyed the utter professionalism of my colleagues. It doesn’t matter what conditions they are working in, what project they are working on, what pressure they are under, how valued their work is, what risk their contract carries… their pride in working hard, to deliver the ‘best that they can do’ for the sheer professional pride of knowing that, has been brilliant to work with.
The next thing that occurred to me was that I’ve enjoyed the department’s investment in me. Where the rule in some places seems to be “do what you’re told”, here the rule has been “tell us what you want to do, and we’ll enable you if we can”. What this has looked like in practice is that, instead of four years ‘waiting’ for a research job, I’ve had a four-year apprenticeship in all of the systems that I’ll need to use to make the research work: finance, administration, HR, project management, IT services etc. and all from an insider’s point of view. That’s a massive package of skills, and I’m deeply grateful.
The final thing that I’ve really enjoyed (there are more than three, but I promised to stop here) is that we’re led by accountability, rather than supervision. Basically, the rule here is ‘as long as you do your job, and do it well, then you are free to also do other things’. Some of this is formalised… we have, for example, a designated percentage of time for self-start projects. But some of it is simply understood as a recognition that we are all responsible adults, and experts in our own fields, and that we work better if we are governed by trust and accountability rather than by surveillance. That appeals to people who have a mind to think for themselves and who contribute because they want to, rather than because they have to. And it’s been an ideal environment for me.
So there are three things that I’ve enjoyed… what about three that I haven’t?
Three things I haven’t enjoyed
First, I haven’t enjoyed being in a department which is treated as an easy scapegoat. Sure, not everything in IT is perfect… but there are only so many times you can hear from someone that IT is ‘slow’, or ‘overpriced’, or ‘unapproachable’ without wanting to punch them in the nose. IT people are experts… geniuses some of them, but we can’t make a bit of Trabant software run like a Porsche, we can’t conjure up resource to build a website out of thin air, and we can’t divine what you want in an app from the grounds at the bottom of our Boston Tea Party coffee cups. We’ll still try bloody hard to do all of those things anyway – that’s how nice we are.
Second, I’ve not particularly enjoyed being ‘the IT guy’. What do I mean? Well, as soon as you work in IT, people assume that you are IT services. I do a lot of work out in the wider university. There’s nothing worse than going to a strategy meeting with an academic, and being asked if ‘while you’re here…’ you can fix their printer, sort out their networking, diagnose their Facebook security settings, make their coffee machine talk to their stapler… Although I suppose things might get worse now. I’m moving into the department of Religion and Theology, so everyone will expect me to be a sandal-wearing vicar.
Finally, and bittersweetly, although I’ve enjoyed the last four years, I have to admit that that enjoyment has been a problem. Had I hated every moment here, I’d have been out of the door like a shot. But I haven’t… I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve even loved some of it to the extent that I’ve been tempted to make IT Services my permanent home. Always in the back of my mind though was the knowledge that if I did, I would hanker for the research world beyond. And so, even as I’ve worked with some brilliant people, on some fascinating projects… I’ve had to hold fast to the knowledge that I needed to leave. It’s been a splinter that’s made my time here just a little bit uncomfortable.
So, to the song… Well, here, I’ve chosen to set aside the obvious (The only way is up? Ch-ch-ch-changes? Always look on the bright side of life?) and, instead, go for something that I think represents the vast range of both legitimate and ridiculous requests that we commonly have to deal with, and the kinds of skills and abilities that are required to survive and thrive in IT services at the University of Bristol.
“It’s that time of year… when spring is in the air… ” continued…