A campus data center move meets tech incompetence

A mix of expertise levels in a campus tech department leads to chaotic situations -- and a horrific final exam week

After some years working in IT departments for various corporations, I made a change and started teaching at a local university. I found myself in an interesting situation: observing the school's tech decisions as mainly an outsider but still with an ear to the ground of what was going on.

The school's IT team was a mixture of expertise levels. The senior managers were holdovers from a largely pretech world and often didn't understand what their young staff and middle managers were talking about. These senior managers were experts in certain areas, but they weren't up to date on current technology and left a lot of those decisions to their staff. Critical decisions could be made by any number of people on the command chain, and often the senior managers believed about any argument told them by their staff, which then became the official position. Needless to say, this culture made for some chaotic tech situations.

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One semester, the IT team implemented a new Web-based course management system to supplement for the face-to-face classes. Many faculty enthusiastically embraced the new system.

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But then, the tech team made plans to move the school's data center into a new building. The moving day was set for right after final exams so that classes wouldn't be disrupted. 

However, the day before final exams, a thunderstorm swept through the area and caused a power outage. We momentarily panicked. No electricity on the last day of classes could be a disaster. We were all relieved when the lights came back on in just a couple minutes.

But the network didn't come back to life with the lights. No problem, I kept thinking. The wireless routers probably just needed a couple minutes to reset. Maybe our computers just needed a restart.

The network still didn't come back. After 10 or 15 minutes we got concerned. After an hour we got confused. Finally, the network came back to life, but the course management system wasn't there. The URL got no response.

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