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Friday
May252012

What tech skills does a school CTO need?

TECHNOLOGY IS DOMINATED BY TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE; THOSE WHO UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY DONT MANAGE; AND THOSE WHO MANAGE WHAT THEY DONT UNDERSTAND. PUTTS LAW

 

A (somewhat edited) question in this week's e-mail from a colleague:
I’m sitting here contemplating my fundamental inadequacy when I put my experience and knowledge up against the CoSN “Essential Skills of the K-12 CTO" framework, particularly in the IT portion (III.) which they describe as 30% of the job.  
     Where would you put yourself on this metric, and is a deep understand of network systems a critical part of doing this job well?  I have absorbed, more or less by osmosis, a good deal of understanding of how the network pieces fit together, but my expertise is on the instructional side.  I will always be dependent on the systems people for decent information.
     Should I be trying to acquire in some deliberate fashion more network design knowledge or should I depend on my management skills to help the wires & pliers people guide me to good systems-level decisions?
     Knowing you have a good sense of your own shortcomings, it dawned on me that you may be the right person for these questions.
First of all, a keen sense of my shortcomings is primarily due to my marital status. But I have always seen humility as critical in any endeavor.
To get to your questions, I feel my lack of formal technical training hasn't been a handicap in doing the CTO job competently. In fact, it may be a plus since I view perspective and empathy as critical to being a CTO, more so than hard technology skills or knowledge. I can certainly describe in plain English networking things* like packetshapers, routers, firewalls, deployment servers, thin clients, WAPs, Active Directory, DaaS, etc., what they are, what they do, why they are important, and some specs to think about when considering them, but I wouldn't know where to start in terms of their physical management. I depend on my IT folks, especially my (patient) network manager, to teach me and help make good collaborative decisions. I also read continuously and broadly in lots of areas.

But I also feel the same way about the technology integration specialists in my department - they are my teaching and learning, staff development, and application software gurus. My job it to make sure there is a realistic balance and common goals between the two sides of the equation. I depend on lots of external specialists and my colleagues in other school districts - my PLN, if you will.
One of the things about which I am very proud is that everyone in my department works together as a genuine team with very little friction. My primary job is planning, supervising, project management, communicating to staff and adminstration, policy making and budgeting. About all these things, it's critical I make informed decisions. Admitting my ignorance about both technology and education and then figuring out how to alleviate that condition has proven to be the most successful strategy I have found in my twenty years of doing this work.
I've looked at the COSN competency list and have felt it does a pretty good job of summarizing the expectations people have of me (and I have of myself) in my current position. I answer to the superintendent while I supervise the network manager, tech integration specialists, student information system people, and building technicians. I serve as the library department chair. I personally think the COSN document is perhaps a little heavy on vision and a little light on management skills.
You want an educator in charge of the tech department who is willing to learn constantly. The half-life of any post-secondary tech degree is, what, 18 months?
* Why stop at networking things? How much does the CTO need to know about large data systems, LCD projectors, IWBs, every type of computing device and OS, social networking uses, one's AUP and tech ethics, applications of hardware and software in every curricular area including tech ed, collaborative purchasing programs, state and federal laws surrounding technology use, privacy, etc, E-rate, e-books and CMSs, security systems, VOIP phone systems, ... well, you get the drift.

 

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Reader Comments (5)

Doug,
This seems to me to be a concise summary of what effective CTO:

"My primary job is planning, supervising, project management, communicating to staff and adminstration, policy making and budgeting."

And, it's all wrapped around making sure it is appropriate, efficient, and effective for learning. As you've written, machines are easy, it's the people that make the job challenging...and fun.

It's about leadership, not management.

May 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter@gitsul

This is an article to which I have referred many times.
http://37signals.com/svn/posts/2785-the-end-of-the-it-department

May 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSara Carter

Hi John,

Congrats on the new job. You'll get a great chance to put some of these ideas into practice! You'll be terrific.

I agree it's about leadership, but too often people think leaders don't also need to know how to manage. It's not enough to have the vision - you've got to have the organization, strategies, and day-to-day skills to realize the visions as well.

Keep me posted on the work you're doing in your new job.

Doug


Thanks, Sara, for sharing the link to this post. The times are definitely a'changing for IT people!

Doug

May 28, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

This portion of a sentence has always said it all to me:

"You want an educator in charge of the tech department..."

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGregU

HI Greg,

We may be an endangered species, however!

Doug

May 30, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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