It’s OK to be a Technology Nerd

By Kathryn Magura

Hi, my name is Kathryn, and I am a technology nerd. Phew, that felt good to say in this safe space. Is this a safe space? Can I share what I’m thinking here? I’m going to go ahead and say yes.

As I confessed above, I am a technology nerd. What does that mean? It means I enjoy discovering new technology and really learning the ins and outs of a new system. Have a recommendation for a new scheduling software tool? Let me check it out! Want me to look at a new social media site? Don’t mind if I do! I enjoy the challenge of discovery in trying out a system I don’t know, and rejoice in feeling like I truly understand it.

Over time, my role within student affairs has taken on more of a technological spin, and I’m just fine with that. I have blogged before about how I sort of fell into a technology role after years of convincing myself I was no good with technology. Now I get super excited to test out new technology. I even get jazzed about finding the technology vendors at conferences and starting up a conversation!

As we go through some changes at work, it appears that my love for testing out new technology will soon be put to the test. I am nervous, excited, and a bit scared for what this can all mean, so I am choosing to take comfort and pride in knowing that I am a true technology nerd, and will learn a lot about a variety of software packages (and probably myself) as I go through this process.

So tell me, who else is a technology nerd? Or do you prefer the term technology geek?

It’s OK to be a Technology Nerd

Another Running Metaphor

By Kathryn Magura

I know, I know, my title made you groan. But I got your attention right? Well, before you close your browser, hear me out. I’ve been thinking a lot the last few weeks about why I continue to try running. I don’t like it much, and I’m not particularly good at it. Quite the endorsement, right? Why don’t I quit? Good question.

Last night, a friend of mine sent me the following blog post about why one seasoned blogger thinks more women don’t follow a career as a computer programmer. After reading that post, it occurred to me: running is my new technology. Huh? Still with me?

While I think the aforementioned blogger is misguided in his thoughts on why women aren’t getting into computer programming (as evidenced by this previous post), it got me thinking about why I never thought I’d be good working with technology – which made the discovery that I am actually very good at technology that much more of a pleasant surprise!

I never thought I was good with technology, but I never really gave it a shot until I started working professionally. Why didn’t I think I was good with it? I don’t think anyone ever told me I was bad. And I’d certainly been an early adopter of the internet, and all the fun tools associated with it, but I guess I never equated that to technology skill. I didn’t really know if I had any skills with computers or technology until I started using it and my intuitive senses took over.

On many levels, my thoughts about my running ability parallel my initial thoughts on my skills with technology. I have never been much of a fan of running, partially because I never thought I was any good at it. Granted, I never really tried much, but the few times I HAD run, I wasn’t much of a fan. Sound familiar?

So there it is, I run because I never thought I would be any good at it. Am I good runner? Well, I haven’t quit yet, isn’t that what matters? Besides, I’m not competing with the person on the treadmill next to me, I’m competing with my own inner demons and self-deprecating lies that tell me I’m no good at running. I’ve believed those lies for far too long, just like I did when I didn’t think I was any good with technology. Don’t I owe myself the chance to prove myself wrong?

Another Running Metaphor

How to Speak IT

By Kathryn Magura

I spend a lot of my day interacting with our IT staff. With time and experience, I have gained an understanding of how to “speak” IT, even though I have no formal background or training in IT. Just to be clear, there are two categories of IT staff: There are the support staff a.k.a. the ones who make your computer work (see Nick Burns or the IT Crowd for reference). Then there are programmers a.k.a. the ones who write all the code for your computer programs to work (See Neo from the Matrix for reference). Those are two distinct categories, friends. Please don’t ask the IT support to fix your web app, and please do not ask the programmers to fix your computer (have you tried turning it off and back on?). The staff I work most closely with are the programmers.

Over the years, I’ve taken great pride in learning the lingo of computer programming. I am not a programmer, and cannot read the Matrix (as I like to call it), but I can articulate my problems very well, and can often help troubleshoot issues where other non-IT staff cannot. How did I learn to do this? Well, my Bachelors degree in Psychology and Masters degree in Higher Education Administration… are of no use here.

So how have I done it?

  1. I observe and listen: I take a lot of time to observe how they piece together the code, and listen as they try to work through a solution. As a Housing practitioner, I am working with programmers who do not have a background in Housing, so it is really up to me to articulate my point. I have learned to observe how they approach a particular programming problem, and work with them to find solutions.
  2. I am not helpless: Sure, I might as well try to speak Klingon before I speak computer code, but that doesn’t mean I cannot help troubleshoot an issue. I cannot find the specific line of code wherein an issue may lay, but I can provide enough context for the issue to help the programmers find the issue. The more I can do to describe the exact problem and how to reproduce that problem, the easier it will be for the programmers to find the actual issue and resolve it quickly.
  3. I have built trust: Over my tenure, I have learned that I cannot assume new programming staff will think I know what I am talking about. I am more than willing to prove that I know what I am talking about, and even offer suggestions for solutions. This trust has lead to a level of rapport with our programmers which has allowed us to tackle problems and new ventures with ease.


That’s a small list that hopefully can help you gain better understanding and insight into the world of trying to speak “IT”. What tips do you have?

How to Speak IT

Higher Ed Websites: a Work in Progress

By Kathryn Magura

As I sat down to write this post tonight, I felt uninspired for a topic. I asked Twitter if anyone had a suggestion, but came up empty handed (to be fair, I had only given people about 30 minutes to respond). I then decided to check the #sachat hashtag to see what the Student Affairs community on Twitter had been talking about today. Perhaps I could find inspiration there? Sure enough, I came across this tweet from Erica Thompson that got my attention:

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Before I get into discussing my thoughts on websites in higher ed, a disclaimer: I am not responsible for my departmental website. I do not get to say what goes where, or edit the content. That said, I am part of a team that continually revises our website, and am responsible for the customer experience our current and future residents have via our website. I’m also a big fan of social media, and helped get our department started on Facebook and Twitter years ago. What does this mean? While, I do not have the web development or programming background to make a quality website, I DO have strong thoughts on how a website should be organized. Basically, when I don’t like something on our website, I’m that pain in the ass who will continue to talk about it until something changes. 😉

I have spent a lot of time looking at higher ed websites. If I have a job interview, I like to research the website for the office and see what information is available to me. I have also done quite a bit of research for the work I do with my national association in terms of benchmarking best practices based on what I can find on other university websites. So when I say this, know that it comes from a lot of experience. For the most part, I find most higher ed websites I encounter to be difficult to navigate and unintuitive. Basically, they suck. Sorry, it’s the truth. Why can’t I find things like a staff list or departmental policies easily? Why can’t I figure out what your department does when I go to your website? Isn’t that sort of the point?

One thing I stress with our web management team is to continually look at our website through the eyes of our customers. Can a student find everything they need to know to make an informed decision about the services we offer? Can a parent find who to contact about a specific concern? Why do we in essence “bury the lead” so often? In my experience, most higher ed websites are organized in ways that align with various departmental desires and goals, not for easy navigation by a customer. Does the content on your website help a customer (yes, students are customers, that was the topic of another post) get the information they need without having to call or email you? Does your website look like a boring link farm of over-saturated information? Do YOU know how to find information on your website without using the search tool?

So here’s my challenge to you: I would love to see examples of higher ed websites you perceive are doing things well. What do you like about their site? Let’s share examples of best practices with each other so we can help each other improve for the better.


Higher Ed Websites: a Work in Progress

Highlight a Woman: Mary Lou Hines Fritts

By Brenda Bethman

My institution is rare in having a female CIO (nationally, only 23% of CIOs in higher education are female, according to Campus Technology) — her name is Mary Lou Hines Fritts and she was kind enough to agree to answer my questions for this month’s “highligt a woman in tech” post. I’ve been at UMKC for five years and have been impressed with Mary Lou’s leadership and the way she serves as a role model for other women who aspire to go into technology. She is, in fact, awesome — actually responding to a last-minute final question today despite the fact that UMKC’s network is having problems and she must be getting a ton of emails and questions (as we all know, few things make folks crankier than losing the interwebs). I am pleased to introduce our SAWTT readers to her:

Can you describe your background? Degrees, previous positions.

Ph.D., M.S., B.S. – Computer Science from Kansas State University; started at a community college in northern Wyoming initially.

Faculty member at UMKC for 12 years before moving to the Provost Office and then becoming the CIO/Vice Provost.  About 50% to 60% of my time is spent on CIO activities and the rest on academic affairs activities. Because our administrative computing is primarily handled at the System office, I have the opportunity to participate in academic affairs activities that I would not be able to otherwise.

What inspired you to work in technology? Was it your original plan when attending college?

I had done work-study at Northwest College (the community college I attended in Wyoming) in the computer center – back in the old days of punch cards, paper tape and soldering your own boards.  When I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree, I had two small children and was a single parent. I knew that the technology field would provide a good income for my family and it was something that I enjoyed. It was NOT my original plan when I went to college. My original plan was to be an archeologist.

What role do you feel women play in technology within higher education and in the corporate world?

The role for women in technology is tough. There are not a lot of women in the field and it is still not a woman-friendly field. However, the nature of the field has changed significantly in the past 10 years or so. It has moved to being a very integrated, comprehensive, complex system that blurs the lines between function and technology in ways we have not seen before. It requires people who can walk the line between the end-users and the technology implementers (programmers, etc.) and build these massive systems. These soft skill requirements make the field much more attractive to women because they can see a place to fit and to be part of teams, which was not the case 20 years ago.

Women bring a collaborative nature to what used to be a lone wolf field.  That is really important.

What advice would you give other women interested in working in technology?

Go for it! The field is great and it is not all about programming in a cube. The opportunities to blend computer science skills with interests/skills in another domain are huge. Get a solid math background not because you will use it extensively but because it gives you the foundation to understand systems. Collaborate all through your undergraduate career – it will help you immensely.

What do you like to do for fun when you’re not working?

Travel; hang with my grandchildren; read; watch soccer; dream about wild and crazy adventures.

Highlight a Woman: Mary Lou Hines Fritts

IT: Gatekeepers or Visionaries?

by Kristen Abell

Yesterday during the #satech chat, the topic came up of the role of IT folks in implementing new technologies on campuses. One of the things that continues to be a struggle for many of us is the fact that we are woefully behind in the IT world – not just behind other campuses, but behind the business world at large. Some of this is lack of money, some of this is lack of training, and some of this is a comfort with what we’re already doing.

But some of this – and this is where the chat went slightly rogue – is due to our IT departments. While those on the chat seemed to be more of the do first, ask forgiveness later type, they were also open to admitting that plenty of IT folks work more as gatekeepers – trying to prevent anyone from delving too far into a new technology before they’d had a chance to fully investigate it and ensure it’s relevance and appropriateness for the university.

I admit, I can see both sides – it’s nice to be able to support folks who know what they’re doing, but to prevent folks from getting too far into something if they don’t. It’s also necessary to protect the university’s servers, not to mention their reputation and liability. But with the changing pace of technology now, and the increased call for everyone in higher ed to have some tech competency, does that also change the role of the IT professional?

How do you work with IT at your university? Do you have gatekeepers or visionaries? What do you think the role of IT should be on a college campus?

Special thanks to those on the #satech chat yesterday for inspiring this post!

IT: Gatekeepers or Visionaries?

Student Affairs Women and Technology: Embracing the Fear

How do you see student affairs as a whole encouraging women in technology? In what ways do we NOT do a good job encouraging women in technology?

When I saw the blog prompt for today, I was excited to have the opportunity to respond. I have been working with technology for the entire decade I have been in student affairs. I did not choose to go into student affairs (does anyone, or do we all have that one experience that leads us on that path?), nor did I ever see myself working in technology when I was an undergraduate. Turns out I had a natural skill with technology, and was fortunate to have a supervisor who mentored me well, and encouraged me to develop and refine these skills.

In my experience, working with technology is frequently position based, and those positions tend to have more men gravitate to them. When I was in college, I did everything I could to avoid computer/technology classes. I liked using computers for email and the internet, but never felt like I had much skill there otherwise. How might my future have been different if I had a mentor in college push on why I was afraid of technology? What was it about technology that scared me so much? Once I started digging into various technologies (for me, it’s campus Housing software and social media) I found a passion for it and a natural ability to use and explain it to others. What a gift that potentially went undeveloped!

My guess is, if you ask other women in Student Affairs, they will have a similar story regarding technology. I was fortunate to find a supervisor and mentor who encouraged me, but I also had to get over some of my internalized fear of my ability with technology. In hindsight, how could I possibly know my ability with technology if I never gave myself the chance to try?

In student affairs, we are great at mentoring each other, but have been traditionally slow to embrace technology to enhance our work. How can we mentor each other if we haven’t taken the time to develop these skills ourselves? When you look at Computer Science classes and majors, you will still see more men than women. Why is that? I recently blogged about an experience I had this summer being the only woman in a technology training. The questions I asked in that post are still relevant now. Women are not encouraged to follow careers in technology, and I find this to be very sad. Think of the lost potential! Maybe the next Steve Jobs is named Stephanie, and she’s just looking for that gentle nudge of encouragement!

As a profession, student affairs needs to continue to embrace technology. I look to my fellow women who have embraced technology to lead our profession in moving forward with technological initiatives. Utilizing technology doesn’t have to squelch the face-to-face interaction with students; it can be used to enhance our interactions! Furthermore, those of us who are more adept at technology should seek out ways to mentor and encourage other women to try technology. We need to embrace any fear we have, and continue to help our profession evolve when it comes to technology.

Student Affairs Women and Technology: Embracing the Fear