Journal of an IT manager: Strategy for installing new equipment

On top of maintaining every computer and network in the school, this IT manager also installs new equipment. In this journal entry, he shares his plan for streamlining the installation of new hardware and software.

This week, IT Manager Republic is featuring the daily journal of Tom Rule, an IT manager and teacher for a private school in Macon, GA. The following journal entries are from Thursday.

7:30 A.M.
We’re starting to fry from the nonstop problems this week. Brenda Timms, the other half of the IT team, has a daughter getting married next weekend, and I can tell she is really stressed. We’ve had a few incidents where faculty members are pressing us to get things fixed. We are all frustrated when we can’t get something back to them quickly.

As soon as I get out of the car, I pop up to get a CPU fan, touch base with Brenda, and head over to the small computer lab to see if I can get it installed. I don’t, because I had to reboot the library Mac Web server. That hard drive isn’t behaving right, and it sounds like I’m going to have to replace it.

Catch up with these journal entries
Monday: "Journal of an IT manager: Juggling tasks is part of the high school curriculum" Tuesday: "Journal of an IT manager: Backup plans and patience help pass the test" Wednesday: "Journal of an IT manager: Problems with scripts"

First period
I have a great discussion with my Web design class about the development process. I tried to make the point that an awful lot of development gets done away from the computer before anything is coded, scanned, or developed.

Brenda’s C++ class is still working on the dice simulation program. There are several students in the class that are discovering that programming is essentially a creative activity, which means there is more than one way to solve a problem.

I wonder if programming will ever be seen as a creative art, like music or Web design? Probably not since there’s not much for an audience to see or hear.

Second period
Brenda’s advanced C++ class is still dealing with recursion. She says that her instruction doesn’t seem to be getting across, so she’ll have to find some additional examples. The class is programming routines using the Fibonacci series, but some are still using mathematical algorithms instead of recursion.

She’s thinking about switching gears and doing something simple like finding the sum of the numbers 1 to 100 and then moving into harder stuff.

Education is like that. Sometimes your class and your plans don’t connect. Some teachers just plow ahead, assuming the students will get it on their own. But the best teachers “reboot” their plans and come up with a different angle. Sometimes it’s nothing more than finding a different way to explain it, using a different method.

I’ve seen the same process used in the business world. We are all teachers at some point of the day. Some teach a client why they need the product; others teach the boss about their value to an organization.

I also started two Office disk two installs after putting the CD in the CD server. The install is going to take a while, so I go online and set up two online quizzes I’m giving today while I wait.

Nothing like a deadline to force you to get some work done. Fortunately, if things go well, this quiz will be software graded, which buys me some time later in the day.

Third period
Sister Geraldine’s new iMac is sitting on her desk, so Brenda heads down to that building to begin setting it up. This is the stuff I did during the summer for other faculty. It can take two or three hours to completely set up a machine. Brenda phrased it like this: "Spent an enormous amount of time setting up the new iMac."

My online quiz went well. Thank goodness for a stable Internet connection. We’ve got a dual ISDN line, which has worked well for us. We’ve got to think about going broadband, but there are a lot of issues to deal with.

I began installing Office on the last two machines in the big computer lab. Then I began my lecture on searching the Internet. While the class was searching the Web in one try for the percentage of left-handers in America, I configured Eudora for a new faculty member. I’ll have to get the machine moved on Friday so he can begin setting up his work area.

Fourth period
I’m teaching the eighth graders elements of the MacOS on the iBooks. We feel it is important that the kids have the experience of learning a new OS and new software. I hope they will get used to the process and procedures behind the buttons, instead of just concentrating on what the buttons do.

Basically, we’re trying to teach them how to fish, instead of just pointing out where the fish (i.e., buttons) are. What they are using now will look and feel very different in three years, regardless of which side of the Mac/Win fence you’re on. Linux, of course, keeps changing every week!

I had 15 minutes for lunch, which I spend catching up on a few e-mails.

The new HP is coming
Tom Rule is waiting for a new, heavier-duty HP printer. Setting up new equipment is one of his favorite things about being a manager. For him, new equipment is like “Christmas in the workplace, if the stuff works.” Here are the steps he takes before new equipment comes in:
  1. Read as much as possible about the product.
  2. Decide in advance where the new item will go and how it will access AC power, the network, etc.
  3. When the product arrives, scan the manual for basic unpacking and configuration information.
  4. Write down the model and serial number on the manual and update your database with these numbers.
  5. Unpack and install.

Sixth period
Brenda talked with the typing teacher about a printing issue in the small lab. The typing teacher thought that our typing program had to be configured internally to print to a different printer, so Brenda went over to install the admin program for the package. She discovered that there was no printer setting to be changed. The package uses the Windows default printer. Essentially, she spent an hour fixing a nonexistent problem.

This just represents one of the problems we face. Often, we have a shallow knowledge of the equipment and software we use and install. Sometimes I find myself going on gut instinct about how a program works. But I’m often right, which saves some debug time.

One of the most valuable things we’ve done in the last year is to begin reading the manuals that come with software or hardware. We have also learned which parts to read and which to skim over. Just remembering that such-and-such was mentioned in the manual has saved us time debugging. Now all we have to do is find the right manual.

Seventh period
We’re close to the end of a long day. Brenda spent some time researching for her C++ class. “I’ve got to get ahead...somehow,” she told me.

I graded some papers before heading down to Brenda’s office to discuss some issues and plan for the arrival of the new HP printer.

Do you go by your gut?
Rule said he often works by his intuition. Do you sometimes find yourself going by your "gut"? When has following your instincts worked? When has it failed? Do you encourage such decision making in your shop? Let us know by sending us an e-mail or starting a discussion below. We’ll compile the responses for a future article.