The following interview took place during a closed to the public school IT conference that I took part in several years ago during my time as a school IT person. For confidentiality reasons the IT Director has asked not to be named. (Note I was not the interviewer)
What kind of education do you have?
I have been doing IT in the education field for over 20 years at this point. I also hold a bachelors degree and a masters in IT management. I also teach courses at the local college twice a week.
What kind of education do you serve?
I serve as the IT Director of primary education schools so K-12. The team I manage is in charge of about 5 districts IT infrastructure and general day to day IT operations.
How many students does your team serve?
We serve more than 10 thousand students at the moment, and more than 300 teachers, administrators and other educational staff.
Given the students and teachers you serve, how many IT staff do you manage?
We currently have a team of six including myself, that’s four full-time staff, and two part-time staff.
That team seems really small for that number of students doesn’t it?
No not at all, we focus on serving the teachers mostly and from there our only interaction with students is sometimes repairing their Chromebook or other school owned device. And even then the interactions are limited as we have a teacher or staff member at every school building that we designate as the go-to person for students with device issues.
What would you say is the hardest part about IT in education?
Probably the compliance requirements, we have to follow FERPA laws and we’re also responsible for making sure students are safe online. This means we have to have good web filters in place, stay up to date with ways of bypassing the web filter to block those, and we’ve also started implementing technology to detect students making threats of self-harm or harm to others. Honestly the hardest part really is the arms race we’re in with the students, every time we block a work around to the web filter the students will find a new way to bypass it.
Would you say that your team needs to be good with kids to do their job?
I wouldn’t say that at all, like I’ve said before most of our team deals with teachers and school staff mostly, our interactions with students is very minimal. The only important thing is that all of our staff have passed FBI and BCI (Ohio version of the FBI database) background checks. One of our staff members actually had never done IT work until they joined our team as part of the summer crew.
You just mentioned a summer crew, what do they do?
The summer crew is made up of college students and high school students who need or want a summer job in IT. We drastically expand our team from six during the school year to about ten or twelve during the summer. We do this because most of our work is during the summer. Notably we do inventory, clean computers, re-image computers, install new hardware and more. Most of these employees leave us sometime in august or early September.
So this summer crew is like an internship?
You could say that, it’s is an actual job though and we don’t call it an internship or treat it as one.
Any final tips for people wanting to get into IT at schools?
All I can say is that they need to be passionate about their jobs, and they need to be OK with making a little less than they might find in the private sector.