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Examine the expectations and inferences underlying selected job positions. Consider timely topics in career preparation and the struggle for fulfilling employment. Analyze what could be improved in either situation. If this blog reminds you too much of work, then peruse my namesake blog for lighter fare.

Fuck UWM and all universities! UW-Milwaukee and their brethren are mediocre. Click banner ads on ClixSense instead; it's a better use of time than a college education in the UW System.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Deconstructing UITS

And more specifically, dissecting its use of student labor. But first -- some institutional context!

The history and culture of an information technology (IT) organization are just as important as its current vision: These collectively provide the vantage point of first-hand experiences, lessons learned, and biases from which future decisions -- including personnel selection -- are made. I recently visited the present UITS homepage for an understanding of how it currently operates its student wing. The student workforce has grown from a modest 120 into "over 300" -- none of the current UITS pages disclose a number of employees, student or otherwise. But extrapolating from prior growth, I'd say UITS has around 600 student workers as of 2013-2014.

While the student workgroup cuts across functional units, all are housed within the silo of Client Services. This departmental structure has remained more or less the same since the founding of the organization that would become UITS. We'll perhaps see a few more project managers by year's end.

So what do I care?

Though never employed by UITS, I exploited its resources intensely and interacted with senior staff as members of the Educational Technology Fee Committee. I observed many people -- students and permanent staff -- who worked at UITS and even befriended a few. So although I never made it, perchance you will.

Just in time for the March 14, 2014 deadline for student applicants to be considered for summer positions, I hereby present my experience and insights pertaining to the job application process and culture at UITS; these should help the reader form realistic expectations about trying to join.

I had applied for Help Desk and lab attendant when University and Information Technology Services (UITS) at UWM was known as Information and Media Technology (IMT) at UWM. Housed within IMT was Student Technology Services (STS), essentially a workgroup distributed among six or so functional silos and comprised of students.

Besides cosmetics and some names, little has changed between the current UITS student jobs directory and the erstwhile STS subdomain. This is a testament to the leadership of Bruce Maas, who was Interim CIO at UWM from August 2004 through May 2007 and then Official CIO at UWM from June 2007 through July 2011. He kept directors accountable for staying within budget and advised committees on IT policy but had no voice in which student employees were selected.

Hired to be then-CIO Joe Douglas’ “Assistant to the Director”in early 2000, Beth Schaefer served in that role for a year before advancing program manager for an equally brief period before settling in as Client Services Director for over a decade. Her responsibility as CSD included overseeing half a dozen supervisors, each of which kept tabs on non-supervisory technicians and other support staff.

Another long-timer, Ann Nehring had worked in the IMT data center and became supervisor for the Help Desk / Campus Computer Lab (CCL) functional unit, which included the bulk of STS employees and is where I had applied. Both she and Schaefer debuted in STS just after Douglas and team deployed PantherMail campus-wide.

Schaefer and Nehring implemented many changes to the STS Handbook, of which a more exhaustive treatment is reserved for later. But one of the most relevant changes is the elimination of a right to merit increases, recognition for work well done, and professional development in general.

Understand that both remain in charge -- of Client Services and Help Desk, respectively -- as the relevance of UITS student career preparation dwindles. Where's my evidence? Right here: There is presently no professional development listed for students at UITS! And in case UITS uploads a Potemkin page with some training modules, then here's a screen capture:

Zero training modules are to be found.

The entire 2003 roster of UITS student supervisors has all but disappeared. This trend of unaccounted-for student UITS alumni has remained intact for subsequent cohorts, averaging 43 student leaders graduating every four to five years -- where are they professionally?

This is notwithstanding the 2004-2005 student leads, two of whom re-joined IMT/UITS as permanent staff. Compare the immediately preceding STS lead chart to the present UITS organizational chart: Can you find the two from 2004-2005 who were hired full-time as functional supervisors? This is really an excuse to hide a clue in a hyperlink title!

Much-needed levity aside: The fact that most of these 600+ former UITS student supervisors don't turn up in a LinkedIn search is an eerie omen; most tech professionals maintain at least a minimal representation on LinkedIn for the purposes of bragging and finding clients. Or perhaps they are very private, thereby reflecting the clannishness of UITS and university employees generally.

IMT/UITS has complained for quite a while how difficult it is to find job applicants with technical support experience for PeopleSoft and other human resources information systems (HRIS) are scarce -- so why aren't staff training student workers in those skills? Add that to the otherwise blank listing of UITS professional development courses available to students.

Take a gander at these 110 UITS employees who pretty much have a job for life! Which of them are responsible for PeopleSoft support? They're all responsible for the low turnover among full-time employees -- a phenomenon that prevents student workers from apprenticing into those positions!

I imagine their collective rebuttal, “Hey, we earn our paycheck! And if you want an apprenticeship, then go to trade school!” If only the higher education hucksters would admit that to get where they are -- in gainful employment as non-academic or "classified" staff -- completing highly specialized training in a vo-tech program is a superior alternative to the university career non-preparation.

When you have six full-time staff to a single function as UITS does, the workload balances out to two FT per shift. Compare this to most other university departments, where each function has only one director and an assistant director -- not to mention at least five entry-level staff, as in the case of “journey accountants.”

So what about my tips for applying? Those are on the drawing board, as I’m still piecing together what I could have possibly done differently in my responses to interview questions. Here’s an over-simplified summary of what I’ve learned over the years about student employment in UITS:

Things I did to get an interview with UITS (formerly STS)

1) Say you're available for third shift.

2) Include Help Desk as your primary area of interest.

3) If you're on the cusp of being [X year], then say you're [(X-1) year] credit-wise. Examples:
  If sophomore, then say "freshman;"
  If junior, then say "sophomore;"
  If senior, then say "junior;"
And if graduate student, then say you "will pursue a PhD at UWM" (even if not, and you shouldn't be in grad school anyway unless someone has paid you stipend or reimbursement to be there).

I'm so busy that I cannot say whether there will be adequate time for me to post my interview introspection before UITS begins student interviews later this semester. In 2007, the lag time between entering the waiting list and being interviewed was between four and six weeks; it might be less now due to more staff.

As a reward for reading, I'll let you in a chilling secret -- one that STS tried to cover up by setting its robots.txt file to "no index" in September 2005 for internal STS pages that had been indexed since inception. The restriction has been released as summer 2007. So why the move to prevent indexing for almost two years?

I've linked to the one instance of the 2005-2007 internal STS portal that had been crawled. Look at the graphics -- how creepy! What were they thinking?

Weird stuff on the 2005-2007 STS internal login page!

Yes, part of the rationale for re-branding IMT into UITS was that too many people began to think STS meant "Student Technology Satanists!" With the Goat of Mendes as your mascot and Futharthic Runes underlying your department name, who wouldn't get an impression of occult shenanigans at play in STS?

For closer comparison, here is a closeup of the 2005-2007 STS mascot alongside a revelatory photo-illustration:

Unaltered Sinister? Certainly not innocent! With overlay Baaah! Baaaphomet! Baaah!

If the questionable long-term professional outcomes for student workers and the sketchy flirtation with the sinister symbolism don't dissuade, then go ahead -- exercise your tuition-bought right to apply at UITS! "Good luck."

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