By Jesse Drake
There was a time when collaboration meant board rooms with whiteboards and donuts, if you were lucky. Today it often means collaboration technology: remote conferencing, shared document editing, instant messaging and email chains.
In April, Brian Haymore, senior IT architect for UIT’s Center for High Performance Computing (CHPC), launched a forum for tech experts and enthusiasts called IT Exchange, or ITX, with the caveat that the group would meet in person.
"The value of face-to-face versus email is significant," Haymore said. "Being able to have back and forth conversations allows us to quickly work through thoughts, questions and comments, as well as allowing others to listen and jump in. Email can offer some of the same, but is not always nearly as quick, nor does it allow for personal interaction."
He added that email interactions run the risk of being terse, overly long, or incomplete.
ITX meets monthly at the Student Union, where members take a dive deep into topics facing the University IT community at large.
The first meeting in May kicked off with the topic of containers and container management platforms Docker and Kubernetes. It was such a big hit that the second meeting was merely a continuation, with invited guest Jason Stidd, computer technician at The Graduate School, performing a live demo. Other featured topics, available in Google docs, have included object/cloud storage, and the need for a general campus storage and archive solution.
At the meeting September 28, 2016, Anita Orendt, CHPC's Assistant Director for Research Consulting and Faculty Engagement, presented on CHPC resources that support research computing on campus.
Haymore said that ITX meetings have been visited by members of UIT, CHPC, the Department of Mathematics, Epidemiology, Genetics, Fine Arts, College of Mines and Earth Sciences, School of Medicine, Graduate School and Eccles Health Sciences Library, among others.
That diversity is by design.
"We want to explore interesting, new, challenging aspects of IT support, such that we can learn from each other," Haymore said. "Clearly there is a wealth of well matured experience, passion, energy and interest for innovation on campus. We should better tap into that as a community. I invite others to help build that effort up, help lead it and be part of it."
The insights gained by a multiplicity of views is invaluable.
"You have that lightbulb moment where you go, 'Ah, I see why you are doing or choosing that. Oh, I didn't think of that perspective before,'" Haymore said. This new understanding, he added, may or may not influence decision making, but "you at least walk away with understanding that there's more than just the world you live in."
Attendance has been as few as six to as many as 30. The ITX mailing list currently has about 40 subscribers (anyone interested in joining can subscribe via email using subject line SUBSCRIBE ITX).
More than anything, Haymore hopes that people walk away with the understanding that IT challenges are best handled as a community, not as individuals.
"I'd like to see the community build relations such that when we are faced with a significant problem or pending change, that promotes a sense of coming together to make the best of the situation and constructively moving forward," he said.
Haymore recalled a conversation with former Deputy CIO Steve Corbato, in which they discussed some high-level changes on campus.
"[Corbato] noted that some people choose to dig in and defend the fort based on a belief that their value is tied to the current state of things. Instead, they could step up and help define the future, and in that effort, find their role to continue with," Haymore said. "I think as a campus we need more of this type of thinking."