So, what does an IT manager do, anyway? Michael Dean, who fulfils the role at Bishop Challoner Catholic College, talks us through the challenges – and the rewards
TS What does your typical day look like?
MD There is no ‘typical’ day for me as IT manager, especially since my team looks after four primary schools, too. A normal day begins by arriving at work for 8am, and reviewing my emails and the job system to plan the day ahead. This is a mix of seeing new projects and assessing what’s urgent, fixing anything left over from the previous day or starting on the next job.
Typical tasks range from replacing toner, fixing broken laptops, deploying new software across the network or performing server maintenance – it completely varies on a day to day basis. We’re also out of the office, doing site visits to other schools and locations for four half-days a week, which means that time in the office is really precious.
School holidays and half-term breaks are our big times for more proactive changes to school IT systems, such as analysing new technologies or software upgrades, and we use the time during term to focus on fixing things. Our main challenge is that everyone’s so busy, so the rush causes a lot of problems. Being an IT manager means that your days are filled with a real pick and mix of tasks; I don’t find myself doing any one thing more than anything else.
Why did you become an IT manager?
I love my work. I love keeping things running for all different types of people from a technology standpoint and making the most out of the limited resources in education due to the tight budgets. You get to be really creative as an IT manager coming up with solutions for the school, as budgets really are increasingly getting much tighter.
The big things for me in technology products are their robustness. I’m looking for products that last longer and things that we can repair ourselves if need be. The less maintenance the better; we want to do anything we can do to keep our technology running at top performance for longer. For example, when we switched to lamp-free projection, we were able to write off lots of our maintenance and replacement part costs, making a real difference in classroom technology and cost savings.
I’m particularly proud of creating a phenomenal wireless infrastructure system to support and future-proof the technology systems within the school to handle growth and changes. We have more than 1,200 students at Bishop Challoner each with their own laptop and then you add to that all the staff and support personnel on site, not to mention the in-room devices; we may have 1,500 individual connections on that network. It’s helped us pave the way for a lot of new developments by having that system in place.
Tell us your worst tech/projector horror story! What went wrong? How did you solve it?
With such busy days the worst mistakes always seem to come from simple acts of not paying attention. One of the worst I’ve seen was accidentally destroying the RAID configuration – a server redundancy system. That wasn’t a good day. I managed to recover the server from backups to get it online again, only to find a bug in Microsoft Windows when copying long file paths! In the end, it took a week to get all the data back on the server. That wasn’t the best moment for sure, but at least it was a good example of innovation.
Apart from that though, it’s usually the odd mishap of accidentally shutting down a server when working on it. It’s very easy, and force of habit to click start and shut down, forgetting that it’s a server you’re logged into, not a user account. But other than the odd all-staff email saying we’ll be back in a few moments, I’ve been pretty lucky.
What do you wish teachers knew about your job? What are the main things teachers ask of you as an IT professional or about the projectors?
Because we do a lot of off-site work, there is a knock on effect to staff, which I know can be frustrating at times. I wish teachers knew the amount and variety of work we have on our plates. I think there is a perception that we just sit around in our office drinking coffee, but that’s a rare moment. Just because you’ve found us sat down doesn’t mean that we’re quiet.
The common issues for teachers are toner, accidently damaging a laptop or the audio connections in a classroom. There are so many things we get asked to do though that it would be impossible to list them all.
The main thing that I can see is a frustration to teachers is the plugging in of cables, sound and video. There is no other more reliable way to make a connection, but inherently plugging and unplugging cable in a hurry ends up with them getting damaged. A cable-free computer would be awesome.
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