Almost a decade ago, Linwood Webster agreed to do a 1-month temporary assignment at Blue Cross Blue Shield to assist their technology personnel with the company's mainframe computer. After a successful month, the healthcare provider offered Webster a full-time position and, later, the oppotunity to support their workstations when personal computers began to emerge. Webster then left the company for a position at Duke University where he was the library management network guru, and building upon his experience there, he eventually landed his latest position with "Skip" Bollenbacher's CELL group at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, last September.
"I came here because it was an opportunity to help minority universities and an opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology," explains Webster, who has an undergraduate degree in English and journalism and is currently taking a master's course in information science, focusing on management. "To really expose minority universities to technology is what sold me on this position."
Even though his decade's worth of technological and computing skills are extremely useful, the single most important thing Webster says interested computer scientists can bring to distance education projects are "people skills."
"You must be a great collaborator and must be very good at developing relationships," explains Webster. "I constantly find myself on different campuses seeing different people all the time: I talk to new support groups, IT groups. ... You cannot walk onto a campus and say, 'You're a deprived university, and I'm here to help you, so give me what I want now.' "
As the person responsible for ensuring that all the technology hums along smoothly, Webster adds that you must be willing to deal with the unexpected. "Coming to work, I plan what I'll be doing that day. But then I come in and two computers have crashed and I have to spend all day fixing those. There are problems upon problems every day that you have to deal with ... you just can't walk away and say, 'It's broken.' "
Since troubleshooting and problem solving are key qualities successful information technologists bring to such positions, Webster reminds computer scientists to "keep those contacts." You never know when you will need to call an old colleague, an instructor, a company representative, co-worker, or boss to help you solve a particularly troublesome problem. And this is another example of where your people skills kick in.
"Many people come into this field for the money," he says, referring to the abundance of jobs in information technology. "But you can't do that. You can't get a certificate and walk into this kind of job without having the right people skills. If you cannot "mesh technological skills with your people skills, you won't succeed at all," predicts Webster.