CITES: Into The Weeds


I think I’m beginning to understand why at least 5 of my former co-workers (that I actually know of) there in the systems management organization where I used to work are actively searching for new jobs. Apparently, among much other strife (more on that further below), they are looking for a new Executive Director over at CITES (the central IT department at uiuc.edu where I used to work). One of the candidates, Mike Smeltzer, gave a talk to the organization to pitch his candidacy and answer questions. Listen to some gems from this cheery talk:

“I think Pete [former CIO] and Stan [former executive director] have put up with an awful lot of just outright insubordination over my time at CITES among various people, various groups. If I’m in charge, then we’re not going to have that.”

“Once we define and lay out what CITES is going to be and what the organization is going to look like, you’re going to have to decide if that’s the organization that you want to be part of.”

“And if you elect to stay, I expect you to be rowing all in the same direction. If you elect to stay, I expect you to avoid documenting your immaturity on listservs.”

“Sally [current CIO] has promised the provost that, over time, we’re going to reduce the headcount at CITES … but when you have people that go out of their way looking for ‘lifevests’ it makes it kind of easier to do that.”

“Guerrilla navigation is going to be strongly discouraged … staff that are unable or unwilling to add value to their teams — we’re going to ask you to find a new boat.”

Seriously: guerrilla navigation??? rowing all in the same direction??? insubordination???

Let’s put this in a bit more context now. It seems (looking in from the outside) that the morale of at least everyone that I know of in CITES has been going way way way downhill continually over at least the past year. Here are a couple of specific things:

Salary Equity: One of the interesting things about working for the State of Illinois is that everyone’s salary is published annually in a neat little thing known as the “gray book” this is a pretty powerful tool for transparency. On the other hand, it doesn’t help things to know that (real example here) you’ve been working there for about 7 years, and are making roughly $51k and getting an annual “fuck you” raise of generally between 0 and 2 percent, while some new hires in your group start out making the same amount as you, or even slightly more, despite being green and, in some cases, incompetent. And new hires in other groups consistently are being hired at even more inflated salaries.

The Background Checks: Insubordination will not be tolerated! We all need to be rowing in the same direction! No voicing your opinions on mailing lists! And now, of course CITES instituting a policy of mandatory criminal background checks for everyone (new employees, as well as existing ones who are getting promoted).

“Anonymous” Survey:Coupling the above with Smeltzer’s cheery “get off the boat” attitude made folks genuinely correctly suspicious when the supposedly “anonymous” web survey turned out to require username authentication — thus making it, by definition, not anonymous. A hilarious argument then ensued and here are some replies from the powers that be: “… I assure you I’m not sniffing the network. If you’d like proof, come to my office and watch me generate a report, or you can just trust me…”, and “…data is restricted to IT staff who need it … individuals who have taken it on themselves to violate someone’s privacy by leveraging the system and or log data they have at their disposal … no longer work for the university. The survey … is anonymous.”

Activity Based Costing: A consulting company (WTC) has been engaged for an ABC (Activity Based Costing) study for CITES. This will result in a more accurate
picture of activities and services, and related costs. It will also require participation on the part of everyone in the group. They’ll need to begin tracking activites they perform, and the amount of time required for each, in as much granularity as possible. Estimate from WTC is that there will be somewhere between 400 and 800 activities required, to give you a sense of the level of detail. Doesn’t that sound awesome? And here’s the priceless response from a manager when someone complains that tracking everyone’s time is a stupid idea: “…no one is asking you to report your time … we will not be recording time, only tasks and how long it takes to perform them.” Really? I mean, seriously? come on now…

Seriously folks, WTF? Is management trying to drive away all of the really smart and skilled people from the organization? Because, if that’s their goal, they are doing a pretty damn good job.

Memo to CITES: wait a few months more like this without management sticking up for their employees, or paying attention to morale and issues like those mentioned above, and there will be nobody left to manage your systems and services. CITES systems management is the home to some of the most professional, skilled production (and non-production) systems administrators that I’ve ever worked with. Their development and use of automated systems administration tools and production methodologies serves the university extremely well, and should be appreciated — not driven away.

  1. #1 by Hoosier on February 6, 2008 - 12:36 pm

    When the systems management group disappears, we’re all going to be rowing in the same direction, with half-assed system management and overworked service managers becoming ad-hoc system managers…
    The salary equity problem is something that has to be fixed by the competency of employees, the advocacy of front line managers and the intelligence, backbone and honor of upper level management. And, in reality, the latter two are much more important than the first. Too bad neither of those really exists in many parts of this organization.