By Dov Friedman, co-founder, CirQlive.
Working in education IT can be a catch-22.
You know what you’re doing, and the service you’re providing is helping teachers teach and students learn. In my case, that’s directly what my colleagues and I are doing, putting teachers and students together in web and video conferences, integrated with their learning management systems. I know what we’re doing is making the process of education easier, better and more efficient. We’re absolutely helping more students access their teachers and helping more teachers use the modern tools of teaching.
That’s comforting. And rewarding.
But it is also isolating and challenging at the same time.
The 22 part is that for anyone to recognize your work, they have to see you, know you’re there. They need to understand that great bridges require great bridge builders.
The catch part is that, if you do your education IT job well, you’re invisible. Your IT can be so good, so seamless and so intuitive that no one has any idea you were ever there. Or that it did not simply just work that way to start.
In IT, being invisible is winning, even though it may not always feel that way. I liken it to what a studio-level makeup artist must feel – you know, the person who makes movie stars look great or gruesome, depending on the role. If you’re at the movies and you’re talking about the makeup, something probably went wrong. It’s only when they’re really good that they can fade away.
And sure, knowing you do good work is satisfying. And please don’t misunderstand, I’m not in this business for glory and adulation. I feel certain that almost no one goes into education for that. Still, what we do – those of us who build the bridges and apply the makeup of education IT – is not easy. Or free, unfortunately.
It can also be a marketing challenge. Wrap your head around this sales pitch. “What I do is so smooth and subtle that, once you start using it, you won’t notice it all.” Where do you sign, right?
I exaggerate. People do notice when they have to drive around a river instead of having a bridge to cross. But once it’s up, people don’t remember what it was like before. And people who’ve become used to driving around an obstacle, or not traveling at all, don’t know cool bridges are available.
Polluting my metaphors again, I think back to the talented make-up artist who probably has to go pitch new producers and directors by saying, “You probably didn’t notice me at all in this other movie, but …”
To tell you the truth, though, I’m not deterred by the education IT paradox. Solutions that work are always in demand. Bridges are easy to sell when people have to get somewhere. When people look at nearby towns and cities and say, “hey, how did you get that cool bridge?” the phone rings.
And the big education dynamics favor companies like ours. More and more people are studying online, and more schools are needing to invest in tools that make that reality easier and safer.
But as it does, I feel for others in education IT or in IT in general – on staff or on their own. I know that some of the best among us are the least seen. That’s what happens when we do our jobs well. And it can get old. It’s also not likely to change. I cannot see a future in which IT solutions have pretty construction plaques saying, “Built by Julie Carter at IT Solutions in 2019” or whatever. So, we’re just going to have to accept that as the way it is.
At the same time, we can take comfort in the real value we’re providing, unseen as it may be. Cynical types may say that gleaning value from the service you provide, regardless of recognition is cold comfort. I prefer to think of it as warm comfort. It can be easy to forget that IT is about making connections and helping people do great things, in our case, helping people learn. When we do that, we’re doing right, whether anyone notices or not.