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Jeff Thieman is the computer services coordinator at Rolling Meadows High School in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

How would you describe a typical workday? What kinds of activities tend to dominate your workday?

Certain activities occur daily, such as booting up the lab in the morning, supervising the lab when the aide is out on an errand, fielding phone calls from "lost sheep," and being the "Shell Answer Man" for any computer problem. Aside from teaching two periods a day, other activities range from solving computer hard-ware/software problems at my desk and in the field, to recovering lost/damaged files from a student's disk, to processing software requests, to managing the annual software supply budget, to making recommendations for the building's hardware budget. In this third, and last, year of our school district's technology push, the coordinator has recommended hardware for purchases of approximately one million dollars for one building. It wouldn't be surprising for the coordinator to walk in one morning with nothing to do for the day (this has never happened) and still be busy with all the "fires" that pop up. It is quite normal to go out on a call and fix one problem and then come back with three more problems to fix from people met on the way.



What long-range problems should people who work with computers in school be concerned about?

Networking, security, and integration of the curriculum on-line. The Internet will be a hot, controversial topic to be considered.

What academic preparation did you have for this job?

I have a math degree and in college I took a few computer programming courses. Aside from possessing a logical, problem-solving mind and on-the-job experience, there is no academic course work that could prepare someone for this job.

If you were going to give advice to someone who is interested in a career as a computer coordinator in a high school, what would you say?

Don't overestimate the knowledge base of the general public you're working with. Most of them don't know what they want or need, and their questions regarding problems are usually worded in the wrong way. People skills are a must, and you must learn how to say "no" to many requests. By not saying "no" your workload will increase exponentially until you go screaming into the night. Usually the people who ask for a lot of help and receive it will only make larger requests that will usurp your entire day.

What is the most challenging part of your day?

Staying up with the technology as it changes on an almost daily basis. People expect you to have an immediate answer to their problem. Unless you have spent hours doing what they are doing now, you won't be able to address their problem. Also, teaching two classes a day breaks the day into fragments that are oftentimes too short to afford tackling a project.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Solving the longtime nagging software/hardware problem. The flexibility in the schedule of the day is nice. Knowing that you can help people with their problems is also rewarding.

If you could change career paths, would you still choose a career as a computer coordinator?

This is a position that you grow into rather than prepare for. It's virtually impossible to anticipate whether you will like this position or not. There are days when things go very slick and everything works out. By the same token, there are days in which you take one step forward and three steps back. Those days provide you with the next day's agenda. I'm not sure that I would go into this field again. Teaching five math classes a day is much less of a headache.

One of the newest developments in education is the introduction of computers in classrooms, libraries, and computer labs. The process of selecting computer hardware and software requires tremendous technical expertise, and once the hardware is installed, schools need trained staff members who can maintain the computers, teach students and staff how to use computers and computer software effectively, and help teachers integrate this new technology into their curriculum.

Computer service coordinators assume many of these responsibilities. They teach one or two academic classes, they plan and administer a technology budget with funds to buy new software and equipment, and they maintain the computers that are already on hand. Computer coordinators invest a great deal of time keeping up with new developments in technology so they can help their col-leagues make informed decisions about purchasing new equipment and software.

Perhaps the most demanding part of the computer coordinator's job is the ongoing process of helping teachers and students use new technology. Computer coordinators describe their workdays as being filled with "emergencies," as they try to help staff members work with products that they don't really understand, including retrieving lost data, dealing with crashed hard drives, equipment failures, and software problems.

Many computer coordinators report that they feel torn between the excitement of working with new technology and the frustration of dealing with a demanding and unsophisticated public. "People expect us to have a magic button that will solve all of their programming problems," one coordinator observed. "When we explain that we can't undo some of their mistakes, they are furious with us." But in spite of the frustrations that are part of the job, computer coordinators generally enjoy their work. Computer coordinators are generally paid on the same salary schedule as teachers and are given a salary increment to compensate them for the extra time and effort they invest in the school. As tenured teachers, computer coordinators enjoy a great deal of job security, a benefits package, and all of the usual school holidays. Although they certainly have a very hectic schedule, computer coordinators do enjoy clean and safe working conditions in schools.
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