DAILY INSIGHT: What CTOs SHOULD get fired for

By Miguel Guhlin, CIO Advisor

Although technology directors seldom get fired—usually they are encouraged to leave due to personality conflicts with the superintendent or something like that—what would the list of "what you should get fired for" look like for school CTOs? For fun, let's explore that.

One of the fun questions I've run across in my readings about CTOs includes one I hadn't ever anticipated:

“Think it through by analogy. The CFO is not responsible for making revenue every quarter, but if there is a big surprise, fire him.

The CTO is not responsible for delivering products every quarter, but if you miss the Internet or a similar technical inflection point, fire him.”

I have often thought that asking what you should get fired for in a job is a great way to clarify your thinking about what is really important. Sometimes we spend a lot of time working on the wrong problems. Part of making sure one has the best technology involves reviewing programs and challenging teams.

The greatest leverage is when the project is in its earliest phases, when we are deciding on architectures in the context of market requirements and when technology choices are being made. This is where you should see the CTO. Once there is a large marching army of engineers heading off in some direction, it is pretty difficult and expensive to make changes. Much better to get things sorted out early. It is what I call, “Get ‘em while they’re young.”

The second paragraph, which I separated out, caught my eye. In business or engineering, the idea is about staying in tune with what's going on around you and in the market so that the business isn't caught off-guard by a new technology. What does that idea mean for education?

I'm not sure, but for fun, here's my bullet list.

What would a list of criteria look like that could get a school CTO fired by a superintendent?

1. CTO failed to anticipate the next big thing or passed it off as something evil to leadership when other districts are clearly embracing it.

2. CTO knew about the next big thing, checked with his buddies in key positions, realized they didn't want to do it, and then lied about the reasons why NOT to do it simply to ensure status quo.

3. CTO failed to communicate the next big thing and rally support for adoption.

4. CTO failed to lay the infrastructure IN ADVANCE of the next big thing.

5. CTO continues to advocate for technology that was helpful in the 20th century (e.g., MS Office).

6. CTO implements technology that doesn't ruffle feathers, but instead feathers his/her nest without providing service.

7. CTO employs top-down hierarchical approaches and doesn't check with team members, only expects them to carry out the plan without full awareness of it in its entirety.

8. CTO says one thing, but does another to pander and win favor, thereby setting everyone up for failure.

9. CTO buys the latest and greatest for select staff, hands out equipment to win favor, but never develops a plan to ensure equity for the most important stakeholders: teachers and students.

10. CTO realizes that change is inevitable and does his best to slow it down by micromanaging and not responding to direct reports.

You know, I wrote that list in record time. To flesh out the ideas, here are some specific examples based on feedback from technology directors from around the nation.

1. New technology gets purchased and distributed to campuses before an electrical capacity for buildings is done. When everyone plugs in their new technology, the power goes out. Oops.

2. New technology gets purchased and distributed to staff, but when they all try to connect to the network, the district doesn't have enough bandwidth to access the Web. Oops.

3. Failing to implement Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Why? Well, duh, it's a cost-effective way to save your organization money for email, calendaring, etc. More importantly, it provides everyone in the organization with a suite of tools.

4. Telling everyone that GAFE is a boondoggle and would actually cost too much because of email archiving.

5. CTO tells the technology team that he will stop the willy-nilly purchase of technologies that lack proper vetting (e.g., automated account management, easy device management, compatibility with district network) but then secretly signs off on the approval of the technologies.

6. CTO purchases technology (e.g., netbooks, iPads, Chromebooks, laptops) for deployment but doesn't work with stakeholders to develop a deployment plan. Technology arrives at campuses and people look at each other and then take it home for their home entertainment system.

7. The tech team works on a project with another department that fails to do their part, and instead of holding the department accountable and working to ensure support so they can fulfill their obligation, encourages them to come to him so he can create a workaround system. The system? Tell the Tech Team to just do it, depriving the other department the opportunity to learn to support their own project.

8. Bringing in faux external evaluators to assess the organizational structure and then using the resulting fictional document to cut the salaries of tech team members s/he doesn't like, or worse, have the consultants revise the plan to make current failed practices look successful.

9. When BYOD is brought up, the CTO finds ways to change the conversation because his cronies don't want to mess with creating a separate, guest wireless network or worry about building up the infrastructure.

10. When the end users want to bring in iPads to meet critical needs for special education children (watch this video and make sure to have tissues handy), the CTO fails to organize his team to put together a deployment plan...or, alternatively, deploys iPads with no thought about mobile device management.

11. Although differentiated content filtering is possible, the CTO refuses to fund purchase of less-expensive solutions that provide finer grained control over content filtering because YouTube should continue to be blocked. (That way, the CTO doesn't have to meet with the community,)

12. The CTO makes a decision to implement an authentication security protocol to better track where people are going and what they are doing on the Internet, but doesn't tell anybody until after it's done, resulting in complaints from end users who don't know why they suddenly can't log in on their iOS devices.

Ok, those are some for fun. What would you add to the list of reasons—aside from the normal moral turpitude, illegal behavior stuff that's already covered in state-education-agency ethics, Board policy, and law—to fire CTOs in school districts?

Miguel Guhlin is director of technology for a 5A school district in Texas and past president of the statewide TCEA Technology Education Coordinators group. This blog is cross posted at Around the Corner.