I have now been at my “new” job at UW-Madison for almost 6 months! ** claps ** Today my supervisor and I had a meeting with someone who is just learning about what we do and we gave her the grand tour of our roles as facilitators. We went over a lot of information, and I realized that I have have learned a ton since starting in November. Not only do I have a lot more technical knowledge about research computing, I have a growing picture of the large-scale computing landscape (especially in academia) and the potential for more people like me to inhabit it.
Those pieces of the job have been relatively easy; it’s the more intangible practices and philosophies that have been hard to pin down and really embody in daily work. Two principles have become clear to me over the past six months and are currently written above my desk as daily reminders:
The second reminder may seem a bit paradoxical. My job is to help people with their problems - shouldn’t I be fixing things? Well, yes and no. I do want to help people fix their problems. But it’s very easy to walk down a road where I become so focused on fixing the problem, that my solution completely disregards the people involved, or what the best solution might be. It’s flipping a mental switch: instead of roadblocks to be blown away at will, user issues are road signs that can allow me to identify a system problem or redirect a confused researcher. They are there to guide a larger journey.
That said, the problem must be solved! (See the first reminder.) If a user-reported problem or issue is a sign on the road, then I have to figure out what it’s saying; not solving the problem is equivalent to ignoring a sign that may tell me about an upcoming missing bridge. Especially when other people are leaning on my expertise, I can’t just shrug my shoulders (or get blown off) when someone reports a problem.
I don’t think these facilitation principles are just for people in my role. That’s the next challenge - adopting these ideas into not just work, but other parts of life. The learning continues!