We talk to George Washington University CIO David Steinour about how sysadmins can get their ideas listened to, recruitment and the value of mentors.

How can a lowly sysadmin get his ideas listened to?

I'm not looking for praise, and I don't want to negotiate through the politics of the organisation. I just think there are things we could be doing better. This is a problem felt by organisations everywhere, regardless of industry.

At George Washington University, the Division of IT works to confront it head-on by cultivating a culture of open communication. I have an open-door policy and actively invite feedback for every initiative. Additionally, we hold quarterly "Coffee and Conversation" gatherings with the CIO and deputy CIO, where employees can ask unedited questions and drive the agenda of the meeting. Managers are not present, giving staff members opportunities to freely articulate their ideas and engage in dialogue with higher levels of the organisation. A real team effort is required to tap into all of an organisation's skills, and these conversations have proved beneficial to everyone in the Division of IT.

What qualities have you sought in recent hires?

Recently, we have been hiring motivated, self-aware individuals who are dedicated to the mission and goals of the organisation. Our recent hires are motivated by what is best for their teams, the Division of IT and the university as a whole, rather than making decisions solely based on their personal interests. Finally, we have been focusing on hiring individuals who are willing to pay their dues in the organisation, rather than expecting to immediately rise to the top of the division.


Is there real value in having a mentor?

How do you go about finding one? There is real value in having mentors. They inspire us, discuss career paths and help us find ways to take our careers in the direction we choose. A goal-oriented person always has a mentor in some form or another. Several mentors have helped me get to where I am today, and the key was choosing trustworthy individuals with whom I could have open, real conversations. The most important message a mentor taught me was that one day I would need to choose between management and technology and eventually sacrifice one or the other, because one cannot succeed in both simultaneously.