Are you ready to make your next career move? Want to know how you can achieve escape velocity and get into the tech director orbit? Every other week, someone will ask me, “How do I begin my journey to becoming a technology director?” When I left the classroom, my goal was not to become a technology director. Rather, it was to learn what I needed to know. Every time I thought I knew enough, I would find out I did not. Then, I realized that I needed the authority and responsibility to advance teaching, learning and leading with technology. Why couldn’t the current technology director get the job done? Why did students and staff have to wait on time-sensitive solutions? These all motivated me to keep learning.
If you are on a similar journey, you may find the following tips useful. After reflecting on my journey, I’d like to share those insights. In this short blog entry, I’ll share some of what I’ve learned. The rest, you may need to discover on your own.
Did You Know?
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Planning for Success
You can divide the steps to success in myriad ways. Here are the steps as I see them:
- Achieve escape velocity
- Prepare well
- Distinguish between management and leadership
Let’s take a moment to review what each of these mean.
#1 – Achieve Escape Velocity
Are you familiar with the term, “escape velocity?” It popped into my head one sunny afternoon. A technology applications teacher was sitting in my air-conditioned portable building quizzing me. She asked, “How did you get to where you are?” The question took me back in time. I realized that my journey was completely different than what her’s. That said, it had some similarities. The first is that she would have to achieve escape velocity:
In physics, escape velocity is the least speed needed for an object to escape. Escape from what? Escape from the gravitational influence of a massive body. The escape velocity from Earth is about 11.186 km/s (6.951 mi/s; 40,270 km/h; 25,020 mph) at the surface.
When your boss, your organization thinks they know you so well that you have little more to offer, how do you escape? How do you achieve escape velocity? The truth is, you will have to leave. Instead of claiming the comfort and shelter of a familiar space, you will need to embark on a journey. And, as Bilbo Baggins told Frodo in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings:
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
That’s the truth. If you’re OK with that, then follow these steps:
- Be visible at the regional and state level (e.g. TCEA, ISTE, CoSN, TxDLA, ASCD/Texas ASCD, CAST)
- Build professional relationships, PLNs, PLCs
- Adopt a growth mindset
- Be able to discuss state/federal expectations
- Develop infinite capacity in these areas:
Consider this self-assessment for chief technology officers and staff. How do you measure up?
#2 – Prepare Well
Ready to go to your first interview? Before you say “Yes,” ask yourself about the following:
- Is there a roadmap to success that identifies best path, common roadblocks and detours?
- Do you have an eportfolio? That is, a digital portfolio that highlights your strengths? That identifies areas of growth? Each illustrated with real life examples from your experience?
- Have you aligned your skills, certifications, and experiences to the job announcement expectations? Do you know YOUR stuff?
This can be the challenge. You are going to spend a lot of time preparing for the job. While some people “luck into” the job because of the relationships they have, you will need to know your stuff. And, there is no quicker way to find out what you lack in experience than real-world situations. Get the experience before you start a new job.
Here are the ABCs of preparing well:
A- Build Your PLN
One way to start is to build your professional learning network (PLN). The toughest challenge isn’t keeping up with the technology. Rather, it is understanding how to leverage it for your organization. In the past, we faced limits. Now, learning isn’t restricted to a special event bound by time and place.
Our learning takes us beyond a meeting, or a conference or from 8:00 to 3:30 PM when school is in session. Today, we tap into a flow of conversation, a web-based learning ecology, that we can learn from 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
B- Seek Insight
Leaders often face a blind spot. Ask yourself how much you know about the real story compared to what your current leader does. Chances are, you have some operational details they would love to have but no one wants to tell them. You may want to read First Things First: A Technology Leader’s First Steps blog entry.
When you can’t gain insight, try to learn as much as you can. Refer to Wakelet collection for links to resources.
C- Learn All You Can, Then Practice It
Get free professional learning or low-cost online via YouTube and other sources. Some websites and resources include:
TCEA Certification Courses
TCEA PD Events
#3 – Management vs Leadership
The questions you start with determine where you end up. For example, you could ask the following:
- How do you bring about change in an organization that doesn’t want to change?
- How do you start and put in place projects to achieve success?
- How do you change policies and procedures, or work around them?
Or, you might ask, “How can I build relationships with everyone to increase the trust factor? How will othes perceive me when I deliver on my word and get things done in a strategic way? How can I have crucial conversations that build mutual purpose and respect?” These are all powerful questions to ask. You may end up answering all.
One of my favorite fables for leadership is Kotter’s Our Iceberg is Melting. Here’s a quick video overview:
This is an amazing fable with profound implications. Be sure to read the book.
Here’s a tip. When you have to exert top down authority that your organization has granted you, you’re done. Time to reflect on your mistakes, and begin again elsewhere.
You will need relationship smarts to navigate any number of roadblocks and challenges. If challenges were dances, your dance card would be full up. You must learn to dance with change and love it even when you get stepped on, kicked, or worse.
- Identifying Top Tech Priorities for the District
- Keeping Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and Metrics
- Establishing a service level agreement
- Formulating a policy that addresses infrastructure and equipment upgrades
- Crafting job descriptions for staff
- Tracking official documents like Texas ePlan
- Developing people’s awareness of the need and setting up a data warehouse
- Setting up or maintaining a phone system
- Planning for disaster recovery and business continuity
- Safeguarding Sensitive Data
- Managing social media for schools, district leaders
And this list only scratches the surface. What do you do when principals complain about tardy equipment deliveries? How do you tell the superintendent it’s the warehouse’s fault, not your technicians? It’s all about emotional intelligence, trust, and relationships. Management of complex projects is one thing. Leadership is another.
Ready to start?
Still motivated to pursue a technology director position? Your journey may be only beginning. Keep hold of your tenacity, determination, and lifelong learning ambition. You’ll need them.