Tech leaders in the private sector might look to higher education for their round of talent recruits, but what about tech leaders working in higher education? How do the tech challenges of managing a diverse university campus look different from the tech challenges managing a diverse corporate network topology? Or do they look different?
This contrast is just a part of the many tech topics discussed in episode 23, when Brian Comerford and Nick Lozano are joined by special guest Bret Naber, a university CIO with clear insight into the importance of leadership, regardless of where in the tech industry you might be positioned.
Bret Naber is the Chief Information Officer and Assistant Vice President for the University of Northern Colorado. He currently manages the IT organization that includes Infrastructure services (Network, Backup/Recovery, Server), Data Management, ERP, Data Warehousing, Technology Acquisition, Software Development, Desktop Support, Classroom Audio/Visual Support, Project Management, Technology Support Services and Training. He also leads a Project Management Office and has implemented a variety of high profile projects for UNC. Projects include ERP Implementation, Organizational Design, and several major system acquisitions. He has provided leadership for UNC's President Leadership Committee and is the chair Colorado Higher Education Computing Organization that includes IT leadership from all of the Colorado Higher Education Institutions. He is also the Chair for the City of Greeley Broadband Committee. In his current position he oversees 74 employees and $13 million in budget. His education background includes a Bachelors degree in Computer Information Systems, Masters Degree in Education Technology and Master Certification in Six Sigma. He has also taken his skills and experiences to the classroom to teach top performing Business students at the Monfort College of Business. His passion for a challenge has led him to Ultra Distance Running. He has been part of several racing teams and crews for major events like the Leadville trail running 100.
2:34 Bret Naber Intro
18:27 Multi Generational Teams.
22:29 Technology in Higher Education
50:29 Recommended books
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Nick Lozano 0:06
So Brian, how you doing today? Awesome.
Brian Comerford 0:09
We had a great guest. And, you know, Bret Naber joined us and helped shed some perspective that I think was enlightening in that there's so much that's the same in terms of what he's challenged with and in higher education, technology leadership, as a lot of us who work in the private sector have had to wrestle with as well.
Nick Lozano 0:32
Ya know, and this was an interesting interview for me because I don't know anything from the higher education segment and technology other than when I went into college. And you know, your experiences, what registering for classes and, you know, someone gives you an email, that's like, it's not anything more than that. But you know, it's kind of interesting to see that, as we talked to people in all these different industries, the challenges are just kind of always the same and it always just kind of comes down to leadership, right?
Brian Comerford 1:01
It really does, you know, and something that resonated with me that Bret talked about, towards the end of our conversation today was it really boils down to impediment management and continuous learning. And, you know, I mean, that could be true across any segment of either leadership technology. I mean, you name it. It's to me that is, that's really what you know, our flavor of problem solving is all about.
Welcome to another edition of lead.exe, I'm Brian Comerford in Denver, Colorado.
Nick Lozano 1:43
And I'm Nick Lozano, Washington DC.
Brian Comerford 1:45
And today we're joined by special guest Bret Naber, who is the CIO of the University of Northern Colorado. So we're happy to welcome I think our first guests that we've had that is really operating in the technical domain. Main in the higher education field, so interesting to talk with you and explore some of the challenges that you may face that look a little bit different than what folks in the traditional corporate world maybe wrestling with.
Bret Naber 2:16
Great. I'm glad to glad to be here, and I'm looking forward to talking.
Nick Lozano 2:21
All right, welcome, welcome.
Brian Comerford 2:22
Yeah. Thanks for joining us. Well, give us a little bit of a background about yourself, what legend technology and how did that then bridge into higher education?
Bret Naber 2:34
Yeah, sure. So, yeah, my background is kind of interesting. I had a really good earth science teacher when I was in high school. And I thought for sure that's that was the field I wanted to go into. And so I started out as a geologist, and my first two years in college, I studied, you know, Earth Sciences. And I thought, Man, this is this is what I want to do. I love this stuff. And it was concrete. And you know, there were rules and I sort of understood how that all worked and and about my junior year at had to take a career services class and I had to look at all the people in the field and what they were doing. And at the time, unlike probably now, all of those geologists were in between jobs and they were trying to find work and they were traveling all over and going to remote places and, and I recognize that that wasn't really what I wanted to do. About that time I saw a position had opened up in our at the, at the university for someone basically taking care of operations, just loading tapes and doing various things on a on a data platform. And so I applied for that job, I went in, a guy had already come in and right before me and they decided he was the person they were looking for, and they hired him. And I was really disappointed. I said, You know, I you know, I really want to do this job. And they said, Well, this this particular person's a student athlete and, and he might need some help. So you know, if you want to work one or two hours, maybe you can work into something well, I did that and very quickly. They need more help. And so I covered that shift and I learned about everything I needed to do and as I kind of got used to I started to see what other people were doing. And there was a guy who would cover a night shift all the time. And I said, Well, I want to know, I want to know how to do what they're doing, because my boss would, you know, I'd come in in the morning to cover a shift, and he would have worked all night. And I said, Surely there's something I could do to help. And he eventually taught me how to cover that night shift. Well, then that turned into covering the night shift. And then I wanted to do some programming because I saw programmers and so I quickly changed my major to to computer information systems and found that I problem solving desires were really met with with getting into it. And so you know, it's like, you had a programming challenge, and you could sit there for three hours and get stuck on something and then you could walk away and then it would click and you come back and you get it done in 10 minutes, and there's something about it that I really liked. And then I started to actually see the things I was learning in class actually happening at work and so, you know, working as a student employee and an IT department was wonderful and I was studying You know, it stuff at night. You know, when I'll get going out cover that night shift. And very quickly, they gave me a programming project and I put together something and that went really well. And at the time, and this isn't all that long ago COBOL became really popular. It was or not didn't become popular, but it was it was what they were using, and I needed to learn it. And so it taught me cobalt and I had this new, you know, object oriented programming and I had COBOL and I was able to sort of mix the two worlds together and so it really was this perfect you know, timing and marriage of, of kind of older it technology and new kind of object oriented and even at the time thinking about doing things in a more agile that was really starting to get popular so they had the waterfall method and I was like well this agile the sprints and stuff that was a new concept and it all really worked out and so I've been a UNC now for what the campus student years, you know, 22 years and, and you know, kind of went up through the programming ranks and became an assistant Director and the director and then they did a nationwide search and I became the CIO. It'll be going on six years ago. And so along that way, I finished my bachelor's degree and then went back and got a master's degree in educational technology. And, and that's, that's how I got here. So pretty interesting. I thought I would leave really a long, long time ago, I grew up in this town where UNC is and thought for sure, I would go off and here I am. Great.
Brian Comerford 6:33
Well, that's that is a fascinating journey. And, you know, it's, it's, you've gotten a lot of places even though you've stayed in one place, right? So to say,
Bret Naber 6:43
Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, it's interesting because you you work with people and then and then you become a supervisor. And so you have all of these relationships you built, but you built built them as a peer. And then when you become a supervisor, you know, that's a really interesting, you know, thing to work through, you know, from the psychological impact or you know, just trying to, you know, you've you've got a different type of relationship than when you just step in and you're the boss, you know, and it's like, Okay, well, this, this person works for you. It's like, you know, I've always had this opportunity to be working with people, you know, they're not working for me, we're working together. And I think that's really helped me develop my leadership style, because I never really, it's always it's a, you know, a collective piece of work, you know, and, and, you know, we'd like to, we'd like to thank we're, we're kind of a weak matrix organization where we kind of use the resources we need, we kind of pull people in when we need them. And it's not really so hierarchical. I mean, there's certainly, you know, there's our charts and they're hierarchical, and there's a president and a provost and you know, there's the whole whole organization, but generally speaking, when you need that subject matter expert, you go to them, and that's who you use, and so that that can make things really productive. And, and that can be some of the fun of higher education, not to mention that we can, I can also go for a run at lunch and run with geologist or I can run with you know, and, you know, I can run into somebody in the hallway, that's a chemist, you know, and it's fun because you just you getting so many different types of personalities and exposure to things and different ways of thinking about, you know, problem solving.
Brian Comerford 8:18
That is cool, that is way different than I think what most of us experience in a more corporate environment. I work with a lot of the same types of roles and types of probably about only about half a dozen different, you know, variations of roles in the organization that we're in, and so it doesn't have quite the swing of diversity that you just described.
Bret Naber 8:43
Yeah. One of the leads to you know, I mean, different types of problem solving, you know, if they think they need a piece of software, you know, an open source piece of software in a lab and and, you know, maybe we can, you know, contractually find a common ground and they want to use that and we're trying to, you know, solve problems on the fly. For things like that, and then I think people also forget about, you know, universities or businesses. So I mean, we have an HR system, we have a payroll system, we, you know, we disperse financial aid to students, I mean, and so there's, you know, there's everything that a business normally has. And so the IT department really has a has a lot of diversity just within itself, you know, because you have people helping the computer lab, but you also I also have a programmer who's in charge of making sure the acth files, you know, make it to the bank and people get paid. And so, you know, you really have you have a lot of diversity in that respect to and I think the people that stick around and higher education, it It's because you get such a variety of projects, I mean, you might be working on a VM, you know, some sort of, you know, project and then you you swing over and you're doing you know, something completely different helping somebody with a grant maybe. And so there's, there's, you get a lot of different types of projects, we very seldom have like that like kind of super specialist. I mean, there's places where it's sort of necessary like a database administrator or a network engineer, you need that expertise, but a lot of other people their general and then sometimes it even leads to challenges when we're trying to figure out our organization because there's so many similar jobs even though they're in, they report to different people. And it's like, well, these things really are the same, but you report up through, you know, different part of the organization. And so, we're centralized, but we still have, you know, we almost have 70 employees, and our IT departments. Again, there's a lot of diversity. So, that's a large group. Yeah. And how many of those are they all full time employees? Or is it a mix of students and full time we do have students and we mix them in, you know, wherever their expertise, I mean, every once in a while, we'll come across some students who have kind of a programming background and we'll try to plug them in, in those kinds of jobs. But we have we also have the jobs that are, you know, sort of take care of a computer lab, they're real passive kind of jobs. You know, we really we hire people, a lot of times that are taking Support Center. So they'll start on phones, answering questions, and then if they, you know, if they want to continue to do that, you know, and and what's interesting about that is those aren't it people all the time, and we had, we had people that were, you know, nursing majors and and actually, you know, we get them in and they would start doing things and then we'd find that they had a programming or they had some sort of, like, you know, they had that logic base that it people have, and you'd be like, are you sure you want to be a nurse? Like, you know, you might, you might be really good at this job. And so it's really interesting in that respect to as you get some people with different backgrounds, you know, we have communications majors was obviously, you know, are very helpful, but they, they get on and, you know, and sometimes we move them around and our support services like doing desktop support stuff, that's usually kind of the logical next step. But if they start wanting to do script things, and you know, do some programming, and we sort of move in that direction, or we even had we had a student who had a kind of a database, desire and they wanted to go into that will for anyone who works in it? hiring database administrators difficult and we don't have, you know, significant pool and really a database administrator. So when we have somebody who has an interest in that will give them the training, you know, that they need and try to sort of grow our own we talked about and we've had a lot of success doing that we have, I would say probably 30 to 40% of our employees were students probably at one time, or at least, you know, when And so yeah, it's, that's, that's kind of a fun pipeline to have. We, we rely on it heavily. I mean, I was an example of it. And actually, my two direct reports that are directors, they, they did the same thing they kind of worked up through through as a student so that that makes it you know, that's, we all have this sort of vested interest sounds like we work for a co op. It's like we want you know, we want this place to be successful. And it kind of comes from growing up in the in the organization.
Brian Comerford 12:55
That's cool. So for listeners who aren't familiar with Colorado, talk a little bit about the The size of Greeley and is human see really sort of like the main employer? Or what are the what are the various?
Bret Naber 13:09
Yeah, so green is a really interesting town. It was largely ag town and had a huge map meatpacking plant. And so that was really what really was was known for it was manford at the time, but thank you and became conagra. And now is some acronym I can't remember. But that was really what the city was sort of built on. But UNC has been here since the late 1800s. And it was a teaching school was called the normal school. And, you know, it's it's been here the whole time, the greenlees been here and it's always been an interesting relationship for the city. And a lot of ways I don't think really embraces the university, but it's been here and it's, it's, it's, you know, 13,000 students is roughly what we have right now. And when it's all said and done about 3000 employees, that's counting student employees and That is, you know, it's a it's a relatively large chunk of the population of Greeley. I think we're just a little bit over 100,000 people, and we're one of the fastest growing cities right now. Mostly because of the oil business. So, in the last, I would say probably four or five years, the oil business has just boomed and well county is the largest county in Colorado. And there are lots of places to put oil rigs and and you see them because they're, it's it's really taken over and so the population is booming, you know, restaurants are finally coming to town and you know, it's it's really it's are the town's really growing and the infrastructure the road systems are, you know, are suffering it's hard to come in and out of Greeley now it's become you know, very very busy. But it's it's good to and and the oil business has brought in different types of people. So you have you still have the agriculture piece of Greeley and now you have the oil piece and then you have the you know how UMC and then obviously the services for all these businesses are growing really fast, too. So.
Nick Lozano 15:07
Wow. So that's, um, you know, it almost sounds like when you described this as it's like your lean startup, right? Yeah, you have so many people who do all kinds of things and help out in some capacity to try to help them make the team better. But I imagine because this is a world that I don't know, managing, but what type of challenges are there when you bring on, you know, like, student employee, I mean, because that's not a traditional relationship that you'd have where it's a full time employee, you know, where you're investing in them because they might stay here longer. It's just a different dynamic. So what type of challenges do you face with?
Bret Naber 15:46
Yeah, so it's trust, it's a lot of trust. I mean, the the things that we might put in their hands. You know, it takes us a while to get to a place where we feel comfortable. So, you know, we take care of a lot of student information and that student information And, you know, includes, you know, a lot of private data and, and trying to you know, for for somebody who's going to maybe go into the programming side, we have to have a lot of confidence that that person is going to handle that the right way. They also, you know, they're interfacing with faculty members and they're in, they're coming in contact with with a lot of information and, and seeing, you know, kind of behind the curtains of a lot of the the business side of higher education. And so you can, you know, you we get a really good opportunity to sort of try them out and and, you know, working them through the Support Center, we can see, you know, how interested they actually are in a, you know, are they going to, are they going to show up on time, you have the same problems you have with any employee who may be a little less mature, you know, are they going to show up to work on time, all the time, and, you know, we get to work through all those problems. And then once we know that they're, they're committed and they want to do something, we start kind of handing them off, you know, more and more stuff. And we have some employees who, you know, are, who take on so much work and they and they need Help. And so you know, if we can pair them up with a good student employee and the student employee can take offload some of the work, you know that that's a good opportunity for them. And it works well for us, you know, trying to have a good onboarding and try to educate the students and have, you know, documentation. I mean, that's, that is part of it. You know, I think in some ways, I wish we would do better at that, because obviously, you have students coming on. But a lot of times, we really look for those students that are in their freshman or sophomore year, try to get them here, find out that they're good, and then we can keep them for two or three years. And then sometimes even longer than that, if it works out. So it's really building that trust up. And, you know, most of the time, you know, the student has some vested interest to I mean, on their resume, you know, working with enterprise team, you know, is a really good thing to have in the resume and we had a couple people. We have a chief information security officer that reports to me, and he's done a really good job of hiring students and those students are going off and getting great jobs because they Having all kinds of experience, you know, they're doing awareness campaigns or they're, you know, they're they're maybe looking at the intrusion prevention system and you know, looking at logs and doing some stuff that's like real life experience. And then they can go off into the into the work field, and then jump right into a job where you needed some expertise or some experience. So usually, it's it's a good it's a mutually beneficial relationship. Most of the time.
Nick Lozano 18:27
Very cool on in, you know, it sounds like to me, you have a very diverse generational team, right? You know, you probably have a lot of, you know, a lot of college students are normally younger, not always right. Some people decide to go to college later in life. And, you know, the craziest degree here lately is the M or the millennial, right? And now we have Gen Z, and we hear all these things that you know, they just want to know what they're working for. They want to know what they're doing that has a cause behind it, right. What's the motivation I always joke I'm like, that's just what everybody wants, right? It's not about millennial or Gen Z thing? Yeah. But you know what, in your experience yet, you know, leading these multigenerational teams, you know, have you picked up any skills that you found are like must haves in doing that, or any good tidbits for other people to know?
Bret Naber 19:19
You know, I it certainly is a difference. I mean, there's a difference in generations and expectations. You know, one of the things that I've, that I had seen more recently was, you know, there was a little higher expectation when a student employee would start that they would get put on some, some really interesting projects. And, and as I was saying, before, you know, there's sort of a trust element, right? It's like, you know, are you going to be going to be here? Are you going to be a good employee? Can I trust you can you follow through and, and you have to build that up and it doesn't just, it doesn't come in two weeks of coming to work on time. It comes in, you know, months of experiences and building that relationship up. And what I would find is that there was a lot more likely When you're going to give me that really cool project, that really cool web development project to work on. And, you know, frankly, I have full time employees who want to do that. And that's the kind of thing that enriches their job. And so I can just offload all those interesting projects to the the student employee who's, you know, maybe they're awesome. But but there's sort of a balance there. Right. And so, it's setting some expectations, you know, for both parties and saying, you know, I'm going to need you to do some, some hard work, you know, up front, you know, I mean, there's, there's students who have worked on the wiring committee and there you know, there are wiring wiring team, they're crawling through tunnels and, you know, doing all kinds of really hard labor work, and sometimes that's how they, they sort of have to earn their, their way through. They're not just going to get a sit down and start programming the firewall. That's what they think that's what they should have. And so it's really setting expectations and and trying to make sure that they, they understand that and some of them don't, you know, we had a project where had a student who we had lost some information. We had some corrupted files. And we basically needed like 10,000. Camera exactly what it was is some sort of student information we needed him rescanned in. And so I said, I know this isn't what you want, but I need you to scan 10,000 things in and index them. And, you know, he kind of took it and walked out of the room. And then, you know, the next day came in and he said, This isn't what I came to. This isn't what I was planning on working on, this isn't what I wanted to do. So sometimes this is the kind of stuff you would have to do and then, you know, once once, something else comes along, will give it to you and he was so disappointed about that and he was upset and we eventually decided well, then you need to move along. And, and, you know, that's that's what happens. So, you know, I think with any employee, whether it's a younger employee, or somebody who's been in the field, I think it's it's coming Its expectations, you know, having a good open line of communication, you know, trying to, you know, share as much information as you can to help them you know, be successful. It's always the the Simon scenic why I mean, that's, you can't beat that, right? I mean, that's, that's one piece of that's the rock. If you can build that and most of the time you should be able to do that
then they should come along and be able to help you out. That's great
Brian Comerford 22:29
universal truth there for you know, any industry that you're working in with technology. In particular, I think the you know, mental preparedness, that Nick and I were just joking about this podcast we were on earlier this week, where you know, Nick's changed his job title to janitor on on LinkedIn, but they're
Nick Lozano 22:52
there I have Yes,
Brian Comerford 22:54
there is this tendency, you know, for a very custodial expectation of are in tech. And so sometimes you end up with things that come across your desk, where you really find yourself questioning what in the world is somebody thinking that this is actually my responsibility, but you start to deconstruct, you know, it's, it's what you heard here referred to sometimes as the curse of competency, right? You've proven yourself so many different times that folks just have the confidence that you can actually get it done. And, you know, it tends to be the nasty or the wet clean up, the more likely it is it's into it, right?
Bret Naber 23:35
That's true. And even, you know, even within it, I mean, I see this get carried out a lot. It's, yeah, the better you are, the more you take on and and then the problem is on the other side of it is, you know, when you're not doing a good job, and you're not competent, and these things aren't happening, we start taking things away from those people. And it's unfortunate because, you know, how do you build that balance? And I think that's probably one of the most challenging things I see is that you know, high performing employees Absolutely. Not only capable of doing more work, but you just you naturally give them more work and more things that are, you know, high profile. And, you know, really trying to figure out how do you how do you manage those expectations for those other folks who, you know, for one reason or another aren't, aren't as successful, you know, is it? Is it training? Is it you know, what, what is it that you need to sort of help them with, and sometimes they're just just not as motivated, right? I mean, it's just, you could try to find that motivation, but some people, you know, they want to clock in and clock out and, and go home, and they're, and they're content with that. I mean, I've really found that in the IT field, you know, there are people in there, you know, there used to be these traditional operations positions, you know, you'd open up a manual, it would say, this is what you need to do, and you know, and you do these things, and you do it in this order, and some people really like to do that. Come in, and they would do that and then their day would be over and they do it again the next day. And they were content with that. It's hard for me to imagine that go crazy. There, really there is a A place for that. And I think in some respects in it, you have some people gravitate towards that they want that work. And what happens is, as technology starts to shift, and that operations job, for instance, sort of dries up, what do you do with those folks? You know, now, I mean, you know, now the skill set that I'm looking for, is is more front facing and being able to communicate with the end user and gather needs and, and, you know, really get to the bottom of a problem. I don't need a code cutter sitting in the back office, you know, just, you know, plugging away coming up with brilliant code, I just don't need that as often. And now I really need that person who is quick on their feet, you know, is thinking of, you know, problem solving and, and that sort of thing. And so some of those kind of traditional operation, type it folks. It I think they're struggling. I think they're struggling to adapt. And I think that's, like I said, I think that's one of the challenges that you know, we're faced with and I don't think that's necessarily just a higher ed problem. I think it all together, but I'm not sure what The solution is that I'm still learning.
Nick Lozano 26:03
Yeah, I would say for me that's, that's even happening in the private sector, right? We saw, it kind of started with the email with things moving to the cloud. And people were death holding on to their Exchange servers. Like, why do you want to manage that? Like, nothing to like, get your anxiety up and managing an exchange server? Nobody wants to do that. And I think you touched on it very well is that you know, as much as we want to say the soft skills, right, these emotional intelligence or things, these are becoming more important, I feel like in the technology field, even on the lowest level of tech support level, right, they're almost like customer service representatives front line for for your IT department, they need to be able to talk to people when they're calling tech support, probably they're frustrated with something and the person on the other side needs to be helpful. So I mean, in especially you you're you have students, you know, your people who might not have worked in a job before, how do you bring them along and kind of show them you know, like some of these Emotional Intelligence skills like you know, like empathy, and less and listening, active listening, is there. Is there any thing you like?
Unknown Speaker 27:09
Nick Lozano 27:11
that's a really tough, and especially for you, because you came up through at one time to from being the student all the way up to the CIO. So I feel like when you suggest things that comes with a little bit more clout to people that are below you, yeah, they're willing to listen to you because you've done it.
Bret Naber 27:25
You know, I struggle with this one. Because I often wonder if it is something you can train someone, you know, I think it's sort of an inherent characteristic that someone has, I think, I think if anything, you're sort of, I don't wanna say weeding it out. But you're, you're sort of those people who have that skill set are excelling through the organization, the other ones aren't. And and you can, you can do so much. I mean, you can try to teach someone how to communicate better and I've struggled with a few employees who you know, like you You need to get this message out to tell people that the system's down and they can be dedication that goes out is, is so, so direct and technical, that people don't, they don't understand what what it really means. And I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. I can give it to someone else. And it's like, they write this, this beautiful, you know, paragraph that, you know, gives everybody this sense of ease. And, and there's nothing that I could do to sort of teach that it just, they just, it just came to them. Right. And so I don't know, I don't I worry that that's not something you can absolutely train. I mean, you could definitely cultivate it, right? I mean, if you think somebody has that skill set, you could, you could help them develop it and make it better, right, you could give them some training about how to how to communicate it better or or, you know, put it in a certain format. But But I don't know if you can take somebody who doesn't have it in and get them there. I mean, I think I've tried that a little bit and, and it's it gets back to you know, at some point you have to take some of your employees and go this is the this is your strength and I'm going to use it as best I can. And I'm going to try to make these other things that maybe could be better. And I try to help you along. But I know that you're never going to be that thing. We got really excited about project management, this is a really good example of this, we got really, really excited about project management. And I can say that I got excited about it too. And we thought, why can't everybody be a project manager, you got, you know, you could have 67 project managers, right. And so we started really kind of pushing that down into the organization saying everybody's going to follow this kind of kind of a PMI kind of framework. And, you know, if they had a desire to do some agile, that was fine, too, is really that you're going to be project managers. And we really started to kind of farm that out to people. And lo and behold, as made maybe it's not a surprise to you, not everybody's a project manager. people accountable. You know, it's, you know, some of us it just sort of comes natural. You have this objective, it's got to be done in X amount of time and I'm going to come and see you and that's about when that time is about to come. And and people just didn't like to do it and they didn't like to hold you accountable, they didn't want to have these meetings every week where they had to talk to a bunch of people and, and we really learned we had to kind of pull that back in and go. But the one thing it did for us though, is when we pushed it out, we found out the people who did like to do it, and kind of held onto a few of those folks and said, Okay, we're gonna, we're gonna ask you to do more of this, because I think, you know, working across the organization, and, you know, if you're a network engineer, and in most the time, we would do more kind of the senior management layer, you know, for them to reach across the organization until a database administrator that they've got to get something done by next Wednesday. You know, I mean, everybody's nice to each other. But at the end of the day, you know, what's their priority really, ministers, like, I already had 100 things to do. And now this network engineers asking me to get this thing done by a certain time and and what we found is that just that didn't work that well, right, and so you almost have to have a certain amount of leadership, organizational hierarchy to to have authority to get that thing done. And so that's where I feel like the kind of the matrix sort of falls down is that when you're when you when you're taxing resources that are already at capacity, they're going to, they're going to gravitate towards the thing that they like to do the thing that they their job, you know, if they're database administrator, they're not going to go out of their way to sort of help this other project along. And so we've had to really tune that and try to, we actually formed a project management office to sort of identify the resources and make sure they actually had enough time to help with the projects instead of just going well, I have a project to do this thing and I need a DBA. And this is the DBA I like to work with and I'll just, you know, tap on their shoulder and get their time. just doesn't work that way.
Brian Comerford 31:38
You've covered a lot of ground there. I want to back up a couple of questions. Yeah. Love it. And great insights. You know, I appreciate you sharing all those things. You know, you touched early on, on that more customer facing sort of role where you've got someone that I would qualify is more of a business analyst type or a BSA. And, you know, I think, you know, so I, I got my master's degree about 15 years ago. And mine is an interdisciplinary degree between math and computer science, art and design communications, right. And the intent at that time was really extending kind of what Steve Jobs talked about with that intersection of technology and liberal arts. Right? That that's, that's that generalist kind of mentality where you're able to bring all those things together and navigate all that. It's interesting to me that you bring that up, because my current organization, we've had a lot of those types of conversations, where that is exactly the role that is the most needed particularly as we're trying to advance how we're creating greater efficiencies for folks within our business units. Because you really need someone who can go out and just speak English and have good business Side manner with people who are trying to get work done, and they're not going to speak in technical terms. But you have to also have the mindset where you understand how to interpret some of the things that are being told to you and serve a requirements gathering exercise, so that you can go back and then you can sit down with the technology team, and really explain, you know, these are the things that they're looking for. And they kind of need it in this way. And, you know, it's interesting that that kind of led into the project management topic, because I think, you know, to me that that hybrid of BSA and pm has really become one of those crucial roles, where you know, now not only have you been able to gather all that information and share it between a couple of these different demographics, but you can also rapidly prototype some things and just say, you know, okay, go back to your end users and is a kind of this you know, is this what we're talking about is this Norway on the right track here and be able to do those things in more iterative sprints so that it's not all right, we heard you and we went, we built all this cool stuff. Isn't that great? And the person that does, it's like, well, no, I, I just needed to do this thing. completely misunderstood.
Nick Lozano 34:15
Sorry, that's not on the waterfall method. We'll get back to that when we go back to the students. Yeah.
Brian Comerford 34:24
You know, so, you know, I find a lot of value, you know, as a certified Scrum Master myself. I mean, agility is one of those things that has been part of my process. And, you know, part of what you touched on breath that resonated with me is, you know, how do you find that right? qualification for the project manager type. Because, yeah, everyone, everyone can manage projects now, how they're managed. those projects, you know, could be a bit speculative. One of one of the folks that we helped sort of groom Was someone who came from a systems administration background, but really had sort of a high EQ, asked great diagnostic questions and was very organized. And you just see the interaction within the team. And that's, well, I know you're going to do that. But have you thought about the order of precedence in these things? And really, that should happen first. And there's a dependency here and, you know, and all of a sudden, it's like, that is the project. Sure, that that we need, and then really ever thought about it, you know, so from a talent cultivation perspective, I'm kind of curious, you know, is that part of your approach? I mean, do you just kind of, you learn where the talent can be developed in a certain direction just by that kind of interaction and observation?
Bret Naber 35:48
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we would see people on projects, and they would have, they would have just like you described, they would just sort of see this is the order that things need to happen and, and they would sort of be able to sort of break things down. And kind of decompose a problem in such a way that it was it was either digestible or was, you know that you could kind of spin it both directions, you could explain it to the end user, but you could also go to the technical team, and sort of describe what needed to happen. And in I can think of one particular example where I had, I had someone like that, and very quickly, we were like, Oh, we have a special person, we have a unicorn, we thought we've got a unicorn. And, and we've got to do something about it. And, you know, the, the one one thing I get challenged with on these is you find a unicorn, and then you, you know, you either want to put a saddle on the unicorn or you want to, you know, or you want to give them a lot of things to take care of. And we found that, you know, we built a business analyst unit, because we were having more and more needs in this direction. So, you know, trying to streamline something trying to, you know, workflow it or or just make it more efficient. We had a lot of work in that space. And it wasn't necessarily, you know, dictated by what technology was like, there's part of the RP Well, it was still sort of, you know, making the business process better. And so we had a we had, like I said, a unicorn, and and we put them in that position as a as a manager and decided, you know, hopefully, they will, they will bring along some people just like them and teach them, you know, that skill set again, it was a very natural thing, it was like we identified it, and we're like, well, this person has it. And we put him on that on that team. And he's done a wonderful job. And he really he had that skill set. And he was able to, you know, jump into projects and find out, you know, here's what the problem is and, and again, just sort of work with the end user. And then also go back to the programming unit and say, here, this is what needs to happen. The challenge that we've run into with those business analyst type folks and their their project managers to write is that they get involved in these things and then they drive them to the finish line. And then we don't really have a good system to put them back into operations the so if they implement a project, now that piece of software, you know, is out and it's live, whether the subject matter expert and everybody wants to go back to them. Wonderful to work with the end users love those unicorns. And you know, they, they think that they're the best person in the world. And they don't want you to hand that project off to somebody else. And so now that business analyst, you know, for us has too many too many systems to maintain. And so we're really working on kind of farming that work back out. But that that was one of those things. It's like, you get those business analysts involved. And they very quickly understand the business element of the of the system. And the technical element, you know, they understand the data feed behind the scenes that makes it all work. And then they also understand, oh, well, this, this particular thing happens this time of year, you know, and so they just, they just understand all those pieces and how they go together. It's invaluable. Yeah. I mean, we could, I mean, the more of those we had, the more problems we could solve. I mean, it just, it's, it's it, but those people are rare. Very, very rare.
Brian Comerford 38:53
Yeah. I think that knowledge transfer that you just described, you know it, it has its own methodology to it in order To be effective, and it can take longer than, you know, probably what we think of in terms of typical project mop up, you know, you get to the end, you've completed delivery, your documentations done, you know, you've transferred, whatever, you know, maintenance and support needs to be aware of. But all of those soft touch elements that you're describing, you know, it's, it's sort of, you know, what is the nature of this thing that is beyond just the technical components? And how does that then get, you know, imbued in the knowledge transfer effectively, part of part of where we've seen that happen, because you can't, you know, make someone over capacity and, you know, now that you've created something cool, a little piece of your time goes away forever, right? You can't really do that. And so, you know, typically what happens is that, you know, it's sort of a slow motion disentanglement over maybe a six or 12 month period, it's all longer duration then you would kind of hope for and in my experience, sometimes it's, you know, whatever the length of actually delivering the project was, it's kind of an equal part on the other side, you know, Yeah, go ahead. And that can be tough, especially if you're a lean organization.
Bret Naber 40:17
Well, a lot of times, they don't make it easier for you, they don't want to let go of it, you know, they put all this time and energy into it, and now they kind of want to retain it. And I think that's another, you know, challenge that we find is, you know, people hold on to those things, right. I mean, I, it people, I think have some inherent, you know, hoarding characteristic, you know, and they can't help themselves and they, you know, they put their time and energy and their, I mean, it people don't give up their stuff easy at all. Yeah, you know, that's, that's their, that's the thing that made them valuable, right. And they want to hold on to that. And that's a really hard thing to sort of untie to, you know, to get someone to realize there are more things you can get involved in, I know you've taken care of this particular system, but now you've got to hand that off. You need to delegate it I you know, we have a lot of work managers, and the biggest challenges, you know, their time is getting, you know, taken by the systems that they maintain, because whatever happened, you know, it's an upgrade, it's it's whatever, they start spending time on that, and then it's taking away from the time that, you know, they should be developing their employees. But it's nice to have a working manager too, because they can basically jump in that seat, I was talking about them as sort of CO pilots, right, it's like, you know, you want to have a co pilot, because if that pilots gone, you know, they're going to be able to fly the plane. So you take a database administrating administrator, you know, my, our manager of our database unit, he needs to be able to understand how all those databases work, or at least log onto them and be able to do some amount of work. I can't have them just be a manager and just say, hey, did that database get backed up last night or whatever, they've got a really they've got to kind of know how to do that job. So finding that balance of that working manager versus you know, just strictly manager. That's that's another you know, fine line to travel and Those business analyst people are kind of good at all of those things. But they, I think they do gravitate toward solving problems and solving problems isn't. It's not personnel problems often, you know, they want to solve technical problems.
Nick Lozano 42:15
Okay, delegation is always always a tough thing for everybody, right? Especially as it people, we, we kind of love our projects and then want to hold on to them. For me, I'm like, get this thing away from me. I don't want anything to do with it anymore. That comes with something new and cool. Like, I want to do something new and cool. I don't want to manage this exchange server anymore.
Brian Comerford 42:36
That's right, the finding yourself increasingly useless, because you've let go of so much that now all you have to do is be an upper man.
Bret Naber 42:44
Right? Yeah, there's that line that you cross and I remember thinking about it a lot when I was in a certain position and, and the director came in and said, You know, I'm going to take away all of your admin access, because every time I come in to see you You're doing programming and, and I remember going home that night and thinking I'm going to have to, I'm gonna have to make the jump, I'm gonna have to, I'm gonna have to go and I'm gonna have to let those technical skills, you know, fall. And I'm going to have to just hope that this management thing works out
Brian Comerford 43:20
six years and I think you're doing okay.
Bret Naber 43:22
Yeah, so far so good.
Nick Lozano 43:26
I feel like with a good technology people, there's always that leap, right? You got to make the decision, are you going to go into management? Or are you going to stay down on the technical level and cut your technical chops, either further into something which some people are perfectly fine with that not moving up any further than they are? And that's, you know, it's great. We need those people to
Bret Naber 43:44
absolutely, we think about that a lot, you know, and in, in thinking about how the IT industry is sort of evolving to I mean, one of the things that I'm finding interesting is that those technical folks, I mean, you really like when you talk about pay, I mean those technical folks in a lot of ways, you know, Need more funding than then maybe even your managers do. I mean, they they have a skill set and so unique and, and trying to sort of build that up. because traditionally it's like, well, you want that next step, you know, we're going to make you a manager, right? I mean, I think it field talks about that a lot that you sort of get you rise to that level of incompetence, right, it's like you just keep getting up until you're doing something that you're not good at. And you really have to be careful to do that. But a lot of times in order to get people to pay to get them to stay, you find yourself doing that. And I think that's that's something you know, we're faced with and I think the IT field generally sees that got to be really careful. You also don't want to take your technical skill out of the workforce and make them a manager when they were really doing a lot of technical work. So
that's an that's another really tough challenge for sure.
Nick Lozano 44:49
So So how are you solving that challenge? Are you like, do you have like a mentoring program or anything to help identify, you know, these individuals who either want to move up or or kind of want to Stay in the technical role.
Bret Naber 45:01
Yeah, I mean, we're, I think we're really in touch with our staff. And I've kind of found where there's people who, you know, have a skill set, and they want to continue to develop that. And they're not interested in management, from from my side of the house and being sort of the administrator of the unit. It's trying to figure out if there are sort of steps in in both directions, right. It's like, you know, if you're going to continue to build and, you know, let's let's pick on a network engineer, if you're going to continue to get these Cisco certifications or whatever, you know, is there a path for you to continue to, to grow professionally, and and get, you know, and have us pay you appropriately? And have you go down that road as opposed to, you know, you going down that manager side, and on the other end of the spectrum is, you know, if I have somebody who really wants to sort of be a manager and wants to be in charge of doing things and maybe doing some project management, you know, do I have a path for them, and and trying to develop that and for us working within the state, classified system, for instance. There's a lot of things that get in our way and so we You know, half of our staff is sort of a contract employee and the other half is a state classified employee. And, and so we have to really work through those rules, but it's something I spend a lot of time on and making sure that we're, we're, you know, in the right ballpark for PE and making sure that, you know, professional development is something that I think we we, in higher education, do a relatively good job at, because obviously, we're seeing education all the time, and we know what the value is, and there seems to be an inherent understanding that we need to make sure our IT folks have the professional development that they need, and then we make sure that people are using it. And so that's, that helps a bunch because we don't all we can't be the highest paid employer. I mean, that if people want to make more money, they can simply drive 60 miles to Denver. I mean, there's there's, I have no competition for that I that's that's the reality. I mean, they may have some more windshield time and they have to deal with that. But there are there are opportunities and Education and just government jobs, they just don't pay as well as private, generally speaking. And so there's a balance. And one of the things I think that we provide is, you know, flexible work and professional development. So, you know, as far as the mentoring goes, getting back to your original question, you know, we've played around with some amalgamation teams where we put put people in different skill sets together and and what I think we found was that they actually just like to get to know each other better. And occasionally, they would find something that somebody was doing and they would, you know, maybe want to learn more about that and give us some good cross training opportunities. But we're going to try something actually this this spring, to have some level down meetings where we kind of mix in some of the managers with some of the staff lower in the organization and try to maybe develop some of those relationships. Always trying to find new ways to to get involved and have those contact points.
Nick Lozano 47:58
Very good stuff. I think Constant Contact The key was that even if you don't have a mentoring program, right, just walking around talking to your people, yeah, every day. Yeah,
Brian Comerford 48:05
yeah. Right, you clearly have a mind that's well suited for an academic environment
you're wanting to keep up with for sure. It's It's ironic that you and I had run into each other in Arizona to be able to come back and have a conversation in Colorado.
Bret Naber 48:27
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And that's, you know, that was kind of actually exactly the reason I did something outside of higher education. I, I get involved in a lot of higher education conversations. And I was finding that you know, it's we all had the same problems and we're complaining about the same things and I was just was starting to worry that, you know, I just didn't have enough you know, outside perspective and that was really holding us back and you know, it we all have the budget problems. We all generally work with the same vendors and it was really good to go to that conference in particular because I think it was helpful for me to see that everybody was sort of struggling with the DRP going to the cloud, I thought that we were kind of behind, you know, we were. And we were struggling to make that transition and trying to figure out what to do and how that was going to go on. And then kind of seeing all the private sector people having exactly the same problem everywhere. Yeah. What much worse scale then then I was out and actually came away feeling better.
Nick Lozano 49:28
I mean, sometimes it's good to get that fresh perspective. It's like when you're coding something, right, and you missed a semicolon, and you didn't know you did that. And so to walk wisely, God doesn't work because of that, and you've been staring at for three hours trying to figure it out.
Brian Comerford 49:41
Yes, for me, it was usually you know, I step away from something. And I literally, you know, you know, the phrase, you know, sleep on it, and I would go home, I wake up in the morning and it's like, there's something funny that happens in the mind, you know, at night when you sleep and you dream and yeah, suddenly, this thing that you've been, like, challenged with all day, you come back and it's like,
Bret Naber 50:05
yeah, that's where I found running kind of was it was, I'd be out running and I'd be like, I would have it, you know, not an infinite amount of time, some some sort of set of time. But I'd be out there and then I realized I sort of untying these knots in my brain and, and I would come back and be like, Oh, this is he, we you know, and it gives me really good opportunity to sort of work through those problems. That's, that's, I think, sometimes my best work is while I'm running.
Brian Comerford 50:29
Yeah, that's a total reset is absolutely necessary. And I think particularly for, you know, anyone who is faced with technical challenges working in the types of fields that we we've all worked in, you have to have some kind of lane change with the way that you know, your, your mind is typically forced to think, to sometimes you know, get that mental reset, so that you do have whatever that that process Is that sort of magically takes place and you come back with this completely fresh perspective? You know, and that's something that I think, you know, we hear a lot now about, you know, you need to get up and move around, you need to, you know, incorporate some kind of physicality to what is normally just sitting at your desk all day. All those things, I think help contribute to, you know, this is part of the the necessary mental shift that has to take place, particularly when you're dealing in work that is primarily mental.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, Brett,
go ahead. Next.
You know, we're getting close to the end of our time here. I just want to ask you a little bit about something inspirational to you, from, you know, whether it's a book publication if it's a website, you know, if it's a piece of media, you know, what's what's something that has helped shape some of your leadership perspective or Something that you think would be beneficial to some of the technical leaders of this program or listenership?
Bret Naber 52:08
Yeah. Well, I mean, you know, obviously the Simon Sinek stuff is is always a good good place to go, you can, you know, you can't, can't go wrong there, you know, I think it's, it's for me it's it's really getting a lot of different voices in my head and and trying to find as many resources as I can and not to necessarily make it all about it, you know, leading about reading about leadership, you know, in other areas, you know, has really helped me I actually listened to a lot of books when I run and so that's been a really good way to, to hear more things. And I just, I feel like every time I hear a problem solved, you know, in another field that I can kind of bring that back and try to try to figure out, you know, there's another way to solve this problem. And I really just try to constantly absorb new things. And, you know, I think, you know, my background, some of the educational technologies off of this idea of sort of scaffolding and trying to, you know, develop ideas and sort of build on them and try to, I think we would always talk about cognitive load, it was like, you know, you're trying to try and explain problems to people and, you know, I, I'm finding that I'm not, you know, working on as many it problems, I'm working on more organizational problems, and it's, it's the same thing, it's just a different audience, and then being able to sort of, you know, take that problem, you know, make it manageable so that other people can get involved and help you solve it in and trying to break it down and make it you know, decompose the problem. And working with a lot of different areas, that's, you know, it's, it's getting other ideas, and it's trying to integrate their ideas, but also, you know, just trying to find a way to,
Bret Naber 53:49
work through work through the problem, you know, in a way that you know, you have this achievable, you know, closure to the project, but you've got to find all of the of the things that are key You know, they're getting in your way. It's kind of this impediment management, you know? And can you figure out what what are all those things that are going to get in your way, and kind of try to bring people along? And it's been a really interesting, you know, year for me because I've been involved in some projects outside of it. And, and, and it really, it isn't any different. I mean, you run into the same problems, it's just in different areas. And so I guess, I guess, to your question, I mean, I think it's, it's continuously learning, it's continuously trying to find new things. I mean, I think about it as a tool belt, I gone back and gotten my six sigma. Well, when I came back from getting my black belt, I realized that, you know, this industrial, you know, procedural way of solving problems didn't wasn't really applicable to higher education. I mean, I, I couldn't you know, we don't have a manufacturing floor. You know, I couldn't go down there and go Okay, we're gonna make 12 widgets today instead of
Nick Lozano 54:54
gamble walk Right, right.
Bret Naber 54:56
But it was one more you know, tool I had in my toolbox was one more way to solve problems and, and I, you know, took took a few things away from that and said, Okay, I'm going to try to try to use those. So I guess yeah at the end of the day it's it's continuous education, it's continued to, to you know, add things and maybe it's not a leadership book maybe it's something completely different but you know, what, what can you take from that and bring into work and it's just amazing how how many things you know, you can pull from other places and go, this is actually applicable to the problem I'm trying to solve right now. So I think it's just keeping your brain in that learning mode.
Nick Lozano 55:32
Love it. It's like, what, what are our guests, Peter Margarita said it. He always ask people he's like, do you know what business you're in? And people say, well, we're in the technology business. We're in the accounting business. We're in you know, the widget business and he's like, no, you're in the people business. You just happen to work with technology or finance or ever. I think that's a great quote, you know, and it's pretty much what you're summing up right there. You're you're expanding your leadership skills because you're in the people business. Yeah, so you're always learning?
Brian Comerford 56:02
Well, that's a great place to cap it.
Nick Lozano 56:04
So Bret, if people are looking for you,
where can they find you?
Bret Naber 56:09
Yeah, you know, I've been trying to get a little more involved on LinkedIn and trying to put put some of my projects out there and, and reach out and kind of meet some people and build some connections that way. So that's, that's been probably the best place professionally. I once in a while, will will get active in Twitter, but that's mostly with running stuff. So as I told you before, you know, I'm active runner and kind of, that's my alter ego. So that's my kind of my giveaway. But yeah, I think, you know, LinkedIn, I've been trying to figure out how to use LinkedIn the right way. I mean, I get frustrated sometimes because I have probably 10 vendors, you know, a day ready to connect with me and and, you know, the softly veiled you know, I want to meet you, but it's really you, you know, you want to sell something to me, but I really do look for you know, those professional connections, you know, that Yeah, Brian is a great example. You know, we've been that's how we sort of kept in touch since we went to the conference. So I'm trying to use that as a place to to build my network and, you know, trying to as best I can go back in there and add some content once in a while to kind of say, here, this is what so I cannot
Nick Lozano 57:18
tell you how I got in the lip. And at first I was like you I'm like, I don't know this thing. This is the thing for people to find me so they can sell me something. I know they bought Sales Navigator and they just want to call me but but I somebody brought this great point to me. They're like, you know, they have this status thing. It's like, just search for what you you're looking for by these hashtags, like leadership or whatever, and engage on content. don't connect with anybody. And then eventually, you'll start getting connections, people reaching out to you wanting to connect with you because you're engaging on their content. And I've met all kinds of people that way. Yeah, just by engaging that way. Like the other day I just did, you know, a zoom meeting with a guy who's a personal trainer of movement, Doctor, whatever. For shoulders and knees, just all because of conversation on LinkedIn. Yeah. So I mean, there's just all kinds of stuff like that's my only advice to you, you know, go specifically search for the content you want to see and engage and then you'll get an idea what, what you want to share and what you want to do on there.
Bret Naber 58:15
Brian Comerford 58:16
Yep. Yeah, mix also kind of takes an opposite approach for me and accepts every connection request.
Nick Lozano 58:23
I do get. I can't tell you how many times I've, you know, been asked to buy bitcoin for somebody because they're out of the country. Oh, I
Bret Naber 58:32
gotta do that. You know.
Nick Lozano 58:36
It's like, you know, this lowly lookout for janitor coin. It's coming. Yeah, Ico but yeah, that's just my advice. You don't have to accept every every connection request to him like me, but you know, just get on there and engage with people and talk about things you want to talk about. Naturally, people will gravitate towards you.
Bret Naber 58:53
Yeah, that's great advice.
Brian Comerford 58:55
Yeah, Brad. It's been great having you on the program today. Really appreciate your time. Inside your brainpower, you've really contributed a lot. So thank you so much for for being our guest.
Bret Naber 59:06
Absolutely. Thank you guys for having me on here. Sure. All right.