Brandon Mills is University Housing & Dining’s Assistant IT director. He is responsible for managing a staff that maintains vended solutions and develops custom applications. “Vended solutions” is IT-talk for systems that we buy from someone else. For example, we run a system called Star Rez. StarRez is what allows students to apply for housing and assigns them to rooms, among other things. Brandon explained that, like a number of the vended solutions, StarRez has to talk to other systems. For example, the team developed a way for the parking staff to be able to see if a student should be eligible for parking in a particular lot, based on where the student lives. It goes the other way, too. StarRez has to get data from other systems. For example, it needs to talk to MAUI (our student records system) to know things like when a student is planning to graduate or what the student’s major is.
Brandon came to us two-and-a-half years ago from GoDaddy, where he managed a large application development team. He loved the work and the people, but the commute and the travel were putting a strain on his ability to spend the kind of time with his kids that he wanted to. He says he hit the “job jackpot” here at the University of Iowa. He has an exciting job, time to be with his family, good people, and he is still doing some cutting edge stuff.
When I asked Brandon what it takes to do his job well, the first thing that came to his mind was creativity and innovation. For example, Brandon and his team have been brainstorming recently about applications they could develop that would make students’ lives better. One idea on the list is some way of letting students know how long the line is at Burge Marketplace. Wouldn’t it be cool if students could check their phones and decide whether to head to lunch?
Brandon mentioned another set of skills that are important in his position. Because so much of IT work involves collaboration across departments, it takes a good mix of tenacity and diplomacy to get things done. With everybody’s systems interacting with everybody else’s systems, I can imagine how important that is.
When I asked Brandon about a rewarding experience in his position, his eyes lit up as he told me about identifying and installing a new digital sign system for Petersen Hall. This project involved all of what he identified as important to succeed in his position. It took creativity to come up with the new solution, and collaboration with staff members from CLAS to pull it off. It also allowed him to get his hands dirty and actually be in the field doing installations. In that setting he got an opportunity to do something else he likes about his job—coach his team.
How often do we think, “How cool would it be if students could do X on the web?” Well, how cool is it that we have Brandon and his team figuring that kind of thing out? Very cool!