Karen Gillingham is a Senior Programmer Analyst in W&M IT, and has served in the same position for 26 years! Karen has seen four presidents, four associate provosts of IT (CIOs), three buildings (one was a trailer), four offices, 12 supervisors, one phone number and one squirrel in her office (that ate her lunch)!
What year did you start working at W&M?I started working at W&M in May 1996. There was no IT as we know it today. The next year, several departments were merged to form W&M IT. When I started, I shared an office with Soon Min in the basement of Jones Hall. All of the oldies remaining in IT will know who she is! I have now worked my way up to the 3rd floor but everything starts in the basement of Jones Hall.
What were you doing before that?Pretty much the same thing for about 12 years. I worked as a programmer for numerous government contractors at Fort Monroe, NASA etc. I even did a one-year gig at Riverside Regional Medical Center and Newport News Shipbuilding. Just when you think you are an expert at your job, try changing jobs! It makes you humble for sure. I finally settled down at W&M. You can’t beat the benefit package and perks.
What was your first title?It was either Programmer Analyst or Senior Programmer Analyst. I don’t remember! I am currently a Senior Programmer Analyst. Is it possible that I have had the same title for 26 years? Can anyone else say that? The title really isn’t important to me though, it’s the work that I am doing.
Have you served in other roles in IT (or at the university)?Nope! The first thing I did when I arrived was help implement a new ID card system. A few months later I was given a Financial Aid project. I had no background in Higher Education or Financial Aid. My first exposure was implementing a beta version of a purchased Financial Aid system that was ran on the mainframe and it was great at bringing registration to its knees and taking all night to run its nightly processes. I had numerous unhappy visitors in my office my first year. I have also heavily supported the Bursar’s Office during most of my time at W&M. I remember my first exposure to looking at the code for fee assessment - it was pretty old and intimidating. I have always thought that Thomas Jefferson might have written some of it himself – in the basement of Jones Hall of course!
Is there a project that stands out in your mind that was particularly interesting or fun to work on? Why?Implementing Banner was fun. I know what you’re thinking, but yes it was fun! We weren't laughing and smiling every day, but it was a big accomplishment. Some days it would be dark when we arrived and dark when we left. We ate lunch at our desk while we worked. We learned important lessons like: never change anything on a Friday because you will need to change it back on Monday. No one working on a project like this should make any decisions about anything on a Friday! Having a person or two who camped out in my office for a few years was fun. Even when they cried. Even when I cried. In the end, we implemented a system, we made memories, we had fun. Running fee assessment in PROD before we finished testing it was fun right? Like I said, memories!
How do you stay current with technology?Supporting Financial Aid makes everyone in Banner stay current. Working on a system that uses Federal Regulations that must be upgraded almost monthly definitely requires other modules in Banner to stay “almost” current, too. It’s a driving force. I am definitely not an IT geek and don’t do IT things for fun but I try to stay current by listening to various IT TECH talk shows online and being a member of various IT forums.
What do you like to do when you're not working?My husband and I love to travel, visit breweries and spend time with family. We love riding bikes, mostly rails to trails, and travel to various places to ride them. This last year we rode the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes and the Route of the Hiawatha in northern Idaho as well as the Silver Comet/Chief Ladiga (GA to AL). We even walked the Ka’ena Point Rail Trail in O’ahu over the Christmas holidays. Previous years we have ridden the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP – Cumberland MD to Pittsburgh) and the Rio Grande Trail (Aspen CO to Glenwood Springs CO) to name a few. Next month we plan to ride the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail in Florida and the Katy Trail in Missouri in September. We also enjoy attending the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, CO each year as volunteers as well as participants. Having adult children and grandkids in Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana and good ole Richmond, VA keeps us on the go. We wouldn’t have it any other way!
What's unique about working in W&M IT?
It’s hard to say since I have been here so long. What do I compare it to? I can say what is very different from when I started until now is IT is very family friendly. That wasn’t necessarily the case when I started 26 years ago, but it wasn’t the case at any place that I had worked previously either. Flexible schedules, telecommuting, etc. The entire perspective on family life has changed for the better, as they have with current times. On another note, who can go to work and say they saw the Queen of England or the Dalai Lama? You must admit, that’s pretty darn unique.