The Decalogue of Nick #3: I work in schools IT policy

For Scott Welch.

When I walked away from linguistics, I walked upstairs into department IT support for the Languages Department. It was an underpaid but cosy sinecure, where I got to write papers, work on the side as a research assistant, and practice bad Italian, French, and German on my peers.

That didn’t last, and it couldn’t of course. Just as IT was being centralised into faculty in 2006, and I would have to give up my cosy office, an old friend gave me a call. He was doing a PhD in physics while I was doing mine in linguistics, and we both worked in university tech support.

He had just taken a secondment with a consultancy, that was advising the Australian federal government on interoperability issues in the school sector and the university sector. They had a project going on persistent identifiers, which was kinda philosophical and might be right up my alley. Was I interested?

That started my current career; it’s been ten years now. I’ve been working for national infrastructure projects, of various flavours, in the school sector or the university research sector. I’ve been called a business analyst in all those projects, although that’s a title of convenience more than anything else, because I have done and do lots of different stuff.

  • I have done the conventional BA tasks of gathering requirements and writing use cases and communicating between developers and management. I have even drawn the odd flowchart.
  • However, I do on occasion cut code where needed, I know what developers get up to, and I can write it up. As a delighted colleague once said to me, when he discovered that I programmed: “Oh! So you’re not an idiot!”
    • Staff befuddled at where I fit in the world have come up with Technical Business Analyst.
  • A lot of my work has been in standards for data transfer online. That work is a lot of fun: it’s a bit of philosophy, and a bit of engineering, and a lot of ratiocinating. More often than not, in international collaboration.
  • Increasingly, I’m moving into policy analysis, and I’m also becoming more aware of systems architectures, and planning strategic choices around them.
  • Since 2013, the particular national infrastructure project I’ve been involved in has been the National Schools Interoperability Project, which works on improving access to information for stakeholders in the Australian school education sector (including schools and system vendors, as well as government agencies).

It’s kind of hard to describe what I do, because I do bit of everything. I hop from being a developer to a data analyst to a policy analyst to a business analyst, at a moment’s notice. But I like that.

I don’t post here much about my day job. The approaches we use are hardly unique to Australian education, but I haven’t gotten into the culture of talking about it much.

For a very long time, I didn’t identify myself with my new gig; the circumstances of me having to leave university were somewhat wrenching, I had a lot invested in my academic identity, and the new gig was not something I’ve trained for, or expected to end up in.

It took me some years, really, for me to take pride in what I do in my day job.

The real test of it would be for me to start pontificating about my day job on Quora, the way I do about linguistics—or the way I can, face to face, with Scott Welch, who turns out to be in the same line of work. But the gig is a little more politically sensitive than I’ve been accustomed to; and I haven’t sought out yet the network of people who would be interested (other than Scott).

But I do take pride in it now. It’s a job, true, and like any job it has its downsides. But as its best, I get paid to think. And that is to be cherished—particularly in a small country like Australia, which effectively has no R&D in the private sector. (That’s why you’re going to have to blast me out of government work.)

And the gig is flexible enough to allow me to pursue other things. Perhaps a little too flexible… 🙂

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