Sarah Baker (44) left school at 16 to work in customer services and admin roles in the NHS, Inland Revenue and Department of Immigration. She joined West Thames College as a senior PA, switched to IT in 2011 and became IT support manager in 2014.
I’ve always had a passion for IT, mobiles, smart watches, and so on. But I cried when I was told I’d be joining the IT helpdesk in a staff restructure after working as a senior college PA for five years! However, I have never looked back since and I love my job. My manager said I was too good to be just picking up a phone and he gave me more responsibility such as looking after our apprentices. Another restructuring created the support manager role.
No two days are the same. You are constantly on your toes, running around at a million mph, fixing problems, and helping all our students and staff to make sure their day at college goes as well as can be. I love the college environment, being around young people and seeing their ideas. Like the internet giant we, too, have a creative thinking space in our office to encourage students to drop in - we call it ‘Fake Google’.
I usually come in early and check the helpdesk queue to see what overnight requests are outstanding. I prioritise work for that day, assign jobs to my team and check if anything has gone down overnight. This takes about an hour and then after that, there is no typical day - we just don't know what will break or the problems we’ll face.
In the past week, my work has included holding a probation meeting with our apprentice, attending a London event to look at the deployment of Apple devices, and having a 1-1 with my manager. I’ve contacted two suppliers to discuss work over the Easter break and sent lots of emails to staff about it. I’ve met our onsite nursery manager to discuss the possibility of an extra computer and phone in our additional building, taken delivery of a laptop for a student, issued mobile phones and Epsom interactive pens to staff and sent a broken iMac screen for repair.
I’ve arranged meetings next week to discuss the roll-out of the Sharepoint document management system and my team has added a corporate template to our PowerPoint program.
On a one-to-one level, for instance, I’ve helped two students who ran out of print credit. And I've just come off the phone from helping a staff member find a lost document and teaching her how to do a ‘restore’.
One of them is getting students to understand that wi-fi in college is not like wi-fi at home, that we have firewalls in place, and that they are here to learn, not chat to their friends on SnapChat and WhatsApp! Another is fixing whiteboards in mid-class. I also work like crazy with our inclusion and progression department that deals with supported learning students and those with special needs. We’ve brought in new technology like iPads that are easier to operate than normal PCs. Not everyone can sit and type at a keyboard; some students need to touch things or use voice recognition software. I have to make staff aware that this software is out there and students need it - then I teach students how to use it. It’s all about knowing your team, the college environment and what works and what doesn’t.
More females are coming into IT through their studies. We do a lot of work placements and encourage students to apply. We’ve got one female technician already so we’re slowly getting there. The college actively encourages female staff to go for management roles. Now you don't have to stay at home with the children and be a housewife, you can go out and achieve your dream.
Getting a student with the bare minimum of experience through his apprenticeship and then being able to take him on as IT support technician, with promotion to IT engineer. Project-wise, it’s been replacing 98% of our desktop printers with a managed service which took six months to complete. Staff didn't want to give up their printers so it meant changing their whole viewpoint. We saved the college over £50,000 a year and we’ve had no problems since.
We’re busy all year round though August is hectic - it’s student enrolment time and, with everyone away, we have to get into the classrooms for asset checking.
With college support, I took a part-time foundation degree in business and professional administration for two years and then took a further year to get a BSc Hons degree in business in 2012. It was directed self-study so you had to be committed. Organisational skills and a customer service background also go a long way.
Be passionate about IT and then you can do this job. You need to be forward-thinking, conscientious and have a good eye for detail as sometimes people make mistakes. You should be able to work on your own initiative, not be afraid to stand up for yourself, and be confident to take decisions without calling your line manager every five minutes.
It’s my technical team. They are a great group and we have mutual respect for each other. There is very much a family atmosphere. And if you pick on one of us, you’re picking on all of us. We even go out to museums together at the weekend!
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