What is your job at the UI?
My title is senior research programmer at CCSO [the Computing and Communications Services Office].
What did you do when you first came to the UI?
I helped found the original Microcomputer Resource Center in 1987-88. The Microcomputer Resource Center has been merged with several other service branches of CCSO. The MRC is now part of the Resource Center. The original idea was different than it is today. At the time, IBM, as part of a large grant, was trying to get more PCs on campus, and part of the requirement of that grant was to have a number of full-time support people to support the computers IBM was donating to the UI. I was hired in the spring of 1986 as part of this project. My main duty at the time was to help distribute the computers, configure them and assist researchers with writing proposals and setting up labs with equipment from IBM. Within the first year, we found people wanted a place to go to try out software and look at manuals before figuring out what to buy. The initial idea was a software library and information center.
Why do people come to the Resource Center now?
To get started using e-mail and the Internet. People ask where they can find software to do a specific job. The Resource Center has changed quite a bit over the years. Most of the consulting used to be done on a walk-in basis. But because of long lines we couldn't provide unlimited free consulting. So we went to mostly telephone-based consulting. If we can't handle a problem in a short, 15-minute phone call, sometimes we do on-site consulting [a fee-based, per-hour service]. People also can bring in a computer [with a problem] by appointment. We also have computers dedicated to distributing software, so if people want to take home Netscape, for example, they can download it here. One of the most common problems we get is that someone's password is not working. This is handled by the account services desk.
So can people at the Resource Center fix anything?
No. An ounce of prevention is worth pounds and pounds of cure. The best way to prevent problems is to have back-ups [of disks and systems].
Who is on the staff at CCSO?
We have both full-time staff members and part-time workers who are students. One of the advantages full-time staff have over students is their broad range of knowledge, but students bring in freshness and enthusiasm and are often at the cutting edge and playing with software that we may not have time for yet.
Does CCSO have any little-known programs for people at the UI?
One thing that CCSO offers that is underutilized is our training courses. See the CCSO User Training Home Page at http://sundance.cso.uiuc.edu/User_Training/index.html. Training courses are a separate facility from the RC, and are offered at different locations. Many people are afraid of computers and feel they can't wrap their minds around it enough to figure out how to use them. Anybody who has been affiliated with the UI has the wherewithal to do it. Although it's not affiliated with CCSO, I'm also involved in the PC User's Group. People get together, hear a presentation about computers or computing and discuss problems or programs. More information is on the PCUG home page, http://spidy.cso.uiuc.edu/pcug.
What do you like best about your job?
I enjoy helping people to have fun with computers and use computers for things that are rewarding or enriching their lives. I was listmaster for our listserve software a couple of years ago. Some of the lists I set up were for people with particular diseases, such as fibromyalgia. It was amazing to see how something as simple as a mailing list could help people that through sharing it helps ease their burdens. It's also really fun to go to someone's house and help them run Netscape for the first time, entering something of interest to them [on a search engine] and watching their reaction as the number of Web pages come up. I enjoy the on-site consults, solving problems for people and helping them get better utilization out of their computers.