What Is It You’d Say You Do?

I suspect that when most people ask me about my job, the sound that comes out of my mouth is reasonably similar to the sounds the teachers made in the Charlie Brown animated cartoons. Wah wah wah e-learning wah wah wah Qatar wah wah wah Xserves wah wah, wah wah!

The sad truth is that my job has always been a bit nebulous – especially when I was hired. Over the year, the lines have firmed a bit, so I now have a good grasp on the day-to-day and the overall plans of things that I do. So allow me the pleasure of explaining my job in clear, regular terms.

My job is divided into three primary sections:


A number of years ago, the government of Qatar approached a number of US colleges and universities about setting up branch schools in their country. Cornell was one of many schools to take them up on the offer, opening a branch of the Weill Medical College.

Most people from the US are used to a 4-year undergraduate medical program, which comes after a traditional 4-year general undergraduate education with pre-med courses. However, the educational culture on the other side of the world is quite a bit different, and there is no pre-med program. This led to an interesting compromise, in that the Qatar school is split into two distinct sections. First, there’s a two-year premed program, which in my understand accepts about 100 kids per year. After that, the students must apply again to go into the four-year regular medical program. This was the first year of said four-year program; I believe roughly 16 students were in the program.

Besides the occasional faculty that travels overseas to give lectures directly, we have to get ALL of our courses over to Qatar. This provided a number of fun technical challenges – how do you properly digitize a lecture so that it’s good enough to teach future doctors off of? How do you get it over there?

So, what’s my role in all of this? I am in charge of the backend for all the lecture capture, review, and transfer. The capture is handled by Envivio’s 4Forum software, which captures VGA and video to a tidy single MP4 file. The review is a manual process, but is handled with an Xserve G4 and a slice off an Xserve RAID. The transfer is pretty mundane for regularly scheduled.

This is the primary role of my job; everything else falls to the wayside if this requires attention.


Slightly disconnected from the e-learning work is the Edcenter connection. The Edcenter is the WMC teaching labs; 130 Powermac G5’s across around 23 classrooms.

I’m not one of the primaries in charge of the day-to-day here; instead, my role is (again) the backend. There are six Xserves (and one RAID unit) that run everything for the edcenter, from webservers to app servers, managed preferences to network home directories, screen sharing to application repositories.

While this project does provide a lot of day-to-day maintenance (especially the fall of 2004, where we were still fine-tuning the config), it’s also a great feeling to know the things I’m doing are helping push the teaching into some new directions. It’s also been a huge boost for my OS X server skills.

Everything Else

The number of projects I’ve worked on outside of these two are nearing countless numbers, as they fly by really quick. Notably, I am unofficially “the OS X guy” – responsible for Xserves, delegating machines, and knowing all the wizzy tips and tricks and new apps everyone can’t live without. (I’ve already converted a good chunk of the office to Quicksilver.)

I also get pulled into web projects frequently, as a lot of my background is there; I pride myself on being able to put out the fires of urgent needs for web space or what have you.

I also get to keep tabs on general e-learning world things; I’ve been semi-active in the Sakai Project, trying to lend a small dose of sanity to the project. I also frequent Apple’s Digital Campus Exchange, although that is still small and in the process of growing it’s user base.

All told, I’m usually pretty busy at work, with lots to do and lots to time-manage. Those of you who knew me during college may remember that I was never terribly great with being really organized about my projects and tasks, so this may all come as a shock to you. But as the coming articles will reveal, I’ve finally hit the routine that allows me to manage myself in a way that is natural, efficient, and redeeming on a personal level of everything I’ve built for myself over the last 10 years. Stay tuned.