12 for 12: Dean Simmer

Build IT Together is all about two things: IT and community, and we’re aiming to bring these together under our monthly blog series, 12 for 12.

By interviewing 12 IT leaders over 12 questions, we’ll get to know each other a little better, and get unique perspectives on the industry. This month, we meet with Dean Simmer of Detroit Cristo Rey High School.

What is your official title?

Faculty Member and Manager of IT at Cristo Rey High School in Detroit.

What does “IT” mean to you?

At it’s core, I think it’s anything electronic that we can use to provide information to students or enhance their experience—whether it’s their own smartphones connecting them to the world through apps like Khan Academy or SIS, or through Chromebooks, but it even includes mundane stuff like copy machines! They’re a necessary evil in school IT.

What daily task in your job do you find most fulfilling?

Interfacing with the students and providing for them, whether it’s knowledge, or a personal connection, or a tech resource—just helping them grow as a person, whether it has to do with technology or not.

Honestly, working with teenagers is not something I intended to do with my life, exactly, but after I took the opportunity to help start the school, it’s been huge for me. Summer is my least favorite time of the year, because the students are all gone and it’s just all admin work. Interfacing with students on a daily basis, whether it’s technology or not, it’s one of my favorite things.

You can choose one common IT problem that you can instantly solve with the snap of your fingers, every time. What problem would that be?

Network connections, because they don’t always work. the number of times it seems like the cell network is bogged down, or WiFi flickers out, it’s not exactly as simple as basic IT support, but it’s such a common issue. No matter how advanced we become, network connections are always the biggest “head->desk” kind of problem.

What’s one step that you never miss when taking on a large project?

We have so many stakeholder categories—students, faculty, admin, work-study partners, parents—understanding who all those stakeholders are is critical to making sure the job gets done right. Beyond that, it’s about deducing what they actually need, not what they think they need.

What has been your most memorable support issue in IT?

I think my favorite question I’ve been asked is when a staff person approached me several years ago and said “how do I get more WiFi on my computer?”
I said, I’m not sure what you mean, and they came back with “I don’t know, I think I need about 30% more WiFi.” To this day, I have no idea what it was they actually were asking for.

With student devices you’re going to encounter all kinds of weird issues, and a couple years ago I had a netbook brought in by a student who said they didn’t want to use their keyboard anymore, because a baby sibling had somehow peed on it. If I recall, we just disposed of it and decided we weren’t going to try and clean baby urine out of a keyboard.

Can you tell us more about your background, or a passion you have outside of IT/technology?

I’m married, I live in Corktown and spend a lot of my time there. My most passionate hobby is supporting the Detroit City Football Club, our semi-pro soccer team. We’re called the Northern Guard Supporters, and we’re really diehard about it—wearing face masks, screaming and chanting, all that—it’s so much fun.

What was your favorite 1990s (or fading) piece of technology?

I have both an NES and a Gamecube plugged into my television right now, and I actually just rediscovered a video of my parents playing Super Smash Brothers on Gamecube, and it’s become legendary in my family at this point. I don’t have anything newer than that, and when my younger relatives come and visit, we always play.

Other than that I collect vinyl, but as a 30-something white guy living in Detroit, there’s no surprise there.

What is the Medieval equivalent of an IT professional?

I don’t remember if Poopsmith was an actual title, or if it was just a Homestar Runner character, but I feel like it’s that guy. It’s where you’re the least important person until you DON’T do your job, at which point you’re the most important person. If this guy doesn’t clean the latrine holes, everybody’s gonna know, but if he’s doing his job right, nobody knows he’s there.

If you could have lunch with any technologist/innovator that’s ever lived who would it be?

Steve Wozniak. Jobs is an easy answer because of how passionate and driven, but on a personal level, I feel like he’d be a little scary and difficult to connect with. With Wozniak, he seems like an important person and yes, there’s celebrity around him, but he’s both down-to-earth and interesting while also being innovative and impactful. Plus, he dated Kathy Griffin.

If you could get Ballmer to get really excited and yelling, like at that one Microsoft conference, then maybe he’d be my runner-up.

Is step 1 always, “turn it off, then on”?

Absolutely. I think I have 450 devices, give or take, and between copiers, netbooks, you name it. It always seems easiest just to reset. It probably fixes 30% of issues—it might not be explainable but heck, if it works, we’ll keep doing it!

If you could make one piece of sci-fi or futuristic piece of technology a reality, what would it be?

I feel like something from Futurama—the head jars from the show would be fascinating, just to keep people’s heads in jars and preserve them, talk to them—that counts as sci-fi, right? The Richard Nixon head as president was hilarious in the show, but he wouldn’t get re-elected because he served two terms. Definitely the heads-in-jars, though.
 
Dean, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with Dean on Linkedin and Twitter, and for more tech stories and news, visit Newmind Group and Build It Together online.

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About

Garrett Wenger is a storyteller and marketer at Newmind Group, and a native to Kalamazoo, MI. He received his BFA in English Literature from Western Michigan University, and has heritage in Southwest Michigan’s creative writing community. He published his first book of poetry in late 2013, and he has been featured in numerous literary journals.