By: Don Mock firstname.lastname@example.org
If your desktop crashes … or your website’s hacked … who are ya gonna call? Probably not “Ghostbusters." In the UF Physics Department, at least, you’re likely going to call Clint Collins, Director of Computing, or one of his IT staff. Clint has seen it all, from fried motherboards to insidious viruses, from clogged networks to crashed disks. But it rests upon his team to figure out what went wrong and get things back up and running again. Stat! Computing is the life blood of any science department these days, but especially physics. Whether designing an instrument, modeling a phenomenon, collecting data, analyzing results, or publishing a paper, reliable computing is critical to success every step of the way.
The work-life of an IT Manager can be described as long periods of relative calm punctuated by short periods of extremely urgent crisis. Often users are only aware of the IT staff when things go wrong and perhaps assume that IT takes care of itself the rest of the time. The reality is that it takes a lot of effort and careful planning to keep technology services running well. But that’s fine with Clint. Job satisfaction comes from keeping things operating smoothly or fixing things fast when they aren’t, thus keeping faculty, staff, and students happy and productive.
As the son of a citrus farmer, Clint grew up in Avon Park, Florida. Although he liked seeing things grow, what he enjoyed most was taking things apart and putting them back together – TVs, boat motors, robot toys, lawn mowers. After assembling an outboard motor from spare parts, he was confident enough in his mechanical abilities to head off in a boat across a major lake without bothering to inform his parents, and he lived to tell the tale. But starting in 9th grade, computers were his special passion. His parents gave Clint and his younger brother an Atari 800 computer, complete with a 1.8 MHz CPU and 8KB of RAM. It could display 24 lines by 40 columns of text. For storage, it had a cassette tape deck. It ran games like Pac Man and Donkey Kong and even had a basic word processor. Clint and his brother would stay up late at night entering in new programs they found in computer magazines. In high school, they wrote a shareware program together called “We’re In the Money” (inspired by the song of the same name) to help lotto players pick winning numbers. “I knew picking numbers weighted from frequency distributions of previous winning numbers was bogus. But, the idea was that someone using our program might win anyway and share the wealth with us.” Alas, none of their subscribers hit the jackpot, so they never got that big “thank you” check in the mail.
When he headed off to UF after high school, Clint’s father encouraged him by reminding him, “Don’t ever worry about being out of work or unemployed because there is always a hoe with your name on it back home.” As an entering freshman, Clint planned to become a computer programmer and soon learned C, BASIC, assembly, Modula II and Turbo Pascal. But on a Valentine Day’s weekend the following year, working late at night on a coding project – alone and lonely – he became convinced that there had to more to life than bits and bytes. He switched his major to Decision and Information Sciences in the College of Business where his skills would be more applied and, hopefully, more interpersonal. [A few years later he would meet his future wife via a dial-up Bulletin Board System (BBS). As Clint says, “it was electronic dating before there was electronic dating."]
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 1989, he worked as a computer store manager, then as a business consultant. Finally, a position at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research provided some much-appreciated job security. While converting the output from an economic model of Florida’s counties into publishable form, he also started solving the Bureau’s IT problems. Before he knew it, he had worked his way up to became Associate Director, managing both the administrative and the technical staff. In 2013, he applied for and was selected to be the IT Manager in the Physics Department. What Clint especially likes about working in the department is the diversity of problems he gets to help solve, and it’s not the same problem every day. As he puts it, “For most modern workplaces, IT is a catalyst for productivity. We don’t do the work directly, but what we do helps the work get done faster and more accurately.” And sometimes he can suggest how to use the existing IT resources more efficiently, allowing researchers to get more bang for the IT buck.
When he is not at his job, Clint works on his three-acre homestead, raising both fish and vegetables. He employs high-tech equipment to recycle the fish water and use the waste to grow herbs and tomatoes. Last year he harvested two dozen tilapia, but next year he will try raising koi. There is a high demand for these decorative fish as koi ponds are becoming quite popular. Although this aquaponics hobby appeals to his farming roots, it is no threat to his love of supporting IT in the Physics Department. “I would be hard pressed to think of a more interesting place to work.” And it sure beats going back to Avon Park to find that hoe with his name on it.