Transcription Marianne Colgrove Interview
Interviewer Jenna Gretsch
September 2009
 PDF Version

The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the interviewee and interviewer and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of any employers.


Marianne Colgrove has worked in Computing & Information Services at Reed College since 1985. In her role as Director of Web Support Services she contributes to the planning and development of web services such as the campus portal, web application development, digital media strategy, academic web support, identity management and campus web communication strategy. She also contributes to special projects, such as collaborating with the Library and Visual Resource Collection to develop a digital asset management system to support teaching in the liberal arts. She serves on the boards of the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges and the Northwest Academic Computing Consortium. She holds a BA in psychology from Reed College.


JG:  Let's start with what you currently do for work.

MC:  I currently work in Information Technology in Higher Education in a small private liberal arts college. I do two things basically. I'm the deputy chief technology officer, so as part of that I have a lot of fiscal oversight and managerial oversight. I'm also the director of web support services so I manage the group that does web development and systems management. I've done this current configuration for about nine years.

JG:  You mean the current configuration of having the two focuses as primary to your job?

MC:  Yes, right. Before that I was the associate director instead of the deputy, which is not that big of a difference it's just a title. But before I took on the web part I oversaw the computer hardware shop. So about nine years ago I swapped with the person who was then the CUS (computer user services) director and I took over web stuff and he took over the hardware shop so that it would be desktop services kind of all together.

JG:  So why did that change come about?

MC:  The web had definitely emerged as a whole new area and we were trying to figure out how to support it, and then this kind of add on to Computer User Services -- actually I can't exactly remember how it went down but I'm sure I expressed an interest in working on web stuff and there were other reasons that it made sense to unify the micro computer support for hardware and software into one department. So it seemed like a good time for a change.

JG:  So how did you get started in computers?

MC:  Well I was a psychology major at Reed and the program here is heavily experimental psychology and we used computers a lot to conduct experiments and run the equipment and do statistical analysis of our data. So after I graduated I needed a job and it's hard to get a job in psychology without getting an advanced degree and I wasn't sure that I wanted to do that and that was right when the micro computer plan was starting up at Reed, in '84. We had this thing called the Master Plan for Technology and it was like this big document that was essentially a blue print for the transition from mainframe terminal base computing to desktop computing and campus network. So that was ramping up and the Macintosh was brand new in the world and in higher ed and we needed ways to help people use it. So I was hired to work on training and documentation. We were also developing academic software for the Mac so I did some user interface design, though that wasn't the name for it at the time I don't think they even had a name for it. Or maybe the Mac started that because all of a sudden you have this interface and you have to have icons and you have to have windows and somebody has to figure out how that's going to look.

JG:  Were you comfortable coming in to college with computer use or was that something you were exposed to while you were at Reed?

MC:  I was exposed while I was in college. I started at Reed in '79. When I was in highschool there was like a tiny little geeky club of guys who played with Apple II's and stuff like that, so my first experience really with technology was with Commodor VICS in the psych lab to manage the experimental equipment and collect the data. We'd store our data on these little tapes. We were using BASIC to program. I never felt that good at it obviously the technology part of being a psychology researcher was in a lot of ways my least favorite part, kind of just a necessity that you have to learn how to do this stuff if you're going to make your experiments go.

The other way that I used technology as a student was also terminal based and you would log in and do your stuff and that was also a pain in the butt. (laughs)

JG:  Did they have a specific course for students for that or was it just something you learned as part of the overall curriculum?

MC:  No, you learn as part of your overall curriculum and I think that's still true. The technology is all in service of the academic and it's a big feature of the curriculum but you just sort of have to pick it up as you go.

JG:  So you said you did some BASIC, did you learn any other programming languages?

MC:  I did some Pascal after I graduated and was working on the technology plan and we had this group called the D-Lab, the development lab. We developed this academic software and a lot of that was in Pascal. That lab was a way for students or recent graduates to work on programming projects mostly on the Mac or the Lisa. There was another group working with some faculty and working with Gary Schlickeiser, they were doing more Unix programming stuff. I didn't do that at all. So BASIC and Pascal -- Pascal was the standard programming language in the physics department so there were a lot of people who were interested in science and technology and Pascal was incorporated into the physics curriculum.

JG:  So you were doing this for all of your years in College or did you start to gravitate to it at a particular stage?

MC:  Well I certainly didn't start out knowing that I wanted to be a psych major. And I don't think I gravitated towards being a psych major because of technology. The way the psych curriculum worked here and maybe it still does -- there was intro psych, which is kind of a survey course and then you get more into experimentation and methodology in subsequent years. So probably it was really my last two years.

JG:  So other than the necessity of needing a job and already having some experience in the lab, was there something else that was driving you towards pursuing a career in technology?

MC:  No (laughs). I needed a job. The whole thing was really new and so it was certainly not something I was even aware of as a career. The whole idea of Information Technology as an area of work in higher ed, or anywhere, was just not on the landscape. It certainly was appealing to me to think about this new desktop technology and to help people use it because it was so much more accessible and was going to be a lot more prevalent than the terminal in the basement type of thing. It probably was, as I think back, the most compelling thing about it, just helping people use this stuff.

JG:  So do you think there was anything from your youth that enabled you to have more aptitude for subjects like statistics and any of the analytical thinking that would be involved with what you do now? Or other areas like language acquisition?

MC:  Not really. My dad was a lawyer, I worked in a law office. Analytical thinking was part of what I grew up with but I don't think of myself as a technologist. I think of myself as a manager who happens to be in a technology field. So that has a lot to do with problem solving and being able to work with people but I don't consider technology itself the point of it.

JG:  What is the most demanding aspect of your job?

MC:  The part that I find the most demanding is just having to deal with politics. It's my least favorite part. In a service organization when people are demanding or unhappy or unpleasant -- I think we mostly don't have bad politics here but you still encounter territorial issues and stuff.

JG:  What do you love most about your job? How long have you been working here?

MC:  Since 1984, so it's changed a lot. That's probably a good thing. (laughs) I really like working with a group of people who all bring something different to a project or collaboration. I really like it when the thing you are working on is the product of lots of different people contributing in different ways.

JG:  So there is not something specific to the management part or working with the people other than project collaboration? Or more specifically what's the difference between being a manager anywhere versus being a manager in technology?

MC:  It's my impression that good managers are really collaborative and interactive and a lot of what they do is to work with different groups of people to accomplish some, thing --- maybe that's greater in technology because you're very often bringing technology in to solve something that somebody wants to do and they don't feel very technical or maybe they're afraid of it -- and you have to combine technical knowledge with an understanding of what people are trying to accomplish and it may not be a technical goal at all. And so collaboration is particularly important as well as translation. A lot of people, even if they use technology everyday are scared of it. They don't know how to talk to programmers and nerds and we're not always very good at talking to them. So that probably puts more need for collaboration on most of the projects we do. Also with web stuff there is always a content piece that has to come from somewhere.

JG:  Have you ever had difficulty with balancing workload and family life?

MC:  Not so much. I think my family life is relatively simple, I don't have kids or anything like that, which probably helps. But I realized pretty early on that if I was working a bazillion hours I was just fooling myself to think I was being effective. It was better for me and the job and everybody if I would just work a manageable number of hours and take time off and not obsess over it because you lose your effectiveness anyway. Every once in a while a project comes along where you have to put in a lot of extra time but mostly I try not to work that way.

JG:  Do you have colleagues outside of Reed who have had to deal with the balancing?

MC:  Oh sure. It's a demanding job for a lot of people and certainly in the twenty-five years I've been doing it it's evolved a lot. A lot of people in computing were originally faculty and maybe from there into management. So they were often trying to juggle their academic life with their technology-manager life. And there's something about it being accessible all of the time -- and sometimes it's just an addiction.

JG:  Do you have any projects that you're particularly proud of?

MC:  Again it tends to be the ones that have good collaboration and an interesting mix of people. I'm looking over there at a bunch of different versions of the Reed Virtual tour that we did. It's had many iterations and it's been a pretty good project. I've worked on some web projects that have involved IT and public affairs and admissions and an outside contractor that I thought were good projects. I really like the IRIS portal project. Again there's a lot of people contributing to it, there's a lot of creativity, although with that it's more in the programming sense than in the multimedia design sense.

JG:  What is the IRIS portal?

MC:  It's the campus portal system which enables students, faculty, staff, alumni to login and connect to secure information. It's used for a pretty wide array of stuff but the common thing about it is that it has to be confidential.

JG:  In your work environment do you have the ability to participate fully in the decision making process?

MC:  Yes. You know that's an interesting question because when you're younger and less experienced you don't participate fully in decision making. So definitely my career has evolved to have more and more responsibility and more decision making.

JG:  What is the makeup of your current workgroup?

MC:  Well there's two in a way. There's the group of four directors and Marty Ringle the Chief Technology Officer and I'm the only woman in that group and I have sort of medium seniority there. The other group is my Web Support Services department. That is mostly programmers and developers. Is that what you mean by configuration of your group?

JG:  Yes, I was trying to get at what the gender makeup was of the directors in your department to understand if that in any way was related to your ability to equally participate or not inside your group and if your position has evolved because you might not always have been in this particular group with this particular makeup. But it sounds like you are linking it more to experience rather than gender, that experience is paramount, is that right?

MC:  Yes, that's what I'd say. In the web development group besides myself there is one other woman who is a programmer and another woman who does computer sales and purchasing. I think if you look across several departments there's no question that there's more men than women, there's more white people than minorities, but there definitely are women in technical positions, two of whom started under an apprenticeship program that we had.

JG:  What is that?

MC:  Back during the dot com bubble we were having a hard time hiring technical people. So Marty (CTO) came up with this idea for an apprenticeship program that would be targeted towards liberal arts graduates who wanted to get into technology. We built in training and sort of an escalation of skills and salary.

JG:  How long was that in place for or why did it disband?

MC:  The market started being better. I think it was a pretty good program for us and for them. We got really smart people who didn't necessarily come with formal technical education but wanted to learn more. But it got to the point where we didn't need it that much.

JG:  Have you ever been relegated to the mediator role?

MC:  I do think I often play a mediator role but I think that coincides with my areas of interest. So if you look at everything I said about liking collaboration and liking projects that really do have shared participation, I just think that's part of what I naturally do. But there are other people in that group who are good mediators who aren't women -- so I have never felt like gender was the reason for that. I have seen small examples in other organizations where -- I don't know if it's woman as mediator -- but someone has to take notes and they asked a woman to do it, that kind of thing.

Most of the groups I have to do with, like I'm on the board of the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges --so IT people from small private colleges a lot like Reed. We mostly don't have super technical curriculum, we mostly don't have engineering programs or what I would call hardcore gear-head type curriculum so no rocket scientists or whatever. And maybe people at those kinds of institutions tend to me more liberal or more enlightened or I don't know, socially flexible. So I have not seen it to be much of a problem in the way I might imagine it is at more technical professional type of organizations. Also computing is a pretty egalitarian field. It's not like something else where people pay a ton of attention to credentials or formal education and in a way people are more accepted on their merits.

JG:  So what about the opposite, say people being more inclined to disclose their confidences to you, have you experienced that?

MC:  I have never personally felt that because of my gender. I maybe feel that because of my major and I think it is part of my nature to be collaborative but also I tend to work through personal relationships rather than formalized structures and that's part of why I like working for a small college. You get to know the people you are working with and it's not all top-down mandated kind of relationships. Maybe there is a part of me who likes to work that way because of my gender but I do not feel like it's been put on me.

JG:  So you feel that it's an aspect of being a socialized creature?

MC:  Yes (laughs) that's a good way of putting it.

JG:  Have you ever been able to perceive discriminatory behavior towards other women?

MC:  Well like I said I have seen this thing where it's the woman who is called on to take notes -- I have not since my law office days had the "can you get the coffee" experience -- but I was the receptionist so. Mostly it has not been a feature of my experience. I certainly have talked with women -- like for a while I participated in a group of Women Engineers, it was the predecessor to Educause, Educom. And they were more from large institutions with very technical departments and they'd talk about stuff like women tend to end up in the more support, helpdesk, frontline kind of roles and men tend to end up in the more technical backend type of roles and you would sort of have to fight against that if you wanted to be more technical but that has not been part of my direct experience. Certainly if I look at our helpdesk compared to our other departments it would be hard to say but you know the numbers are so small so statistical significance is a factor.

JG:  What I've experienced a lot with talking to technical women is this sort of attitude that's been classified as the "we've arrived" argument. Because they don't perceive blatant discriminatory behavior they are equating that with the idea that none exists. You're not saying that exactly, but you are saying that you have not had that experience here.

MC:  Right. I think that there are still trends, larger trends in which more men go into more technical positions. I don't think that's the same as saying there are barriers to women if they really want to do it, but it is certainly less perceived as a career path for women. But then I know some women in really technical positions and I think it gets back to a lot of technology being a pretty kind of merit based culture more than a credential or gender-based one.

JG:  I'm still a little confused, can you elaborate a little more on what you mean by merit-based culture.

MC:  Well I think if you do good work and you contribute to the success of your projects, department and institution, you tend to be accepted based on the value of your work. I think the technology culture, and I'm not talking about corporate because that has a lot of other factors that I don't have a lot of direct experience with, but I think the technology field tends to have the culture maybe more than some other fields. Certainly in academia we are accustomed to credentials and hierarchy and what kind of a degree do you have and where did it come from and all of that stuff is not a very significant factor in technology in my experience.

JG:  But because of socialization there tends to be more pressure on women to fulfill certain roles, like maybe having children in a specific time frame, and this obviously limits the ability to participate fully in certain projects. Specifically I'm thinking of a lot of open source projects and how open source is extraordinarily male based, like 98 percent, and most of the contribution for these projects comes from volunteer work done outside of one's regular job.

MC:  I think technology can cut both ways. Technology does make it easier to work flexible hours or work from home or participate in a project remotely. I also think that technology moves so fast that if you do take time out to have a family it's going to have an impact on what you need to pick up when you come back to technology. So I can see that being a factor for either a man or a woman who decides to take time off to have a family, but obviously that affects women more.

The open source thing is an interesting question, I don't know enough about the culture, like I've never participated in an open source project myself. We certainly have had some here that we were happy to have happening and people did get to do it as part of their jobs. Most of the people I work with here have pretty balanced lives and they do other stuff, certainly that's not exclusively true. Maybe this is a Reed culture thing but when you're done with work most people go do something else.

I don't know why more women don't participate as open source contributors, it's a good question. I'm sure there's a cultural aspect to that.

JG:  What do you think is the biggest impediment for women getting into technology?

MC:  Probably preconceived notions about what are typical careers for women and that creates a vicious cycle where there's fewer women, and so they don't feel as welcome and there's less participation and it just perpetuates itself and I would say the same thing about minorities.

JG:  Have you had any experiences of being junior and needing to ask for help and the senior is male?

MC:  Yes. When I started doing this in 1984 I was by definition junior because I was just out of college and for sure most of the people I worked for, by virtue of being in academia or by virtue of being interested in technology were more men than women.

JG:  How do you think this affects men? What I'm getting at here is the affect of being in a constant position of providing answer and authority with none or very little experience of the inverse situation?

MC:  That's an interesting question because I don't usually think of things in terms of there being an answer. So usually when I'm asking someone for help it's more about guidance and judgment than that there's an answer that I don't know.

JG:  Ok, so substitute guidance and judgment for answer.

MC:  I think there are a lot of forces at work here and some of it is that we're kind of an immature career area that has changed a lot in a short period of time. There definitely is hierarchy that comes either through expertise or seniority or both. I'm pretty sure that it affects people to be less hands-on in a project and more offering oversight. A person in a position has more to say about the goals and the strategy of a project than actually doing it themselves -- and maybe being out of touch with having to do it themselves means that they don't always have realistic expectations about what it's going to take or what the hangups might be. So I think being the person who is less hands-on brings those kinds of risks and often it's a more senior person.

When I think about the times that I seek out guidance and advice I do maybe choose who I'm going to seek it from. But it has a lot more to do with personality and experience. And obviously there's a thread here which is that I don't personally feel very affected by gender issues. Maybe that's because I'm not sensitive to them or maybe it's because I've been in a really lucky position in a pretty non-stratified kind of place. I seek guidance from different people more based on their knowledge. Certainly outside of Reed where I've worked in other non-profits where maybe in some ways I needed to seek more advice because I have less experience, it's run the gamut of different types of people. There probably are more men who are comfortable giving advice to women but I mostly don't work with them. There probably are men who are less comfortable working for a woman and if I've had that in the past, I don't think I do now. I'm not sure that I've ever felt that way, that people have had a hard time working for me because of my gender.

JG:  Yeah, I think it's good what you're saying because it could be that you're not sensitive to it but it could be that the subtleties run deep and all of those aspects can contribute to forces that are at work.

What advice would you give to young women who maybe wish to pursue a career in technology or management?

MC:  The advice that I would give to most people unless they really knew that they wanted to go and be a technical person in a specific way, but most people are just trying to figure out what are the options -- I would encourage people to get a good liberal arts degree. Some people think that in technology you particularly need technical training and I think in technology you particularly don't need it because it changes so quickly and so what you really need is to be able to think through new stuff and handle change and are articulate and like to work with others because most of our projects can't be accomplished by one person working alone. So, get as broad an education as you can stand. That actually first came to me when I was thinking about going back to grad school to get an advanced degree that had something to do with technology and education and was thinking of getting a teaching degree and a woman who I didn't know very well said if you get an education degree you'll be pigeonholed, get a broad degree and then you can apply that however you want. So, don't pigeonhole yourself prematurely in your education and career.

JG:  What excites you about technology today?

MC:  I'm not that interested in technology. (laughs) Really what I find exciting is helping people use technology to accomplish something they want to accomplish. It's a means to an end and it's not that interesting to me in and of itself. Clearly the way we use technology is changing all of the time and I think there are real questions about how transformative technology really is. And in a way I think that's a good thing. I don't really think that the Reed college education wants to be transformed, and that's good.

JG:  Who are your mentors?

MC:  Marty Ringle who is the Chief Technology Officer here at Reed he's been here twenty years. Richard Crandall was a physics professor here, he still is an adjunct physics professor, and he's the one who hired me to work on the technology plan after I graduated. And recently my mentors have been more in the non-profit area.

JG:  What might be next for you?

MC:  I don't have any plans to change my career but I think that if I did it would be more in the direction of nonprofit management than technology per se. But I also think nonprofits need a lot of help using technology productively so having a technical background is not necessarily a bad thing.


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