Tips for hiring the best tech staff

Today's CIOs must focus on user experience, data security and mobile learning
By: | Issue: February, 2015
January 19, 2015

Student-centered CIOs must now focus more on the user experience than onjust keeping networks and machines functioning.

“To be successful you have to dedicate 80 percent of your resources toward the service side of IT, and 20 percent to keeping the boxes working,” says Jason Saltmarsh, an education technology consultant and former district technology director. In the past, before students were in charge of their own devices, the opposite was true.

CIOs also have to make protecting student data a priority, says Kecia Ray, ISTE board chair and executive director of learning technology and library services at Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. “Districts are beginning to realize they need somebody who has instructional expertise, and that infrastructure, data security and data management piece as well,” Ray says.

The spread of mobile devices and apps in the classroom makes hiring the right technology leaders a priority for digital learning initiatives. Here, Ray and Saltmarsh offer tips for finding the best IT staff:

Update the job description

Job postings should reflect the new practices of school technology. “You should be altering the description and responsibilities of those hires,” Saltmarsh says.

Some districts have created new titles, such as digital learning specialist or director of innovative technology, which are less concrete and focus more on learning objectives. In most small to midsize districts, the technology director is responsible for providing PD to teachers, and that should be part of the job description, he adds.

Administrators should ensure postings are on job sites that technology professionals will search, Ray says.

Find someone willing to continually learn new skills.

IT staff must be on top of all new apps and system changes, and constantly learning how to support student and teacher users as technology advances, Saltmarsh says. For example, the IT staff may need to test programs and devices before releasing them schoolwide.

“You can’t rely on the tech certifications you picked up a few years ago to feel like you’re on solid ground,” he adds.

Increase salaries if possible

More districts are looking outside of the education field for skilled IT workers from the private sector, Ray says. But moving to education comes with a cost: Some 59 percent of school district CTOs and CIOs report salaries of under $100,000 per year, while the average CIO in the private sector makes about $195,000, according to a 2014 CoSN survey.

But schools can offer perks such as a predictable schedule, generous benefits packages and summer vacation time. Some districts have increased salaries for IT directors to compete with the private sector, Ray says.

Choose the right fit, right skills

It can sometimes be difficult for a private sector CIO to adapt to a school environment where funding and resources are limited, Ray says.

“Make sure the person you hire fits in with the culture of your organization,” she says. “Their skill set might not be as crisp as another candidate’s, but you know they will fit into your organization better.”

Administrators should start with a brief phone interview to get a feel for whether a candidate is the right fit, Saltmarsh says. Inviting only promising candidates for face-to-face interviews saves lots of time, he adds.

Saltmarsh also advises creating a committee of IT staff to oversee the hiring process, in order to determine whether candidates will be able to work with their new colleagues.

“When you find a great person, they will have the personality, skill set and willingness to learn and stay up to date on the latest tech to support schools and make the teaching and learning environment as good as can be,” Saltmarsh says.