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David Seidl on Meaningful Mentorship

min read
The Integrative CIO | Season 1, Episode 11

Hosts Cynthia and Jack talk with David Seidl, Vice President for Information Technology and CIO at Miami University about mentoring and leadership.

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Jack Suess: Welcome to the EDUCAUSE Integrative CIO podcast. I'm Jack Suess, vice president of IT and CIO at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Cynthia Golden: And I'm Cynthia Golden, associate provost at the University of Pittsburgh.

Each episode we welcome a guest from in or around higher education technology as we talk about repositioning or reinforcing the role of IT leadership as an integral strategic partner in support of the institutional mission.

Cynthia Golden: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the podcast today. We are joined by David Siedl, who is vice president for information technology and CIO at Miami University of Ohio. Welcome to the podcast, David.

David Siedl: Thank you. It's an absolute pleasure to be here.

Cynthia Golden: So David, why don't you tell our audience a little bit about yourself and about your background and kind of how you made your way to Miami of Ohio?

David Siedl: Sure. Thank you, Cynthia. This is frequently a question I get asked by people who say, how do I get onto the career path you're on? And my first answer for people is it's probably not a path. It's probably a set of happy accidents and saying yes and things that were unexpected. So there's probably not an exact match, but I frequently tell people, let me talk you through it because it did make a difference.

Back at, what I guess we can now call the turn of the century, I was coming out of a master's program in information security, and we all remember, well, some of us may remember the 2002 crash. And I ended up thinking that the jobs that I had lined up coming out of grad school were going to line up and they went away. And along the way, after some searching, I ended up working at Purdue, starting off the information security organization there and spent about four years there.

Four years in I thought I haven't interviewed anywhere in quite a while and interviewing is a skill that can deteriorate. So I threw a resume into a place that wasn't too far away to drive, intending to practice my interview skills. That place was the University of Notre Dame. And went up there for an interview. This is back in the days of map quest. And so I had an itty bitty little map and my road to get up there. And I got there and the road was gone because Notre Dame had removed my road. So that was the first interview that they've ever removed a road during to make it more difficult to get up there. And then partway through the interview, they offered me the job and they didn't seem to understand that I was practicing.

And so suddenly I now have a job offer that I did not expect to have and went back and did a little bit of negotiation and ended up taking the job at Notre Dame. And that led to a 12 year career at Notre Dame. Moving up from being a mid-range security analyst, to being in charge of the multimillion dollar security program, being the interim director of information security and eventually being what was the closest equivalent to a CISO job that Notre Dame had.

And in that role, I helped with some organizational redesign and we split out some parts of the organization and this new chunk of the organization was a kind of middleware organization, was created. And I had no intention of applying for that job. And then some friends walked into my office and said, you should apply for this job. And I said, well, no, I'm a security person. I have a master's degree and this is what I do. I'm certified. And they said, you should apply for this job. And I remembered a lesson that I've learned over and over is you should listen to your friends when they twist your arms.

And so I applied for the job and got it and went back to my general IT background and became a direct report to the CIO, Ron Kramer, and did that for five years. And around that time, some good friends of mine who tend to try to make sure that I remain less comfortable and more active, said, you should probably think about a CIO job. And they helped me get to the point where I could apply for this job. And I got down here and somehow I got this job and have been down here for just under four years now. I started in December of 2018. So I got one year of pre pandemic CIO in and right, when you do that pivot to doing strategic stuff, we threw a pandemic in my path. And I learned a whole bunch of things I didn't expect to learn as a first time out CIO, but that's where I've been. And that's how I got here.

Jack Suess: So David, you mentioned Ron Kramer at Notre Dame, who you ended up becoming a direct report for. And I've got to know Ron quite a bit on the EDUCAUSE board and through other activities. And, Ron was always one of those leaders who really thought about professional development. And I'm curious, how did Ron help prepare you to be a CIO? Because I know from conversations with him, he thought you were one of those people with high potential to become a CIO. And I was wondering if there are some things that he did that you're really pleased, were helpful in your transition? And if there were some things that weren't done that, wow, you wish you would've gotten a chance to learn those skills?

David Siedl: Jack, that is a question that... We could probably have an hour long conversation about the wonderful things that Ron did. So I will try and give you some highlights. Ron is one of the most remarkable people I've ever gotten to work with because he cares deeply about the people that he works with. He grows the people around him. And he is so intensely human that organizations love him, but also, he gets a lot done. There was a moment in a leadership meeting at Notre Dame where somebody said, who represents what Notre Dame is the most? And people would say, well, father Hesper, the famous priest who love Notre Dame. And then the next thing that came out of that room's mouth was Ron Kramer. And it's not typical for the CIO to be named in a leadership group to represent an entire institution, but his heart was like that.

So he kept investing in us. And I will tell you the first thing that Ron did that made a huge difference was he believed in me. And when he offered me the opportunity to be the senior director for what was called campus technology services, he was taking a bet on a young, inexperienced at senior leadership, chief information security officer who had done security leadership, but had not led a general it organization at that scale. I went from at my most 11, 12, 14 people to 45 people overnight.

And over the next few years, he kept giving me all the crazy things that he ended up with in his hands and saying, David can probably handle this. So I ended up with 65 people, which was a quarter of the IT organization by the time I was done. And each time I'd say, are you sure? He would say, you can do this. And he would believe in me. And he gave us all opportunities. He built teams. He built the confidence in ourself and he allowed us to be individuals and leaders and supported us through that.

And yet there were days where I knew that Ron and I might be a little too much alike. And so he would have advice for some of my peers that he didn't necessarily have for me. And I walked into his office one day and I said, I really want to find a mentor. Can you help me find a mentor? And that was not a thing where he had somebody right off the top of his mind to give me, so he'd given me so much that I said, okay, maybe this one's on me.

And I went out and I contacted some friends who had moved forward in their careers. In fact, both of you probably know Kathy Bates. And Kathy Bates has been a friend and a mentor and the wind beneath my wings all kinds of times through the last few years, she said, David, I want to help you grow. And she is one of those friends who made me uncomfortable and kept me moving. And, the email would show up in my inbox said, so what have you done recently to make sure your resume is updated? Have you done something to move yourself forward? And she cheer-led me through my entire path to being a CIO. So there were times where Ron gave me everything I needed and sometimes where he, one way or another, led me to be confident in myself and to grow further just on my own cognizance. And those two things have made me so glad about the experience that I have.

Cynthia Golden: Yeah. And I don't think you can underestimate the importance of those kind of mentoring relationships too.

David Siedl: I'm surrounded by people who have invested in me. And so every day my goal is to somehow pay it forward because I owe so very much to the community, to friends, to people like Jack who've spent time and made some time to talk to me when I had questions and have just been that support group, because this is not an easy job and it is not an easy industry all the time. But we have a phenomenal connection.

Cynthia Golden: Well, something you said earlier about the fact that Ron believed in you and what a difference that made, I think that's important for people who are in CIO and senior leadership jobs now. To remember that you may believe in somebody, but you need to communicate that to them too, because it can make a huge difference for them.

But anyway, what I wanted to ask you about, David, is you mentioned that you began your tenure at Miami in 2018.  And if I remember correctly, you were hit with some budget issues during that first year, then they had the pandemic in 2020. Can you talk a little bit about some of your efforts underway and how you are collaborating across the campus since you've joined?

David Siedl: The way I've related to friends is day one, meeting one was a budget cut meeting when I showed up. And for your first day of being a CIO, that was a little bit of, oh gosh, what have I gotten myself into? I'd worked in state schools before. Notre Dame had perhaps been the oddity out of my career, cause it was the first non-state school. But I was a little flat footed on that. But then typically, after your first year as a CIO, you've gotten to know people and you are starting to pivot from learning and building relationships and building those partnerships you need to be successful to strategy. And we pivoted to a pandemic.

And now what we're starting to dig into is the set of things that have been delayed for that period of time that have also been influenced and flavored by the things that we learned during the pandemic. So the core of what I do and what my organization does is partnership. We are here to serve the institution and to make Miami better. We are a multiplier. If you get me in a room and you ask me what we do, I say, we are a multiplier. If we are making you more effective, by a factor of more than one, we are doing our jobs well.

So we're looking at what the future of our ERP is. We're talking about a lot of our core systems. We're talking about replacing a 15 and 20 year old hand built identity and access management system that integrates open source tools and community tools and the knowledge of people who are still here and if they left, I'd be in terrible, terrible trouble. And all of those things that we are all used to seeing in schools like Miami.

But we're also pivoting because Miami is growing as a research institution. So we have crossed over the 30 million dollar research grants level this year. We are working on taking that to maybe two times that. And so we are growing that way. We are growing our graduate programs. We are growing our certificate programs. I just helped our college of engineering and computer science put together a cybersecurity program that emphasizes certification and practical hands on education. And that will move us forward. So we're doing so many cool things and we've got catch up to play, and we have to digest all the changes we made during the pandemic, like hybrid classrooms. Do we keep them, how many do we keep? What does it look like to maintain them? So lots of things in play.

Cynthia Golden: The big questions, yep.

Jack Suess: So David, one of the things that you mentioned is that you were director of security at Notre Dame and you sort of functioned like a CSO would be, and I've always sort of felt that a CSO is a great opportunity to begin to understand the organization. And to me, we should be seeing more chief information security officers, ultimately coming through the pipeline to be CIOs because of this fact that they get to sort of work across the entire organization, academic and administrative. I'm curious how being a former security officer helped inform you and sort of prepare you? And how can CIOs effectively utilize their CISO to be that multiplier for helping the organization be better, not just being the person you turn to say no?

David Siedl: Jack, I think the CISOs and senior security staff have one of the broadest views of IT because they have to work with everybody, if they are successful. Now, we all know people who are Doctor No of one flavor or another, and that are not that, but that's not really a modern CISO. A modern CISO is business driven. They understand risk. They can talk to an organization. They frequently operate across the full stack of the organization at every level. So they may operate with the board. They may operate with the cabinet. They probably talk to people everywhere across the institution. And that is a role and a breadth that most of the rest of us in it, who are not CIOs don't get every day and are not necessarily expected to have. So I think that it's a role that is really well suited if you can take on the people leadership and the strategic leadership and the partnership that also goes with that.

As a CIO, I have an amazing gift. When I got here, my CISO had very good personal reasons for taking off. His wife, got her dream job and he said, it's my turn to follow her. And suddenly I didn't have a CISO. And so I will fully admit, I went back to the friend network and said, I need help. I need somebody who would be great to work with and who would be a good fit for me, and who would really help us move this forward. And John Verden came to join us and John is everything that we need. And he is exactly that kind of example, of a CISO who thinks deeply about security, but also understands the business and understands what Miami needs to accomplish.

If you can do a role like this and have a broad role, it doesn't have to be a CISO role, it has to be a role where you can get some breadth and some visibility and some experience, it will help you grow, and it will also give you a much better idea of if you want to do a CIO role, because you'll see what it involves and what it entails every day. And see if that aligns to you because this job is not for everyone. It can be very hard. It can be very rewarding. It can be all kinds of things. And you have to think about whether this is what you want to do. And it's a hard one to dip your toe into and not jump in. I think you really have to jump all the way into the pool to be a CIO and it's worth knowing.

Cynthia Golden: Well, David, one of the things you just said was that you reached out to your friend network, and I think that's one of the great things about organizations like EDUCAUSE, because they helped me certainly, and I think all of us, build that friend network over the years, that has turned out to be really valuable. I know you've been active in EDUCAUSE over the years, and could you talk a little bit about some of your work and how that's helped you professionally? We just heard one example.

David Siedl: Sure, absolutely. So Cynthia my first [inaudible 00:16:40] with EDUCAUSE were writing the old effective practices papers long, long ago in the early two thousands. And we were actually writing them about wifi, when wifi was this new and exciting thing and secure wifi was this crazy thing that we were doing. And some buildings would have it.

And as I got pulled into the security community and started attending the security professionals conference, I saw this organization that was really supportive, that really was built around higher ed IT and where you could have that national and international network. And I said, that looks pretty cool, maybe I should figure out how to do something with that. And ended up on the program committee, made a bunch of phenomenal friends, and that group of friends who were moving up in information security, so security directors and CISOs and future CISOs, all there, have remained friends since then.

And so from 2006, 2007, until now that has been a support group for me on good days and bad days.

So fast forward to taking on a very different role in my senior director role. And I am now doing things that I've not had to do in over a decade of my career. And so I'm now an IT generalist, but at a leadership level. And so I reached out to that network and they said, well, you should probably subscribe to this EDUCAUSE CIO list. And you should talk to some people who will be able to advise you. And they helped me build connections and they helped me find ways to get that information. And as I got better at that job, I started contributing more back to EDUCAUSE, and then as I took this job, I continue to do the same.

So I've been on the national program committee. I've given a ton of talks. I've been a reviewer for EDUCAUSE conference proposals, which is... Big hint for the entire audience: one of the best ways to get better at writing proposals is to review everyone else's proposals and find the things that work. And then next year I guarantee now that you've looked at everyone else's homework, your homework will be better. But doing that volunteering and being part of the community has been such a core thing for me for the past couple of decades. And, the friendships are phenomenal. There are people who will be friends for the rest of my life because of EDUCAUSE being the bridge that helped connect us.

Cynthia Golden: I think I could probably speak for Jack and say, both of us could probably say the same thing.

Jack Suess: Yeah, and your point about the reviewing of proposals, it's often one of those where they do a call out looking for people to want to be reviewers, but one, you're right, it does help you write better proposals. But two, you see so many incredible ideas as you're reading them, that if nothing else, it helps you be better at thinking about some of the things you might want to try at your own organization after sort of looking at some of the other ones that are out there. So that's great advice.

Cynthia Golden: So sticking with the EDUCAUSE theme a little bit, I saw that you're giving a pre-conference session at the annual meeting this year, around next generation ERP and these pre-conference tutorials were always one of my favorite things, both to deliver and to attend. Do you want to talk about what you're doing and what you hope to accomplish this year?

David Siedl: I'm pretty excited about this because one of the things that the program committee does behind the scenes is identify things that we think would be really beneficial to the community. And as we were talking, they said, well, what about this growing surge of people who are looking at organizations that are looking at next generation ERPs? And I said, ooh, ooh, I'm really interested because we're talking about what our future looks like. And I've seen some really good presentations. And so I think we could pull some excellent speakers together.

And so we've been putting together a... It's a half day event, and we're going to talk about everything from how you figure out that you should move, so you identify it, the selection process, the implementation process, go live and then running on a next generation ERP. And we have people from across the country, across institutions, all sizes, all shapes who have gotten to those various points. And it's very fresh for them and very real for them. And so we've got a multiple segment set of panels that are going to talk about this and be able to do Q&A and direct explanation of what worked and what didn't work. And it's such a fresh topic for people. We're super excited.

But I also get to give a second one later that day, which may be a little crazy, because two pre-conferences is going to be really tiring. But one of the things we've talked about a lot as well is when people step into higher ed from outside, whether it's the business world, the corporate world, wherever they're coming from, it can be a bit of a culture shock. And I'm sure both of you have dealt with this when you hire someone and 180 days later, they walk in, they think, what the heck have I signed up for? You all are crazy. You don't drive to business principles, you drive to this, you have internal politics that confuse me. I'm not quite sure what's going on. And so our second pre-conference will actually be about how to build welcoming for IT and high ed organizations for people from outside, and how to guide people through that transition and what wisdom we can offer there. So we have a really exciting second one set up that day as well.

Jack Suess: David, over the years I did a number of pre-conference tutorials, both giving and attending and actually, early on attending some of the pre-conference tutorials really helped identify people that you get to know in the community because they're a little bit longer and you tend to have a lot of interactivity in these. And it's just a great way if this is a first time coming to EDUCAUSE, or your first time in a leadership position attending one of these pre-conference tutorials, will really connect you with people that you'll probably remain friends with for a long time, even beyond the conference. But it's just a great thing and doing two, I don't know how you're managing that, but you're pretty amazing. So I'm sure you are.

So I'm going to turn just a little bit, David, and talk about the fact that I noticed on your IT website... And I think it's a great idea that you have an IT diversity committee inside IT. And I was curious if you could talk a little bit about it, how it got formed, what you're focusing on, what some of the results have been to related to that?

David Siedl: Sure. This was one of the gifts that I got when I got here. And that was that this DEI group already existed in my IT organization and had been created internally because it is a core value for IT services here. Which that was phenomenal. I walked in, I thought, okay, I'm going to have to worry about how we get DEI efforts started. And they said, oh, here's what we're doing. We've already got a plan. Here's our cycle for the year. Here's the important events we do. Are you willing to show up and be supportive? Well, that's easy mode. So I talk to them a little bit more about what they do. We just got done with one of our signature events. And this is one of the things that I will recommend to anybody who will stop, slow down and listen to me long enough for me to bend their ear a little bit.

We do what we call our annual DEI film festival. And what we do is we select a relatively short form DEI focused movie or film. And we bring together our organization. We invite any of our campus partners who would like to attend, to come attend with us. We bring in faculty and community experts on the topic of the film. We ask them to talk to us and to guide us through that. And we encourage them to lead us through a difficult conversation. And so we just walked through something that's really meaningful to us. We're actually located on what was Western Women Colleges campus, and Miami merged with the Western Women's College quite a few years ago. I'm sitting in what was their library right now, where IT is now for our IT building. And this is where the freedom summer folks were trained before they were sent south and before folks were killed for going down there to support equal rights.

And so we watched a movie about what those training camps were like and the preparedness that was put together. And we had experts who actually built the movie and put together the movie that is actually hosted with PBS right now about freedom summer and Western Women's College. And we talked about it. And as you can imagine, some of those conversations are challenging because you start to think things like if I was a recently graduated college student, if I was still in college, would I be brave enough to go somewhere where I might be killed because of supporting diversity? And it was a wonderful event. It was a challenging event. It is every time. But it was a wonderful event. We also do a lot of other things on campus.

One of the core things that I think you probably are both familiar with is IT divisions love food, and we love food events. So we've historically done a chili cook off, but we also added what we call the variety rice cook off. And we bring rice dishes from around the world. We have people from countries around the world. And so we were looking for something. We do something that's pretty distinctly Americana with the chili cook off. We challenge our libraries to that. And we face off every year and we bring in judges. But we also do our rice cook off. That's something we're picking back up coming out of the pandemic.

We engage in all kinds of other things like safe zone training and our green zone training. Green zone training supports veterans. And so we have a diversity event every couple of months. We have a channel in Slack about DEI. We have a cultures channel and we have active conversations about it on an ongoing basis. I love this group and all they ask for from our leadership is support. And they do the grassroots effort to make it happen from there.

Jack Suess: That's just fabulous. Thank you.

Cynthia Golden: It really is. Is it the same people year after year, David, or do they rotate?

David Siedl: It changes. Yeah, we do. We make sure one of our leadership team members is engaged so that they have easy access to whatever they might need, but the group changes over time as people step in and step out. There are people who tend to stay with it because it's a real focus for them, but it is open doors and people can volunteer. And so as we bring new staff in, they hear about it and they join. There's a wonderful ebb and flow to it over time.

Cynthia Golden: That's just terrific. I'm going to switch gears a little bit because I wanted to make sure we had time to talk about some of the other work that you do, which is that you're an author. You've written a number of books about cybersecurity and cyber warfare over the last several years. And I think you said 19, maybe? That's a lot.

David Siedl: Just finishing the 19th one, yeah.

Cynthia Golden: Can you talk a little bit about how you got started as an author? And I am personally very curious about how you balance that kind of work and that writing with your day job as well.

David Siedl: So Cynthia, I'll tell you the first thing is, and a lot of people hear this from me... My parents are both librarians, so I have a bit of a bias towards anything that looks like a book. And in grad school, I worked for an author who was writing a very successful series of Microsoft Office training books. And I saw him doing that and I thought, that's kind of interesting. That that stuck it in my head. I didn't do anything at about it at the time, but I'd asked him questions and it was in my head that might be interesting.

And then when I took my job at Notre Dame, I became friends with Mike Chapel there. And Mike was a very successful author and had written one of the top study guides for the CISSP certification in the country. Coworker and friends, so I started pestering Mike. This looks kind of interesting, Mike, nudge, nudge. Can we talk about this? And either I was pesky enough, or he took enough sympathy on me that eventually he said, well, you could be a tech editor on the book for us next time. And I tech edited one of the CISSP study guides. And he came back and said, you did a really good job, maybe unexpectedly well, and would you be interested in being a co-author on a book?

I have now co-authored 17 books with Mike. I've contributed to one and I have solo written one. And it is a heck of a job because it is nights and weekends. And, and whenever you can squeeze it in and you are writing to somebody else's outline of concepts and topics a lot of the time when you're writing for certification guides. Amazon reviewers are brutal. And so sometimes you don't even want to read the Amazon reviews, but you want to make your books better. But I keep doing it because it's an enjoyable thing to do. It's a neat place to be. I was at a conference a few years ago and I stopped to thank a vendor because I'd used some of their tools as I was writing. And they said, oh, oh, this person here is a fan of yours. And I didn't know I had fans. I may only have one fan. But it was a really fun experience to get to meet a fan as well. So it is neat being out there and getting to experience something else and stay a little bit more in tune with my cybersecurity background as well.

Jack Suess: That really is amazing though, that, you, over this last 15 years have done almost 19 books through that. That's pretty amazing. I'm going to shift though and ask the question that we like to ask all of our guests. And that really is... One of the things that this podcast is about, is thinking about that question of... EDUCAUSE has the term, the integrative CIO. And I'm curious, what does that term mean to you and how are you trying to bring that term to life in your role at Miami of Ohio?

David Siedl: I knew you were going to ask this. This is the point of the podcast. So I've been thinking about it from a "what is the David answer" perspective and the core of how I lead is as a partner. And so if you ask me, how should we go approach this? It is a partnership approach. That means the integrative side of it is I have to understand the people that I'm partnering with, what their business is, what their drivers are, what their understanding of what we're doing is, and then I have to bring my expertise to try and help them to work with them and to move us forward. It's back to that multiplier thing I said earlier, as we were talking. Can we be a multiplier?

And so an integrative CIO is one who has to put all of those pieces together. And in some ways I think we may have one of the broadest jobs on campus. I meet with all of our cabinet because I have to support all of our cabinet. And I have to understand the business of all of our cabinet. And I meet with all of our deans, because I need to understand what their colleges need and what they need from an IT strategy perspective. That is intensely, intensely, what an integrative CIO needs to be. And I sure hope that's what the industry direction is because I think it's how we lead to success.

Jack Suess: David, the other thing that I would just add to what you said is I think that's what makes the job so enjoyable, is getting to be talking with so many incredible people around how they're trying to improve higher education or the institution and figuring out how we can contribute in some way towards that wonderful goal.

David Siedl: People used to ask me why I loved information security as a career. And I would say it is different every day. And I think being that kind of leader, being that integrative CIO means that you'll be doing something different almost every day. And that is a ton of fun.

Cynthia Golden: This has been a really fabulous conversation. I'm so glad you joined us, David. As we wrap things up here, do you have any last comments or anything you wanted to talk about?

David Siedl: First, I want to say, thank you. This is an absolute treat. I've been listening to the podcasts and they're just fascinating and wonderful. So thank you so much for letting me join you.

I'll leave with a tidbit, a tip for people. And so Jack, had talked about how wonderful the EDUCAUSE conference is for meeting people and how those pre-conference seminars can build you a network. The other thing that I will say is the EDUCAUSE institutes are so worth your time and so worth the few dollars that they cost in comparison to most training budgets, because that's where you build community. And you will find that you have built friends in a week that will last a lifetime. And you will have a support network that is the same career point or a similar career point. They understand what's going on. You'll hear people who share your problems, who are envious of the things that are going well for you and who will cry with you when things are not. And so I can only recommend that people think about the EDUCAUSE Institute as a part of their career development as well. They've served me so well. I'm really blessed to be able to teach one this coming fall, as we do the new managers information security Institute. Again, if you can get to one, get to one. It will serve you well.

Cynthia Golden: Well, thank you so much.

Jack Suess: Yes, David. Thank you.

David Siedl: Thank you both.

 

This episode features:

David Seidl
Vice President for Information Technology and CIO
Miami University

Cynthia Golden
Associate Provost
Executive Director of the University Center for Teaching and Learning
University of Pittsburgh

Jack Suess
Vice President of IT & CIO
University of Maryland, Baltimore County