Thirty-four Years in IT - Leadership Chaos, Career Derailed (Part 10)

This post is the hardest one to write. I've been thinking about it for years without being able to put words to paper. With the COVID-19 stay-at-home directive, I can't procrastinate anymore, so here goes.

As outlined in Part 9, Fall 2011 was a tough period. To make it tougher, the CIO decided to hire two new leadership-level positions - a new CISO over the security group, and a new Associate Vice Chancellor (AVC) over the Infrastructure group. The infrastructure AVC would be my new boss.

The CISO position was really interesting to me. The infrastructure position was not as interesting, as it would have been more of the same but with more stress and more headaches. I applied, was interviewed and rejected for both. I'm sure that part of the problem was that with the chaos of our poorly written ERP application and the Oracle database issues that Fall, I really didn't prepare for either interview. Not having interviewed for a job in more than a decade didn't help either.

Both hires ended up being bad for the organization and for my career. I'm pretty sure that both knew that I had been a candidate for the positions and both were threatened by me.

The new CISO was determined to sideline me and break down the close cooperation between my team and the security team. Whereas we had been working together for years, the security team was now restricted from communicating with me without the new CISO's permission. I was blackballed - cut out of all security related incidents, conversations, and meetings. Anything that had my fingerprints on it was trashed, either literally or figuratively. Staff who had worked closely with me in the past were considered disloyal to him and were sidelined and harassed.

The new CISO also declared that we were 'too secure' and tried to get a consultant to write up a formal document to that effect. Whatever security related projects we had in the pipeline were killed off. Rigorous processes around firewall rules, server hardening and data center security were ignored. Security would no longer impact the ability to deploy technology.

The new Infrastructure AVC started out by pulling projects from me without telling me, meeting with my staff without me in the room and telling them I was 'doing it wrong'. Staff were still loyal to me and kept me informed as to what was transpiring. It was clear that I was viewed as a threat and was not welcome.

I confronted my new boss and advised that if he were going to manage my staff without me in the room, that he might as well move them directly under him on the org chart. He had a bit of a shocked look on his face, and then obliged. I also advised that as I now had no staff and no role in the organization, he needed to find me something to do.

I knew that he'd have a hard time firing me - I was protected by Civil Service rules, but I also knew that my work environment would be poor until either he and I figured out how to work together or one of us left. My choice was to try to stick it out and make the best of it or move on. I probably had options either within the State University system or with the State of Minnesota. I really am a Higher Ed. guy though, so I was reluctant to move. I decided to wait it out - and meanwhile get my financial ducks in order and put out job feelers.

He responded by blackballing me from any conversation of significance, by trashing me in e-mails to colleagues, by making it clear to my former staff that I was not to have any work related conversation with them without him, and that referencing anything that I had said or done the last dozen years was unwelcome. At one point I had to advise my former staff that they should not be seen with me, as it might impact their relationship with the new bosses. In an effort to convince me to leave (or perhaps out of sympathy), he even called me into his office and showed me a job posting at another State agency that he thought might be interesting to me.

He also moved me out of the IT area and across the hall into finance, where I would not be available to my former staff (and where I made a couple of great friends).

The environment was chaotic and toxic. Teams got rearranged and disrupted with no clear idea why or what outcome was expected. Moral was poor, tempers were high. A new director/manager was hired into my old position who was extremely toxic. As one could predict, some of our best staff left and others lost enthusiasm and dedication. I ended up fielding requests to be a job reference for many of my former staff.

After about six months he and I smoothed things out to the point where we could work together, as long as I stayed away from his (my former) staff and offered no thoughts on anything he was doing to anyone other than him. I had no clear responsibilities and as long as I stayed out of his sandbox I could do pretty much whatever I wanted. So I used that time to re-think quite a bit of what I had been doing, and in particular to lay groundwork for work that paid off a few years down the road, work that I'm quite proud of and will write about at a later date.

After about a year and a half we had another CIO change and both the CISO and AVC left. Ironically, on the AVC's last day I was the one who helped him clear his office, walked him out to the parking ramp and saw him off.

About that time the 'toxic' director also left. A couple of us who were black sheep ended up back in the thick of things when we found out how badly our technology and security had degraded. That's also when we found out that the 'completed' plans for moving a data center two months out did not exist.

The nightmare was over, but much damage had been done.

In retrospect, should I have left the organization? I'm not sure. For me it was very difficult to watch what myself and my team had built over the last fifteen years get torn apart, especially when what came out of the teardown was what I believed to be inferior to what we had. If what resulted was an improvement, it would have been easy. Very little of the technology that ran the system was built by anyone other than us. My fingerprint was on everything - good or bad, right or wrong. And to the new CISO and AVC, everything was bad and wrong.

 But the data center got moved on time.

Part 9 - The Application that Almost Broke Me