I loved the movie The American President, so I don’t know quite why it took me so long to start watching The West Wing. But I’ve started and am catching up on all four seasons before this current one. And I’ve got to say, I love it. I can’t get enough. It’s one of the few shows, if not the only one that I can watch countless episodes back to back and never get tired of it. That’s the case for a lot of reasons, including a great cast, intelligent and witty dialogue, and compelling storylines. Yet, as I find myself three-quarters through the second season, I realize that one of the greatest reasons for enjoying the show is that the ideals the Bartlett administration works for resonate with me and it makes me feel good to see people, particularly politicians working to achieve those ideals. And of course, it’s a television show, a sugar-coated, dramatized version of how things really work, how things really happen, but I can’t help feeling like I wish I could be part of something like that.
And then I realize I guess I am. Despite all my frustration with work these past few months, with RPC hell and interdepartmental bureaucracy, working at a university and specifically at Stanford is extremely rewarding. In the beginning, I took the job with Residential Computing because in the face of a rapidly failing economy and tough job market, the university was offering a relatively interesting software development job with good pay and benefits. Then, after holding the position for a while, I was rewarded with the feeling of accomplishment and independence– I run my own software development program with relative autonomy and I got a lot done in my first year. But as I got the hang of the software development part, I became more involved in the staff part– being part of a staff that serves almost all students at the university and thanks to the people who work with me, serve them not only as a computing resource, but as advocates.
Technology pervades our lives more and more each day and today, it is what tests our social, political, economic and moral values. Today, and into the future, technology is deeply political and brings to the surface much deeper, much more essential issues. It’s similar to the AIDS epidemic– when we look at the problem of HIV and AIDS, we’re not just dealing with a medical problem. We’re dealing with a social problem, a political problem and an economic problem. There’s a reason why people of color, women, poor people– the same people often fall into these three categories– are suffering the most from the AIDS epidemic. When we look at the problem of AIDS, we would be remiss not to look at the problems of poverty, discrimination, and education. In the same way, talking about technology, working in technology is not just about building faster computers or getting everybody onto the Internet. It’s about looking at how technology can not only help our lives, but how it shapes our lives and ideals and what the way we use a technology or what technologies we pursue says about us as people.
My job isn’t just about writing code or building tools to help run the network better. It’s about building tools to faciliate and shape the educational process. It’s about being part of a staff that helps shape important policies regarding not just technology use, but student rights. The undergraduate experience at Stanford, partially thanks to the Residential Education model, is a truly engrossing experience and aims to provide learning opportunities not just in the classroom, but during your entire time at school and in all areas of your life while at school. And because technology is such an integral part of young people’s lives today, helping them learn how to use it more effectively, providing them with all the technology tools possible, and helping to influence University policy to ensure students are free to thrive in an open and encouraging environment is an extremely important and rewarding job. My college years are not so far in the past and being naturally inquisitive and having a thirst for learning as most Stanford students are and do, I remember how good it felt like, still feels like to be at a place like Stanford that is open and filled with rich resources of both technology and people to help me explore and learn.
Sometimes it’s frustrating and sometimes it feels like, as my friend put it, that I’m trying to drive a Jaguar on a go-cart track, but at least I’m on the road.