Jennifer Spencer, IT Service Desk Analyst
Jennifer has been with DPAG since October 2019, joining us from the Department of Zoology. She is a Service Desk Analyst as part of DPAG's IT Services team and is responsible for helping departmental members across the full life cycle of their IT equipment, alongside finding solutions to a wide variety of user requests each day. Interview on Thursday 12 December 2019.
What brought you to a career in IT?
I’ve always been curious about how things work, I love solving puzzles, I’m a fan of technology, and I like helping people. I’ve also always enjoyed computers - I remember changing the RAM on my laptop when I was 15 to a mighty 250MB! So, IT is a natural career for me. If you’ve ever played those Pipe laying games on your computer, that’s what a network switch looks like to me. If you’ve ever wanted to understand someone who just couldn’t quite let you know what was wrong with them, that’s how I see a PC having issues. IT is just a good fit for my personality, I guess.
How did you come to work at DPAG?
I studied PPE at Oxford for my degree and did Economics A Level, so my first main job out of university was Commodities Analyst for a Metals and Mining Consultancy called SFA (Oxford). I discovered that wasn’t quite for me, so I took an Administrator role at a family mediation charity and was there for a couple of years before getting a job at the University’s Department of Zoology. I was a satellite member of the Zoology IT team based at the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) – 50% of my role was IT and 50% was course administration for their postgraduate diploma in International Wildlife Conservation Practice.
I wanted to make the move into a full time IT role, and stay within the University, and I saw DPAG was looking for a service desk analyst which was the right level of experience for me, and fit my timing. The postgraduate diploma had just finished for the year, so it was a perfect time to move roles: I applied and was very fortunate to be chosen!
What were your first impressions of the Department?
A very friendly department, with a bit of a confusing layout! DPAG is like an onion, locked in a puzzle box, hidden in a maze: the longer you stay here, the more intricacies and hidden things you discover! It’s obviously much bigger than the research unit I was with previously but feels even more so when you take into account the many research groups within it, and their unique requirements.
What does your job entail?
An IT Service Desk Analyst needs to be responsive to user requests and offer solutions and help in a timely, friendly manner. People are doing work here that is very important to their studies and their careers, even science in general, and when you’re up against a deadline, or trying to get these things done, you just want the technology to work, and it can be so frustrating when that just won’t happen. So, my job entails making sure department members have the IT equipment and resources they need to get their jobs and research done. We want people to research heart attacks and aneurisms, not be having them because they can’t access their email!
Day-to-day, we oversee the “cradle to grave” for any IT equipment. From helping users decide what to order that will best suit their requirements, ordering new equipment, purchasing it, setting it up, fixing any issues such as bugs in the software, sorting out the back up infrastructure, getting it connected to the network, making sure the user can access their files, and then once they’re done with that machine, it’s time to decommission it and send it on its merry recycling way!
What do you most enjoy about your job?
A combination of things – I like the variety, I like the unpredictability, I like to be kept busy, and I like to see the relief on peoples’ faces when their problems have been solved. It’s really nice to help someone who has spent their entire lives researching a topic that they know more about than I could ever hope to, but, for example, their email just doesn’t work and they’re so frustrated, and then in a few clicks, you refresh their connection and the email comes in, and you get to see people just light up – or at least stop wanting to throw their monitor out the window!
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is persuading people to let me help them, oddly. This happens in two ways. Firstly, a lot of people get used to how their systems used to work, but technology is always changing and Oxford upgrades its systems, which brings changes, and it can be very challenging to persuade a user that they need to do things differently going forward. I tend to offer a straightforward explanation; that I appreciate the frustration they’re facing, however, to improve our systems and their stability, technology has moved on, and we have to react to that. You have to try and help them understand things from the technology’s perspective! Secondly, I’m new to the department, I’ve only been here two months, and people are so used to the amazing work that Sean and Simon have done, or they are concerned about telling a new person about a problem someone else is already helping them with, that sometimes it can be challenging to get them to tell me their IT problems and let me help them! The other challenge is that I don’t have all the intricacies of each group’s or individual’s IT set up and preferences in my head yet, but I’ll get there!
What do you wish people understood about your job?
IT is constantly changing, and as a university IT team there are always new systems, new guidelines, and new rules we must follow to ensure our departmental IT is meeting the security and stability standards required by the wider university - sometimes this means we can’t do things exactly as our users would like them to be done. We want to find the solution that works for our users, but we must also ensure any solution also meets our departmental requirements and Oxford University’s requirements.
It's early days in your time here, but do you have a highlight so far?
The IT team is great: Sean is a very supportive team leader who wants me to develop new skills, and Simon is a really helpful colleague who’s been showing me the various ins and outs of how DPAG does things. The office has a nice atmosphere, with the Comms, Athena SWAN, Digital Media, and IT teams together, it’s just a lovely place to work, and that’s really important to me.
What do you get up to outside of work?
I do have very typical IT hobbies; playing video games, watching and making Youtube videos and watching anime. I also did Art GCSE and A Level and have always enjoyed experimenting with different media. Probably as a hangover from my Zoology days, my preferred subject is drawing animals. Currently my favourite thing is to do a nice simple drawing of an ugly animal and put a lovely inspirational quote next to it! My friend studied the sunfish for her PhD and she adores them, so I drew one with the quote “outer beauty enchants, inner beauty captivates.”
I am also learning Japanese and Greek. I’ve got dear friends in Greece who I visit every year and their child is just reaching the age of talking, so mad Auntie Jen as I call myself needs to be able to converse! I’m learning Japanese because I am a complete Japanophile; I adore everything about the culture, the language and food. I’ve been three times, to Tokyo, Kyoto, Futuoaka, and I want to explore much more of it.
Is there anything that might surprise people to know about you?
Oh, I’d much rather they find out organically. It makes things much more fun!
What’s coming up for you this year?
As a team, although this isn’t totally within our control, we’d really like it if we could do the MSD IT changeover this coming year. For me, I’m determined to get our storerooms cleaned out and document our processes, because my superpower is writing up processes so they are easy to reference and understand! On a personal level, I’d like to meet my weight goal this coming year as a culmination of my three-year weight loss journey.