Inside the Top Five: No. 2: University of Miami

IT workers here are motivated by the students they serve and the relaxed approach of their CIO.

Invigorated by the natural energy flowing through a campus filled with youth and Florida sunshine, the University of Miami's technical staff is also motivated by a CIO whose philosophy centers on free food, humor and the freedom to explore new technologies.

Less-than-desirable factors also drive this formidable staff, which must brace each summer for a potentially hellacious hurricane season. During last year's major storms -- hurricanes Katrina and Wilma -- some university IT workers clocked between 36 and 72 hours straight to make sure systems and services persevered.

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To combat hurricane anxiety and other challenges, CIO Lew Temares says he uses heavy doses of humor, which he claims is a major contributor in UM's snagging the No. 2 spot on Computerworld's Best Places to Work in IT list for the second year running. "Through all the disasters we've endured, we've yet to have anyone crack up or break down mentally," he quips (see the complete Best Place to Work in IT 2006 special report).

Temares doubles as dean of the College of Engineering, and he insists on keeping UM's technology workers close to the students they serve. A typical day in the life of UM's technical staff reflects those various aspects of Temares' approach.

6:30 a.m.: The day starts early for UM's top IT managers, who compete with students for parking. "We think of our parking permits as 'hunting licenses,'" remarks Director of Applications Development Michael Zucker.

9 a.m.: Meetings are in full swing, and Zucker is again immersed in student life with the IT initiatives on his plate. "Today, I met with the dean of students to discuss 'social computing.' Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook have become very popular and play an important part of our students' daily lives. We discussed the impact of improper usage of these social sites and their implication for students and the university," he recalls.

10 a.m.: Another student-driven issue is on the table for the director of applications, database and Web development, Jackie Zucker (who is married to Michael), who meets with student representatives to discuss their IT needs.

Frequently, technology initiatives that support UM students are hatched in the school's different computing divisions, notes Tim Ramsey, associate vice president for IT.

WHY THEY'RE TOPS
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Ranked No. 1 for diversity; 74% of IT staffers are minorities
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Ranked No. 3 for training
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Ranked No. 3 for career development
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Ranked No. 3 for retention
"For example, we are working on an effort called 'My UM Backup.' For $80 a year, students can back up 2GB of files, which they often type wirelessly around the campus," he explains. The effort is a brainchild of one of Ramsey's direct reports.

11:30 a.m.: IT staffers break for lunch but adamantly refuse to relinquish precious parking spaces. "Eating in the food court with the students and faculty allows you to enjoy the university ambiance," says Michael Zucker.

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