I said in my eduWEB reflection that I was going to start up a fail series. And this post simply jumped off my fingers. When I was first exposed to this material I wasn’t even thinking about how it applies to my current job and work experience. I immediately thought of my experience in higher education and many of you whom I’ve stayed closely connected with.
If you haven’t seen the slides from the Netflix presentation floating all over the web entitled “Reference Guide on our Freedom & Responsibility Culture” I highly recommend that you give the 128 slides some of your time. In fact I’ll make it extremely easy on you by embedding the presentation below.
These slides have made quite a bit of noise in web and tech companies, including the company I work for. I know for a fact two of my coworkers have already blogged them.
Understanding Work Context
So after viewing the slides and viewing the title of this post, hopefully you can see where I’m going with this. Colleges & universities do not treat STAFF like Netflix and probably never will. From my personal experience they are treated as second-hand citizens compared to faculty. I still hear all the time about the bureaucracy and chain of command that members of a higher education web staff run into. The responsibility and environment of a faculty are much more linear with less layers of bureaucracy, and they are not only given more freedom to be creative but are actually encouraged to be.
There are lots of great reasons to work for a university. Way back in the day (that would be eighteen months ago in web time) College Web Guy put together a great post: Ten Reasons Why my University Job is Better Than Your Corporate Job. I’m not saying you can’t make a great case for why one should work at an institute of higher education, but from the points in this presentation, what is so frustrating is I’ve seen lots of these points applied to faculty and not staff. Heck, one of the things that makes higher education so frustrating sometimes is the fact that people can get away with complete incompetence and still not get fired. I’ve heard the joke that someone would have to rape a student to get fired in higher education, and although that’s not funny at all, I’ve heard about situations where that is not too far from the truth. It’s sad that is a joke and it’s sad that levels of incompetence are allowed to fester.
Now I understand all the reasoning here. Higher education is all about educating the minds of tomorrow. Staff members do not educate these individuals, so they are not given the same resources and freedoms as college educators. They are not the core reason for the existence of a university… I get that. But that doesn’t mean they don’t play an important role in building the brand and specifically the Web presence. They play a huge part in putting together a compelling image that will draw future students.
I know a handful of really great web people who have recently left higher education and a handful more who aren’t that far from jumping into the corporate world. Now I can only speak from my personal situation and would never claim to know all of their motives for leaving, but freedom of creativity and personal opportunities to grow were HUGE reasons for me leaving for the corporate world.
Read the seven aspects of the Netflix Culture and tell me how those apply to your university web developer/marketer job:
- Values are what we Value - Most of the time web staff is undervalued and overworked-because people don’t understand at all what you do.
- High Performance - One of higher ed’s biggest perks is the fact that you can go home at 5 o’clock on the dot. How often are you given a review and told what standards your performance is based on?
- Freedom & Responsibility - The only freedom and responsibility you have a lot of times is to do what comes down from the “higher ups” who ask you things like, “What’s this thing called Tweeeeter?”
- Context, not Control - When is there a meeting about the web that doesn’t involve someone trying to control what you do?
- Highly Aligned, Loosely Coupled - Do you get to work in the freedom of what needs to be done without input from people who have no idea how the Web works?
- Pay Top of Market - Web people in higher education are some of the lowest paid web professionals out there.
- Promotions & Development - Where exactly can a web person be promoted in higher education? Do you really want to manage an entire marketing department?
What Do You Think
I know, I know. It’s sad that I can have this much passion about something I’m no longer a part of. Maybe it’s because after being out of higher education for eight months, I finally feel free to speak my mind about the situation.
So what do you think? Am I full of crap and just don’t get it? Do colleges have much more appreciation for their staff than I understand? If you only want a stable job and to work forty hours a week then a job in a college or university web office is a great place to be. If you are hungry for more freedom to be creative and innovative it might be extremely hard to find that opportunity in this industry.