News feature

A struggle within MIT’s IT department over its future

7720 istfeature
Building W92, where Information Systems and Technology’s main offices are located.
lenny martinez—The Tech

The sweeping transformation that is currently underway at MIT’s Information Systems and Technology office is one that is unprecedented in its scope and backlash from employees. Many students and faculty are familiar with IS&T, which maintains services ranging from email accounts to Athena clusters across campus — technologies that underlie everyone’s time at MIT. Fewer people, however, are aware of the changes that have redefined the organization over the past year.

Led by IS&T’s vice president, John Charles, the ambitious reorganization began in February 2015 and aims to spur innovation through agile software development practices adopted from industry. Charles emphasizes that this is not a typical reorganization, but rather a complete transformation of MIT’s IT department.

Meanwhile, a number of current and former employees say the transformation has fallen short of improving the organization, and has instead created considerable turmoil in the work environment. This has resulted in roughly 20 percent of nearly 300 staff members leaving since February, instead of the average 8 or 9 percent annual turnover.

The reorganization stands out in several ways. Many longtime employees have resigned — by the estimate of a former employee, Laura Baldwin ’89, more than 700 years of experience have been lost from people parting ways. A number of those employees have been MIT alumni.

The changes within IS&T are guided by a long-term strategic vision that was formed in 2014 and is expected to be fully realized by 2020. However, employees say that the vision is not clear and that the demotions of managers and other structural changes have left them perplexed and uncertain about the future. The shift to industry practices has also upset some staff who worry IS&T is leaving behind its roots in MIT culture.

It’s been a year since the changes were first introduced, yet they remain a contentious issue between upper-level management and many staff members. Since mid-November, at least five people have resigned from IS&T, Baldwin told The Tech.

Six current and former employees described their experiences with the transformation for this article, but several of them requested to remain anonymous to avoid backlash from IS&T or future employers.

Staff said that the wave of departures, combined with distrust in managers, has caused morale to plummet within IS&T.

“The problem,” Baldwin said, “[is] that the organization is kind of being gutted and demoralized.”

A former employee speaks up

Laura Baldwin had spent more than half of her life at IS&T. After graduating from MIT in 1989, she volunteered for eight years while in graduate school at Tufts and then spent a subsequent 17 years working full-time. Her most recent position had been at the help desk in the support department.

In that time, Baldwin saw the organization change a number of times. In 1995, it switched from six departments to five new teams that worked under the motto “great systems fast.” The year 2004 saw it expand from Information Systems into IS&T as it merged with another organization, Financial Systems Services. In 2005, 2006, and 2010, the organization underwent further expansions and changes.

Baldwin enjoyed her job of interfacing with students and faculty on campus and working to resolve their IT problems. Her managers appreciated her work as well; Baldwin said she had always received good annual performance reviews with no serious complaints.

However, when she was called into a meeting last October with two superiors and a Human Resources staff member, the mood couldn’t have been more different. Her managers had several concerns with her recent behavior responding to specific help requests by MIT professors and employees. These included what they called “unprofessional communications” with a professor, and in particular the casual tone she had used in her online correspondences. Baldwin maintains she had tried her best to solve the professor’s technical problem involving email servers, and had used similar language to what she had used previously. For her managers, though, the response she had given the professor over email had been unprofessional.

Charles, who was interviewed over email for this story, said he “cannot comment on individual decisions and personnel matters,” other than to say that all personnel matters were “handled in accordance with Institute HR policies.”

In the months before the meeting with her superiors, Baldwin already had doubts about her job. “I had not necessarily enjoyed my job for a while, but I was really good at it, and I liked doing it, and I liked helping people,” she said. “So I was like, I’ll keep my head down and stick it out, and eventually things will get better, since how could they not?”

Sensing that her managers were about to transform her role into a developer position, which would take time away from doing the support work she enjoyed, Baldwin decided it was time: only three days after her meeting, she resigned.

In a dramatic display, Baldwin met with one of her managers and ended with the line, “In the words of my people … offer me money … power too, promise me that. Offer me anything I want … I want my managers back, you son of a bitch.”

“I will always be grateful to my grandboss for allowing me to use my chosen exit line,” she wrote later on her LiveJournal blog.

Baldwin’s experiences are not unique, and she is worried about her former colleagues. “The casualty rate is still going up, and I feel like I know very few people [at IS&T] who are not either looking for jobs or wishing that they had time to look for jobs, and it’s just going to get worse,” she said.

The vision for an agile future

In 2012, shortly after Israel Ruiz was appointed MIT’s executive vice president and treasurer, he applied the tried and tested concept of external visiting committees — designed to provide universities’ academic departments with outside feedback every few years — to the IS&T office he was now in charge of. The result was the 2012 IS&T Advisory Council.

That Council’s report, along with an older 2009 working group report, formed the foundations for John Charles’s plan to revamp and modernize IS&T’s services. After being appointed to his position at the end of 2013, Charles drew upon these reports and began a listening tour of his own to meet with groups ranging from IS&T staff and a student IS&T advisory board, to IT governance and advisory committees.

By the end of 2014, Charles had received the necessary approvals for the 2020 Vision for IT@MIT plan that he had helped develop. The plan concerned all information systems at MIT, but also focused largely on IS&T.

It was in February 2015 that letters were delivered to all IS&T staff members to inform them about the changes. “Everyone will experience some type of change,” some of the letters read. “Individuals may have a new manager, have some modification of responsibilities, and/or need to learn new technologies and gain additional skills.”

One of the primary principles guiding Charles is that IS&T must improve the efficiency with which it develops software to meet the growing needs of the university — something that most of the people interviewed for this story agreed with.

Before 2015, IS&T relied on a development methodology called the “waterfall model” in which the various stages of building software — such as design, coding, and testing — happen sequentially.

Under the 2020 vision, IS&T is moving towards an agile and iterative approach. The exact flavor of agile methodology they’ve adopted is one called Scrum. The model is used in much of the software industry, and is generally considered more efficient than the waterfall model. The time between conception and deployment can be dramatically decreased.

IS&T is attempting to apply the agile approach to the entire organization. “Agile organizations,” Charles wrote in a February email, “need empowered leadership at the individual and team levels — that means less management and more fluidity.”

He acknowledged that the “career progressions” for individuals would change and that several managers would transition to “lateral/same-level individual contributor leadership roles.”

In an email interview with The Tech, Charles said there was a need for “transforming, expanding, and refreshing skillsets” of IS&T employees.

While MIT’s IT department has seen its fair share of reorganizations in its 33 years of existence, this one may be unique in the number of people that have left as a result.

During IS&T’s last reorganization in 2010, 19 IS&T staff were laid off. While the number of “involuntary separations” during this restructuring was similar — 17 between February and August according to an IS&T document — many others also chose to resign or take an early retirement.

According to Charles in a November meeting, 18.6 percent of IS&T staff members had left IS&T since February, in comparison to 8 or 9 percent on an average year. More staff members have left since that number was announced.

Disputed methodologies

Despite the fact that Charles and other managers have repeatedly told staff members that the transformation would require their full support, there seems to be very little agreement. While most of those interviewed agreed with the general high-level principles guiding the changes, they contested the scope and details of their implementation.

Applying industry methodologies like the agile Scrum framework to the entire organization of IS&T is overkill, several of those interviewed said.

Another former employee said that he decided to leave IS&T when he realized “the organization would never truly be able to adopt agile practices such as Scrum.”

The Scrum methodology is about avoiding micromanagement of employees, he said, which is “completely at odds with the preferences and personalities of much of IS&T’s current leadership.”

Several people said that since Charles believes IS&T is undergoing a transformation that not many other universities have attempted, he looks to the corporate world — insurance, financial, and technology organizations — for examples of similar changes. Charles cites Google, Apple, Amazon, and Netflix as inspiration and for having similar “maker-based” cultures to MIT.

Not everyone feels that industry and MIT cultures are comparable.

“MIT is not a one-size-fits-all organization,” Teddy Thomas said, who worked at IS&T for 1.5 years before resigning this June 15. “Just because something works somewhere else doesn’t mean it will work at MIT.”

Baldwin described the new approach as a “‘we’re-a-company’ mindset.”

“There has been a lot of lip service paid to the idea that we’re partners with the MIT departments and communities in providing service,” she said, “but if we’re behaving in ways that are much more corporate, it’s unclear how true that is.”

She went on to add, more generally, that she thinks the changes “bring you more to the average of what everyone else does,” potentially destroying the “unique culture” that existed in MIT’s IT department before.

Baldwin thinks that even if some of the industry standards work for the software development aspects of IS&T, the agile framework and the measurable metrics that were introduced alongside it are not appropriate for the support aspects of IS&T.

In the call center, she said, staff used to take a support call and have as much time as needed to write up the support “ticket” afterwards. After the reorganization, though, they were required to finish the ticket and take another call after two minutes. While that meant the call center metrics may have looked better, Baldwin thinks it came with the cost of lower quality tickets as staff members were pressured to take more calls.

IS&T may also be shifting away from certain projects that hold value to MIT. One example is the development of future versions of Athena, MIT’s academic computing environment that has been around since 1983.

Jonathan Reed ’02 was the sole IS&T employee in charge of Athena development, before resigning last July. Since then, “no staff members have been assigned to work on Athena development,” Reed said. There are still part-time contributors, but Reed noted that they “can’t provide the same level of support that a full-time staff member can.”

Charles acknowledged that future development of Athena is up in the air. Due to its shift “from on premise datacenters to off premise cloud” environments, IS&T is preparing to close down its W91 datacenter in 2017 and is simultaneously rethinking the Athena clusters on campus.

Two employees remarked on a trend of staff members who were MIT alumni either getting pushed out or choosing to leave IS&T. One current employee, who is not an MIT alumnus, hypothesized that graduates are more likely to identify with MIT students and faculty, and thus more willing to help out some “quirky” person with their idiosyncratic projects — something that is harder to do, and possibly even looked down upon, in post-reorganization IS&T.

Reed added that the Athena system includes “a vast number of under-utilized complex features that are in use only by a small, but highly vocal, subset of the MIT community,” and that maintaining them would require “active support from senior leadership.”

Charles asserts that the transformation is about “enabling MIT’s culture of innovation” and serving the community in a “hopefully more effective and efficient way.”

However, the belief among those resigning is that the managers are too focused on metrics to notice if they’re actually assisting the people who need it. A former employee posed the question, “Have these people lost touch with [those] they’re helping?”

Uncertainty

“This was the first time in 13 years (and 4 previous IS&T re-orgs) that I had seen managers and directors demoted for no apparent reason,” Reed wrote in an email. “This was also the first time I had seen people re-assigned away from their existing positions and then those same positions re-posted on the MIT Jobs website within days.”

Many managers were demoted from their supervisor roles, likely as part of the changes to make IS&T a flatter organization. However, in several cases, new managers were put in place as soon as their predecessors left.

In data management, systems engineering, and customer support, where most of the resignations occurred, at least 15 project managers or team leaders left since the reorganization, according to organization charts from IS&T’s website.

Charles acknowledged the “disruptive work” in the transformation, but said that the organizational changes are due to “consolidating teams around [their] new operating model.”

IS&T has tried to make the details of the upcoming four years accessible through the public-facing Future of IT@MIT website (it.mit.edu) and a wiki with commonly asked questions and answers, such as, “Who made the decision regarding my title change?”

IS&T also reports on the latest version of the transformation (using version numbers like those used for software), which they announce at meetings or over emails, as well as publicly online.

In the latest version from November, “IS&T v1.5,” Charles asked IS&T employees to step back from the Scrum model, instead providing them with the flexibility to choose whatever methodology they want to use, “whether it’s Scrum, waterfall, Kanban, or storyboards.” This process is known as bimodal IT, and is once again an idea adapted from industry.

The latest change seems like it would have resolved the concerns that staff held in 2015, but it has not.

For some skeptics, it has simply fueled the perception that upper management does not have a clear plan for the transformation.

Another former employee predicted that “groups will go back to doing things the same way they have for the last 20 years.”

“I think this is too little too late,” Thomas said.

Baldwin said that the changes were “probably a good sign,” although her work in support would not have been affected.

The switch to bimodal IT is supposed to help people know “how to select the proper tools and methodologies for the job,” Charles said. This is a “critical first step in the transformation” toward a completely agile workplace that is made up of “agile mindsets, agile behaviors, agile practices, and agile processes.”

“Gutted and demoralized”

In order to be successful, the transformation will require everyone to buy into new philosophies, as Charles has emphasized in meetings. However, this has led to an environment where people are hesitant to express dissenting views, a current employee said.

Baldwin agreed. “When it’s presented as a victory,” she said, “then nobody feels like they can say, ‘No, actually, this is inconvenient. This makes it harder to get our jobs done.’”

These attitudes are indicative of a larger morale crisis currently taking place in parts of IS&T: what Baldwin referred to as feeling “gutted and demoralized.”

IS&T has developed “a culture of fear, secrecy, double-speak, and a clear lack of respect from IS&T senior leadership,” Thomas said.

Charles described this “stress” as originating from employees’ “disrupted relationships,” “new roles within new teams,” and their needing to adopt “new skills, new methodologies, new processes, and … new mindsets.” He agreed these difficulties are challenging, but maintained that they are necessary for modernizing IS&T.

IS&T has noticeably tried to improve morale in small ways, such as adding treadmills, soda machines, and free snacks across the offices. Rather than appreciating such amenities, however, those interviewed took a cynical view and treated them as superficial attempts to boost morale.

Furthermore, despite the IS&T reorganization principles being openly documented online, other parts of IS&T have seen a culture of secrecy develop around them.

Some staff in managerial roles allegedly signed non-disparagement agreements when resigning. These agreements can be found in many organizations, and they generally prevent former employees from taking actions that negatively affect the organization. As a result of these agreements, though, many staff were not available to be interviewed for this story.

Even those who were interviewed requested anonymity because they feared their identities being revealed would hurt them in their current jobs or in future jobs. Some former employees were concerned that their speaking out would lead to retaliation on current staff.

Beyond the IS&T bubble

The impact of the reorganization extends beyond just IS&T. Both Charles and discontented employees agree that the changes are affecting the greater MIT community.

Charles attributes the success of several new IS&T services used by the MIT community to the reorganization and its accelerated development cycle. One such platform is the newly released Developer Community Portal and its APIs that allow MIT developers to access various MIT data. “Two of our new APIs, Classrooms and Subjects, were built in response to student feedback,” he said.

Charles also highlighted two other services that IS&T has introduced at MIT — Dropbox for Business and GitHub Enterprise. It should be noted that these services were announced in August and October of 2014, respectively, months before the reorganization began.

Their development originated from a “series of proof-of-concept projects” that were launched during the planning stage of the transformation, Charles said. One current employee, however, said she didn’t see “any connection between their rollout and the transformation.”

Many current and former employees worried that the quality of support that IS&T is providing students and faculty has declined. Because of the considerable loss of institutional knowledge from people resigning, the organization isn’t as well-equipped to manage several of its services, some said.

“To the extent that we [at IS&T] actually have a mandate to provide IT help and infrastructure and support to the MIT community,” Baldwin said, “we’re going to be screwing that up.”

Since 1983, MIT’s information systems have been a key part of the MIT experience. For example, one of the first things a student now does upon entering MIT is create a Kerberos account that will act as their online identity during their time at the university.

The turmoil within IS&T will likely settle down, but beyond the buzzwords like “agile” and “innovation,” and beyond the managerial role changes, there is a more fundamental disagreement taking place.

It’s an open question whether IS&T should be run based on the principles that guided it through the rich yet fragmented history of the past three decades, or based on the norms of industry that could lead to a more progressive yet uncertain future. While everyone agrees that IS&T can and should improve, a number of IS&T affiliates don’t want to see the defining aspects of MIT’s IT be thrown out with the transformation.

Interestingly, that concern was raised as far back as August 2012, when the IS&T Advisory Council released their report after assessing the state of IT. Two years before the transformation would even begin, members of academia and industry were anticipating the struggles associated with change at MIT.

“The MIT environment might also be characterized as one of autonomy and entrepreneurialism,” the report read. “Over time, this culture has impacted core administrative processes and systems, which have become disparate and led to inefficiencies.”

“It is now difficult to modernize systems and scale them to meet the needs and expectations of the community. This cultural challenge will need to be confronted in order to achieve the vision of simplified processes and systems.”

68 Comments
1
Still at MIT over 1 year ago

Thank you to the former employees who spoke out. John Charles' legacy will be that he destroyed an IT department full of talented people with no clear objective in mind. His comment that "all personnel matters were handled in accordance with Institute HR policies. is completely untrue. So many people have complained to IST HR, Central HR, Ombudsperson, etc... but no one is acting on it. It seems that Israel Ruiz wants this all to happen and policies be damned. This is no way to treat people.

2
IS&T Peon over 1 year ago

Thank you The Tech for giving a voice to the downtrodden. This only begins to scratch the surface of what morale is like in this organization, but it's a great start.

My co-workers Scrum team was disbanded with version 1.5 of the transformation, and now we're right back to business as usual, taking months or years to release software. We already push back on DLCs who ask for things, telling them "It's not in our roadmap". Doesn't sound agile to me. Scrum Inc themselves even jumped ship late last year, since our management refused to make this work. It's hard to form your own self-guiding teams when you're swamped with workload and your upper management micro-manages every aspect of your life. If I had time to look for a job, I'd be out of here so fast...

3
Anita Horn over 1 year ago

Being a client of IST I have been very surprised and dismayed at the caliber of people that they have been pushing out or laying off. There have been lots of problems with IST over the years, but several of the people who left were people we (clients) would talk of as the exceptions, i.e. giving the most reliable, effective, timely, cooperative service. People whose names would bring a "She's so easy to deal with, you can always get what you need!" when their names were brought up in conversation. All I keep hearing now is "What in the world do they think they're going to accomplish with this?!" This process above all others in the last 10 years has really damaged trust in IST among other technology departments at MIT.

4
Former Industry CIO over 1 year ago

Agile can be a wonderful tool in the right context, but it's not the right solution to every problem. This situation appears to be one where the concept has been forced upon an organization in a way that failed to consider the important emotional needs of the people that would be carrying out the strategy. Unfortunately, these situations typically don't get the attention they deserve until one of the significant systems or services "breaks".

5
Mark Pearrow over 1 year ago

I am really glad the Tech is reporting on this. Over the past 2 decades I have seen a lot of reorgs/shufflings/layoffs at IS /IST / IST but this most recent event can only be described as visionless organizational seppuku and deliberate humiliation. Many of my friends and colleagues have been damaged by this ham-handed winnowing that has removed at least as much wheat as chaff.

6
Ron Newman over 1 year ago

Does the printed version of this article have a by-line? The online version does not.

7
Yang Gu over 1 year ago

As an alum and former employee of IST, I was dismayed to hear about these blunt-force organizational changes which lost MIT and IST many wonderful, talented, and knowledgeable people whom I respected and admired, including Laura. Top management seems to have no concept or appreciation of the delicate lines of trust built over many years between employees and their managers, and IST and the MIT community. Like any huge organization, IST has its inefficiencies, but they're not going to be solved by a thoroughly demoralized workforce or corporate buzzwords.

8
Drew Bent over 1 year ago

Hi Ron, I'm the author of the article. The byline made it into print but not the website for some reason, so we'll correct that. Thanks for bringing it up.

Best,

Drew Bent

9
IS&T Employee over 1 year ago

John Charles' vision of creating an Agile organization is right on the mark and will help IST deliver more to the MIT community. However, the implementation of this vision has been badly botched. Charles has failed to get buy-in from his direct reports, who are actively working to dismantle any progress towards becoming an Agile organization. The high performing scrum team that created the Developer Community Portal and APIs mentioned in the article was quickly disbanded after the November 1.5 transformation.

Becoming an Agile organization requires that management empower and trust employees, which appears to be very threatening to directors in IST. This perceived threat has caused them to become secretive, authoritarian and retaliatory towards anyone who shows leadership and initiative. This has created an environment of uncertainty and fear, which is causing valuable employees to leave.

10
Yang Gu over 1 year ago

On a personal note, it hurt to see these people leave MIT--some of whom worked there for 10,15, 20 years--people who stayed not because the pay was particularly good, but because they loved having the colleagues that they did, believed in the MIT mission of advancing knowledge for the betterment of all, and wanted to be a part of the awesomeness of MIT culture.

11
Stephanie Richardson over 1 year ago

I would like to echo the trust issue at stake here.

MIT's IST is here to provide services to the MIT community, a mission that requires that we trust the vision, leadership, and staff with whom we interact on a sometimes daily basis. This is no mere transactional relationship; MIT's systems are complex, overlapping, and small changes can have big impacts both on other staff and other systems. This means that we require individual contributors, teams, and managers who provide not only the technical experience to get things done but also the Institutional knowledge of how systems impact and interact with one another. We need to trust that IST gets it. This reorganization does not provide that reassurance.

The other aspect of how we get work done here has nothing at all to do with systems, but has to do with our interpersonal relationships. Loyalty, duty, responsibility, gratitude, friendship, and collegiality all play a role in how we get work done. IST leadership, which in this case extends beyond John Charles to those reporting directly to him, have severely damaged our trust in them by effectively removing knowledgeable folks who understood how to work with MIT faculty, students, and staff. This is a hard working community; knowing that we know someone who can help us out in our hour of need is very reassuring. That trust is now utterly eroded.

Lastly, trust requires excellent communication; it is the oxygen of the relationship. Understanding that the demotions and resulting resignations are HR matters that require discretion, other communications from IST to MIT have been meager at best. Perhaps unsurprisingly, emails and notifications about system changes that have happened over the last several months have been poorly written and require interpretation. They are missives written for the writer and not helpful outreach to a community that has a million other fires to put out before interpreting an important software update.

I strongly suggest that IST has a long way to go to rebuilding trust in the MIT community, and am grateful to the Tech for publishing this article.

12
Still at IS&T over 1 year ago

This is in response to Anita Horn. You are so right. Ive been at MIT for 35 years and Ive never seen the kind of brain talent drain Ive witnessed in IST since the transformation. I dont even work in one of the parts of the organization that Laura mentions as being the hardest hit and yet all that has been laid out in this article applies to my part of the organization, as well.

There have been times I have felt like leadership is trying to sabotage our systems. I could understand if they wanted to retire the systems in an orderly fashion. Im sure Im wrong but there are times when it feels like the goal for the systems I support is crash and burn. I know that those of us on the ground will continue to do everything in our power to serve the institute as best we can but I worry.

13
MIT Alum over 1 year ago

Many current employees are also posting their stories and experiences over on reddit, in the MIT subreddit:

https://www.reddit.com/r/mit/comments/458xli/feature_a_struggle_within_mits_it_department_over/

14
Concerned Student over 1 year ago

If you're a student like me who is concerned about the current state of IST, you can also voice your thoughts in this thread on MIT Discussion:

https://discussion.mit.edu/r/general/comments/3d/ist_reorganization/

Of course, the non-anonymous nature of Discussion means that people who are currently in IST are unlikely to respond, but if enough of us talk about it, then we can put pressure on the upper echelon of IST to respond to our comments -- with their names attached.

15
An IS&T client over 1 year ago

In addition to the human loss, there's also been a terrible degradation of the service offered by IST, despite the best efforts of IST employees and contractors. The changes happened too abruptly to allow for an orderly transition, with many ill effects. First, it's been sad to see how hard the long-time IST employees are struggling to figure out what's expected of them. Despite being dismayed by the way the transformation has been carried out, those I work with have truly tried to work the new way and serve their customers well in their new roles. However, they have no procedures to work with and no clarity about their roles. And from my perspective as a customer, I've had to teach new IST contractors about the systems and data they're supposed to be supporting, as there's no one left in IST to teach them. I've had to flail around to figure out how to get my tech needs met. I've seen functions that used to go smoothly fall to pieces, because the people who know how to do them have been re-assigned within IST. Even if one believes that the old guard had to leave to make room for the new approach, the transition was bungled on a colossal scale. I don't know how MIT can dig itself out of this, but we have to!

16
Alumni over 1 year ago

As a MIT alum and former student worker for IST, I was disheartened to read this, and to hear about the loss of all the wonderful IST people who were not only a valuable resource for the MIT community but also for us students who worked for them. I'm glad to see The Tech's excellent coverage of it and I hope the administration changes course and rights this wrong.

17
Former CIO, always an MIT Grad over 1 year ago

It is incredible what damage can be done by a couple of people with a Forrester Powerpoint Presentation operating in a lack of oversight.

18
AR over 1 year ago

Down with smooth-talking administrators! I'm sad to hear that Laura Baldwin has gone - I interacted with her a few times in the past and was generally impressed.

19
Max Vasilatos over 1 year ago

I'm not surprised.

20
IST person over 1 year ago

This was sent to all IST employees this morning:

To members of the IST community,

We write to you in light of Thursdays article in the Tech, in which current and former colleagues describe disappointment in the way the transformation were engaged in has been going. It was difficult for us to read the article. However, we are committed to learning all we can from the disappointment and misgivings stated in the article.

Together, all members of the IST community are creating the future for IST. We recognize change of this magnitude is difficult and challenging, and we are profoundly grateful for how IST is taking on this task of innovation. While we know that this transition is difficult on many fronts, we are confident that it will enable us to best serve the ever-evolving needs of the MIT community. Throughout this process, we have partnered with community members to deliver collaborative new services and technologies to support the Institute. Your energy and imagination have already led to exciting change, and there is a great deal more we will do.

These changes need a lot from each and every one of you, and you are delivering. We are deeply appreciative. Youve adjusted to new roles, learned new skills, new methodologies, and new processes, and have embraced new mindsets all in the name of innovating ITMIT.

But beyond underscoring our admiration for your commitment to the Institute, we write also simply to say that we are listening, and that we want to continue to keep the lines of communication open. We want to hear from you. Please reach out to your managers or your senior leadership to express any thoughts, concerns, or ideas you may haveeven if those expressions might be difficult to hear. We very much value you, your input, and the work that you do.

Sincerely,

Israel Ruiz and Tony Sharon

I am very disappointed by this response. They are encouraging us to talk to our managers, but that's exactly where the problem lies. People who speak up are retaliated against. What we need is someone outside of IST to listen to us and deal with the leadership problem. It is shameful that a department in a university like MIT is run like a dictatorship. Now that the problem has been exposed I would hope that the administration finds a way to effectively deal with it.

21
lulz over 1 year ago

It's abundantly clear that this isn't a transformation. It's a takeover. Here's a color coded CHART OF DOOM comparing 2014 to 2016. You'll notice that one manager does particularly well, while everyone else gets fired or demoted.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/i4zp05qlvrgclzd/Color-CodedDepartures.pdf?dl=0

And here's a chart of staff departures.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/0my1o9o30lm7j90/staff-departures.pdf?dl=0

22
me over 1 year ago

lulz is partially correct. This is not just a takeover.

I've seen, had to pick up the pieces of a similar "success story" in the real corporate world. What's going on with IST isn't just John Charles taking over. It's resume padding on a grandiose scale. It's what remains of senior management making themselves look good to their prospective employers when they leave this disaster behind them: "look at what I did for MIT. Imagine what I can do for you."

23
Still at MIT...barely over 1 year ago

Thank you for this article. FYI, any training and professional development in IST has been unfunded for the rest of the fiscal year. Guess that money got frivolously spent.

24
Geoff Knauth over 1 year ago

I'm so sad there is so much pain for MIT IT people. I love MIT's quirky culture. I met some pretty special MIT IT people over the years, the most memorable being the sysadmin who was blind who did more to help me, and faster too, than any other sysadmin over the years, including the best ones. First he wowed me with his knowledge and fixed my problem, then I realized he was blind and I was wowed again. I hope MIT doesn't lose the ability to be special.

25
Mark Pearrow over 1 year ago

lulz, thank you for the chart of doom - I think it demonstrates pretty well the actual strategy beneath all of this.

Israel Ruiz and Tony Sharon, I think you are missing (or hand waving) the point entirely; no one is going to speak to their managers, if their managers are even still around and did not get demoted into some humiliating role (probably with the intent of attrition). The culture at IST is completely toxic, unsafe, and dictatorial. No one trusts anyone. I personally know many people who, after many years of service to the institute, were called into HR for their "questionable behavior" when they did speak up. Take a good look at that chart. It should be abundantly clear what has been allowed to happen under your watch.

26
MIT-Lifer over 1 year ago

Direct from the EVPT web page

Guiding Principles

Working together as one MIT (not quite)

Inspiring an inclusive and open environment (nope)

Stewarding Institute Resources (afraid not)

Caring for and nurturing people (you're very funny!)

Themes

Enabling MIT's mission (are you serious?)

Laying the foundation for the future (maybe a distopian future)

Transforming experiences through collaboration (if mass firings count)

Advancing MIT's administrative excellence (not even close!!)

27
SomebodyHelpUs over 1 year ago

Act like you care. Make yourself look good.surround yourself with yes men/women. Punish the innocent. Especially if they have ideas of their own. Use people and then throw them away. Start with the long term employees. Results don't matter. Just give presentations and say everything is great. --- How to succeed as a senior leader at MIT

28
Questions4Us over 1 year ago

As a former IST employee, my questions for the MIT community are as follows. Are the services you are receiving from IST better now then they were this time last year?

Are the Athena clusters being updated and replaced?

Are IST's hosting options more reliable, and cheaper than before?

Is there more software available for the Institute's use?

Is the Help Desk more effective at resolving your problems?

Are IST communications timley and easier to understand?

Were projects like DUO two-factor authentication and SAP HANA a success?

Do you have greater faith in IST now than you did before?

If the answer to these questions is no, then the IST transformation is exactly what it looks like, a power grab by one side of the organization for control over IST.

The cost? Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on contractors, Segways, bean bag chairs, standing desks, soda machines, large screen TVs, SCRUM training, and free food. But even if John Charles manages to balance the budget, the real debt is harder to calculate.

IST has lost its soul, trust in its leadership, and millions of hours of experience working within the MIT community. No Agile mindset can repair that.

29
AnotherFormerISTer over 1 year ago

Another former IST'er that left the organization after losing all faith in Israel Ruiz, John Charles, Mark Silis, and the fabled "transformation" process; my employment prior to my departure was 10-years.

Watching the systematic dismantling of the entire IST organization, through the demoralization of its people, was one of the most dismaying things I've ever had to witness professionally.

Institute departments have lost faith in IST and trust me when I say those sentiments are neither unfounded nor are they unwise.

MIT was a place that I loved; Israel, John, and Mark stole that from me.

I would implore President Reif to conduct an investigation into the on-goings at IST. At best, the "transformation" has been a poorly planned, poorly executed unmitigated disaster. At worst, it's violated dozen of Massachusetts employment regulations, exposing MIT to unnecessary legal risk. All this was accomplished while demotivating and demoralizing a workforce of over 200 people. Quite the transformation.

30
David Lawrence over 1 year ago

RIP Athena. You've been good to us.

31
Still_in_IST over 1 year ago

What's especially disturbing is that HR has been complicit in this whole fiasco. In IST everyone knows that HR are just spies. John Charles and Tony Sharon tell HR who they want out. HR asks people "in confidence" how they think the people are doing. Then HR spins anything negative as a "performance problem". The you get called in to a meeting with HR. Eventually it's an ultimatum, get fired or resign with a severance package and sign a non-disparagement. I've seen it over and over. That's why no one trusts anyone any more. Especially HR.

This happens in other EVPT departments too. In VPF managers tell their people NOT to talk to HR for the same reason - they can't be trusted,

Central HR goes along with the whole thing. They know MIT's HR policies are being violated. I guess they have to go along or Israel and Tony will retaliate against them as well. Management by fear and intimidation. That's the EVPT way.

Also let's not forget the Ombuds office in this whole affair. Dozens of us in IST have gone to them for help but nothing was done.

This is much bigger than you may think. It's systemic and it goes all the way to the top.

32
csail_researcher over 1 year ago

I work in CSAIL and also want to ask for an independent investigation of this. This is a travesty. The IST people I know have been wonderful. Some of them work here in CSAIL now and are terrific.

I've seen our CSAIL administrators work many, many hours to do their work, often complaining about how poorly the systems work and how bad our finance and hr processes are. Now I know why. Apparently we have a bunch of feckless bureaucrats running the place. Central administration is in disarray.

I hope the provost and/or the president are willing to do something about this. WE DESERVE BETTER.

33
Bob Mahoney over 1 year ago

I worked for IS/IST from 1993-2004, mostly in what was then the Network Group, where I started and ran the Network Security Team until I left to start a security consulting firm. While the group and the situation I had worked in is long gone, I loved my time at MIT, and I was genuinely proud and thrilled to work there. This article makes me very sad, and describes a great organization gone very, very wrong.

I have never had a job where Ive been more proud and happy and challenged and engaged than I was working at MIT. It is a very special place, and it used to be a very special place to work in IT. We worked hard to support the real mission of education and research, and when we got it right, we got to help some amazing people do amazing things. In the best times we collaborated with faculty and students, and made real contributions to the Institute.

Working in support of Information Technology at a world-class research university is unique. The faculty and students working at the cutting edge of technology are simply not adequately served by an "industry-standard", commodity IT service model. Of course, things weren't always perfect- you can't always be perfect in an environment so demanding. But it seems the answer somehow became adhering to IT "industry norms", as if IT at MIT was somehow the same challenge as seen in other organizations.

The people I worked with at MIT could have worked anywhere at all. Many were MIT graduates who were clearly working there for the sheer love of the place, when they could have easily been making top salaries elsewhere. The affection for the Institute was evident everywhere you looked, and the excellence and energy were like nothing I have seen before or since. To see that so many of these people have been forced out in frustration in recent years is simply tragic.

34
System_User over 1 year ago

One specific incident that hasn't yet been mentioned is the loss of Tech TV video data. How data on this scale can have been lost and not backed up mystifies me - especially given the interest in online learning.

https://github.mit.edu/pages/odl/techtvsupport/

35
Person over 1 year ago

TechTV lost all of its data? That's absurd. The one thing IST has to be reliable about is backups. I see anything recovered is put on YouTube. Was the data loss a deliberate move to discontinue another MIT system and outsource it to an offsite third party?

36
YetAnotherFormerISTer over 1 year ago

Almost all of the comments above echo my own experience. It is unfortunate and sad that IST has fallen into such disarray. When the vision is poorly conceived, planned, and executed, you end up with the dysfunctional management. When they are pushing their own personal agenda rather than advancing MIT mission, IST becomes their playground.

37
David Lawrence over 1 year ago

I feel that it is appropriate for us (the MIT community) to call for the resignation of John Charles. I don't see how else this problem will be fixed.

38
FreeFromTyranny over 1 year ago

I consider myself lucky to no longer work at IST. MIT is far and away the worst place I have ever worked. I feel VERY sad for those who stayed behind to work in such a hostile, petty and inhumane environment. Having kept in touch with those brave enough to continue the effort of nobility which makes up MIT - the blame lies with those who directly report to John Charles. They are drunk with power and did nothing to make life better - they made it worse. "Just following orders" is not leadership. And John Charles is so out of touch, blind and deaf to what has transpired, he has to go as well. And Charles' leadership is equally culpable. Act already!

I remain hopeful for the good people who have stayed and may this uproar be a great catalyst for positive change. May MIT finally recognize how great you are. BEST WISHES TO YOU ALL!

39
Hard Woker over 1 year ago

Sorry IST, you are the latest organization that Israel Ruiz has victimized with his views. He has done this to every organization he has taken over at MIT. He considers all employees bottom-line figures. He does not consider you as an asset, he considers you a liability. He wants short-term employees (3-5 years and out). MIT has, the 5th or 8th largest Endowment and they treat their employees like a number. SAD.

40
Disappointed over 1 year ago

"Because after you leave us today, I want to ask you to hack the world, until you make the world a little more like MIT. More daring and more passionate. More humble, more respectful, more generous and more kind." - President Reif commencement charge, 2015

It's disappointing to see Reif's message watered down by senior leadership that is neither humble, nor respectful, nor generous, nor kind.

Let's hope Ruiz and Sharon go the way of Colombo and Humphreys. This is no different a situation.

41
ColorMeRed over 1 year ago

If the sudden halt of money is any indication John will be ousted soon. This will have no effect on IST because John is an ineffective leader without a strategy to transform IST.

Attending an all-hands meeting reveals a game of buzzword bingo. Do "Transformation, Platforms/APIs, Agile, 10x, FedEx days" sound familiar? They can all be found in the latest book John is reading.

John speaks of being "all-in with hearts and heads" but he stands aloof and unreachable to the rest of the staff. And when he comes to our team meetings he is unable to drill into any detail. Watching him squirm with trying to answer actual

questions is both sad and hilarious.

That leaves us with Mark. He "leads" with intimidation, lies, back-stabbing, and the need to control the smallest of decisions. Those reporting to him either follow that management style or are managed out. Garry, and Pat operate in the same fashion. What happened to boojum is a manifestation of this. Eamon and Diana are the last two. If you could hear how Diana speaks to her staff you would be appalled. And from the one of the all-hands it seems like Eamon had to cede all of his power to Garry so he is likely job hunting.

The buzzwords John uses have indeed worked in other places so it's not that things are completely off base. But his has no practical knowledge of actually implementing any of this transformation. Mark doesn't buy in and without that John is stuck.

We'll all be replaced with contractors. John will write a book about how he transformed IST and Mark, Garry, and Pat will go on to ruin other places.

42
An-insider-who-knows over 1 year ago

Every member of the MIT community should know this. Rafael is not in charge. Israel is. Rafael was warned years ago by many of us that Israel's behavior would eventually end in scandal. For both Rafael personally and MIT. Now it has. Rafael knew he needed to do something but was afraid to. He admitted as much several times. We all told Marty the same thing. But he "didn't want to take on Israel". It took a student reporter from the Tech to break this story. How pathetic. Why didn't the President know? The Provost? HR? OGC? Ombud? They did but were too afraid to act. Do MIT faculty know that their president and provost have ceded leadership to the treasurer? Where are the leaders with character and courage? Are there any left at MIT?

43
Some1there over 1 year ago

I went through a waterfall to agile transformation at a large financial corp many years ago and the experience there is similar to what the article described, a lot of "I've been here 20 years who are you to tell me how to do my job?". There's really no good way to implement a new process if you have a lot of entrenched people, except by nudging them gently toward the exit.

To be honest it's not easy getting a job in the IT industry these days if you don't want to do Agile, you don't have to like it but at least be knowledgeable about it.

44
Former_Controllers_Office over 1 year ago

I left a while back. Someone just told me about all this. Wow this is crazy!

I will echo 39 hard worker. This is a familiar pattern. Lots of buzzwords and powerpoint. Lots of fingerpointing. Use HR to spy on people. Intimidate employees. Push out any managers who ask questions and don't buy into the BS. Unfortunately it looks like IST got it worse than the Conroller's office.

Now that this is in the open, hopefully things can start getting better. MIT is such a great place! I still miss it!!

45
Jonathan Venezian over 1 year ago

As a former IS employee, I am aghast, start to finish at reading this. My condolences to those folk still hanging on. This is not the first time, but by far the worst, where the people on top insist on viewing the Tute as something it isn't, the people working there as something they aren't, and the culture as something they can use a wet-nap to wipe away.

Might as well bring SCUBA tanks on your ski trip, because an in-flight magazine had an article about diving that sounded cool.

Leadership will of course be given a promotion and a glowing recommendation for the effort.

46
IST_Staff over 1 year ago

There's not much I can say that my current and former co-workers haven't already said.

But if The Tech is reading this, can you do some more follow-up on this? You must have read all the comments here (and if you haven't seen reddit, you should). Everyone is saying the same thing. It's now time to ask Tony, Israel, and John some hard questions, and demand they explain what the hell is going on. Do they not believe us, or do they simply not care? We can't ask them these hard questions. Our departed co-workers can ask them, but nobody will care. You've uncovered a loose thread here. Keep pulling at it, and it might just turn out to be the biggest story in years.

47
Ann Starkey over 1 year ago

I am very new to MIT and IST, consulting on a solution to digitize and automate content management within and across some departments.

A follow up article presenting the alternate perspective would be fresh. There clearly are folks who see where MIT needs to be, have crafted or assimilated strategies to get us there, and are expending the efforts required to accomplish the move.

There must exist as many people here who are excited about this transition as those who are not. After decades in industry, I recognize a consistency among who succeeds in these types of transformation--people who see possibilities, opportunities, and potential in so much change; people who recognize the workings of the goal and how they might play a part; people who are eager to try new things out and root among the failures for a better understanding.

I look for my participation in this experience to drive me to improve in civility, humility, and facility. If my outcome is less than that, the onus is on me.

48
Jonathan Reed over 1 year ago

People seem to have this idea that pre-transformation-IST was like the DMV, where nobody did any work, and where employees who had been there for more than a couple of years made it their sole purpose in life to thwart management's planned efficiencies at every turn.

I can't speak to other parts of the organization, but over in Customer Support, we were excited by the new rapid product lifecycles that Scrum and Agile would bring. The idea of a rapid development cycle incorporating feedback from customers is something that Customer Support could previously only dream of. Whereas in the past it took us THREE YEARS to effect a change in the text of a single error message in SAPWeb (saving countless unnecessary phone calls from customers), now we might be able to accomplish this in months, or even weeks. Several of my co-workers, after their first Scrum training, set up their own Scrum boards in their cubicles, just to manage their daily work.

Notice how many of the comments on reddit make it clear that they believe the problem was implementation, and that they believe IST _did_ need to modernize. These are not staff who are stuck in the past, or choosing not to be agile. These are staff who are _prevented_ from being agile by a culture of secrecy, mistrust, and paranoia. Staff seeking to form Scrum teams are told they can't take time away from their current workload to do that. Staff seeking management or leadership opportunities have been explicitly told not to apply for them (or worse, told to apply for them "as an exercise" while being told they have no chance of getting the position)."

I reject the idea that the individual employees are solely responsible for the success or failure of a transformation like this. If you believe managers play no role in their employees' success or failure, then why do we have them? Surely management is more than just giving shiny powerpoint presentations. Management requires people skills, and conflict management skills. Management requires trust, honesty, and transparency. A competent manager should a) be able to sit down with their employees and say "What can I do differently to make your job easier?"; b) have a sufficiently strong relationship with their employees that they can get honest answers; and c) have enough humility to admit when they're wrong, or to explain why their hands are tied. Management by fiat is not management at all.

49
Laura Baldwin over 1 year ago

At the beginning, I _was_ excited about the transformation. I thought

APIs and platforms would be awesome. I had been building webscraper

interfaces to MIT systems for years, and having a more official

method to use would have been a great improvement. Maybe I didn't

personally care about Scrum - it seemed like a fine process for

project work, but I did very little project work, and that which I did

tended to be along the lines of "Can you write something to pull out

the Duo stats in time for my meeting in an hour?" I tried to be "all

in" - accounts work plus the new business help work and Stellar work

that got added when we lost most of those teams was pretty hectic, but

I stayed late and I didn't go home until the accounts queue was clean.

When all my managers were demoted and laid off, I was sad, but I

believed the party line about having a flatter structure. When we

immediately posted openings for hiring new managers to replace them, I

was angry.

When I was called in to _discuss with HR_ that making my best guess

about the root cause of an email delay was unprofessional because it

led to a professor emailing John Charles; that it was unprofessional

to push for fixing a bug about preferred name versus legal name

because I thought we weren't living up to MIT's anti-discrimination

policies, because "I shouldn't have put that in writing"; that telling

a user that they would have to contact the Sloan help desk in order to

change their Sloan forwarding was unprofessional - that was when I

gave up.

I don't hate change. But not all changes are for the better. We

should be able to complain if the roof of the Stata Center leaks (I

guess I date myself there), or look at where Bexley used to be and

mourn, without being accused of an intrinsic lack of enthusiasm for

the future. What I hate is that I used to be surrounded by people who

loved their jobs, and I watched that die.

50
Former IS&Ter over 1 year ago

I would like to thank The Tech for reporting on this and Laura Baldwin for her contributions to the article.

To all my fellow ISTers...Live Long and Prosper!

51
Ann Starkey over 1 year ago

I watched a CBS news report the other day about El Nio weather patterns. A reporter interviewed a 70-yr old grandmother in Africa. This grandmother lost her children to AIDs, had five grandchildren to support, and as a result of the worst drought of her lifetime she cannot feed her family. She maintains the attitude that she can love her family and offer the best that she is able to provide, and together they will have to find ways to survive.

That is as much an example of how organic life works as an institutional transformation is. How you respond, what you do, how you do it, these determine your outcome to the extent you have control over it. You cannot control life, but you can control your self.

Several comments here and elsewhere allude to the fact that some IST members recognize that change is needed. After we vent our disappointments and criticisms, how do we move forward? What can we bring to the table that's missing or under represented? What does MIT IST need to be to serve the future of the institute? Why are we here to begin with? We are earning a living, contributing our skills and efforts, participating in the community. As a community, then, what is our response to the need for change?

I worked at Bell Labs in the '80s, just after the courts determined that ATT was a monopoly and had to be broken up. A favorite saying at the time was "Thank you, Judge Green." That was a period of drastic change--the Labs had a difficult time responding to changes in industry, and people did not want to give up the methodologies that served them for decades. Bell Labs does not exist any more, but Google Labs does, open source communities do. What happens after those models stagnate?

We are intelligent, capable, hard working, interesting people. What do we think it will take to make IST into a viable organization in the '20s, '30s, and later? If the question or the search for an answer make me feel less than intelligent, capable, hard working, or interesting, I need to do something that does make me feel that way and can wish only the best for those folks still in that particular trench.

52
Ann Starkey over 1 year ago

Bell Labs does still exist, but in an entirely different form than in the past. Have you read about it lately? Have they transformed into a forward-leaning entity? The Labs now live under Nokia, Alcatel, and Lucent parentage. The staff directory is tiny compared with counts from the previous century.

Now I wonder how supporting an educational entity resembles, say, public libraries. The mission remains the same, the environment is different every day, and the needs are continually evolving.

53
an_alum over 1 year ago

Ann Starkey: your comments are almost entirely devoid of actual content. What these former employees are describing is a catastrophic management failure, not a resistance to change.

54
Michael Barrow over 1 year ago

I am very saddened to hear about these goings on at IST for a couple of reasons. First, I am both a former student and regular employee of what used to be IS. I worked across several of the organizations in the department and always found the staff to be dedicated to the best interests of the MIT community and to the mission of applying technology to help people get work done. I have many fond memories of doing great work with great people resulting in many happy clients.

Second, I have spent a lot of time in industry and know that there are better ways to improve organizations. The situation described in the article and the comments sounds pretty awful and fail to see how current staff can be motivated to stay the course in such a demoralizing environment.

55
A Currend IS&T Employee over 1 year ago

As a current employee of MIT who has been treated well, I've been unsure of my role in responding to this entire thing. Most of the changes in IST have worked well for me professionally. I am in a good place. I have even better work than before. People regularly tell me they value my contributions. This sounds awesome, right?

Not really. I love my role and the new connections I've made. I love my job. I don't love how miserable many long-time employees are. I don't enjoy seeing people around me go backwards in their careers and feel demoralized by that. I don't enjoy long, long, long time colleagues retiring and not having a party for that major life event. I don't enjoy trying to drop by somebody's cube to ask a question and that being the way I find out they are no longer with us. There used to be more humane processes for that for those who leave and those of us still here.

It's hard to do good work even in the best of circumstances when those around you are not in even somewhat decent circumstances. It drags you down that others, who you genuinely care about, are not happy.

I stay because I have deep ties in the MIT community and my current work is awesome. I have been treated well. I answer questions of friends in the greater community, and they do ask if I need a job/recommendation, by saying I am in a great place and supported well. My team is awesome. The organization needs work.

Many probably know exactly who I am based on this post, and I don't mind. I'm happy. I know we needed change. Change is good. I thrive in chaos. I don't like how this was done. People were hurt at levels that were not necessary. Culture was lost that can't be replaced by snacks and a gaming machines in the break room.

We can do change better. We can respect people along the way. That's where I see the most improvement can come. Respect our employees and customers. Ultimately the thing that worries me most is our customers feel like they can't trust us and are uncertain as to the future of our services. Please fix this.

56
Left before the storm over 1 year ago

As a former member of IST, I too have been dismayed to hear of so many of my former colleagues departures. So much instiutional knowledge has departed that it comes as no surprise this "reorg" has not been terribly effective. I suppose it should be pretty obvious that to reorganize and organization, one realy needs to fully understand how said organization works. With that loss of institutional knowledge usually means that the organization will be formed anew and that presents a whole other slew of challenges and major growing pains.

While Agile/Scrum tools work well in development departments, for those that do infrastructural and customer support, it simply doesn't scale properly and seems more a hindrance than an asset. I hope the organization realizes this before it bleeds itself dry of loyal and hard working talent.

57
Concerned Student over 1 year ago

Ann Starkley (#51): "You cannot control life, but you can control your self." That may sound inspirational, but it really is not the attitude to have for something like this. A fundamental difference between natural disasters like hurricanes and artificial disasters like the roll-out of the Transformation at IST is that in the case of IST, there are human agents at play. There are no human invocations that will change the laws of nature, but I am sure that former employees like Jon, Laura, and Teddy came forward because they know that what they say can make a difference. Unless they are as unchanging as the laws of nature, the higher-ups at IST cannot ignore this outcry, and whether they like what they're hearing or not, they are listening. I am not sure if your comment reflects some learned helplessness, or disingenuous comparisons of the IST leaderships to such unstoppably destructive forces of nature as hurricanes or AIDS

58
the wife of an IST employee over 1 year ago

Thank you so much for publishing this article, it has meant a lot to my family. My husband has worked at MIT in IST for many years and has been absolutely miserable for the last year. He has come home in tears with stories of abusive, bullying behavior from his managers as well as HR When he complained to HR they responded that there was nothing they could do about it. HR was even in the room in meetings where employees were verbally abused. He has been belittled and harassed. I have tried and encouraged him to get a new job, but for some weird reason he wants to stay at MIT. I would like to see him in a company that respected employees and valued their input - it seems that the only way to get that place at IST is with the removal of John Charles and his peons (Garry for one!).

59
Ashamed of the Institute over 1 year ago

As an active MIT community member, I have a few questions for the MIT IST "leadership" about the reorganization:

1) How is MIT IST $8 million dollars over budget since MIT IST has lost 20 of staff and taken away more services and support from the MIT community since the transformation began?

2) Given all of the movements, job title changes, job description changes for staff, did the leadership of MIT IST offer any kind of additional career development to its staff to help make them successful in their new roles?

3) Do MIT IST staff even have a concrete career path considering that MIT IST seems to be all about hiring contractors, managers and directors from the outside?

4) How are these changes exciting for IST staff?

5) How do these changes benefit the Institute?

6) Do you think that demoralization is at an all-time high because job security is at an all-time low?

7) What is being done to prevent retaliation against employees that have spoken up or want to speak up?

8) Why is the MIT community not more involved in these changes if these changes were allegedly made to benefit us?

9) Why "agile mindset"?

10) Why should senior leadership keep their jobs after turning this reorganization into a textbook failure?

It seems like MIT IST is business as usual but, judging from the comments above, they are bleeding both money and people left and right. This is completely unacceptable. John Charles, Mark Silis, Israel Ruiz, and Tony Sharon need to make thing right but, at this point, it may be too late.

60
AroundtheinfiniteCorridor over 1 year ago

I can't help but respond the Ann Starkey and some of these other naive commenters. This is not an example of individuals having difficulties with workplace changes.

This is the GROSS NEGLIGENCE and EPIC INCOMPETENCE of MIT SENIOR MANAGEMENT. John Charles, Tony Sharon and Israel Ruiz did all of this very intentionally and with the support of President Reif and Provost Schmidt. Let's be clear about what has happened.

Israel Ruiz and Tony Sharon hired John Charles to implement a COMPLETELY UNPROVEN CONCEPT. They all knew it was unproven. They forced out of LAID OFF 25 OF IST STAFF IN ONE YEAR. They VIOLATED MIT HR POLICIES. They VIOLATED MA EMPLOYMENT LAW. They paid out MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN SEVERANCE PACKAGES (aka HUSH MONEY). HR and OGC helped them. NO NEW SYSTEMS OR IMPROVEMENTS were delivered to the MIT community for the last several years. IST is now MILLIONS OF DOLLARS OVER BUDGET. Even to this day, they are publicly standing behind what they have done.

Let's face it. this is the legacy of President Reif. The REIF ADMINISTRATION IS THE WORST IN MIT"S HISTORY. This is a VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE IN ALL OF THEM - REIF, SCHMIDT, RUIZ, SHARON AND CHARLES.

Please join me! Let's bring MIT back to where it should be.

61
Another View over 1 year ago

It breaks my heart to read 58 The wife of an IST employee. I want to thank her for sharing her story. It shows the very real personal damage that results from this type of leadership - from the tolerance of this type of behavior.

I'd like to let people know that what happened in IST is probably the worst I have seen at MIT, but it is not isolated. Someone like John Charles would not behave the way he has on his own. I've been at MIT a long, long time, and while I am not a senior leader, I have worked very closely with many at MIT during my career and continue to do so today.

The abuse that 58 the wife of an MIT employee describes is very common these days. I have seen Israel Ruiz and Tony Sharon do this many times in public. They will do it to you in front of your manager, your colleagues. Verbal abuse. Threats. Mocking. Intimidation. It goes on regularly. Any senior person in EVPT has seen it many times. I wish this wasn't a common occurrence at MIT. But it is now, and has been for the last few years.

I'd lake to say I'm sorry to all my MIT colleagues who have have no choice but to tolerate this.

62
IS&T refugee over 1 year ago

Ann Starkey, I've got to say, you have a lot of chutzpah if you are "very new" to IST but then imply that IST employees, your new colleagues, are just a bunch of change-resistant people who don't have the qualities to move a department forward during a period of change (or as we are forced to call it "transformation"). You seem to be assuming a great deal about people with whom you have worked for a short time.

Comment #60 is completely true that HR policies were violated, employment law was violated, people were paid severance packages to leave and not criticize MIT. This cannot happen without the direction of those at the highest levels -- Israel Ruiz, Lorraine Goffe-Rush, John Charles, IST senior managers, and ultimately, Rafael Reif. All this stuff about "Hand and Heart" at MIT, designed to make MIT a kinder, more tolerant and understanding place....for students. All this hypocrisy while long-time, dedicated employees are treated so shabbily in the midst of lofty speeches about diversity, equity and fairness. In the meantime, IST seemed to target women and/or older workers in this pogrom. A lot of the newer workers are younger and male, creating a less diverse and tolerant environment. Who took the video games away in W92?

63
Yang Gu over 1 year ago

To Ann Starkley (#51):

I'm glad you came to MIT/IST with optimism and enthusiasm for your work. I hope, however, that it will not blind you to the point of view of colleagues around you who are suffering, and that you will have the grace to offer them support in a difficult time.

To the husband of the wife of an IST employee (#58):

I am so, so sorry that you're being treated like this. I was heart-wrenched to leave MIT and IST to move to another state six years ago, but it is clear that the place I loved is now terribly different. You should absolutely not have to face abuse, bullying, and belittlement at your workplace. It's not constructive to you as an employee, and it's demeaning to the Institute. I can understand your affection for MIT, but you've already paid any debt of gratitude or loyalty to it in full, and it's time to take care of your own mental health. I think you owe it to yourself to look at other opportunities, even if you still want to come back to MIT in the future. It was a standing joke while I was there that leaving MIT is a great career move--MIT will welcome you back with open arms and a 10 percent salary bump. And even if you don't want to leave MIT, another department might just have a position that suits you.

Good luck, and all the best for the future.

64
Sun Tzu over 1 year ago

"When troops are inclined to flee, insubordinate against commands, distressed, disorganised, or defeated, it is the fault of the general as none of these calamities arises from natural causes." -- Sun Tzu

Your move John, Israel, Tony, Rafael

65
IT Employee in MD over 1 year ago

Ann Starkley: Were you sent to do damage control by the regime? You shouldn't have bothered.

Sorry to hear of the workplace woes at MIT. IT Upper Management everywhere has its share of incompetent, ineffective people. The power hungry and those that clearly have no agenda but their own scare me the worst.

They remind me of Congress and Washington DC in general.

Cheers.

66
Alok Basu over 1 year ago

Unfortunately this is nothing new. There are many companies where exactly the same kind of blindsided policies are thought up and pursued by senior leadership in the name of following the latest fad like outsourcing, insourcing , devops, scrum etc etc.They all have their places and serious technologist knows well where to apply each of them but the senior leadership are NOT experts on them , and they land with flawed policies that destroys whole organizations and decades of hard work. It is sad situation but unfortunately most of the American enterprises are run by people who subscribe to these endless management bullshit and is doing their best to undermine everything just to show how good they are and how they deserve their next bonus check.

67
Henry Case over 1 year ago

I've worked in IT for small software companies and I am now employed by a large University in their central IT department. First, I find it laughable that anyone would think that the policies and practices that may work for a software company would work for a university. A university's primary concern just isn't software development, it is a support organization.

68
MIT Insider over 1 year ago

Let's call it like it is. This is a case of extreme arrogance, incompetent leadership and bullying. And as is always the case, the bullies are actually cowards. Their behavior is a result of their own insecurities and inadequacies. I'm a lifer at MIT. I've been here for more than half my life. This is the worst group of leaders the institute has ever had. Completely self interested. They play the blame game all the time. No wonder we can't get administrators from other top universities to come work here. The word is out.

MIT's current leaders are a PROFILE in COWARDICE.

Mark Silas = COWARD

John Charles = COWARD

Tony Sharon = COWARD

Israel Ruiz = COWARD

The Reif regime is an EMBARRASSMENT. I am afraid many of us will look back and wonder why Susan Hockfield resigned, why MIT had to settle, and who let this happen.

Maybe if we continue to speak out, someone will do something about all this.