Valerie Rake: Women in Technology at Ohio State

Have you used Carmen? Is that even a question? 

Valerie Rake, Associate Director for eLearning Support is responsible for keeping your favorite learning managment system up and running. Besides managing Carmen, she also watches over tools like CarmenConnect, CarmenWiki, Top Hat, and Mediasite .... to name a few.

As part of our #OSUWomenInTech series, we had a chance to sit down with Rake to learn more about her daily job, how she stays up on industry news and what technology she is most excited about. 

Can you describe your day-to-day job?

My title is Associate Director for eLearning Support.  My team is part of Learning Systems and Infrastructure in ODEE.  We are more commonly known as “the Carmen people,” though we actually provide or support all of the centrally provided online systems used for teaching and learning.

My team consists of people who provide technology support, training, and application administration.  We focus on the people who use the online systems that ODEE provides: providing training, resolving technical problems, and making necessary adjustments to the systems.  At some schools, this work is done by different teams; we have always found it advantageous to keep them together.

My time gets divided in four main ways: working through all of the things that need to happen when we add a new system to our toolset or when we do a major update or change; working with other teams in ODEE or across the university on projects that use ODEE’s toolset; ensuring my team has the resources to do their work; and doing my share of the actual operational work that my team does – conducting workshops, consulting with instructional staff, or doing technical troubleshooting.

When (and how) did you decide to work in the technology field? 

At my very first job as a college freshman, I got to use a “dedicated word-processing system,” had access to one of the original Mac computers (this was in 1984), and did statistical data entry into a mainframe.  Realistically, this was my first introduction to computers and I found that I enjoyed using them to get stuff done.  I also found that I was good at helping other people use computers to get stuff done.  I quickly became the tech support / trainer for all of the office staff using the new word-processing system, even though that was nowhere in the description for my work-study job!

I continued to do technology training and support unofficially, alongside whatever my official job duties involved.  At one job, I was charged with figuring out how to create a web-presence for a non-profit organization; this was in the late 1990s, when the public internet was just becoming more than AOL and CompuServe.  While I ended up leaving that position before the new website and email resources went live, that knowledge ended up being foundational for everything that came after.

I officially decided to switch my career focus to technology after I finished my Ph.D. in History. I had thoroughly enjoyed my graduate education but realized I had gone as far as I wanted to go down that path. Fortunately, there was demand for my “alternate skill set.”

What advice can you give young women who would like to take on a position in the technology field? 

Technology, as a field, encompasses a wide range of skills and aptitudes.  There is work that involves programming and infrastructure management and system maintenance, but there is also work that involves visual design, psychology, education, management, etc.

I would advise young women to learn some technology skills that allow them the expand on what they are already interested in: build a website or two (using something like WordPress, but also a stand-alone site); understand coding ideas by using something like Lego robotics; create some digital animations or 3-D printed models.  Use technology to do stuff you like.

Combine your technology skills with your other interests and abilities.  Let each area of expertise feed into the others.  That will help you find – or create – a position that you can feel passionate about.

How do you stay up-to-date with new trends in the technology world? 

I hear a lot about the next new thing from peers and from people who use our systems.  Then I follow that up with web research.  I do follow a couple of general higher ed and education technology sites as well.

What has been your favorite moment/experience from working in the technology field? 

I have always treasured the times when I hear back from people that I’ve taught to use some system or program that they have applied what they learned to accomplish something meaningful to them.  Sometimes that is as simple as being able to create a course-site on Carmen that delivers content for students so that physical class time can be spent actually talking about the ideas.  That may not sound like much compared to what our “cutting edge” instructors do, but for some people, putting together a useful Carmen site is a spectacular light-bulb moment – when they are empowered to use technology to help them do the stuff they want to do.

What has been the hardest part of working in the technology field? 

That would be the opposite of the favorite part: when I just cannot help people get comfortable with the technologies they need to use. 

We do sometimes train and support people who use Carmen or the other online tools not because they want to but because they feel like they have to.  Maybe they have been required by their department to use them, or maybe they are giving in to student pressure or peer pressure.  For them, the technologies I support are a burden and an obstacle.  I find it frustrating that I can neither change their perspective nor free them from the obligation.

Is there any technology that you are particularly excited about right now? Why?

I’m interested in how completely my kids – age 13 and 9 – take technology for granted.  They’ve had mobile devices in their hands since they were old enough to hold on to them.  By no means do they know everything about using technology – they have to be taught best practices and they need to develop and practice creation skills just like anyone else – but they assume there is an application or a website or a gadget that can help them do whatever they decide to do.  I’m boggled at how much computing technology has changed since that first dedicated word-processing machine that seemed so powerful and complex.


This feature blog post is part of our #OSUWomenInTech campaign. Hear more stories from female leaders involved in technology at Ohio State by following us on Twitter @TechHubOSU(link is external) and stopping in store to see our digital signage features. Are you interested in getting involved with technology? Don’t forget to check out our Student Developer Kit(link is external) and student project development grant opportunities.