How did you get here, Kirt Guinn?

Today, he manages IU’s computer and telephone networks, but he got his start as an Air Force weather officer

In this month’s “Career Journeys” column, IT Connections interviews Kirt Guinn, director of telecommunications infrastructure and enterprise infrastructure at IU. Guinn’s job is to oversee the university’s network and telephony systems.

Before coming to IU, Guinn was a systems engineer at Fujitsu Network Communications, and spent 11 years as an Air Force Weather Officer. Guinn has three decades of management experience, as well as an M.S. in telecommunications from the University of Colorado Boulder and a B.S. in earth sciences from DePauw University. 

old photo of kirt in the airforce

REPORTING FOR DUTY. Thirty years ago, Kirt Guinn managed a corps of weather officers for the U.S. Air Force. 

What first got you interested in weather?

During junior high and high school, growing up in Martinsville, Ind., I very much enjoyed getting snow days off from school! That’s it—that’s when I started paying attention to weather. Back then, no internet of course, so this translated pretty much to watching the weather on the news each night. I clearly remember David Letterman as the weather guy on TV in Indy—he had little cartoon faces for the sun, and a thunderstorm was a cloud with a mean face and a lightning bolt. I was hooked!

What did you study at DePauw University and why?

I have a B.S. in Earth Sciences, which was a combination of geology and geography. Geology was a good career field then, and I always loved maps and weather. Going to a Division Three college allowed me to play sports, which truthfully, was the primary reason I went to DePauw.  

Why did you decide to get an MS in telecommunications at the University of Colorado Boulder?

I had been in grad school at Purdue in meteorology prior to entering the Air Force. Once in the Air Force, and working in the weather field, I recognized limitations in that field that were often driven by very poor communications infrastructure. I saw it as an ability to at least be knowledgeable about some of the communications deficiencies and potential solutions.

Tell us about your military experience as an Air Force weather officer.

On the first day at Officers Training School (OTS), the flight commander went around the room and had everyone introduce themselves, and their career fields. After we were all done, the flight commander said, “Besides the pilots, you’re ALL NOT going to do what you said. You are going to be IN CHARGE of the people who do those things!” 

I remember being disappointed—I wanted to be a weather guy, but instead, I recognized I was going to manage the weather guys. OTS was a real picnic, and after 13 short weeks of “standardization” (the “break down and rebuild the RIGHT way” thing), I was sent to Kirtland Air Force Base, NM. I managed people right away, and have been doing that as my primary role since. Thirty-plus years later, I’d say I’m glad about the way it all worked out.  

How did you land at IU?

After spending 11 years in the Air Force, I was a systems engineer at Fujitsu Network Communications. After the Great Dot.Com collapse in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I was fortunate enough to get my resume into UITS on a suggestion from a long-time IU fan and alumni. That led to an interview with Brian Voss in summer 2002, who was then the associate vice president for telecommunications, as I recall. My first job was project manager for the university's initial wireless deployment, then later manager of Digital Network Media Services, and manager of campus network infrastructure.

As director of telecommunications infrastructure, how does your experience help you manage your group during the COVID-19 crisis?

The pandemic has had varying effects across my team. For example, our senior network engineers had to be very creative to accommodate a significant increase in VPN usage—that is, the requirement for some remote users to log in with credentials to certain university systems or file servers, for example. There were multiple 12+ hour days for several of these folks. On the other hand, we are getting fewer requests for field work, like installation of new wiring or telephones. 

Several of our folks were involved with installing outdoor wireless—to provide internet access for students who might be stuck in Bloomington or Indy and who don’t have it at home. On our telephony and email teams, we provide services that handle hundreds of thousands of email and calls and texts a day, with back-end systems that require considerable and constant system administration—whether people are physically at work or not. We are what I call a “volume business.” And, with 250,000+ client devices connecting to our network, and those hundreds of thousands of emails and calls and chats, we could NEVER keep up with daily requests for service upgrades and changes without exceptional staff that support and coordinate the multitude of daily incoming requests we receive. 

I have never been an expert in wireless, or video, or networking, but I have the fortune to work right alongside exceptional people. I came into my current role in 2011, and my “newest” manager has been in that role for at least five years. Experience is a nice thing to have, but confidence in your staff is even more important, and I’ve got tons more of that than experience!