What’s it like to be a facilities manager running the IT infrastructure of a leading global research university? In this engaging Nomad Futurist podcast, Raymond Parpart, Director of Data Center Operations and Strategy at the University of Chicago shares a journey that led from theater to technology and draws us into the fascinating world of critical infrastructure and supercomputers within a multi-faceted academic environment.

Parpart, a theater major, began his career working on the road doing lights and sound and then opted for a different lifestyle. His wife-to-be suggested he apply for an available mailroom position at Aon. As Parpart already had programming experience, he was hired instead as a programmer to work on Y2K compliance.

Programming led to networking which led to data centers.

“From a technology perspective, I’ve always managed to latch onto whatever the next thing was…I’m a hungry learner… I want to know!”

Parpart then went into consulting. He subsequently joined General Motors where he managed infrastructure and networking. 

Parpart’s work at the University of Chicago involves managing many types of systems ranging from administrative databases to facilities that are responsible for computing for high-end research projects. This requires that he be able to manage different types of facilities depending on the need. 

“If you want to see the world of cooling or racks or power…we’re doing all kinds of crazy things with them. Come see me. I’ve got all kinds of crazy stuff!”

Parpart talks about the pros and cons of working in the world of education versus the corporate environment.

“In education the politics are particularly challenging and require patience! I also need to be a partner or a support person and make sure that I’m not seen as an impediment.”

He talks about how he applies lessons learned in the world of business.

 “You never give anybody one option. You give them two because they’ll pick one. And hopefully you can sell it so they pick the right one!”

Parpart does enjoy the camaraderie of being able to share insights with peers at other big research universities which would be difficult to achieve in the competitive business environment where trade secrets cannot be shared.

For newcomers to the space, Papert highlights the importance of being willing to learn, willing to listen, and being transparent about what you know and don’t know.

For those who are further along in their careers, he particularly stresses the importance of being a good listener. 

“Are you really listening? Don’t be the smartest person in the room, even if you think you are. If you are, take the time to mentor those around you and to draw them into the conversation, to draw them into the solution. Help them think, but let them think!” 

Raymond Parpart serves as Director of Data Center Operations and Strategy at the University of Chicago where he is responsible for mission-critical data center facilities, delivering expertise from system/facility design to operational support, to government compliance for areas such as HIPPA, FISMA, and PCI. Parpart works closely with stakeholders to ensure 7×24 reliability and the constant improvement of system hosting, colocation services, and energy efficiency in complex computing environments. His purview extends to outsourcing and cloud integration strategy.  

Parpart has over 20 years of global experience with technology. Prior to joining the University in 2007, Parpart was a Global Architect responsible for global infrastructure, data center operations, desktop, and server standards for General Motors where he developed cost-saving innovations in the areas of voice, video, and data networking. Earlier in his career, he served in both technical and management roles for a major, regional bank and global consulting company delivering infrastructure design and operations solutions to resolve business issues.  

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