Hotspot: James Strawn in the Zone

flags of various countries

SpaceX liftoffCan you imagine buying a SpaceX ticket for a low-earth orbit? James Strawn has. He also has imagined winning the lottery to afford the trip to support his passion for traveling!

So far, Strawn, who prefers to be called James, has visited France, England, Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Croatia, Canada, Mexico, Belize and Honduras, but he has many more sites on his list. The Strawns took their grandchildren on a road trip last summer to Washington, D.C. and New York City with a side trip to Niagara Falls. When he is not traveling, he works as the student computing manager for the College of Arts and Sciences' IT Services Student Computing Services. James manages the four student computer labs in the General Academic Building – GAB 330, GAB 550, Terrill Hall 220 and Wooten Hall 120. He also oversees operations for the CAS Instructional Computing Lab in the Gateway Center and manages three full-time IT staff providing support to 46 student-computer facilities operated by departments within the college. Combined, CAS ITS Student Computing Services supports over 1,050 student computers. 

Strawns in Honduras

"I started working as a student lab assistant in the CAS General Access Labs in November of 1994," he said. "In the fall of 1996, I accepted a position as a student tech in CAS' Computing Support Services – now called CAS IT Services. In April 1998, I accepted the position of lab manager for the CAS General Access Labs, now called the Student Computer Labs.

He worked 15 years in the restaurant industry, he said, before he returned to UNT to finish college.

"One of the first classes I took upon returning to college was “Intro to Computing” taught by the Computer Science Department. It was a class on how to use word processors, spreadsheets and simple databases, similar to the keyboarding class students now take in middle school. Remember, this was in the early 1990s," he said, "when desktop computers were both uncommon and expensive, and the internet was in its infancy! Anyway, I enjoyed the class and decided to take another computer science class, which turned out to be an introduction to programming. Computer programming was completely foreign to me, but I loved the problem-solving aspect of the class, and by the end of the semester, I was hooked!" James completed the Bachelor of Science degree in computer science in the prodigiously hyped Y2K, he said.

"The toughest thing about working in IT is when you encounter a problem you’ve never seen before and you have to use logic and your troubleshooting skills to figure out what’s causing the problem and then find a solution. The best thing is when customers, students or teacher's assistants, etc., come to me with a problem that is potentially catastrophic to them, such as missing or corrupt files for research, thesis, or a final project, etc., and you’re able to help them. Their expression of relief and appreciation reminds you on a very personal level the true value of your work."

Working with many young people from many different backgrounds, countries and cultures on a daily basis is one of James' favorite aspects of his career, he said. "Not only am I able to share with them life- and work-skills they will use throughout their life, but I also learn an incredible amount from them as well."

"As boring as it may be, my favorite app in my smartphone is my calendar. It helps to keep me on schedule and gets me where I need to be, especially for things outside of work, such as school plays," said James, a grandfather of three.

"As with most other professions, there’s always something new to learn in IT. However, unlike most other professions, we go through major changes every two or three years. So there’s no the time to rest on your laurels, but there’s also no time to get bored with the same old thing." Commenting about the UNT's adoption last September of LyndaCampus, online video library and learning platform, James said he sees it as a great addition for UNT. Not only can it benefit UNT students, faculty and staff in their work and/or fields of study, he said, but it also can be a great learning tool for everyone in personal areas of interest, maybe graphics design or video editing, music mixing/engineering, or even professional development. I’ve already started a couple of series to sharpen my project management skills."

Although James has not learned to speak a second language fluently, he said he has "found if you learn a few key words and phrases in the native language, such as please, thank you, etc., people are typically very friendly and welcoming, and you can usually get by pretty well. Unlike in the U.S., many people throughout the rest of the world speak more than one language."

James Strawn and grandchildren, Washington, D.C. mallNot having a favorite food or cuisine, James said he tends "to go through phases," and almost never turns down Chinese or Lebanese food, and he is always ready for some good barbecue. "We generally don’t use food-related apps when traveling, as they tend to list more tourist-centric restaurants," he said. "Instead, we try to get out into the neighborhoods and ask the locals where they go to eat. Small, family-run restaurants tend to give you the most authentic local cuisine, and they can provide a great cultural experience as well. Just be sure you bring local currency; sometimes these smaller family-run places don’t accept credit cards. I love to cook; I love to travel and experience other cultures." James also likes to play computer-based video games, was a huge WoW-head for a while, but now plays Warframe more than anything else, but travel seems to be his greatest passion now.

James already is planning his next trip. He wants to return to the Greek Islands, and go to either Austria or Switzerland next – or both.

"And, I desperately want to go to Egypt and visit Cairo, Giza and Luxor. Then, of course, there’s the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the Taj Mahal in India..." And miles to go before he sleeps.