By: Alan Shark
Dr. Alan R. Shark, Executive Director of CompTIA’s Public Technology Institute, NAPA Fellow and Chair of Standing Panel on Technology Leadership. And associate professor at the Schar School of policy and Government, GMU.
Who or what inspired you to work in public service?
Returning from my second tour in Vietnam as a Navy Seabee and being a college drop-out that lead me to the Navy in the first place – I was ready to recast my life. Seeing first-hand how public policy and government impacted the lives of all citizens – I strongly believed more can and must be done. As an undergraduate I initially thought business administration was my chosen field. However, given the political turmoil in the 70’s I got heavily involved in student government and wound up heading the 3rd largest student group in the nation. I was on the front lines of change. Academically, I found the business curriculum with a largely quantitative focus. This left me wanting and soon embraced public administration as it appeared to have a more qualitative base from which to work. And I will never forget Professor Fred Lane my professor at Baruch College who was clearly the most inspiring professor I had even had. Some 30 years later I am eternally grateful, still stay in touch, and have never looked back.
What is your favorite class you have ever taught and why?
It was a chance meeting that brought Founding Dean (and NAPA Fellow) Marc Holzer and me together for a dinner meeting many years ago. Marc was the founding Dean of the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University. We met as a result of a foundation executive urging the two of us to meet and discuss common interests and issues. I recall telling him of one of my pet peeves in that how could a student go through the MPA program and not be formally exposed to technology in public management? After all, technology is infused in just about everything we do, and public administrators need to step up and learn about the available tools and best practices in order to say ahead and be effective. The Dean turned to me and said, “and I have a course for you to teach”. Being a college dropout, teaching at a university was never something I ever considered or thought possible – let alone teaching a course at the master’s level. That was in 2009 and I have been teaching this course to this very day. Yes, the content has changed - almost weekly over the years, and I am now in the process of updating my best-selling textbook, “Technology and Public Management”. Traveling to Newark NJ from Washington DC for some 8 years, I earned over 300,000 Amtrak rail miles. Over time the “commute” got to be a bit much and I now teach essentially the same course at the Schar School of Policy and Government at GMU. This has always been a “part-time” passion and am always energized by student interaction and evaluations. It is simply gratifying as todays public policy and administration students get tech in government.
What inspires you during these challenging times?
Perhaps I derived my “Can-Do” spirt through serving as a Navy Seabee (that has always been their motto We are facing some very dark times in this country, and I am both amazed and disappointed at the fact that we have never had more data and information in the hands of citizens and yet there is such distrust and misinformation. With all our technology the speed of ignorance seems to be winning out. I am inspired by the many public managers who keep on trying and I am happy to be one of them. The very technologies that were designed to make our lives better appear to be doing just the opposite – especially in a “free-speech society”. So, while I acknowledge the darkness I am an internal optimist and want to dedicate the rest of my career towards working on polices, programs, and technologies that can help restore trust and faith in government and public service.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
The best advice I ever received was from a highly respected colleague who always said, “just being right is never enough”. This was his way of saying that one must be careful and pragmatic and just being right about an issue should never be the end goal. The point here is politics and policy often do not follow straight lines. There are many twists and turns and we must be mindful navigators as well as setting the highest example of ethics and trust. Always keep your vison focused on the goalpost not the individual yardage.
Do you have any pets at home?
I am one of those who believe pets keep us honest and are a constant reminder that we share this planet with many loving forms of life. I have a 14-year-old Bichon Frise whose mission in life is to be part of anything I do and to cuddle at all time and be at my side simply because she wants to. I have always had a cat or dog and love them all.