A Boreal Exclusive - A well-deserved retirement for Rena RogersAug 30, 2021 08:43PM ● By Editor
Exclusive to Boreal Community Media - August 30, 2021
Can you tell us a bit about your career path and how it led you to Cook County?
My career path began in Elementary Education. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, I completed a master’s degree in Math Education. I spent two years teaching fifth and sixth graders and then headed back to school. This time I earned a second bachelor’s in Computer Science. For the past 36+ years I have been in the IT business, including 20 years at the State of Minnesota and 7.5 years here in Cook County. I’ve held many jobs in the IT industry including, software developer, technical marketing, technical trainer, project and program manager, and finishing up here as the Cook County MIS Director.
How did you feel moving from the Twin Cities to such a remote area?
Moving to Cook County was the best decision I have ever made for many reasons. My most basic skill is problem solving. The problems I encountered in Cook County were similar and every bit as complex as problems I encountered in other situations. The difference is the relationship aspect. Because it’s a smaller number of people I was able to connect directly with stakeholders to better understand issues. I also had fewer levels of bureaucracy to work through to get something done.
You wore multiple hats here while working at Cook County. What are some of the most memorable improvements or changes that have taken place during your time here?
My mission is to always leave something better than I found it. I also want to make sure that any changes made are sustainable and don’t disappear when I leave. This type of change means you are not dealing with symptoms, rather you are working toward a vision built from the bottom up.
I think the most enduring and beneficial work will be the work around Radio Communication. The vision of “increasing services while minimizing impacts” drove the work. One of the first steps was to revise the Tower Ordinance so the county could control tower impacts as much as possible. Through standardized contracts and operational standards, the County receives revenue to maintain and even replace this critical public safety infrastructure without impacting the tax levy.
In a similar fashion the entire MIS department is managed using best practices and processes from project management and IT Service Management (ITSM). The result is a flat budget request, and the same level of staffing over these 7.5 years even though the number of devices and systems we support has more than doubled.
As the Interim Administrator, well there was COVID and all that went along with that. One of the other significant changes occurred at the YMCA. We were able to resolve some building issues that were causing a steady stream of repairs and unbudgeted costs. Solving the basic problems ended the constant request for additional spending. I also worked with County Attorney Hicken and our partners at ISD166 to put in place a better custodial solution. In addition to providing better service, it dramatically improved the relationship with these important partners.
What do you think we have learned since the pandemic began as far as working from home and remote meetings? Do you think the future of home offices will be more commonplace even after the pandemic subsides?
I do believe that there will be more people who work from home at least some of the time. We are very lucky to have the availability of high-quality Broadband in Cook County. I think the response to the pandemic by workplaces and schools would have been much more difficult 10 years ago. Tools like high-speed internet and ZOOM allowed us to stay productive and safe.
I’m a person who really likes the casual contact and problem solving that occurs in an office environment. As time goes on, I think we will learn different techniques for building relationships in online settings.
But now that Pandora’s Box has been opened, I think every conversation about new space requirements will include the option of remote work and workspaces designed to be used by whatever staff is in the office that day.
What have been some of your favorite outdoor/recreational activities since moving here?
Playing golf, being in a play at the Grand Marais Playhouse, playing music, Canteen Club at Voyageur, hiking (especially in winter).
Will you continue serving on the ISD 166 School Board or any other committees?
My term on the school board goes through the end of 2022. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if I will be there after that.
I may look for another opportunity to serve on a board in the future.
Any words of wisdom for anyone considering a career in technology?
There are no short cuts to being successful in the technology world. My best advise is go to college and get a good foundation. The details of technology are constantly changing. So, thinking you can be successful after a single boot camp or working on stuff at home…well it’s not enough. Education provides you with the structure and context to know the value and meaning of the changes as they are happening.
Also, the soft skills will set you apart. Communication, customer service, leadership, and project management skills will set you apart and provide the best variety of jobs and projects.
What fun things do you have planned for your retirement?
I’ll figure that out next week. This week I’m still working!
A gathering for Rena's retirement will be held on Tuesday, August 31st from 3:00-5:00 at the Cook County Courthouse - Southside lawn with a brief program at 4:00. All are welcome!