Guidelines, best practices & advice for UW–Madison IT professionals

Last updated December 4, 2023

Understand your role as an IT professional at UW–‍Madison

UW–Madison is a large institution with thousands of employees who identify as IT professionals. Many of these work for UW–Madison’s central IT unit, the Division of Information Technology (DoIT), while many more work in “distributed IT” at other schools, colleges, and divisions on campus. As an employee of UW–Madison, you need to be aware of the university’s workplace expectations. Beyond that, as an IT professional, you are in a privileged position as a technical expert, a steward of cybersecurity, an administrator of systems, and a custodian of data. This carries with it some special responsibilities.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Support the mission

Help people accomplish the mission of their unit, their school, college or division and UW–Madison. Become a valuable resource for others working to achieve those missions. When your colleagues view you that way, they are more likely to consult you during planning and strategy development. You will be better able to contribute to success.

Go beyond technical knowledge

Communication skills, decision-making skills, and the ability to work with a diverse group will contribute greatly to your success.

  • Communication is a big part of your job: with colleagues, users, and vendors.
  • Stay connected with your user community: participate in your group’s social events, attend public talks, learn about their projects.

Understand the scope of your role

Know what is in or out of scope for your position and what resources you can access to help you be effective in your role. Many units have unique policies or practices defining what they will support in addition to general campus policy. In addition to items purchased or created with university funding, understand how your unit treats personally-owned devices and applications, those owned by another institution, or those purchased with grant funding.

  • If your unit does not support personally-owned devices, and a customer asks you for help with their personal device, you might suggest alternatives. For example, local vendors such as You Break I Fix can often be a better resource than you. Also, DoIT can support any UW–Madison student or employee. Depending upon the circumstances, the device or application may be personally owned.
  • People will sometimes ask you to help them on the side. If you decide to do such work on your own time, don’t use university resources for commercial activity. Whether you’re doing it as a favor or for hire, consider limiting that outside work to devices and applications used for university activity and separate outside work from your official duties. Have an explicit agreement with your client or customer. The university is not liable for work done outside the scope of employment.

Understand your people’s needs and demonstrate your value

Take the time to understand your people’s needs and roles, and keep them informed. Help them understand the value your group brings and how IT works in your unit. Manage change with people in mind and respect confidentiality. Build trust by understanding those relationships and their individual needs.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Understand people’s needs

Each department or discipline has a unique culture, requiring a unique approach to delivering IT services and support. Take time to understand the unit you are working in. Understand where your unit fits into the campus organization and what motivates your people.
Develop relationships with key people in your unit and related groups to understand your people better.

  • Consider groups or demographics that aren’t currently visible in your interactions. Actively involve underrepresented groups to ensure inclusivity in your service design and to uncover potential biases in the services and technologies you endorse.
  • Each unit facet – administration, teaching, service, and research – will have its own needs and priorities. Consider meeting with each group in your unit regularly, perhaps annually or semi-annually.
  • Let people’s needs drive the solutions as much as possible while operating within the standards and policies that apply to a given situation. Help find and use IT solutions to those needs while considering best practices, cost, policy, technology trends, etc.
  • Be relevant to your people. Spend time with them. Don’t assume you know. Learn their goals and priorities.
  • Understand their timeline, their deadlines, and the lifecycle of their work. If you don’t know, ask.
  • Remote support has become increasingly important in managing a modern workforce. Many of your colleagues work remotely. Avail yourself of the available tools in your unit to provide remote support and set people’s expectations about how and when they can receive support.

Keep people informed

Your communications should be transparent, timely, deliberate and understandable.

  • Practice transparency. Communicate the choices you are making clearly. Provide rationales.
  • Some people prefer frequent updates on the status of their IT requests. Even if you don’t have an answer, you could tell them you are still working on their request.
  • Plan your communication strategy before you need it. Develop contact lists. Tell people where to find information and get status updates and outage information.
  • Be aware of available communication channels such as in-person meetings, email, chat or social media. Choose appropriate channels for your message and audience. Consider channels you haven’t used before.
  • Understand your audience. Plan your communications and review them from the recipient’s point of view.

Help people understand how IT works

Help your management and users understand how IT works in your unit. The process of selecting and delivering IT services and support in your unit may be much more relevant than the details of the technology.

  • Communicate with your management/leadership and users. Both groups depend on you to understand and deliver IT services or support. Be prepared to explain the underlying rationale.
  • Don’t assume that people understand the process. Don’t assume that you understand the process. Examples:
    • How are decisions made? By whom?
    • Why are certain things necessary?
    • What are the available options?
    • Why are some things more efficient and effective than others?
    • Why do some things take more time than others?
  • Explain in terms your audience will understand.
    • Know your audience. They are not monolithic, and their needs will change and evolve.
    • Avoid jargon and acronyms unless you are sure the audience knows what they mean. Consider signing up for plain language training.
    • Be patient and understanding.
  • Document procedures and decisions, especially if people have similar questions and issues. Make the documents easy to find and communicate where people can find relevant documents.

Manage change with people in mind

Change management involves more than technical changes. The impact on people requires attention throughout the process.

  • Fully understand the risks of how making (or not making) changes can positively or negatively affect your professional relationships. Seek advice from your colleagues who have performed similar changes on how to engage with your stakeholders.
  • Whenever possible, inform people who will be affected before you change something. Provide as much lead time as possible.
  • Make sure people understand the implications of the change. The possible consequences of the change might not be obvious to them.
  • Be sure you are authorized before you make changes to computers, devices or applications. Authorization can take many forms, which may vary among the people and units you support. For example, you could have an ongoing blanket authorization to make necessary changes or a specific authorization to make a single change.
  • Protect data before making changes. It may not be enough to rely on routine backups. Sometimes, you must use more specific protection.
  • In an emergency that requires immediate changes, inform users as soon as possible afterward.

Respect confidentiality

IT professionals regularly see and work with sensitive or personal information. Elevated privileges to systems or applications may expose you to information you would not otherwise have access to.

  • Respect confidentiality and privacy when encountering sensitive or personal information during work.
  • Don’t deliberately access data without authorization and need.
    • The data owner or data steward may authorize access.
    • The Office of Legal Affairs can authorize your access in response to legal requirements or requests.
    • From the policy on Access to Faculty and Staff Electronic Files: Computer system administrators are authorized to access data during the routine maintenance of campus computer or communication systems or the rectification of emergency situations that threaten the integrity of campus computer or communication systems, provided that use of accessed data is limited solely to maintaining or safeguarding the system.
  • Know what to do when incidental access reveals possible violations of law or policy.
    • Don’t discuss it with colleagues or users. Don’t investigate further unless you are specifically authorized to do so by the Office of Legal Affairs. The incident response team in the Office of Cybersecurity may communicate that authorization.
    • Get expert advice from your supervisor; HR department; CIO or IT director of your school, college or division; the UW Chief Information Security Officer or CIO; or the Office of Legal Affairs. Contact someone on that list with whom you are willing to discuss the matter.

Promote good practice within the university

Become aware of and encourage effective and efficient use of IT services and resources. Model good practices to provide others with examples and inspiration. Create a culture of feedback for encouragement and improvement.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Promote efficient and effective use of resources

Delivering efficient and effective IT services and support requires collaboration, cooperation, compromise and pragmatism.

  • Look for common solutions whenever possible. Consider integration with existing services rather than building or purchasing your own. Help users understand the value of shared solutions.
  • Be mindful of balancing individual needs with the needs of the group. Look for solutions where everyone gets what they need, and as many as practical get what they want.
  • Know when to stop working on something. Keep the law of diminishing returns in mind. An efficient solution that is good enough is better than a perfect solution that consumes excessive resources.

Lead by example

You are a leader in your unit, even if you aren’t a supervisor or manager. People look to you for guidance and notice more than your technical expertise. Be a positive influence in your unit.

  • Presence matters. Be mindful of what you do while doing it, how you carry yourself, and how your actions affect others.
  • Be aware of your language, including word choice and pronouns. The words you use to describe IT become the language of your unit.
  • Consider taking UW’s plain language courses.
  • Your users, colleagues and superiors will notice if you are responsible, respectful, efficient, effective, helpful, security-minded and so on. How you conduct yourself affects your reputation as an IT professional and has a long-term effect on how others interact.
  • Be sure to hand off all preliminary resources or work completed, as it may be helpful to the next professional that you’re handing the project over to.
  • Partner in helping solve problems, even if the help is a handoff to another unit or IT professional. Consider suggesting alternative options that you can support that solve a problem.
  • You are a resource to those around you, to fellow professionals. Expanding your knowledge and sharing what you have learned will help make your workplace and total experience more rewarding.
  • LinkedIn Learning has thousands of classes that professionals can take to educate themselves about subjects, from improving job-specific skills to learning a coding language. Add the LinkedIn Learning tile to your MyUW homepage to simplify accessing LinkedIn Learning.

Welcome feedback for encouragement and improvement

Feedback is a reaction to the work and performance around us. It can be positive or critical but should always geared toward recognition and improvement. Welcome others to engage in constructive feedback in public forums, one-on-one meetings, small group meetings, etc.

Resources for promoting good practices

Follow and improve standards and common solutions

In your unit, work to understand why specific standards and common solutions are in place and what standards you may need to offer excellent service and protect resources. The Universities of Wisconsin and UW–Madison IT policies often include standards, and some units may need to adopt additional standards that meet the mission needs of that unit. An academic field or business area may have formal or informal expectations that may influence what standards they adopt.

You’ll often hear the terms standards and common solutions used interchangeably, but they have distinct meanings:

  • Standard: Something that you can objectively measure. There are often multiple ways to implement a standard.
  • Common solution: A technical tool or solution that IT professionals in the university or industry use widely.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Select the appropriate standard

Standards can provide clarity and consistency for your users and colleagues, make your systems more interoperable, support policy needs, and help your successors build upon the work you’ve done. Formal and informal audits are measured against standards.

Standards may have some built-in flexibility. Carefully distinguish between the requirements and the recommendations and understand how they work in your unit.

When multiple standards could apply to your situation, consider the following when selecting a course of action:

  • Seek advice from your colleagues in your unit, Cybersecurity and other IT units on campus.
  • Carefully consider local needs and the implications of selecting a different standard than the default, common, or recommended standard.
  • Some standards are mandated by law or other regulatory needs.

Help with formal or informal adoption

Support campus efforts to resolve differences when a lack of standardization or common solutions is causing problems. Consider how you could adopt a proposed standard or common solution, even if it isn’t perfect. Get involved and represent your unit’s and users’ needs by serving on the campus IT Policy group.

Adhere to legal, policy and regulatory requirements

The Universities of Wisconsin and UW–Madison have established legal policy and regulatory requirements. Legal requirements may be based on state or federal law or contractual terms. Requirements may be linked to specific circumstances. Policies are created at multiple levels: UW Regents, Universities of Wisconsin, UW–Madison as a whole, and individual Schools, Divisions, or local units. Government agencies or third parties may create regulations.

If you are interested in getting involved in the policy landscape at UW–Madison, consider joining the UW–Madison IT Policy group by emailing

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Understand legal and regulatory frameworks

Understand how laws and regulations apply to your work and the work of your unit and users. For example:

Understand university policies

Be familiar with the relevant UW–Madison and Universities of Wisconsin policies, including business policies and IT policies. Encourage your colleagues to follow policies.

The top IT policies for all faculty, staff, students and visitors are:

See all IT Policies.

See all UW–‍Madison policies.

Protect yourself, other people and the institution

You protect yourself and others by following policies and regulations. Understand how exceptions work in the context of a particular policy or regulation before deviating from requirements. Carefully consider the possible consequences to yourself, your users and the institution. Consult with your colleagues in IT. Document decisions, including the reasons why and any other compensating controls you put in place. Review and refresh your documentation regularly.

Grow as an IT professional and in a broader IT community

Professional development is more than improving and maintaining your technical knowledge and certifications. Professional development includes being an active, contributing member of your professional community.

This is an accordion element with a series of buttons that open and close related content panels.

Start your professional development at UW–‍Madison

Learn how IT works at UW–‍Madison. While you are a new employee, participate in onboarding activities in your unit and at the campus level. Attend seminars and events to make contact with your colleagues in other units. Participate in the IT Mentoring program or other campus mentoring and coaching opportunities. Learn about IT Connects to find ways to get involved.

Complete required training

  1. All UW–Madison employees must complete Cybersecurity Awareness Training annually.
  2. You must complete Sexual Harassment Training in your first 30 days as a UW–Madison employee. You may have to renew this training every 3 to 4 years, depending on HR policies.

Note: You must complete the above courses to receive raises as an employee of the Universities of Wisconsin.

Continue your professional development

Discuss professional development with your supervisor and colleagues. Prepare carefully when participating in the Performance Management and Development Program (PMDP), as these are rich opportunities for expanding your career-based skillset. Consider attending one national or regional conference or similar event each year. Participate in collaborative opportunities such as development teams, advisory teams, various planning committees and IT governance. Consider obtaining certifications that advance your career goals. Advocate for yourself to be involved. Ask your supervisor for permission to participate and encourage your colleagues to participate. Look for virtual or in-person opportunities.

Contribute to the professional development of others

UW–Madison recognizes that people are the highest value of a successful organization. Since UW’s information and technology community is highly distributed, UW IT Connects and the groups therein provide diverse engagement, leadership, relationship-building and professional development opportunities for our community to learn and grow together. They offer opportunities to expand your knowledge, mentor a colleague, help organize a conference, start a new or engage in an existing community of practice and help create serendipitous connections between colleagues.

IT Connects identified the following shared values as guideposts for the work of all groups:

  • Accessibility
  • Awareness
  • Belonging
  • Communication
  • Community
  • Connection
  • Diversity
  • Encouragement
  • Engagement
  • Equity
  • Inclusion
  • Learning
  • Recognition
  • Respect
  • Serendipity
  • Support
  • Visibility


Document review and revision

2023 review team

The IT Professionals Committee is now the steward of this document.

  • Cameron Cook
  • Jason Erdmann
  • Dexter Fierro
  • Jim Helwig
  • Conor Klecker
  • Amanda Thornton
  • Scott Winger

2022 review team

  • Chris Poser, DoIT User Services (primary contact)
  • Crague Cook, DoIT Application Infrastructure Services, Identity and Access Management
  • David Parter, L&S, Computer Science
  • Jason Erdmann, School of Education, MERIT
  • Laura Grady, DoIT Academic Technology, Center for UX
  • Sabrina Messer, DoIT Application Infrastructure Services
  • Sara Tate-Pederson, College of Engineering
  • Susan Weier, L&S, Learning Support Services (LSS)

Document development and advancement, 2017 teams

Development team

  • Gary De Clute, Office of the CIO, IT Policy (primary contact)
  • Alan Silver, L&S, Chemistry
  • David Parter, L&S, Computer Science
  • Jason Erdmann, School of Education
  • Laura Grady, Office of the CIO and DoIT Communications
  • Sabrina Messer, School of Education, MERIT
  • Sara Nagreen, L&S, Mathematics
  • Sara Tate-Pederson, Administrative Information Management Services (AIMS)
  • Susan Weier, L&S, Learning Support Services (LSS)

Advancement team

  • Laura Grady, Office of the CIO and DoIT Communications (co-chair)
  • Sara Tate-Pederson, AIMS (co-chair)
  • Alan Silver, L&S, Chemistry
  • David Parter, L&S, Computer Science
  • Jason Erdmann, School of Education, MERIT
  • Sara Nagreen, L&S, Mathematics
  • Sue Weier, L&S, Learning Support Services (LSS)