Meet Kumar Agarwal - Part of ITS Student Profile Series

October 30, 2020

Written by Jim Phillips, ITS Campus Engagement

“Don’t limit your education to just your course work, use that as a foundation for understanding why you do the work you do as a student employee.” Kumar Agarwal

Kumar Agarwal

Kumar Agarwal has always been quite inquisitive when it comes to technology. When he was young he enjoyed learning about computers by pushing them to their limits. “I broke many computers,” Kumar admitted reflecting on his childhood. The sign of a true techie, he tapped into that primitive impulse to learn by doing (and un-doing).

During his years as an undergraduate at UCSC, Kumar worked in the ITS Faculty Instructional Technology Center (FITC) while studying computer science. It was an ideal situation that allowed him to put into practice aspects of what he learned in the classroom. Working closely with faculty, Kumar helped build out their courses in the Learning Management System (LMS) of the day known as eCommons (Sakai). 

Today, Kumar works in Software Engineering in ITS as a full-time employee. We are so happy he’s found a permanent position with us! Enjoy reading more about Kumar’s story. 

Student Techs Have a Secret Weapon

Student techs in the ITS FITC have a secret weapon: They get to flip their role momentarily and think like an instructor, developing course modules and organizing learning materials in the LMS. They listen to the instructor describe their intentions, watch how those intentions take shape as pedagogical objectives, and track how those objectives then mesh with technology. It can be eye-opening to see how the technology tools are actually used by students to help them learn. Of course, there are also unexpected outcomes (both positive and negative) that crop up along the way, and student techs get to be part of the tactical responses that may become necessary.

Once hired, student techs rapidly develop. ITS staff are responsible for helping them acquire the basics of customer support, including learning about project intake, keeping to a schedule, and writing status reports. Documenting expectations and thoroughly communicating the plan are essential so that both the student tech and faculty member feel comfortable working together. 

Student Managers Mentor New Student Staff

With experience, returning student techs can take on managerial duties. And, Kumar excelled as a student leader and connected frequently with new student staff, mentoring them along the way. It’s about being part of a team, interacting with staff as colleagues, developing milestones and modifying their approach when necessary so that everyone is on the same page. 

Kumar was fortunate to be supervised by then FITC Manager, Robin Ove (now retired). Kumar recalls, “It was Robin who really taught me the ins and outs of requirements gathering,” which would play an important role in a key project back at the time: The migration of content from the FITC website to UCSC’s campus Web Content Management System (WCMS). 

Most importantly, Kumar learned how to interact with faculty, which can require a certain savoir faire. As Kumar notes, “Building up this skill set was not exactly something they teach you in a standard Computer Science education.” His observation underscores the value of working as a student tech in ITS. You learn about the intangibles: The importance of keeping in touch with the customer, following up with people promptly, and delivering on your commitments to the faculty you are supporting (and to the team with whom you work). In short, student techs in ITS learn to serve others with empathy. 

Finding His Niche

Kumar had a variety of jobs after graduating. He leveraged his UCSC work experience and began work for CrossFit where he was responsible for implementing the CrossFit Learning Management System, which served the massive CrossFit community. He helped Plugin Alliance become PCI compliant to enhance the financial component of their business. Kumar also launched a local IT consulting agency, calmForecast.

Kumar on his bike.

Shortly after, he worked as a full time contractor at American Well where he was part of an expansion to help deal with the increasing demand due to COVID-19. Across all of these jobs in his career, Kumar felt well prepared thanks to his work experience and training at UCSC.

Back to ITS!

Today, Kumar works in Software Engineering in ITS as a full-time employee. His advice for UCSC students thinking about a job in ITS, “Don’t limit your education to just your course work, use that as a foundation for understanding why you do the work you do as a student employee. Think about different ways you can improve upon the features and/or efficiency of your work.”

Armed with solid training and a level of confidence that can only come from real-world experience, student techs in ITS become prepared to engage in meaningful collaboration on projects both large and small. Their impact on instruction at UCSC and the smooth functioning of the IT services consumed across the campus can not be overstated.