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3 Questions: Kyle Filipe on moving MIT online amid the Covid-19 pandemic

Director of IT support services for MIT Information Systems and Technology describes how his unit mobilized to prepare the MIT community for our new virtual landscape.
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Kyle Filipe working from home. "Our mentality is: keep telling us what you need and we'll keep trying to figure out creative solutions. That’s what [MIT IS&T] did before Covid-19 and that’s what we’ll do long after Covid-19.”
Kyle Filipe working from home. "Our mentality is: keep telling us what you need and we'll keep trying to figure out creative solutions. That’s what [MIT IS&T] did before Covid-19 and that’s what we’ll do long after Covid-19.”
Photo: Kathleen Filipe

With the onset of Covid-19 pandemic, MIT Information Systems and Technology (IS&T) rapidly launched new services and enhanced others to meet the expanding needs of a community moving fully into online teaching, learning, and working. Three months ago, Zoom was known in some parts of the Institute as a helpful video conferencing tool, but was completely unknown in others. Since remote classes started on March 30, Zoom usage is up nearly 10,000 percent across the Institute, with an average of more than 1.5 million meeting minutes per day. Today, community members use Zoom and other platforms for everything from classes to staff meetings to mentoring sessions. Every new use of technology in teaching, learning, and working comes with new challenges, questions, and calls for help.

MIT’s MindHandHeart recently spoke with Kyle Filipe, IS&T director of IT Support Services, to see how his team has been able to support MIT during this stressful, uncertain time.

Q: Describe your work under “normal” circumstances?

A: Normally, we have a team that supports the MIT community from our E17 location in the Atlas Service Center, providing in-person help as well as hardware repairs. We have a two-tier service desk, with an off-campus triage team based out of West Virginia providing 24-hour initial support by phone and email, and an MIT-based escalations team handling issues requiring greater expertise. And we have three field service teams who travel across campus to meet the IT needs of our community members.

In addition, we have a hardware device deployment and maintenance team. A small subset of this team is still on campus, making rotations to continuously connect members of the community with the devices and hardware that they'll need to accomplish their work. Our on-campus group is practicing diligent social distancing to help keep everyone safe and healthy.

Q: Could you describe how your office mobilized MIT to meet the challenge of going virtual?

A: The first thing I’ll say is that it’s been so inspiring to see our community rise to this challenge. I’ve been at MIT for nearly five years and it’s always been a collaborative place, but I’ve never seen one central, overarching charge like this. Over the past month, IS&T has been contacted by nearly every department (if not every department) for help moving campus operations online. I’ve been amazed by how we’ve been able to accomplish so much together. Not to say that I’m surprised, but it’s been incredible to see this in action.

We were fortunate in that, prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, IS&T had been piloting a work-from-home initiative for our team members, so we had already mobilized to support various IT environments from remote locations. There were a lot of lessons and best practices that we learned from our internal pilot, which informed how we thought about the challenges our community members would face teaching, learning, and working remotely. Support team members were able to think creatively about how best to fulfill our roles remotely, and we were prepared to work in different ways than we were used to. This allowed us to rapidly realign our IT service delivery model to leverage all available resources to meet the needs of each department, while also meeting the emerging needs of the entire MIT community.

Early on, the community identified tools like Zoom, Slack, Canvas, Piazza, and Gradescope that would enable MIT’s move into a digital landscape, and IS&T worked with our partners, including Sloan Technology Services, to bring those services to the entire community. At this point, my teams are honored to be able to continue to ensure that those services run well for our community. IS&T is filled with dedicated, passionate employees who worked around the clock to enable these critical services. My teams are excited to pick up the torch to provide ongoing support.

Over the past 30 days, our office received over 7,200 tickets or requests for IT support, which is significantly higher than our typical volume of 5,000. It’s been a stretch for us, and we’ve developed a collective “all hands on deck” mentality. As most of us have been working from home and balancing our personal lives with our commitments to our health and the MIT community, our standing operating hours of 9-to-5 have dramatically changed. At the same time, everyone on my team is pitching in to spread out the work, so that we can put in as many hours as we can, while achieving some work-life balance.

While we were helping to move classes and offices online, we were also involved in several special projects. In partnership with the Office of the Vice Chancellor (OVC) and MIT Open Learning, we helped launch Teach Remote, a website featuring resources, tools, and support for teaching remotely at MIT. We launched a dedicated support line for instructors preparing to teach remotely, and assembled a team of IS&T subject matter experts to collaborate with experts from OVC and Open Learning to provide round-the-clock support for these new modes of teaching. In addition, we worked with the Exemption Process Team to develop a tool to handle requests for exceptions to MIT’s emergency undergraduate housing policy.

Q: This is a very stressful, uncertain time for MIT and the world. How are you doing? How are you staying grounded?

A: I’m doing great. I’m fortunate to be quarantining with my wife, Kathleen, who has been an amazing support system through all of this. She’s an elementary school teacher and has been busy finding creative ways to engage with her students virtually.

Work-wise, it’s been a pleasure to help lead the IS&T support teams through this event. There's been a lot of uncertainty, and I can't say that we've gotten everything right on our first try, but we’ve continued to iterate and tailor support solutions to each individual to help them return to work.

The managers of the support teams and I have a daily call to recap our workday and check in on each other. It’s important to remember that in the midst of everything that's going on at MIT, we’re in a global pandemic and we need to take care of ourselves. We encourage our team members to practice self-care, get up at least once every hour, breathe deeply, and find ways to renew and refresh.

Vice President for Information Systems and Technology Mark Silis has been a rock for our entire department. His knowledge of the MIT community and poise while helping IS&T to navigate this crisis has been invaluable. IS&T’s leadership team as a whole has been firing on all cylinders to deliver these critical services to the community at an outrageously impressive pace.

Besides the personal support from my wife and the professional excellence from Mark and the rest of IS&T, the thing that's really kept me grounded is my amazing team. Their willingness to figure out new ways to help the MIT community and adjust their schedules has inspired me. I’m not pulling anyone along. My team is running ahead of me, every single one of them, and I couldn't ask for anything more. Our mentality is: Keep telling us what you need and we'll keep trying to figure out creative solutions. That’s what we did before Covid-19, and that’s what we’ll do long after Covid-19.

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