George Reynolds - Trinity County, CA: From the ground up

George Reynolds - Trinity County, CA: From the ground up<@VM>Online Extra Q&A: George Reynolds

Career highlights

1989: Takes a job as a programmer/analyst with the Trinity County, Calif., Data Processing Department.

1995: Moves to the county's Health and Human Services Department, after the county dissolves the Data Processing Department to cut costs.

1996: Returns as director'and staff'of the county IT Department.

2004: Oversees a department that has grown to seven employees, having proven to county supervisors the benefits of technology.

'We rarely achieve perfection, but you have to shoot for it because anything else is just going to be a nightmare.' -- George Reynolds

Phil Nelson

Reynolds has bucked the system to cajole county into creating an IT department

Officials in Trinity County, Calif., where the discovery of gold in 1848 triggered the California Gold Rush, struck gold of a different sort a century and a half later when they hired George Reynolds. They just didn't know it at the time.

Reynolds, now director of the county's IT department, provided the resolute and single-minded leadership needed to direct the county through a major IT transformation.

During his 15 years with the county, he has battled to demonstrate the benefits of IT to wary officials at the top and has shown his co-workers that one person holding the line can make all the difference.

Reynolds settled in Trinity County in 1989 after graduating from college and spending a year working for a San Francisco software company.

He found the county's bucolic location, more than four hours north of San Francisco amid the splendors of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, enormously appealing.

'I thought it would be nice to get out of the craziness of the city and raise a family in a smaller area,' he said.

Reynolds started as a programmer and analyst with the county's Data Processing Department. At the time, there wasn't much to the county's IT environment: a mainframe computer and a few terminals.

Over the next six years, he designed and programmed departmental applications and delivered training for county employees on the terminals.

In 1995, the county board of supervisors began dissolving the Data Processing Department, replacing technical personnel with computers to cut costs.

'They had all these computers but nobody knew how to take care of them,' Reynolds said.

He moved over to the county's Health and Human Services Department, planning and organizing its IT efforts.

'It was the one department that realized it needed to have somebody with some technical knowledge,' he said.

At the county's HHS, there was still no real network infrastructure. Reynolds set about changing that, envisioning an integrated computing environment, designing a network and even running cabling himself.

Meanwhile, county officials began to realize that they had no technical support for the rest of the county's systems, and they turned to Reynolds for help.

He did what he could while still working to set up HHS's IT environment.

'I was just putting out fires, running from one place to another,' he said.

A year later, impressed by what Reynolds had done for IT at HHS, the board of supervisors asked him to come back and support county systems full time.

For a while, Reynolds was the only IT employee.

'The board had no desire to create a new department,' he said. 'They were quite happy with the work I was doing. The only problem was, I was working myself into the ground.'

Undaunted, Reynolds carried on, implementing new applications for various county departments and seeking grants when money wasn't available.

At the same time, he pressed the board on the need for a full-fledged IT department, including additional staff and training programs. In the end, he got what he wanted.

'There's politics in every place that you work,' Reynolds said. 'I think my real advantage was that I understood how the politics worked. They didn't want an IT department because they know how expensive people are.'

'But I think by showing them what kind of return on investment you can have on technology and what technology can do, it's really opened their eyes,' he added. 'I think I get support now that I never had in the past because people know I'm going to get it done.'

In recent years, the county's IT department has grown to a staff of seven. Reynolds, 38, is comfortable with the size of his department.

'It's very small and that makes it nimble,' he said. 'We can change and update things very quickly. We can implement new technologies.'

His motto is: Shoot for perfection but don't necessarily expect it.

'We rarely achieve perfection, but you have to shoot for it because anything else is just going to be a nightmare,' he said.

Leadership is not something you learn once and then just do by rote, he said. 'Leadership is an ongoing process.'Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to move up to the manager level?

Successful managers must be stern but flexible. You need to set strict guidelines on what is required of your employees but expect your employees' lives to conflict with work. You must be a "people" person. You need to be able to communicate with all types of people so that you can lead them.

Expect to be responsible all the time. Employees go home at the end of their shift; you take work home. Don't expect your employees to have the dedication that you do but view their progress by their productivity.

Q: What's the best advice you received and from whom?

The best advice that I have received was "Never give up, never surrender!" from Tim Allen in the movie 'Galaxy Quest.' In our business, we are confronted with difficult problems and we have no choice to but to find a solution. Our customers must be able to perform the tasks that are necessary for their jobs; technology cannot get in the way.

Q: Why government service?

Originally, my motivation for taking a government job was location, pay and opportunity. The benefits, if you work hard and do a good job, are job security and satisfaction in improving your community. I've stayed with government because it's challenging (never enough money and plenty of required tasks), meaningful (you are making others more productive) and the work is never boring (you learn something new every day and you must keep learning).

Q: How important is mentoring in developing a good manager?

I believe mentoring is very important. We can learn so much from other people's experiences. Your mentor doesn't always have to be a superior. I try to learn from all the people I interact with. I have an employee who is loud and sometimes abrasive but inside she is very sweet. She teaches me about differences in people and how to be more compassionate. She also teaches me when it is appropriate to fight the battle, and about taking praise.

Q: What part does fun play in your work? How important is it?

It is very important to enjoy your work. I am very focused on productivity during work time but it is important to joke with people and to enjoy their presence.

Q: How do you balance work and home life?

I am a task-oriented individual. I like to have projects to work on. When nothing is happening at home that requires my attention, I try to learn more about my work. My life is both work and home and occasionally they blend. I have learned over the years that I will never get all of my work done so I try not to work until midnight.

I also know that when I don't have balance, I get burned out. When I am burned out, both work and home life suffers. To keep that balance, I don't miss my children's activities, I'm there for my friends and family when they need me, and no matter how busy my work is I fit vacations in. Taking a break rejuvenates me and allows me to do a better job.


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