Staff Focus: Not Your Average “Techie”

I recently had a conversation with our Technology Support Specialist, Andrew Liebowitz, and I quickly realized that he was not the average “tech guy.” As you’ll find in his interview, Mr. Liebowitz breaks the stereotypes with a people-focused approach to technology.

Messer: What brought you to this profession?

Liebowitz: When I was very young, I remember my grandfather was invested in technology. At age 3 or 4 he taught me how to work a keyboard and how to use Microsoft DOS, and from then on, I always remember having access to a computer. I remember that my 4th or 5th grade teachers told my parents, “Your student will be a computer person the rest of his life,” and they asked, “Does he have a computer at home?” Their answer was, “Yes, and he spends all day on it.”

Messer: What was school like for you as a student interested in technology?

Mr. Liebowitz hard at work. 

Mr. Liebowitz hard at work. 

Liebowitz: In middle school, I would say I was part of a group that was like a “Mouse Squad” precursor. Back then, a 12 to 14 year-old just didn’t work on a teacher’s computer. But my science teacher in 7th grade was the “Computer Lab guy” so I helped him fix some issues. Then he just started sending me to help other teachers--unofficially at first--but eventually there was a more formal group of 3, sometimes more, students helping the school in this way, and it became normal.

Messer: That sounds like a bit of a turning point for you.

Liebowitz: It was. I always had a strong sense of community and service for public interest even when I was very young. In middle school I noticed so many of my teachers and students around me were so hesitant to use technology. Honestly at that time, it was slow and a bit of a headache, but I realized that the problems they were facing weren’t that big and I could help.

When I started working with teachers as a student, there were several valuable lessons I learned rather quickly and none were as important as learning how to interact with adults. I vividly remember thinking that talking to an adult that wasn’t your parent was not easy. I’m happy that I got the chance to work with adults in that way. It benefited me greatly.

Messer: How did things progress for you in high school and college?

Liebowitz: I attended Long Island City High School, and I believe there were five-thousand students at the time. But even in that very large school, I was one of only three students that were part of a tech club. The difference was that I earned service credits for my work, and because of the size of the school and the variety of services it offered students, I learned more advanced programing skills, and began to widen my pool of technical knowledge. I learned much about computers in those years, but more than anything, I learned about people.

I became a Computer Science Major at Brooklyn College. The Research Foundation of CUNY provided computer related CUNY students the opportunity to be placed as an internship at several city offices. A public school reached out to me for an interview, and soon after the administration recognized my skills were valuable and hired me full time. I went on to work at an extremely large high school after that, however, at some point, I realized I needed to do something different, with more responsibility and a place to give my all, which brought me to Challenge.

Messer: Why did you choose an educational application of technology?

Liebowitz: Starting back in middle school, I realized I really liked interacting with teachers. They are intelligent people with educated opinions, and through my service, internships, and career jobs, I discovered that my sense of community service was best utilized in schools where I could leverage my skills to help students, staff, and teachers.

Messer: What does a typical school day look like for you?

Liebowitz: If it has a plug and it malfunctions, you will likely talk to me to help fix it. I maintain the network, our educational software systems, maintain access to the internet, and email. I work with Challenge Tech Support and vendors and with teachers to help them refine their technical fluency knowledge.

Messer: What is it like to work with our scholars, and what are the obstacles we face in regards to technology?

Liebowitz: When I have the opportunity to work with scholars, I try to help them by looking at the issue from their perspective. We are in a decent state of technology, and are improving in digital fluency between scholars and teachers. Many schools do not have maintained computers for teachers or the school does not purchase equipment on a cycle. Also, the internet works here, and is much more reliable and faster than the average. We put a lot of safeguards in place to keep scholars safe.

My hope is for our scholars to gain more digital pride. Our Digital Citizenship program is about 30 minutes long, and we are seeking to have 100% of scholars go through the program. They will have a computer that will do much more if they finish their course and work out any issues with the process with the technology team at Challenge. We also need families to help instill digital pride, and for parents to understand why our older scholars need to have computers in the home.

Our scholars can do amazing things with the computers they have. You know, it’s not just about using social media or the internet correctly, it’s getting them to use technology to positively change and benefit the world.

Messer: What is the most exciting part of working with technology?

Liebowitz: It’s the ability to comprehend and look into an issue in day-to-day life and find the problem, and the challenge of not only providing a solution, but also educating and raising expectations and the standard. At the end of the day, the power to work through technology issues is essentially the power to help people.

- Article by Kim Messer, Executive Director of Communications