Lecturer Richard Sturman gives his classes a real-world feeling

Richard SturmanRichard Sturman didn’t expect to be teaching at a university. The Australia native excelled in the corporate IT world for more than 20 years, helping companies build IT strategies to increase productivity, take advantage of new technologies and better connect them with their customers.

“That is quite tricky for a lot of organizations to do. In addition to the technology challenges, there are many organizational and cultural challenges. People ask, ‘How do I change the job I’ve done for 30 years?’ And for many people and many organizations, it is a real challenge,” says Sturman.

Sturman, who has a master’s in communications design from RMIT University, has worked for global consulting firms, technology companies and startups. An extended vacation through Asia and America landed him in Seattle to visit friends. He eventually took a job with a Seattle digital marketing company, but was eager to do something new.

“I’ve been extremely lucky and had a fantastic career, with opportunities to work on amazing projects,” Sturman says. “I’ve been dumped upside-down in a helicopter simulator and moved to a fantastic place with my skills and experience and I got to the point where I’m thinking, ‘What am I going to do next?’ “

Coffee with a friend and a job opening created the beginning of a new academic career for Sturman. He started as an iSchool lecturer in spring 2017, teaching classes in Systems Analysis and Design, and Analytics Methods for System Professionals. He will be the Informatics faculty representative for Capstone next year.

His teaching style and philosophy reflect his years of experience as a consultant. He asks the students to look at the entire lifecycle of systems development: Paying attention to organizational objectives; being empathetic and listening to external and internal user needs; and serving broad populations with different sets of abilities, technical literacy and experiences. Once a new system is in place, students need to do the follow-up work to measure success and gauge user acceptance.

“When I talk about systems to students, I use a more holistic view – it isn’t just a piece of software or a computer system, it comprises the people, the organization and the technology that underpins what we do,” says Sturman.

In the classroom, Sturman uses lots of group exercises to get his points across. He gives students scenarios to evaluate, including developing a business plan, budget, timelines and recommended technology to solve an information problem. To make it real, Sturman brings in a client from a nonprofit organization that has a specific issue or opportunity that needs to be resolved.

“What makes it fun for me is when I see people who haven’t done any of this work in the past get it and come up with these great solutions. It is awesome!”

From Sturman’s perspective, the work is meaningful and the impact is important. He teaches the skills and attitudes that students will need in the workplace, regardless of the jobs they take. His students even tell him that.

“I had one student come to me and say something like, ‘I’m not at all interested in this stuff. I’m not going to do anything like this, but this was a really enjoyable class and I actually learned something.’ It’s a win!” says Sturman. “I’d be fooling myself if I thought I was going to turn all of these people into evangelists for analysis and design.”

In his view, his students are very much his clients, in keeping with his consulting background. He wants to leave them satisfied by their classroom experience.

“My approach to lectures is the same as if I was engaged to go out to a client and talk to them. I need to deliver value for every minute I’m there,” Sturman says.

“At the end of every lecture, I have one slide where I say, ‘Why should we care about this.’ If I can’t take the topic that we’ve covered in class and say how it impacts you and why you should care about it, I haven’t done my job.”