In 1977, when the first barrel of crude oil oozed its way through the TransAlaska Pipeline System from Circle, Alaska, to Valdez, Alaska, Bill Brooks and his wife were there to follow its every slosh and gurgle. The couple, who were working for the Interior Department in Anchorage, had driven up t
In 1977, when the first barrel of crude oil oozed its way through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System from Circle, Alaska, to Valdez, Alaska, Bill Brooks and his wife were there to follow its every slosh and gurgle.
The couple, who were working for the Interior Department in Anchorage, had driven up to Circle in their trusty Volkswagen van, intent on shadowing the journey of the first barrel for the pure thrill of merging themselves with a bit of Alaskan history.
Brooks, who is the deputy chief information officer of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), said it was not the first or the last "interesting, strange" thing he did while in Alaska from 1976 to 1987.
For example, one evening he and his wife, Linda, picnicked while overlooking a majestic Alaskan vista and watched the sun "dip," easing down near the horizon and then rising back up again rather than setting.
Brooks' view these days is not as grand. The tiny balcony of his third-floor office in Arlington, Va., looks out onto a giant brick monolith of apartments. But what he lacks in scenery, he makes up for in job challenges.
Brooks envisions an FWS in which some 7,000 workers will do their jobs by using World Wide Web-based applications and an intranet rather than specialized applications that are distributed on diskettes or compact discs.
The goal is seamlessness— an objective that will mean a federal biologist studying bird migration in a remote part of the country will not have to waste time fiddling with software quirks instead of doing his job.
"It's very easy to forget why you use the technology," Brooks said. "It's not an end unto itself; it's a means to an end. If we do our jobs effectively, the technology should become transparent."
Brooks, who arrived at FWS in 1983 as information resources chief for Alaska, began his journey toward a career in information technology about 30 years ago as a high school student in Monroeville, Ala., the hometown of To Kill a Mockingbird author Harper Lee. Monroeville also served as home to the headquarters of clothing manufacturer Vanity Fair, and the town was a haven for transplants from Vanity Fair's other operations in the North.
Brooks recalled that the town was changing during those years, developing a new social conscience. But it was also a place where the Klan was not afraid to make itself known. He said a sign that read, "The Ku Klux Klan welcomes you to Monroeville," went up on the edge of town in the mid-1960s.
Brooks said an outraged group of teens uprooted the sign one night. "A lot of us started developing a social conscience," he said.
His conscience would develop even more after high school, during a four-year stint as a cartography and imagery specialist in the Air Force. "Those four years I spent in the military were important from the standpoint of knowing what I wanted to do and what I didn't want to do in life," he said.
One day in his Air Force career, while he drew circles around images of bomb craters in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Brooks heard the voice of then-
President Richard Nixon on the radio, denying that the United States was running bombing missions into Cambodia. "It was one of those— what would you call it? Epiphanies," he said.
At that point, he decided to make his career in the civilian realm.
After his stint in the Air Force, he worked on a records archiving project at the Colorado State Department of Labor and Employment. He then moved to the Bureau of Land Management office in Denver, helping out with a computer mapping project.
He saw a move to Alaska in 1976 as a way to climb the BLM career ladder quickly. He began that climb as a programmer trainee and ended it in 1983 as section chief for operations and systems maintenance on the Alaska Automated Land and Mineral Record System. From there, he went to FWS.
Brooks has a few secrets for success. He picked up one of them from Dave Lyon, his branch chief in Denver who died in April after an auto accident. Lyon advised Brooks to "be a technical moron" when it comes to management. That way, employees would not look to Brooks to solve all their problems. And problems, according to Brooks, are all about perception.
He said that if his co-workers had to choose a motto for him, it would be: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
And although things are not "broke" careerwise for Brooks, he said he plans to retire from federal service in August 2004 and move with his wife to the Gulf Coast of Alabama.
It is not quite Alaska, but one gets the impression that Brooks will still be able to find a few "interesting, strange" things to do there.