Julie Walstra, AAPS Data Systems Manager


Pictured in her Balas office, Julie Walstra describes her position as a DJ of data, “recombining stuff in new and interesting ways.”  Photo by Jo Mathis.

Julie Walstra split her childhood between Lansing, Illinois (just south of Chicago) and Orange Park, Florida (just south of Jacksonville). She earned a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Chicago, which she says turned out to be a wholly useful preparation for all that came after. After short stints as a national park ranger in Washington, DC and a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, she moved back indoors and worked as a director of operations for a small software company. Eventually, she realized she  should probably get a real job with benefits.

Today she is a 23-year veteran of data management in a variety of public and private school settings in Chicago and Ann Arbor, the last 18 of which have been with AAPS.  In her spare time, she putters around the “Sears Kit House” near Carpenter Elementary that she shares with her partner of 14 years, and where she tries to eke out a decent tomato crop every summer. And—not to be outdone by the kids—she is finally getting a driver’s license, which she expects will mess up her heretofore smallish carbon footprint.
Can you describe a typical work day? I commute by bus so I can actually check email and tickets on the way in. I work out a plan of attack on my walk to Balas from the bus stop. This plan is usually abandoned by 8:15 a.m. in wake of new barrage of help tickets on entirely different topics. I regroup around 4 p.m. to try to kill off an item or two from the original a.m. plan.  In the evening I’m couch surfing to research new or thorny topics.

How has your job changed since you started with AAPS in 1998?  Processes that used to take hours and hours now take minutes with all the improvements in server speed and network capacity. Additionally, most of the data related ‘applications’ are now web apps so they run through a browser rather than being a dedicated piece of software that has to be installed and updated on multiple individual computers. Web enabled apps mean I can sometimes escape Balas and see the sun since the apps are accessible from anywhere. On the other hand, the apps are accessible from everywhere so there’s no place to hide from tickets.

Had you been born well before the advancement of technology, what career path do you suppose you would have taken?  Ninja. Or, more likely, librarian.

What don’t most AAPS employees know about the AAPS IT Department—but should?  Many wear spandex super suits under their street clothes. Weren’t you curious about the relative speed with which they show up just when you need them?

How hard is it for you to talk tech with a non-techie?  Not hard since I am not really a techie. I have a degree in geography from the University of Chicago. I tend to create a map in my head of how applications relate and transfer data. Luckily, that’s often a useful way to walk someone through an interface or a process. If you want high nerddom, you’d want to call my brother.  He’s an chip testing engineer for Intel.

What advice do you have for them to become more comfortable with technology?  Nobody learns without context and motivation. And Google. You can take all the classes we offer but until there is something you want or need to accomplish, chances are you will not poke hard enough to learn the software in question. Also, Google. And use the built-in help. There’s nothing much new under the sun. Google will prove this to you again and again. Use the Internet to get yourself started.

What’s the most exciting thing in your professional life right now?  Working on the PowerSchool 9 upgrade will require rewriting custom pages and learning AngularJS, a nifty new scripting language. Much of the overnight data swizzling between various applications will also need to be rewritten which is an excellent excuse to try out some new SQL query tools. Also learning about screen casting so I can record short orientations and FAQs.

What’s the latest on Illuminate Data Warehouse and AAPS?  ITD has PowerSchool data syncing and most standardized test data is loaded. The trickiest bit is moving over common assessments from DataDirector to Illuminate since it requires reconstructing the exams by hand and then importing the response data from DataDirector. Thank you, Miriam Johnston, for taking on that portion of the project!

_Jo Mathis/AAPS District News editor

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1 Comment

  1. Julie is smart, witty and always pleasant to work with! she is an exemplary AAPS employee! I am proud to have worked with her and have learned SO much from her!

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