In episode two of our Candid Career Conversations series, we spoke with Cindy Seaburn, an ASUG volunteer and SAP systems analyst for Duval County Public Schools in Florida. We spoke about Cindy's path to IT, how she juggles being an adjunct English professor in her spare time, and her experiences with ASUG.
Here you can find a transcript of our conversation:
Jim: Hello and welcome to ASUG Talks, a podcast series featuring Candid Career Conversations with ASUG members who lead or work on SAP teams across the United States and Canada. My name is Jim Lichtenwalter. I am the ASUG content manager and your ASUG Talks host. In this episode I’m every excited to be joined by Cindy Seaburn, an ASUG volunteer and SAP system analyst specializing in payroll, benefits, time management, and HR for Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida. Cindy, thank you so much for joining us. It's great to talk to you.
Cindy: Really good talking to you. Thank you for having me.
Jim: No problem. So first thing, I want to start off, you are an MA like me, I noticed. And we talked about it a little bit earlier. I'd love to know, starting things off, as an MA, how did you find yourself in the IT industry? Because sometimes I take a look back at what I wanted to do and what I wanted to write about, I never thought I'd be writing about software.
Cindy: Yeah. That is so bizarre. My undergrad years, I studied film, screenwriting and creative writing, and that's what my degree is in. And so you graduate college and you find yourself thinking, "What am I going to do with this degree?" I'm at home, I'm married, I'm not working, I don't need to work, but I'm bored as heck, and I'm like, "I need to find something to do." So, I took a few accounting classes. I thought, "I could find a job, finance somewhere," and just happened upon a job in payroll department at school district and just checking people's payroll, making sure they're getting paid, so to speak.
I have a little bit of a logical mind to go with that creative side. And I just kind of found myself on that path of the IT world. So yeah, it was a year into this new job of just being a payroll technician and a position opened up to process payroll at the district. And that forced me to be a little bit more technical because I was responsible for user acceptance testing for the payroll module and I'm doing a little bit more technical work and spent about four years doing that and a position opened up in IT and applied for it, and I ended up on the SAP team in IT and that was 13 years ago.
Jim: And here we are.
Cindy: I'm still here.
Jim: So, you have a background in screenwriting. Do you still follow film culture at all?
Cindy: As far as English goes and writing?
Cindy: Yea, efinitely. So I'm always a writer. Once a writer, always a writer. I ended up getting my master's degree in creative writing also, and I know no jobs available in creative writing. But my intent to do that was to teach writing. And it just so happened that about four months after I received my degree, which was two and a half years ago or so, the University of West Florida where I obtained my master's degree from, they offered me a position to work as an adjunct instructor, teaching English comp I and II, freshman English, so to speak. So I've been doing that, and sometimes I think I'm crazy doing that. I question my sanity. Last December, I'm grading 41 research papers and thinking, "What am I doing?" But you start reading the student feedback and the student assessments after the course and they say, "Professor Seaburn is the best teacher I've ever had. I never liked writing before taking this class." And you realize you're making a difference with those students. And teaching comp II this semester and I'm sure at the end of the semester, I'll be questioning my sanity again. But no, that is the space that I'm so happy with.
My job in IT allows me to write still. Requirement is gathering, we have to do that as analysts and we have to put those requirements into two different formats, one that the end users can understand. And then we have to transfer that into more technical terms for the development team for the IT side. So it's kind of bridging those two is. It's an interesting way to use my writing skills. And then also technical writing where you're writing documentation and writing training guides and user guides and so forth. So I still get to do writing in that sense. But I have to say this whole process of teaching has really been so enjoyable for me going back to my roots.
Jim: You work at Duval County Public Schools in Florida, can you give me some background on Duval County Public Schools? How many students are you serving? Where in Florida are you all? We just love a bit of background on that.
Cindy: We have about 130,000 students. We have roughly 12,000 employees right now, both full-time and part-time, it's mostly full-time employees. Our district is the sixth largest district in the state of Florida. And we run, which is interesting, we run our entire business side, we run SAP for it. So a lot of times you find companies and organizations, they just run finance or they just run maybe their HRPs on success factors or whatever. Our entire business runs SAP.
Jim: Okay. Has it always been like that since you've been there that the business side always runs SAP? Or is that something that you have gradually grown into?
Cindy: Since '99. Since 1999. Yeah, we went live with SAP back in '99, and its just been like that ever since.
Jim: R3? Did you go live with R3 or?
Cindy: We were R3 back then. And when I first started the district, which was in 2003, we were on 3.1, and in the process of upgrading to 4.7, so been interesting, since I moved over to the IT side, we've done three upgrades.
Jim: Oh wow.
Cindy: Since. Yeah, exactly. We moved to ECC 6 back in 2010 and then we've gone to EhP7 and EhP8 since then. We did a NetWeaver upgrade recently, we added open texts for the Acceler enterprise content management for SAP. So, we've done a lot of upgrades since I've come over to the IT side.
Jim: Are you all planning the next big upgrade?
Cindy: S/4! We're doing it. Yeah. We are in the journey right now. So we've chosen our systems integrator, we are in mostly the discovery process right now. So, we will be meeting with the business units probably starting in the fall. So right now it's more just getting an idea of our landscape, the SI is really taking and good look at our landscape and what it looks like right now. And then we'll start meeting with the business units. It's going to be a journey.
Jim: It is. It certainly is. That's a nice sort of lead in. Tell us a little about your role in your day to day. I'd love to know a little bit more about that.
Cindy: My day to day, wow. I wish I could say I had a planned day every day that it was just everything just went along and hummed nicely. It's chaotic. I support payroll. So I support payroll benefits and time management. And so supporting payroll just means chaos all the time. Typically, anything that comes up, whether it's required that they need to something added for whatever reasons or there's an error or whatever, it's critical. Payroll is just constantly considered critical. So my day to day, it can be nice and quiet at times, but a lot of times it's chaotic. So, I try and come in and read emails, because my email just kind of continues to scroll, scroll, scroll for half the day. We have this problem, we have this issue or we need this done. When I can get away from that chaos, it's usually just checking for role assignments for the users and making sure that the users have what they need to be able to do their day to day work.
I do some re-writing of maybe our documentation guides. So we're required to put together the user guides here. So we've implemented Fury and we any of the Fiori apps that we've implemented as far as like leave request or W2s, we implemented the new W2 Fiori app. We have to put together user guides for them, the end users and somebody can go in and do their lead. I discovered while teaching that you try and make user guides accessible for people that might be blind or have poor eyesight or whatever. And I really got into that as a professor because it's required of us. And I thought, "You know what? We really need to be doing this for our user guides." So, as I have time, I try and go and do that as well, update our user guides so that those are acceptable also.
I have coming up year end and year configuration for payroll. So that'll take all of my time for a couple of months just putting in all the pay periods and pay dates and configuring benefits and all that, and configuring work schedules. We do annual work schedules every year. So it's just a matter of getting everything into place so we're ready on 7.1. That'll take me a couple of months. It takes a few weeks to do the configuration and then it has to be tested and I do my testing and send it off to testing. So it's a little bit ... I don't want to say that's chaotic too, but it's just getting not having any distractions. You don't want to make pairs with that, and that's a payroll.
Jim: Obviously, IT's a very male dominated environment. I'd love to know a little bit about your experience being a woman in a male dominated environment and any advice you might have for any other women who are sort of starting out their career in IT.
Cindy: So my advice is always to continue to learn. Things change, especially today, things are changing so fast in the IT space. A few years ago, you barely heard about AI and about robotics and so forth, and there is just always something new to learn, and it is moving fast. And so you just have to have an open mind that you're always going to learn something new. And that's one of the great things about ASUG, they provide us these opportunities to learn things.
Jim: Thanks for the shout out.
Cindy: We don't have a huge budget here at the school district and typically, the budget is going into the classroom. So, you have to find places where we can get that education. Anybody who's coming into the business, look for ways to just constantly keep up with what is going on, and also find a mentor. I was so fortunate. When I started in payroll, I didn't realize that our payroll supervisor was going to end up being my mentor. And she was for 18 years. She retired last year and I'm like, "Gosh, I miss Tina."
Even though I feel like ... There were times when I was mentoring her on a few things, but that was the thing we shared quite a bit of information. But it is so nice to have that one person that you can bounce ideas off on. Never be afraid to ask a question and never be afraid to find out what other people are doing. I'm such a team player. So, I thrive on that. I thrive on finding out what other people are thinking. I think it's so important to be part of that and to have different ideas. What you think may work and might be a great idea and might be the way to move forward might not necessarily be the best thing for the organization.
Jim: That's a nice lead in to, you mentioned ASUG. So, I want to move sort of to the last part of our conversation, which is you're very involved in ASUG. Tell me a little bit how you first became involved at ASUG. How did you find out about us and when did you become a member?
Cindy: So I go back to ASUG way back to 2006 when I was working in payroll, and I casually went to a few networking events here in Jacksonville, in our area, but I didn't think too much of it. When I came over to the IT department, everybody was just very heavy on the attending webinars and finding ways where they could get more information. I did that casually again. And then back in 2011, I believe it was, I had never been to an annual conference and I wanted to go so bad, and we just didn't have the budget for it. So, I asked my boss, "I said, I'm going to submit an abstract to speak, and if it gets accepted, will you send me? Because they'll pay for me, for the conference fee.
But I still need the hotel and I they'll need to be able to take TDE, working elsewhere." And she said, "Sure." She's said, "Go ahead." And I'm sure she was thinking, "It'll never get accepted." And it was, it was accepted. And so I spoke and I met a lot of people that were part of ASUG that year in 2011, and kept in contact with them. But it didn't go much further. 2012, I did the same thing. I submitted an abstract, and it got accepted. And one of the members of the public sector community asked me, "Would you like to volunteer?" I'm like, "Oh, this is why they keep accepting me." But no, really I did. I started volunteering. That was 10 years ago.
Jim: You've been a volunteer ever since?
Cindy: I've been a volunteer ever since. Yeah.
Jim: Out of curiosity, what were you speaking on that first annual conference you went to?
Cindy: The first year, I spoke on creating custom info types for HR, which a lot of people don't like to do, but when you're in public sector, it's oftentimes required because public sector has a lot of specific needs, especially in K-12 space. And so it was just about creating custom info types and had to link some of the information and those infant types with other HR master data through reports. And so that's what I spoke at. That one wasn't quite as popular and didn't go over as well.
My second year I spoke on ad hoc query, room is packed because everybody wants to know about SAP's ad hoc query, how to use it, because it can be a little bit ... It's not user friendly at all. And that was really an interesting thought. I was thinking, "This will never get accepted." I was surprised that it was, and then I was absolutely floored by how many people came and I was floored about how many questions were asked after that. That turned out to be an interesting topic. I've spoken a few times since some of our Florida chapter meetings on various topics.
Jim: How would you say ASUG has helped you in your role at Duval County Public Schools and in your career at large?
Cindy: It has definitely helped me to network with people and find people who might be facing the same challenges that we're facing here at the district and finding solutions for those. Actually, one of the interesting things that just recently came up, so SAP has not released yet a Fiori app for 1095s for ACA. I think everybody just assumed ACA would go away, but it’s here to stay. So, we have discovered through networking that another school district here in Florida has created their own custom Fiori tile for 1095s. Everybody's interested, everybody wants to know about it. I mean, it's those types of things, you find these connections and you find out that people are actually doing something that you're trying to find a solution for. That has really helped us, and that has helped us to really build some good relationships with other people and not necessarily in the public sector space.
I mean, we're talking about in all customers that are running SAP, you find these really good connections. So between that and between attending webinars and having access to resources that I said provides us, it has really helped us to be able to move forward. We're running on-prem still, like I said, we're just at the start of our S4 journey. Being able to access those resources that ASUG has for us, we're able to take those baby steps forward.
Jim: Cindy, last question for you. What would you say is your favorite part of being involved at as ASUG? Not to put you on the spot, but would love to know the one thing.
Cindy: This is going to sound so cheesy, but it's the God honest truth, the friendships I've made. When I joined ASUG, when I started going to meetings, I went in with that mentality, "Oh yeah, I'll be networking with people and making those contacts that you want to make." Just to position yourself better in your field type thing. And I think that's what people ultimately want to do when they're looking for those networking opportunity. But I have found that I have made so many friends that are lifelong friends now that I met through ASUG through volunteering mostly, but also just through attending meetings. And in our chapter meetings in Florida, you see some of the same people over and over again that attend almost every single meeting, and you do create a friendship with them. I guess we're all on the same boat being SAP customers and that, and we have our short stories to share with each other and so forth. But that really, that has been the surprising benefit that I have received.
Jim: That's so great to hear, honestly. Well, Cindy, it was really, really great chatting with you today, not only about the SAP landscape, but also about your writing and movies. So, really fascinating conversation, really appreciate you be here with me.
Cindy: It was great chatting with you. Thank you very much.
Jim: Ok and that will bring this second episode of ASUG Talk to an end. I just want to put this out there, if you are an ASUG member and want to share your story with me on this podcast, talk a little bit about some of the hurdles you’ve overcome, how you got into your career, some of your early victories, we’d love to hear your story. So please reach out to me—again, Jim Lichtenwalter—or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to join me for the next ASUG Talks. And remember to generously share these compelling conversations with other ASUG members, your professional community and industry networks. And just a friendly reminder, you can also find this podcast series on both Spotify and Apple Podcasts. Simply search “ASUG Talks.”