Hopkins’ New Technology Center Fills a Void on Campus

By Jacqui Neber
It’s midnight and your essay is due tomorrow. It’s twenty pages of detailed, meticulously worded work, and it’s all right here on your computer screen waiting to be printed. Your professor will love it. This is great.

12:01—your laptop goes blank.

A year ago, you probably would’ve had to visit the nearest Apple store—all the way in Towson—to get this problem fixed and your paper printed. But now, thanks to a new Hopkins establishment that is as much reactionary as it is revolutionary—you can go right to Garland Hall.

In the bottom of the building, and at the end of a bland brown hallway, standing in sharp contrast to monotonous student account offices and waiting rooms, is Johns Hopkins’ new technology center. Step into it, and the bland brown hallway recedes. The fluorescent lights can guide you to a selection of Apple products—laptops, iPads and iPhones—or further into the room to seek help from employees for that crashed laptop.

The tech center is Hopkins’ answer to a void in the student experience. Originally developed as a singularly-focused tech store, the idea evolved until a complete technology center was razed. Graham Bouton, an information technology director and ally in the center’s genesis, explained the reasons behind its creation. He has been there since the beginning, back when students needed to travel to get the help they needed—a process that was often long, tiring and frustrating.

“We got general feedback from students that there wasn’t anywhere in the area where they could take their laptop for general troubleshooting or warranty repair, if it was needed,” Bouton said in an interview in mid October. “On the outskirts of the neighborhood or in Towson there are some stores that would do that, but not on campus.”

Bouton explained that the center was established because of other student life interests such as furthering the development of technology services and creating opportunity for students to build a support system for all their tech needs. Bouton gave this interview over the phone, and sounds like a guy who would be sitting behind the genius bar at an Apple store—educated, brainy and eclectic, but also fully able to explain the situation.

“The other factor that plays into our reaction to start up the store and eventually tech center was the opportunity to help fund revenue from the laptops and other product sales, the opportunity to generate some additional funding to support student technology services, and enhance some of the existing services,” he said.

Some would expect a campus tech center to be staffed exclusively by professionals, but Hopkins’ newest technology-focused addition hires a mix of people already working in the industry and students who might be interested in a certain technology field.

“The front desk when you walk into the tech center, that is staffed by student employees,” Bouton said. “Our workers who actually do laptops and repair services are full-time staff and they’re all certified by Apple, Dell, HP…to do those repairs.”

More and more the image of Bouton as an Apple genius fiddling with a broken Macbook is surfacing. He has been involved with the center since its beginning stages — not someone just brought along for the ride.

Every new hotspot on campus has an origin story, and talking to someone who had a hand in the original design and purpose of the tech center is akin to interviewing that turtleneck-sweatered brunette man that created the Apple empire—at least, for the purposes of an action and reaction tale. The services and support found in the new tech center are not exclusively available Homewood students, as Bouton elaborated. The center’s impact will reach faculty and staff and stretch across different Hopkins campuses.

“We had discussed it, a year or two beforehand—whether it was practical, whether or not we could do this,” Bouton said. “It seemed like we had the possibilities to structure it and fund a new facility. It seemed like a win-win situation. We do serve the entire Hopkins community.”

Perhaps unlike Steve Jobs, who always seemed to be a genius figurehead and visionary standing majestically at the helm of Apple, Bouton has a tangible role within the day-to-day life of the Hopkins tech center. It could be called unglamorous.

“I basically lived at the tech center,” Bouton said with a laugh. Behind the phone he might have been wearing wire-framed glasses with a five-o’clock shadow. He mentions Robert Byrd, another key player at the tech center. Byrd manages the place, keeping students and staff running efficiently.

After accolading Byrd, Bouton speaks of the virtual computer service called MyJLab. The service and the technology center have a symbiotic relationship—each has benefitted from the existence of the other.

“…The short [description of MyJLab] is that it provides 24/7 online access to nearly every specialized academic software package that’s available in the physical student computer labs, such as the Krieger Lab,” Bouton emailed, ruining the genius bar employee effect, but still relaying the message. “Students can access myJLab from any internet-connected device, from on or off campus.”

Amidst all this new creation and support and plain old technology, there is definite student feedback. It all plays into the action-reaction feel of the tech center. Junior Chelsea Zhou experienced that moment of pure panic when her computer crashed, but was able to bring the laptop to the tech center for repairs. However, the convenience of the store didn’t necessarily make it an overwhelmingly positive experience. Even seemingly picture-perfect centers have their drawbacks.

“They were able to replace the hard drive, and the computer is working fine now, but it took a really long time (about a week) and they were kind of unsympathetic?” Zhou messaged. “I know they see this stuff all the time but when they told me everything was gone they were kind of just like, oh well, that’s life!”

Junior Audrey Garman corroborated with Zhou on the center’s convenience. A previous victim of the Towson trek, she said she was happy not to have to make a day’s sacrifice anymore to get her various means of technology fixed. And that’s what the new tech center means to students—it’s a catch-all solution, a way to avoid going out of your way. And it’s about time.