VMI Chief Information Officer Retires
LEXINGTON, Va., June 2, 2023—American video game programmer and designer Bill Budge once said, “The power of the computer is starting to spread.” Col. Wes Robinson, chief information officer at Virginia Military Institute, is retiring after 41 years of providing technological support, and can testify to the power of computers and their ubiquitous spread throughout post.
Robinson earned an associate degree in electronics technology from Blue Ridge Community College and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering technology from Old Dominion University. He was hired at VMI in 1981 as a support technician in the physics department, doing electronics work on circuit boards, oscilloscopes, and other test equipment. “At that time, the only computer on post was a mainframe which used punchcards, and the department in charge of it was called the computer center,” he recollected.
In 1985, Robinson transferred to the electrical engineering department as an electronics technician. That same year, the very first IBM PCs with monochrome screens and 5.25 floppy disk drives arrived on post. Gradually more PCs were purchased, but they were limited to just one to two per department. At that point, a new department was created called academic computing with a staff of three people. As it grew, they needed additional personnel for hardware support, so in addition to his duties in the electrical engineering department, Robinson began providing desktop support around post.
According to Robinson, in the mid 1990s, the computer center and the academic computing department merged. “The new department supported the administrative computing needs. At that time, there was no technology in the classroom, nor any internet. A few years later we saw the arrival of the internet, and the first email system,” he said.
In August 2000, Robinson joined the information technology (IT) department as microcomputer support manager (a position now referred to as desktop support manager) and became network manager in 2008. He was named director of IT in 2019, and responsible for 21 staff members. In 2022, the position was renamed chief information officer.
In his four decades as a VMI employee, Robinson has seen a lot of changes on post. He has worked under five superintendents, seen buildings erected and others renovated, witnessed the creation of new departments, and the spread of computers and technology throughout every department. He and his department implemented ways for faculty, cadets, and staff to remotely teach, learn and work during the coronavirus pandemic. He watched over 10,000 cadets arrive on post throughout the years, along with their various evolving electronic devices in tow. “Now there are about 2,500 computers on post, and we have wireless networking. Everything on post is connected with IT in some way. We have technology-enhanced classrooms, the administrative functions depend heavily on IT operations, even the buildings’ air conditioning and heating systems are connected to the network now,” he said.
Robinson stated that in recent years cybersecurity issues and ransomware have been growing concerns. “About two years ago, we experienced an extremely stressful event with the threat of a ransomware attack,” he recalled stoically. “Someone from the outside was trying to break into our network to steal our credentials. We were able to sop the attack after spending several days in remediation, with minimal problems to the VMI community. We are constantly reevaluating software for upgrades, staying current with tools, and finding new ways of doing things to protect Institute data. It is an ever-changing field.”
Robinson’s official retirement date is June 30. He has no specific plans, but enjoys gardening, working on projects around the house, and woodworking. He and his wife Karen live in Rockbridge County. They have two adult children: Their son Ethan is a software programmer for a health care company and lives in Rockbridge County with his wife and infant son, and daughter Tess lives in Michigan and works for General Motors as an engineer.
Robinson said that VMI has been a great place to work. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve this wonderful Institute with such a good group of people.”
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