Oral History: Susan Conrad

Image of Susan Conrad, screen capture from oral history interview

This post comes from Meg Suhosky, Student Archives Assistant in the Historical Collections & Archives.

Another new and wonderful interview from our Oral History Collection is now available! This interview comes from Susan Conrad. She is a captivating storyteller, who has been a dynamic individual at OHSU from 1976 to 2013 and has worn many hats! Do you ever look back nostalgically at the “simpler” days of the floppy disk? Do you remember the hilarity of trying to use a computer mouse for the first time? Whether you were there for it or not, this interview is full of relatable stories of the very real challenges—and excitements—that we face when new technologies are introduced to our world.

Poster from around 1995 stating that wireless network access is now available in the Main Library
WiFi poster, circa 1995, collection 2015-035

Over the course of her career, Susan Conrad has been a key member of OHSU’s IT department in its very early stages and was the university’s first computer trainer and tech educator. She also oversaw the opening and operation of OHSU’s computer store from 1984 to 2005, the transition of the information and technology departments into the BICC when it first opened in 1991 and it’s relocation downtown in 2008, and was involved in the creation of the ITG department and the Help Desk, to name a few! As both a trainer and as IT support, Conrad encountered interesting situations with computer technology emerging as a new frontier:

I just want to give you an example of one support question that I got, that is sort of typical of some of the support we had to do in the early days. I got a call from a department that said they had just purchased a computer and it had arrived that morning. And they had set it up, but it wasn’t working. Could I come over and fix it for them? So, I said, “Sure.” So, I got my little toolkit and I went over to the department, and I walked in. They said, “Here’s the computer.” And I looked at this desk, and I saw a monitor and it was on, but nothing was showing. And I saw a keyboard. So, then I’m looking under the desk. And I’m looking behind the desk. And I said, “Well, where’s the CPU?” And they said, “Well, we didn’t know what that was, so we didn’t order it. Is it important?” So, that was one thing … we had to deal with questions like this all the time.

Conrad includes interesting stories about the creation of the BICC, the original concept for the building and its use, the work that went into its opening from various teams that were involved, and what it was like when it first opened (did you know that the Help Desk was called the “Bridge” because the ITG staff was full of Star Trek fans?). She also dishes up on the drama of transitioning the university from DOS to Windows, the debate over WordPerfect versus Word, and whether or not to have an Apple computer only campus.

While from a 2019 perspective these debates and difficulties can almost seem comical or amusing, they could never be more current. With technology advancing rapidly as we speak, it is invaluable (and insightful) to reconnect with our past tech experiences and reflect on their not so far-off origins. Additionally, hearing these stories reminds us of the one thing that seems to hold true when it comes to computers:

I think that technology, with technology, it’s always going to be something’s happening … There’s things that happen all the time. Technology changes all the time. And it just never stops. So, I think that’s always going to be a challenge to any IT group … to always be aware.

Visit our Digital Collections to review the full interview.