Everyday Hero: Tracy S. Holt

Posted: July 8, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Colleen Kearney Rich

Editor’s note: This Daily Gazette feature profiles key people at Mason who “make it happen.”

Name: Tracy S. Holt

Years at Mason: 20

First Job at Mason: “My first job was as a student consultant in one of the two computer labs (actually, they were just terminal rooms) that we had on campus.”

Current Position: Manager of the Enterprise Messaging team in the Technology Systems Division of the Information Technology Unit (ITU)

What He Really Does: “My team is responsible for the care and feeding of e-mail systems, calendar systems, and the enterprise directory.”

Most Recent Project: Recently, Holt has made a priority of ridding the world (well, Mason’s small part of it) of spam. “I have been spending all of my time the last few weeks evaluating a couple of anti-spam solutions that will integrate with our mail system.” The anti-spam software has been selected and purchased, and is in the process of being installed. Holt estimates that more than 60 percent of the mail the George Mason community receives is spam and keeping this mail off of the university’s servers will greatly improve e-mail service. “One of the most frequent questions I am asked is when are we going to do something about spam, and I’m very excited that we’ll have something in place prior to the start of fall classes.”

On the Technical Jargon: Listen carefully when talking to Holt about things like bagles and phishing. He is probably not discussing breakfast or a hobby. More likely he is talking about computer viruses (bagles) and deceptive plans to gather personal information from computer users (phishing). “These are attempts to get you to go to a web site and reveal personal information. These people do a good job in that their sites look just like the real thing. There are a couple of ways to detect these messages and we’re looking at a solution where all suspected fraudulent mail will be identified for you.”

Tracy Holt
Photos by Evan Cantwell

Why He Chose to Work at Mason: “[Back in 1984] one of the things that attracted me to work in the [computer] labs was that the consultants had their own terminals and reference manuals, which kept me out of the really long lines that used to be quite common, especially around midterms and finals.”

Strangest Thing That Has Happened to Him at Mason: Persistent power failures. “In the days before generators and battery backup,” Holt says, “we used to experience frequent power failures in Thompson Hall where the data center is housed. During the summer it seemed that if the sky simply clouded up in the afternoon, we’d get a power flicker, which would take down the systems. I recall several instances where the building would be dark and silent, and people would wander in and inquire if the system was down and why. I even remember people insisting that they had assignments due.”

His Best Memory: How the use of technology has changed. “When I first got here, there was no Internet. We had minimal computing power (mostly for administrative use), and e-mail was something that only a handful of administrators used. Internet access and e-mail have gone from being things that required approval to utilities that people expect to have access to. We’ve gone from having long lines at the terminal rooms to having student housing and classrooms wired for network access.”

Interesting Fact from the Inside Track: “When we first joined the Internet, students had to have a faculty sponsor in order to be able to use ftp and telnet.”

On People Assuming He is a She: “I’m used to people mixing up the gender. This usually happens when someone is referred to me but has never actually spoken to me in person. I’ve done numerous articles and interviews via e-mail and this is typically where a mix-up will occur. I did have a funny experience when I first came to Mason—When I went to pick up my key, the person at the desk would not accept the fact that I was the person whose name was on the form. He kept saying, ‘You cannot pick up a key for someone else—Ms. Holt will have to come and get it herself.'”

What He Does for Fun: “Besides spending time with family, I enjoy travel—I’m one of those who really enjoy the planning part as much as the actual trip itself. I try to go somewhere international every other year. Recently, I have been to Singapore, Sydney, Thailand, and the Philippines. I also like keeping up with technology, but I must resist the urge to go out and buy the latest and greatest gadget. And I’m helping raise a beagle named Tyler.”

Best Part of Working Here: “I think that being part of all of this change and wondering what is next is what keeps me at George Mason.”

What They Say about Him:

“Tracy Holt is an ambassador for ITU at Mason. He is always ready to answer questions and meet with any group to gather requirements and to educate people on e-mail services. His steady work and foresight have kept Mason’s e-mail working when other universities’ e-mail has been shut down.”

—Walt Sevon, executive director, Technology Systems Division, ITU

“Tracy consistently makes sure that the customer is at the forefront. He wants to make sure that computing is made easier for the university community, not more complicated, and he does everything he can to make that happen with every application he touches. Tracy also considers other ITU employees as customers when appropriate, inevitably making the ITU work better as a unit. We don’t know what we’d do without him at the ITU Support Center!”

—Kathy Gillette, manager, ITU Support Center

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