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10 Questions with Joe Valacich

Monday, January 12, 2015  

Welcome to the next edition of this monthly membership feature. This month, Joe Valacich kindly agreed to be interviewed. Joe is the Eller Professor of MIS at the University of Arizona. You can find more about Joe:


Q: What is your most rewarding service activity? And why?

A: I think over the years, my most rewarding activity has been to work with Ph.D. students. It is such a renewing experience to see them evolve in their understanding, get their first conference paper, then journal paper, then job, and so on. Having our relationships evolve from teacher-student, to peers and friends; good stuff. I love hearing about their continued success in the Academy and their personal lives. While other careers provide great opportunities to be a mentor, the Academy is structurally designed to facilitate this process.  I feel fortunate to be doing this job and living at this time.

Q: Currently, what is your favorite class to teach? And why?

A: Since joining Arizona, I have focused on teaching systems analysis and design. Until this year, I was teaching it in a fairly traditional manner. Over the summer, I worked with one of our Ph.D. students, Michael Byrd, on transitioning the course into a flipped format. By flipped, all of my lectures are recorded and students can view off the LMS. We have used the class time for solving problems, software training, working problems, team presentations, and so on. It has been a lot of work, but I am convinced this is a much better learning experience.Through this term, I have learned about what has worked well, and what could have gone better. Next class will be even better.

Q: What is your favorite saying or quote?

A: There are a lot of sayings that I like. For example, I strive to “live by the golden rule”. I also love many quotes by Will Smith, Mark Twain, and Vince Lombardi. But I guess the one quote that has impacted my work the most and that I try to impress on my students when they are studying something is by Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Q: What's one trend that you are excited about?

A: I am excited about the Internet of Things, sensors embedded into devices, and the promise of adaptive technology.

Q: What's one habit that makes you more productive at work?

A: Early to bed, early to rise.  I have always been an early riser and like getting a jump on the day; I feel energized getting some tasks out of the way early every day. I have also tried to find time to exercise; but, sadly, there is never enough time for exercise!  But I think having a pretty strict life’s schedule has been helpful for my productivity.

Q: If you were to do it all over again, what would you have done differently?

A: Good question. I would probably have incorporated a bit more balance in my life. I worked too much in my 30s and 40s. At that time, I just pretty much worked and missed a lot of things in my personal life. I am doing better with balance in my 50s.

Q: Who has influenced your career?

A:There have been a lot of folks. I had some interesting industry experience when out in Seattle working in the software business in the 1980s. I learned a lot about the value of hard work from a fellow named Jim Woo, a founder of Information Storage Systems in the 1960s. Jim was our first investor in a small software startup and drove me harder than I care to remember. Another important person in my life is Bob Connole. Bob was a professor at University of Montana where I did my undergrad and MBA; he was a wonderful mentor for a kid who really needed one. I would not be a professor today had Bob not encouraged this, and we are still close friends today. 

I was fortunate to come to Arizona for my Ph.D., having several great people to work with and learn from, most critically Jay Nunamaker, Doug Vogel (another Montana guy), Joey George, and Terry Connolly. At Arizona, I met Alan Dennis and we had a very similar work ethic and seemed to be able to end the other's sentences. We have had a very productive collaboration and friendship.  Also, having Len Jessup as my classmate at Arizona, and best pal through the years, has been very rewarding.

I was really fortunate to go to Indiana for my first job. That place really knows what a quality higher education institution should be. Their “processes” were just better than any place I have been, before or since. People there such as Jeff Hoffer, Dan Dalton, Mike Tiller, and Tim Baldwin really supported and influenced me.  Jeff got me involved in the textbook business and that has been tremendously rewarding on many dimensions. At Washington State University, it was great to work and collaborate with John Wells, Traci Hess, Mark Fuller, as well as Suprateek and Saonee Sarker. I have also been fortunate to have had many great Ph.D. students that have influenced what I am working on, and what we have discovered together including Brad Wheeler, Heikki Topi, Cheri Speier, Mike Morris, Saonee Sarker, Clay Looney, Andrew Hardin, Christoph Schneider, Ryan Wright, and dozens of others. Today, I am fortunate to be working very closely with Jeff Jenkins, a former UA Ph.D. student, who is now on the faculty at BYU. Also, a special shout out to Christoph and Joey, good friends and longtime partners on our textbooks.

One particularly rewarding and influential activity that I was involved in for nearly twenty years was the ACM/AIS Model curriculum committee. On this committee, I was fortunate to spend several days over many years locked in a room with Gordon Davis, John Gorgone, Paul Gray, Heikki Topi and many others. This was an incredible opportunity and greatly influenced my understanding of the field and the politics of working with large academic professional societies. Heikki is now driving much of this for our community and we are all indebted to him. Lately, I have learned a lot about the macro economic factors of higher education from Randy Best.

Finally, I have to say that my wife Jackie has been extremely patient and supportive throughout the years, and incredibly influential. She has proofread hundreds of papers and countless textbook chapters. She has helped me become a much better writer and communicator, and not to mention, a better person. She is very patient but will quickly use her “red pen” and correct something when needed!

Q: What is your favorite memory at an AIS event (ICIS/AMCIS) or affiliated conference (ECIS/PACIS/etc.)?

A: When I was a young Ph.D. student, after giving a presentation, a person I didn’t know came up to me, handed me his business card, and asked if I could send him a copy of a paper mentioned in the talk. The talk went well, but I was still very nervous. When handed the card, I never really looked at it, or if I did, I clearly didn’t understand who I was talking to. Anyhow, we shook hands, I thanked him and told him that I would send the paper when I got back to Arizona (pre-Internet days, I had to physically send him a copy of the paper). When I got back to my office the following week, I pulled the card out of my backpack, discovering that Izak Benbasat, a research legend, wanted my paper!  I was more than a little embarrassed and will never forget that.

Q: What is something very few people know about you?

A: Well, I am a golfaholic. If I were independently wealthy, I would golf every day and quit my day job.

Q: Who would you like to see answer these questions next? And what would you like to see his/her thoughts on? 

I would like to ask Len Jessup to answer the following: Given that you have been a professor, department chair, dean, foundation president, and now university president, what are the greatest challenges facing higher education over the next decade?

Prepared by the AIS Membership Subcommittee on Doctoral Studies

Ryan Wright, University of Massachusetts
Geoffrey Dick, Georgia Southern University
Arturo Castellanos, Florida International University

For questions about this series or suggestions of who you would like to see interviewed, please contact Ryan Wright (

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