Typically, when people say they “run around all day,” they mean it metaphorically. Not so with Adam Hinterlang, Commonwealth’s Director of Facilities and Information Systems. Since coming to the school in the fall of 2021, he can often be found dashing from classroom to classroom across Commonwealth’s six floors—making sure students are connected for a virtual assembly, teaching students about information security and how to protect themselves online, and troubleshooting pretty much anything that plugs into a wall. In a way, that frenetic pace comes with the territory, particularly at a time when technology is arguably more important than ever before. But it’s partially by design, a choice to be as visible as possible to the students, faculty, and staff who rely on his expertise, cultivated over a wide-ranging career that has always kept Mr. Hinterlang on his toes.
Getting to Know You
What is bringing you joy right now?
I have been greatly enjoying my work at Commonwealth. There's a lot to manage, between doing IT work and doing facilities and building-oriented stuff. But I like switching gears at a pretty rapid clip. I've literally walked from a conversation about databases to dealing with a leak in the roof. That's one of the major reasons why I wanted to come to the school, honestly: to be able to deal with these kinds of challenges, because I'm curious and I can always count on getting to learn a new thing.
I’m also finally working on large-scale pen-and-ink drawings in my studio. It’s been a lot of work to set up a scaled-up space, but it’s also been a lot of fun getting started and seeing how things turn out! I just finished a 60x72-inch pen-and-ink drawing that I’m pretty happy with. [You can see Mr. Hinterlang's work on Instagram.]
What is your favorite book (or a book you’ve re-read)?
I usually have a real hard time with favorites! I love Crime and Punishment. I recently read Perfecting Sound Forever [by Greg Milner], which is incredible. It’s about the history of sound recording, which is something I could talk about ad nauseum. At the moment, I'm reading Healthy Buildings [by John D. Macomber and Joseph G. Allen]; I thought it'd be really good to read that as a building manager.
What are your favorite comfort foods?
That’s an easy one: tacos. I like the ones you get at food trucks or little hole-in-the-wall places. I also love a good wood-fired pizza and super dark chocolate. And I like the fancy mixed nuts from Costco. That's a comfort food and an easy snack.
What was your favorite class in high school?
I went to a magnet school, the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and my favorite class was painting. I loved working in watercolors and trying oil painting for the first time. There was a lot of great camaraderie, and we listened to a lot of music! But it was also a great place to learn about experimentation and thinking about the studio as a laboratory space. That actually tracks into how I ended up in facilities work: a lot of art is really just about problem solving. You're not necessarily going to have the best materials all the time, but as long as you have a creative mind, and you can think about the things you do have and how to employ them in a different way.
Working at Commonwealth
What do students (and families) need to know about you and what you do?
For anything that involves technology and the building, I’m the person. That involves managing everything from setting up students' email accounts to paying the electric bill to working with contractors to scheduling improvements and renovations. All the building infrastructure and classroom technology stuff. I'm the guy figuring out things like what laptops we need to get and setting up Google accounts, as well as how we can make improvements to those processes.
What's the best way for students to connect with you during the school year?
I try to be a very visible figure in the building. You can see me running around, often during assemblies, supporting classroom technologies. Students can always email me. They can just say, “Hey, Mr. Hinterlang!” when they see me in the hallway. Or they can find me in my office on the third floor, right next to 3B. And I love meeting students, answering questions, and talking about just about anything.
The other day, there were a couple of contractors talking about work around the building, and a student asked me, “Oh, what are those guys here for?” I told him exactly what we were doing, and it turned into this random, fun talk about maintenance. When I was that age, I was always curious about how things operate, so I’m really happy to pull back the curtain on some of that stuff.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Depending on the day, I might be here as early as 6:15 a.m. to “listen” to the building. Starting on the fifth floor, I'll do a complete walkthrough, going into each of the classrooms and checking on things. This seems like a weird thing to do, but the quiet is helpful, especially in a—distinguished but old!—building like ours. I’ll also make sure all the HEPA filters and HVAC units are turned on.
Then I’ll check in with folks, like Stephanie [Poynter] in the front office; Gary [Antoine], the maintenance person; and the kitchen staff. I always try to be somewhat proactive about making sure people have what they need, because I never want anyone to suffer in silence. That goes for faculty and staff as well as students. I know, for example, in our history classes, students are doing a lot of online research, so I make sure laptops are always available to them. Or we've had teachers who are out for one reason or another during the pandemic, and I’ll make sure that a computer is set up for them to teach remotely.
After that, I’ll check my email and go through my lists of ongoing projects. Some are short term, like buying equipment, and some are longer term, like repairs we might schedule over the summer. There’s a lot of talking to vendors, a lot of follow up, and usually a few invoices I have to approve.
Also, any time a guest speaker comes in, I’ll figure out exactly where they're going to be and the A/V set up. Right now we’re also thinking about how to get more students in front of the actual speaker and how to gather safely. We’ve got a couple of pretty massive HEPA filters down in the Cafegymnatorium!
What led you to this work (tech support and building management) and to Commonwealth in particular?
This is going to feel like a rollercoaster ride of nonsense!
So, I went to the Kansas City Art Institute for undergrad; I double-majored in Photography and New Media, and Art History. Then I got my master's in Electronic Integrated Arts at Alfred University, where I met Kyla [Toomey, Commonwealth’s Ceramics and Sculpture teacher]. We moved to New York City on a wing and a prayer, and I eventually found work doing IT at a place called Digital Kitchen. (They did things like the opening titles for Six Feet Under, Dexter, and True Blood.) I was only supposed to be there for a month, but it ended up being two years. It was kind of crazy—I didn't have any professional IT experience! I knew how to maintain my own computer, and I knew how to support their huge editing suite because I had done a lot of video and animation work on my own. But things just started getting thrown into my lap. It was like boot camp. I was learning a lot. I ended up managing a renovation and building out their space, and I became the de facto foreman on that, too. It was nuts.
Our time in New York ended when Kyla got into grad school at The Ohio State University. We moved to Columbus, and I ended up managing a digital art lab at Kenyon College, where I was essentially an artist in residence. After a while, a good friend randomly asked if I wanted to start doing some IT work on the side. Next thing you know, I'm traveling all over the place, doing tech support for this company that did interactive car show engagements. So now I'm teaching, I’m an artist-in-residence, I’m working in a gallery, and I'm also flying out to LA basically once a week. I'm getting this crazy level of experience doing all manner of support across the board. And, again, learning a lot! When we left New York, I was kinda iffy about being “the IT guy,” but at this point I realized, “You know, I kinda like this.”
Then we moved to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for a couple years and finally to Boston, and I started working at a corporate IT company. My work focused on more of the steady-state stuff, like security and compliance, and Google administration. I was happy enough with the job, but the corporate environment wasn't necessarily the best cultural fit for me.
I had heard from Kyla that Jeff [Racioppi, Adam’s predecessor and a Commonwealth fixture for more than two decades!] was planning to retire, and I was certainly intrigued by the possibilities of the role. We talked about the complexities of Commonwealth being a bit of a family affair! But it’s been fantastic. I really enjoy working with everyone here, and it's nice to feel like I'm in a place where I can really be myself.
Commonwealth's a place where people's personalities can shine. It feels like everyone is just authentic. A lot of places aren't like that. I'm in the company of people who have the same sort of mindset, and we can all be more comfortable with each other. It's wonderful.