An Open Reflection of My Developer Job at a University
Recently (as in, “about two weeks ago” recently), I resigned from my position as a web designer/developer at the university I graduated from, to begin my future life path of relocating to Europe. There are plenty of studies that show how reflecting on work improves job performance, and considering the timing of all this, I figure now is a great time to reflect on the work I contributed to my old company.
When I was nearing the end of my second year in university, my buddy Ross asked if I was interested in interning at the school for some experience. I was really excited about this opportunity, and seriously need to thank Ross for that.
A year after I started working as an intern, my first web professor encouraged me to apply for the part-time position. I was accepted, and another year later, my supervisor encouraged me to apply for the full-time position. It was a scary-competitive application process, but I was ecstatic to hear that I got the job. Now, I’m resigning that position another year later.
Do You Think You Were Adequately Equipped to Do Your Job Well?
I think the continuous progression helped me more than anything. I was given incremental amounts of responsibility with each job title, and further improving my general skillset. Being recruited as an intern, I knew next to nothing about web development other than HTML and CSS. However, I grew along with my position, and I genuinely believe I was adequately equipped to do my job(s) well, no matter the status at the time.
The Job Qualifications: Expectations Vs. Reality
Expectation: Bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field of study required; college coursework in communications or marketing preferred. A combination of education and experience totaling six years may be considered.
Reality: Our projects within the last year did not touch Podcasts or PostgreSQL at all, but everything else was useful to know. There was only a month or two where we used MySQL. As I mentioned before, the most-used language in this job was PHP, which I only barely started learning as I was working here part-time.
Expectation: Experience with and knowledge of WordPress custom development; ability to create WordPress plugins, hooks, and other custom code and implement different API’s into WordPress
Reality: This qualification is probably the biggest necessity for this job. I had some exposure to WordPress development as a part-timer because I developed my first plugin. As I was working full-time, we upgraded to WordPress 5.0 (Gutenberg), did an entire redesign of the site (which needed a heavily-maintained WP theme).
Expectation: Knowledge of the Adobe Creative Suite; excellent design skills and abilities
Reality: I didn’t open any of the Adobe applications during the entire time I was working here, except for when my supervisor required that everyone develop a browser game for our upcoming “404 arcade”. I drew ice cream scoops in Photoshop.
Expectation: Ability to produce quality content and adapt language and style to reflect audience-specific voice and tone with good editorial/writing skills
Reality: I do think that my writing and editorial skills are up-to-par. There are some aspects of it that I need to work on. For example, writing short and concise blocks of text rather than lengthy paragraphs. Regardless, I think this came in handy when we were converting pages from the old template to the new template, and they required more meat and guidance than just “click here!”
Expectation: Knowledge of User Experience Design techniques including wireframes, storyboards, user flows, process flows, and site maps to effectively communicate interaction design ideas
Reality: I didn’t create any wireframes or storyboards, but it did help to understand the purpose of them. We contracted a third-party company to design the new site, and some people involved with the meetings did not understand why they needed to draft them in the first place. I did start writing some user and process flows when we were converting sites, just to see if we could figure out an easier way to get students where they need to go.
Expectation: Knowledge and ability to work with Mac, PC, and UNIX environments, integrate Google applications and social media outlets, and manage the University’s website from a client as well as a server perspective
Reality: I didn’t need to know anything about PC work, which is fine, since my preferred work environment is Mac/UNIX. I’m not sure why they grouped client/server work with Mac/PC, but I was able to work on (very little) server tasks along with the client files.
Expectation: Capable of the design, development, implementation, and maintenance of customer websites
Reality: Again, we hired a third-party company for the design and much of the development. However, I started to take over the development from this company, as well as the implementation and maintenance of the 160+ sites we manage.
Expectation: Familiar with development and debugging tools for cross-browser issues
Reality: A lot of console.log(), var_dump(), and some Sublime Text linter plugins. Luckily, there weren’t a lot of issues that required other types of debugging tools.
What Parts Did You Enjoy Most?
I loved being able to have a lot of flexibility in my projects. I took a fair amount of initiative and was able to create elements of the site that have proven to be beneficial to students, staff, and prospective students.
What Did You Dislike Most About Your Job?
There were a couple of elements in the “team” workflow that I do not generally agree with. For example, (and my supervisor knows this), daily stand-up meetings. I kept my meetings to a minimum, because I find them to be unproductive. Communicating via tickets, emails, and Slack all offer a paper trail that I can refer to later. Meetings cannot.
I also did not agree with several of the projects that the team is now taking on, because they are prime examples of reinventing the wheel, creating unnecessary, redundant tools. These projects were not in my job description, and I felt as though it was wasting energy, time, and manpower when we had 50 other issues already on the docket to take care of. During one of my exit interviews, my supervisor told me that his intention for these projects was to allow us to learn new tools and improve our development skills. I’m still not super sold on that rebuttal.
What Was Your Relationship With Your Supervisor Like?
For the most part, we got along really well. I respected him and his decisions, and although I would firmly voice when I disagreed with him, I would be polite and do what was asked. For every instance that we opposed each other, there was also an instance where we were extremely welcoming to each other. I believe it was overall a very professional, productive relationship.
The Job Description: Expectation Vs. Reality
Expectation: Help provide overall direction for the University’s website. Assist in total quality management of the site, including evaluation of links and usability.
Reality: I did provide a lot of quality management, especially when we were “converting pages”. Most of the time, we were redesigning the structure of the subdomain for a better user experience. I kind of took the lead of the team and converted the majority of the pages.
Expectation: Process day-to-day updates on the University website.
Reality: There was a running joke about “job security” at the university, since there is always something to update on the site. We host probably over a hundred forms, there are always links that need to be changed. There’s never really a slow day in the office, unless you go out of your way to ignore the 10 emails that have popped up in your inbox overnight.
Expectation: Work with campus committees and the Webmaster/Web team to ensure the University’s website reflects the University’s vision, mission, and goals.
Reality: I felt like a true adult when I was included as one of the main members involved with the committee to work with the third-party company redesign. I genuinely don’t find meetings to be productive, and these were no exception, but it was a great experience to be able to be involved and considered a leader in the project.
Expectation: Promote proper use of web standards and stay abreast of developing standards so University webpages are visually appealing and employ the latest formatting techniques.
Reality: During the last few weeks of my work at the university, we began finally implementing accessibility standards into our site. I did a lot of research work as well as development work to get this going. This required plenty of reformatting, redesigning, and redeveloping to make sure we were on track to meet 508 compliance.
Expectation: Design, build, implement, and maintain websites using a variety of graphic software applications and programming languages.
Expectation: Implement and create plugins, hooks, and custom code for WordPress, the University’s Content Management System (CMS).
Reality: Again, knowing how to develop in WordPress was essential for this job. I moved away from creating plugins to just creating “includes” in the theme, but hooks were a must-understand. I did, however, have to have a general understanding (which I was fairly confident in) about WordPress Plugins simply because I had to salvage data from a couple of unmaintained plugins and implement them into a new plugin, or I had to extend existing plugin support. Those were very fun projects.
Expectation: Present a consistent visual image on the University’s website by promoting uniform fonts, formatting, icons, images, layout techniques, and modularization, including maintenance of HTML template and image archives.
Reality: We started to really develop standards for the new site along with the new design. I had strong input on where things should be laid out, although my supervisor had the final say and developed a couple of guideline templates for us to use.
Expectation: Determine appropriate compression techniques, resolutions, sizes, color maps, and depths to ensure that images – photographs and synthesized graphics – are delivered at sufficiently high speed and quality for intended output media.
Reality: Luckily, I didn’t have to deal too much with images as a full-time employee. I say “luckily”, because my first project as a part-timer failed horribly and involved a novice-written image compression script. Long story short, I corrupted nearly every single image on the site and spent upward of two weeks manually re-uploading my backup images. However, it sounds like the next project the team will tackle after my leave will be an “image optimizer” – a tool for editors and interns to crop and compress images to the proper size according to where it will be used.
Expectation: Help create an easy, smooth, and functional user experience by using creating and implementing User Experience (UX) Design.
Reality: A lot of my UX work was done on the admin screens and aimed toward our campus site editors, but it was easy, smooth, and functional nonetheless. The front-end UX was mostly done by the third-party company we worked with.
Expectation: Train campus web liaisons on CMS use.
Reality: I won’t lie, I avoided this task as much as possible. If someone needed training, I waited for either our lead developer or our part-time liaison/designer to offer to train. As I mentioned before, my communication skills outside of email are subpar. However, if someone emailed me with a question, I would usually send them a self-recorded demonstration video showing how to accomplish what they needed.
Expectation: Respond to campus users’ help requests.
Reality: I’m pleased to announce that I kept a consistent inbox-zero throughout the entirety of my career at the University. Any time someone needed help, I took care of it right away and kept on top of my tickets.
Expectation: Hire, train, and assist student web designers with assigned tasks as needed; work with the web team and web interns to be innovative and work within a team environment.
Reality: I loved all of our interns, but most of them hardly needed assistance. If they had a question, they knew they could come to me for advice, and I was always happy to help.
Expectation: Perform other duties as assigned.
Reality: Again, another vague catch-all expectation. I did as much as I could. Throughout the course of my part-time and full-time, I closed 232 Github Issues, with only 56 I didn’t have time to get to. That’s about 81%, and a B is above-average!
I feel like I accomplished a lot during my time working at the University. I made about 1,502 git commits to the repository. Currently, I am writing out a “highlights” page for all the projects I’ve worked on at this job.
What do you think was your most significant accomplishment while you were working?
My personal significant accomplishment is that I was able to prove to myself that I am capable of handling a lot of responsibility that I was scared to even consider when I was an intern or even working part-time.
Professionally, my most significant accomplishment was probably that I contributed so much to the code overhaul when updating to the new design. I took over development after our contract with the third-party company fizzled out and kept everything afloat in the meanwhile.
Are there any new skills that you developed while you were at the worksite and what are they?
My development skills improved ten-fold, especially in PHP, as I was working here. In fact, I didn’t know PHP at all when I first started, and now I know how to solve the plethora of problems I came across during my work hours. Even though I’ve said my in-person communication skills are weak, I think they have improved. I still consider myself to be fairly shy, but I can now be more professionally direct when meeting with others. In addition, I have also improved my disclipline, leadership skills, and time management.
When I first started working at the university as an intern, I didn’t really have any defined career goals, aside from being able to support myself through school. However, when I was transitioning from part-time to full-time, I felt deeply connected to my work and I wanted to do the best I could to help other students at the university through the website. Then finally, as a full-time developer, I wanted to make sure content editors (university staff and faculty) were able to update their webpages as efficiently as possible. You can visually see these goals shift through the projects I began.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this note, I’ve moved to Europe (France, to be more specific). I’ve already accepted a job offer here, and now I’m just sorting out some work visa legalities. Perhaps I will write about this experience soon as well.
maryn at 11:46