1999 was shaping up to be a very exciting year to be earning an IT degree. With Y2K looming only months away, many of my courses became quite exciting as many of our adjunct professors were explaining what it was all about and what the companies they worked for were doing to address it. Unlike the media, the adjunct professors we had were actually in the weeds of the ‘crisis’ and assured all of us students that in most cases changes were in the process of being implemented to avoid any issues. The only real concern would be anything that was being missed, but even then the whole thing was more of an annoyance than a crisis. As students on the sidelines, we were kinda hoping for some type of disaster, just for the shear excitement and a potshot at our know-it-all professors. But as we all know now, they were right, it was nothing. Another powerful lesson learned, drama is everywhere and panicking accomplishes nothing.
Aside from Y2K, the last year of the century was getting pretty exciting for me. Tom and Gary at Indiana Tech were able to secure a Web Development Internship for me at Indiana Tech. Along with Tom, I would be tasked with overhauling the university website. I also still took up work in Maintenance, the Cafeteria and now as a Lab Monitor in the evenings.
Tom had done his homework and determined we would continue working on the same Unix Server, running Apache as the Web Server, PHP for scripting and MySQL for database services. We had start discussing site architecture and we came up with the idea of a database driven content design, separating the graphical elements from the content. This would allow us to independently develop the graphical template for the site. Our proof of concept was to move the Campus Staff Directory into a database that could be searched via our website. My first task was to learn MySQL and construct a database to store the directory. At this point we had not employeed any UI interface for MySQL so I had the pleasure of learning MySQL at the command line. Now at the time, I didn’t know it could be done any other way and it didn’t really occur to me that it could be easier. I found that creating tables and inserting data via a command line really helped to me understand and appreciate the database layer of our design. After awhile as I became proficient we found phpMyAdmin, which fit perfectly into our PHP environment to manage our MySQL database.
Once I had a database in place, Tom and I started digging into PHP so I could first display the directory data in HTML. Then we worked on the PHP to search via the website. Working through the database design and learning PHP and HTML took me most of the Fall and Spring Semester’s. Between teaching classes and helping me get going with MySQL, PHP and HTML, Tom was exploring, tweaking and cleaning up the existing website. It still looked terrible but at least he was getting the content relevant and we started to wireframe the to-be UX (user experience – it wasn’t called that then, but that’s what we were doing):
When summer break came around we were both feeling pretty comfortable with our tools and I decided to stay on campus, take a few summer courses and bang out the new site in time to release it right before the 2000 Fall Semester. Around the same time the University was finishing up an ‘identity’ project where a new logo was established as well as official colors and font types. This really helped with providing a creative framework for working out the new site UX design. I don’t remember much of the details that summer, just that it was fun evolving not only the site but our strategies for managing the site content. We developed dynamic templates that could be recalled (with PHP includes) and populated depending on where the visitor was on the site. It really was a plan that came together and ended up being better than I could have imagined. Considering where we came from, that we cobbled together our own tools (except Dreamweaver, which was the best) and strategies it was pretty amazing. Looking back, I would argue we were right on the heels of the dynamic content trend that now is pretty standard in many of the website tools in use today. I wasn’t aware of that what we were doing was so similar to what was developing as an unspoken standard or best practices in web development. Despite the fun, we actually delivered on time and we hosted a presentation to the faculty and staff at the start of the Fall semester with a very optimistic response:
In the 2000 Fall Semester we moved into the new dorm and I started another campus job as the 3rd floor Resident Assistant (RA). Throughout the next two semesters and summer we continued to refine and extend the website functionality, incrementally improving it. It had quickly became my pride and joy and I wasn’t looking forward to moving on in my IT career.
In the summer of 2001 Indiana Tech’s Extended Studies Division (ESD, now known as CPS – College of Professional Studies) double downed on their marketing efforts and as a result hired their own publications specialist which was supposed to handle all publication streams print and web. This was my first experience with training someone else to use a tool I had built and become pretty good at. I hadn’t realized how proficient I had become with our toolsets until I had to train someone who had no experience with them. I was asked to hand over a large section of the site and train them how to use the templates, style sheets and HTML so they could update their content and keep it fresh. It was shaping up to be pretty frustrating as I continued to find pages where the style guide was not being followed. Much of that summer was spent trying to equip this person to take care of the site on their own and it didn’t seem like I was making much headway, I just couldn’t seem to get through. I was becoming concerned about my ability to communicate. I couldn’t decide if the incompetence was with me or them. Perhaps I should change my degree to Computer Science and become a code monkey in the closet instead of a business degree in the area of management with Computer Information Systems…
Next: Part-Time College