Job vacancy: web developer

Spanner lying on a laptop keyboard

The University is looking for a web developer to join the web team.

  • Job reference: Web Developer SB1005R1
  • Salary £25,013 – £29,837 per annum (grade 5)
  • Required skills: PHP, JavaScript/jQuery, HTML, CSS, SQL, Ajax
  • Fixed term: 3 years
  • Start: as soon as possible
  • Closing date for applications: Friday 25 April 2014

The main purpose of the role will be in helping maintain and support web services, notably where changes need to be made to coding and other infrastructure elements, so a solid and demonstrable knowledge of PHP, MySQL, JavaScript, HTML and CSS is required. Experience of WordPress (including WordPress Multi Site) will also be of an advantage.

Our enterprise web content management system is the commercial, Java-based TerminalFour Site Manager (although we’ve never had to dabble with any Java) running on an Oracle database; and we’re working a lot with WordPress (and MySQL) too these days (both stand-alone installations and WordPress Multi Site). Pre-knowledge of either is not required as training will be offered.

Regarding existing technologies, we’re currently using an adapted version of the Blueprint CSS framework and a patchwork of jQuery plugins, but we have plans to move to the Bootstrap framework, the Sass CSS pre-processor and a host of other time-saving goodies. We currently don’t use any particular PHP framework, although PHPMaker has been used to help generate a few applications; that’s not to say that we’re not option to the adoption of a PHP framework. We often use Agile methodologies in our project work and use Trello to keep ourselves organised.

It’s not all about hardcore coding, however. An important element of the job will be to deal with website users and content creators in a support and perhaps even training role. The web team offers first, second and third line support, and you will be expected to get involved there too.

The web team is currently made up of four members (web manager, web architect, web editor and web apprentice) with a fifth member on secondment to Corporate Communications. Speaking as someone who is obviously somewhat biased, the web team is a good, fun and supportive place to work. Do you fancy joining us?

More details can be found on the University’s job vacancy website — the job reference code is SB1005R1.

Advertisements

Grid—a simple guide to responsive web design

Grid—a simple guide to responsive design by Adam Kaplan.

Grid—a simple guide to responsive design by Adam Kaplan.

It feels like the web is evolving at a frightening rate these days, and while we’re being encouraged to design for mobile first even the technical specifications (particularly HTML5, and CSS3) haven’t settled down yet and are still subject to change.

For example, there is currently a lot of energy being put into how to deal with responsive images: you don’t necessarily want mobile devices (possibly with smaller screens and slower bandwidth) to download images that would be more appropriate on desktop browsers, with larger screens and possibly fibre-optic broadband connections.

If you are feeling a little overwhelmed by it all and wondered where to start then I can recommend Grid, a simple guide to responsive design, created by Adam Kaplan, a designed from Chicago.

In seven simple steps he unpacks all the important stuff: why and how. And then he ends it with an encouraging, non-threatening challenge: practice makes perfect.

T44U 2013 conference in Dublin

Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin—Venue for T44U 2013

Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, Dublin—Venue for T44U 2013

Introduction

On Wednesday 20 November 2013 I flew from Edinburgh to Dublin for TerminalFour’s (T4) sixth annual global user conference, T44U.

Or as I preferred to call it: T44Me.

While there were more attendees this year than any other—demonstrating amongst other things TerminalFour’s growth over the last few years, particularly in the education sector—there were fewer from Scotland than in previous years. Seven Scottish universities use Site Manager (SM), and were represented this year by (as far as I remember) Abertay Dundee (1 attendee), Dundee (7), St Andrews (1), Stirling (1); unrepresented were Abertay Dundee, Glasgow and Glasgow Caledonian.

These are my highlights of the talks over the two days.

Thursday

Introduction

Over the last 12 months TerminalFour’s strategy has focussed mostly on two things:

  1. Outbound sales activities, particularly in the education sector in the English-speaking world. Of their new clients 53% are in the USA, 14% in Australia and 11% in the UK.
  2. Digital engagement integrating different systems using Site Manager as the hub, e.g. search, mobile, social media, course searches, etc.

Treasure chest

A large portion of the morning was given over to demonstrating a number of SM features, some new, which some users may not be aware of. I’ve emboldened those that might benefit us here:

  • External Content Syncer (content to external databases or CSV files, for example, to import data into Site Manager, or migrate data from one content type to another within SM).
  • Keyword search (demonstrated in a course search section of the website)
  • Hierarchy builder (import site structure from an Excel file, available in SM 7.4.3).
  • Newsletter integration using “auto-mirroring”.
  • Improvements to publish and preview (cache handler and changesets).
  • PHP access control (using PHP and the T4 user groups to restrict access to sections).
  • New PHP calendar (this looks very useful).
  • New personalisation options (e.g. use of GeoIP to display different content to users depending on their geo-location).

Clarity Grader

Fergal McGovern from Clarity Grader gave a very interesting demonstration of their product which checks to see how clear and consistent your web content is, then gives it a grade accordingly.

Hook, line and syncer

Maurice Ryder from University College Cork showed us how he has been using External Content Syncer to point SM at itself to migrate content from one content type to another as they’ve been simplifying the way they use SM. He also shared some of his experience of working on a responsive web design (RWD).

The fundamentals of digital engagement

Simon Nash, a strategist and marketer from Reading Room gave a fabulous and inspiring talk about digital engagement. Customers are now hyper-connected, using multiple devices to connect to the web, he said. We need to adapt or die. We need a strategy. Give them something:

  • Interesting
  • Useful
  • Helpful
  • Relevant

He talked about how engaging with people works best using a storytelling narrative (conversational, content and narrative led). He spoke about the importance of ‘slicing and dicing’ on spreadable formats: a multi-channel web; the importance of structured data and he touched on schemas, meta data and Twitter cards. “How do people move between online and offline?” he asked. We need to tap into that. Understand your audiences and develop a coherent strategy.

I could have listened to him all evening, to be honest. He was fascinating.

Update: You can read Simon’s blog post about his talk on the Reading Room blog: Five key challenges facing digital professionals in 2014.

Our T4 wishlist

In the evening I was able to speak with Paul Kelly (T4 senior software architect) and Mary Ryan (T4 product manager) for about 30 minutes to discuss a few suggestions about how SM might be improved for both the average user and administrators. I felt it was a valuable discussion, and they were certainly keen to listen and receive my short document of bullet-points which we have compiled over the last few months.

I also got a private demo of SM version 8. T4 have employed a UX expert to work with them on improving the product, which is very encouraging.

Friday

Platform as a Service

TerminalFour spent 30 minutes describing the benefits of their Platform as a Service (PaaS) package. This offers a cloud-based stack (SM, MySQL, Apache httpd, Java, PHP) for running SM. They tend to use RackSpace as a host. This tends to be: 1 x CMS cloud server, 2 x Web cloud server, 1 x Load balancer, hosted in a choice of data centres located in the USA, UK or Australia.

Prospectus Editing Tool at the University of Bristol

Mike Jones gave a presentation about how they are using SM for editing their university prospectus. Interestingly he’s written his own frontend which uses to the SM API. The driver for this was that they didn’t want to have to train 100+ staff members to use SM. (A comment there, perhaps, that the usability of the SM frontend needs to be dramatically improved.)

High turnover of research and conference websites at the University of Newcastle

Paul Thompson and Mike Sales gave a most impressive demonstration of a SM ‘broker’ they wrote for which automates a number of common tasks they are asked to carry out, such as create a new sub-site, batch create new users, move a site from dev to live, bulk create training sites, etc. Some of these tasks can now be done in only 2-3 minutes rather than 2-3 hours. A tremendous time-saver!

This was one of the most talked-about presentations of the two days.

Mental health in tech

Possibly one of the most inspiring talks, and certainly the most moving, of the two days was given by Christopher Murphy (@fehler on Twitter) about mental health in tech.

I want to write and reflect on this talk more fully in a future blog post.

Web search

In the final session of the morning Brian Colhoun from T4 asked why is web search often left to the end of a web project? A site is only as good as its content, so considering search should be integral to any content strategy.

SM version 8

Unfortunately I missed the afternoon session as I needed to leave for Dublin airport and my flight at 16:50. That final session of play was dedicated to looking at the next version of SM, plus the future format of T44U.

Conclusion

An interesting thread through many of the presentations from universities was about their using SM as a data repository and publishing engine to output the same data in multiple formats, and how so many have written their own frontends to interact with the data, to avoid the default user interface.

I certainly found this a far more valuable and practical experience than my last visit to T44U a few years ago. I’m encouraged by the direction that Site Manager is heading, particularly now that T4 are taking usability for the average user more seriously.

Job vacancy: web developer

Spanner lying on a laptop keyboard

The University is looking for an experienced web developer to join the web team.

  • Grade: 5
  • Salary: £24, 766 — £29,541 per year
  • Fixed term: 3 years
  • Start: as soon as possible
  • Closing date for applications: Friday 19 July 2013

The main focus of the job will be in helping design and develop small-scale web applications, and add additional functionality to existing pages/websites so a solid and demonstrable knowledge of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP is required.

Our enterprise web content management system is the commercial, Java-based TerminalFour Site Manager (although we’ve never had to dabble with any Java) running on an Oracle database; and we’re working a lot with WordPress (and MySQL) too these days (both stand-alone installations and WordPress multisite). Pre-knowledge of either is not required as training will be offered.

We’re currently using an adapted version of the Blueprint CSS framework and a patchwork of jQuery plugins, but we have plans to move to the Bootstrap framework, the LESS CSS pre-processor and a host of other Node.js enabled time-saving goodies. We currently don’t use any particular PHP framework, although PHPMaker has been used to help generate a few applications; that’s not to say that we’re not option to the adoption of a PHP framework. We often use Agile methodologies in our project work and use Trello to keep ourselves organised.

It’s not all about hardcore coding, however. An important element of the job will be to deal with website users and content creators in a support and perhaps even training role. The web team offers first, second and third line support, and you will be expected to get involved there too.

The web team is currently made up of four members (web manager, web architect, web editor and web apprentice) with a fifth member on secondment to Corporate Communications for 18 months. Speaking as someone who is obviously somewhat biased, the web team is a good, fun and supportive place to work. Do you fancy joining us?

More details can be found on the University’s job vacancy website – the job reference code is SB1005.

Trello at St Andrews

At the meeting of the Scottish Web Folk, on Thursday 31 May held at the University of Edinburgh, I gave the above presentation about Trello from Fog Creek Software.

Trello is, according to its own help text,

a collaboration tool that organizes your projects into boards. In one glance, Trello tells you what’s being worked on, who’s working on what, and where something is in a process.

We’ve been using it since December 2011 within the web team at the University of St Andrews and are finding it really useful.

Summary of presentation

The first part of the presentation outlines something of our journey from a team of two members to (hopefully) six by the end of 2012. As our project backlog grew we knew that we needed to manage projects and tasks more collaboratively, to get details out of people’s heads and into a centralised tool.

We started to adopt Agile practices in 2008 which led to us creating a scrum board in the office. But in September 2012 Steve, our Web Manager, broke his foot and when he returned to working from home in December we knew that we needed to move the board online.

We had checked out a number of online, free and hosted applications such as Basecamp, Pivotal Tracker and Jira. However, Trello proved to be for us the perfect match.

The second part of the presentation takes a quick tour through the Trello interface and how it works.

The last part of the presentation involved a hands-on demo of the software. I’ve replaced this with two simple slides representing the two ways that we use Trello.

  1. We have one board called “Web team” which tracks the big picture: project requests, current projects being worked on, know issues, admin tasks, backlog of tasks, etc.
  2. Then we have multiple project boards, one for each project. These have a standard number of columns (backlog, in progress, waiting for, testing, done) and the labels (new feature, enhancement, PHP/JavaScript, bug, documentation, web team admin) are the same across every project.

If you have any questions or observations please leave a comment below or email me directly (gareth.saunders@st-andrews.ac.uk).

Note: this article was also posted to the Scottish Web Folk blog.

Two useful resources when planning Web projects

Web ReDesign 2.0

20110823-webredesign20

A few years ago I came across this really excellent book by Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler: Web ReDesign 2.0: Workflow that Works (New Riders, 2005).

In 10 chapters Kelly and Emily lead you through the workflow of a complete website redesign. They break the process down into five phases:

  1. Define the project.
  2. Develop site structure.
  3. Design visual interface.
  4. Build and integrate.
  5. Launch and beyond.

I’ve increasingly found this framework to be really useful, not only for website redesigns but for developing new sites too. I now think in terms of five phases for most Web-related projects that I work on. I’ve found it also provides a very simple overview for clients to help them understand where we are in the overall project lifecycle.

I now have the book sitting on my desk at all times, within easy reach. Their website also has a number of downloadable resources such as a client survey, tech check list, budget tracker, etc.

Web Design Sketchbook

20110823-webdesignsketchbook

Another resource that I’m finding really useful particularly during phase 1 (define the project) is the Web Design Sketchbook from 37 Media.

The first nine pages contain questions to ask the client, which I’ve found really help you understand the project better. Questions such as:

  • What objectives are you trying to achieve with this site design / redesign?
  • What is the primary “action” the site visitor should take when coming to your site (e.g. make a purchase, become a member, search for information)?
  • If you could communicate only one message to visitors, what would it be?
  • What should users think or feel when they look at the design of you site?

The final page of questions includes a list of word pairs to help you determine the tone of the site, e.g.

  • conservative or progressive
  • cold or warm
  • spontaneous or orderly
  • trendy or classic

The second half of the book contains what they call “layout brainstorming pages with full browser chrome and grids to better plan how your site will look and operate when it’s finished”. A nifty idea.

You can order the sketchbook in two varieties (single project at US $12 or a full 104 page sketchbook for US $25) or you can download and print out the free version, which is released under a Creative Commons license.

Build your own

These resources have inspired us to build our own, drawing on resources from each as well as our own experience and requirements here at St Andrews. When we have I’ll post a link to it here.

What would you include in a Web project workbook?

600th anniversary and alumni websites

600

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks on the Web team blogging front. Which is the complete opposite of what it’s been like within the Web team: blinkered, and with heads down we’ve been racing to complete the 600th anniversary website before graduation (which started yesterday).

If you’ve put in a request by email and we’ve not replied as quickly as we might please accept our apologies. We’ve been working, at times and literally, around the clock to get the site done.

And not just one site, we’ve also had the Development/Alumni relations site to work on at the same time.

alumni

Once the sites are both live, and the dust has settled, I’ll blog about our experiences of working with an external design agency and what we learned about working together, as a team of five, on the same project.

Launch of new website design

Screenshot of new website design

Screenshot of new website design

Following consultation with staff and students, and nearly nine months of work we launched the new website design for the University of St Andrews during the early evening of Monday (8 September).

Unlike the website launch in May 2007, which combined for the first time all 27 of the support unit websites into one enterprise-wide site, this re-launch was more of a design update than a radical restructuring of information.

Feedback sessions

Back in February 2008 we meet over the course of three lunchtimes with both staff and students to elicit feedback on what people

  • liked
  • disliked
  • thought was missing (both information and features)

Those sessions were very helpful, and feedback from those were thrown into a melting pot of ideas that had also been compiled from Helpdesk calls received since the launch of the new site in May 2007, as well as our own thoughts and observations from using the site for nearly a year (remember, we had access to it for a few before it went public).

Re-design goals

Our redesign goals were quite clear:

  • Make the site easier to read
  • Offer more variety/flexibility in terms of layout, e.g. 2, 3 and 4 column
  • Ensure that it works in more browsers
  • Add new functionality

On the whole we’ve managed to achieve this, and the feedback during the last month when the site was quietly released to staff and students within a closed preview has been very positive.

The techie bit

When designing and building a new site you have to decide from the start which technologies you will definitely support and which you will try to break as least as possible.

We’ve built the site around a grid-based CSS framework called Blueprint CSS, which offers us a number of advantages such as ensuring that the site is built using accepted Web standards, a well-designed and attractive typography. It also makes it painlessly simple to develop new site designs and layouts.

Much of the new functionality (such as the carousel of images on the homepage, and the tabs on the Current Staff and Students’ pages) is largely provided using the jQuery JavaScript library.

While writing new features using JavaScript can be a long and arduous process the jQuery library allows you to do it in a fraction of the time — some of the functionality added to the site took less than a minute to write! It also works with a lot of modern browsers (Firefox 1.5+, IE6+, Safari 2.0.2+, Opera 9+).

Browsers

Speaking of browsers, based on statistics gathered by our Google Analytics account as well as Yahoo!’s guidelines for Graded Browser Support we settled on ensuring that the latest browsers received the best experience possible.  This included:

  • Firefox 2.0
  • Firefox 3.0
  • Internet Explorer 6
  • Internet Explorer 7
  • Opera 9.x
  • Safari 3.x

We tested the site back to Firefox 1.0, Internet Explorer 5.0, OPera 7.5 and Netscape Navigator 7.0, with varying degrees of success.  On the whole though the site is still usable in these older browsers, even if it doesn’t look exactly as it does in a modern, standards-compliant browser.

One major issue that we have become aware of is that the site crashes when viewed in Safari 2.0.4 (419.3) on a Mac. The issue it would appear is to do with how Safari handles JavaScript.  According to JavaScript expert, and jQuery author John Resig:

“Safari 2 has serious memory issues that are impossible to work around – simply loading and executing too much JavaScript will cause it to crash.” (J Resig, jQuery discussion group)

Our advice, following the graded browser support guideliness, would be to either disable JavaScript or upgrade to a more modern browser, such as Mozilla Firefox (the site works in everything back to Firefox 1.5).

Going live

Going live with a site is a strange experience of mixed emotions. There’s a combination of both elation that the site is going live, mixed with a little anti-climax and the nervousness of waiting for support calls to come in, hoping that we haven’t missed anything obvious.

On the whole, as a Web Team we’re really pleased with the results and the encouraging feedback that we’ve had from users, but we won’t stop there … there’s much still to be done, content to be improved on, sections to be reorganised and even more features to be added.