The University Web Developer

If you’re a web developer in a college or university, you’ve come to the right place. After 6 months of working for a university as a web developer, there is much to be said in the air of collaboration, decision making and productivity. You could benefit from my experiences.

The Perks

Working for a university quite a few perks. Because you’re around students who aren’t business men or power players, you aren’t really required to dress to the nines. Another huge benefit is the effect your presence can have on the student body. It definitely breaks the mundane streaks of being a web developer.

Aside from people-related benefits there are a lot of work-related benefits as well. Because the process of web development has quickened due to the advent of various web frameworks and better tools for working with code, I don’t have to work 40 hours most weeks. I can get a lot more done in 20+ hours depending on the choice of tools. An unspoken benefit is having the innate power to destroy or improve a university’s integrity on the web in the blink of an eye. Its certainly a responsibility I am proud to be given.

Working with Others

Being a web developer at a university requires you to know how to move about in a social-esque business environment. Essentially no programming hermits allowed. Colleagues and bosses often come to you directly with project requests and while their attitude is that of gratefulness for your position they have goals to meet for their department which ironically enough creates a hint of impatience on their end.

However, decision making is slow as well. If your university is shopping the idea of a redesign, sit back and relax cause you’ll be waiting a few years. Unfortunately this is the stigma of working for a university as a web developer. While your field is ever changing and fast paced, the given environment can slow it down immensely. Want to change things site-wide? Get permission through the right channels. and make sure its okay to make those changes. That in itself is a job.

Big Decisions Are Not Becoming of You

Permission is golden, but trust is eternal. If you don’t have the trust of your bosses and colleagues to make moderately important decisions about a web project, expect some adversity. This is especially true in an environment where web-related duties aren’t grouped into their own department.

In my own experiences, coming on board right at the end of the decision making process was a huge setback for me. Whats worse is they were without a web developer for months before me, and those who collaborated the decision weren’t people qualified to make such choices. In universities, there is no way to work around this. Your own proposed solutions could be light years better than what your colleagues and bosses decided upon, but it just doesn’t matter to them. As a past colleague of mine said, “Looks like someone drank the kool-aid before you got there…”.

Dealing with Adversity

Situations where you’re left to work with the results of other’s choices, you’ll find it difficult to find happiness in your work flow. Reason being that you’ve grown accustomed to certain tools, standards and work flows and to be frank it just won’t fly at a university. Your name could be Jeffery Zeldman and even he would have to face the prospect of abiding by the policies and choices of the environment provided.

So how do you work-around this? I’ve lead several discussions trying to answer this very question. The general consensus was this. Deal with it or hit the road. Unfortunately this is not the reality I wanted. (chuckles).

What Now?

If you are planning on working for a college or university as a web developer you should be comfortable doing or living with the following:

  • ConformityIf you can’t conform to a university’s work flow, reconsider working for one
  • Seniority driven decision makingYour judgment and wisdom will often be trumped by others
  • Learn to use any solutionBetter solutions are a pipe dream when decisions are already made
  • Timidity is required Being bold about your take on their decisions will get you fired, it doesn’t matter if their decisions are based on ill assumptions and conclusions.

Thats about it. Of course there is plenty more to talk about, but for now this is the core of working as a web developer in a mission-critical university. I will follow-up with more regarding actual work-flows and how to tweak them to provide you happiness and keep your colleagues and bosses pleased as well. Stay tuned.


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