Sam Houston State University Website
I've worked as a web and media developer on the Sam Houston State University website for more than two years now. I work on-campus in Huntsville, Texas. This job is my primary source of income, so it takes up a significant portion of my week.
My job duties typically include:
- Quality Assurance
Making sure the website and all web content is accessible is a major part of the job. We also need to be outspoken advocates for digital accessibility across all areas of campus, not just the website.
Not only is it morally imperative that all people are able to use our website equally, it is an absolute requirement. All content must meet WCAG 2.1 guidlines to at least a level of AA (though we always push toward AAA when possible).
Since we are a state university, we have several sets of criteria set by both the state and national governments that we must ensure we are in line with.
In accordance with these policies, we request and follow up on VPATs from vendors. We also follow get a yearly, manual site audit from a third party provider to ensure we maintain compliance.
The design of the website varies heavily. We are sometimes given a large amount of freedom in design, and other times we are given a design an already-completed design and told to turn it into code. This can be challenging due to the above-mentioned accessibility procedure where someone can create a design without accessibility in mind.
More recently, we have been strengthening our bond with the Marketing and Communications department so that those situations occur less, and so that the brand can be strenghened through our collaboration. By working together, we can tackle the most public-facing aspect of Sam Houston State University and hold it to a higher standard (and produce something better than we could have each produced individually).
We are already excited to work on a new template design with the help of Marketing and Communications and their new 2020 Branding Guide.
With more than 200 content editors spread across our entire campus and thousands of pages constantly being edited, quality assurance is a steady problem. Links are broken, words are misspelled, brand guidlines are broken, accessibility errors are created, etc. We thankfully have tools in place that notify us when such problems arise, but it can be a lot for so few people to manage.
Our focus in quality assurance is always accessibility, but broken links are our next-biggest target. If people cannot access the information they were trying to access, then that reflects poorly on the university or the department from which they clicked the broken link.
Quality assurance is also about consistency on the page, so we try to ensure that all pages make it to the same template and have the same set of features. Any department or site that goes outside of the norm we try to bring back into place (though this is sometimes our own fault, and sometimes cannot be brought back into place because it was requested by someone from higher up).
Governance is the most hotly debated part of this website experience. Everyone on campus feels they have ownership of the website, which leads to a large amount of power struggles between campus leadership. It is a very frustrating experience that I am not looking to replicate in my future endeavors.
Since there are only 4 web developers in my department, we have to rely heavily upon our tools to get the job done. Some of those tools are more modern than others, but all of them serve their purpose.
Some tools of note are:
- DotCMS is our content management system. We have a large number of editors (detailed above), and DotCMS allows us to manage all of the content they create and keep it in a variety of different states.
- Having such a large and flexible system is a constant source of challenges to both meet the needs of our users, but also keep a certain amount of control over brand guidelines, accessibility, best practices.
- SiteImprove is our automated tool for accessibility, SEO, content quality, security issues, and general data generation.
- While this can't catch every problem, it can find broad problems and let us know what we need to correct on the whole site and across different templates.
- Custom policies and searches allow us powerful access to our content so we can be confident in our decisions.
I'm always looking to make friends and start new projects! Please consider hiring me for your next website!