Looking Back at 2018

We don’t always do a good job of bragging about what we accomplish or how we impact campus. So on this quiet Friday before the winter break, I’d like to brag a little about the incredible team that is OIT Design & Web Services.

By the numbers…

No “looking back” post is complete without some impressive statistics.

  • 3,746 websites across 57 production WordPress installations managed by our team.
  • 954 support tickets resolved in 2018 (not counting direct emails and phone calls).
  • 186 GitHub repositories owned by our team—meaning 186 custom themes, child themes, plugins, or other code projects that we’re responsible for.
  • 33 training workshops in 2018 led by our team on eight different topics.
  • 10 conference presentations in 2018 at seven conferences attended.

Guten ready for Gutenberg

Have you heard about this thing called Gutenberg?

Our last blog post of 2017 was about Gutenberg, the next-generation WordPress editor. The move from the “classic” WordPress content editor to Gutenberg is genuinely transformative, and consumed our year.

A year later, here’s what we’re most proud of:

  • WordPress 5.0 and Gutenberg are live! But because of some accessibility concerns, most of campus isn’t going to upgrade quite yet. We worked hard to communicate an upgrade plan using the Classic Editor plugin to campus WordPress users, and made sure every site that we manage would have a seamless upgrade.
  • Gutenberg Training: To help campus prepare, we hosted Gutenberg training workshops throughout the year.
    • Gutenberg for Developers – This was our “GutenDay,” an all-day event with campus web developers. We had over 30 developers from NC State and other NC universities in attendance.
    • Gutenberg for Site Administrators – We led this workshop five times in 2018, helping dozens of campus WordPress admins understand the upcoming change.
    • Gutenberg for Content Creators – We led this workshop 11 times in 2018, more often than any other workshop.
  • User Testing: We conducted two rounds of user testing (early 2018 and late 2018), subjecting our brave volunteers to a battery of content-creation tasks. The results were incredibly helpful not only to us, but to the broader WordPress-in-higher-ed community.
  • NC State Blocks: We’ve talked about this one a few times, and you’re going to hear a lot more about it in 2019. NC State Blocks is the successor plugin to our popular NC State Shortcodes plugin, and will provide campus users with ready-made tools to build a branded and accessible website.
  • Conference Presentations: We talked about Gutenberg a lot, taking our expertise on the road. Members of our team spoke at WPCampus, UNC CAUSE, the UNC CAUSE WordCamp Boston, WordCamp Raleigh, and the Raleigh-area WordPress monthly meet-ups. We were also slated to present at WordCamp Wilmington (with Jen as keynote speaker!), but that event was unfortunately cancelled by Hurricane Florence.
  • WPCampus Accessibility Audit: Members of our team were involved in the planning and commissioning of an accessibility audit by the WPCampus organization. With fundraising and vendor selection wrapping up, this effort will help provide our campus and the whole WordPress community some concrete information on the accessibility barriers that need to be resolved in Gutenberg.

Miles and Lauren win the Pride of the Wolfpack Award!

The Pride of the Wolfpack Award is a unit-level award presented periodically to recognize “a special or unique contribution to their college, business unit, or NC State University.” We’re incredibly proud of Miles and Lauren, and we’re thrilled that they’ve received this recognition for their work.

Here’s what Jen and I submitted when nominating them:

Miles Elliott and Lauren Etheridge are members of the Office of Information Technology’s Design & Web Services team. As part of that team, they support NC State’s WordPress services.

In early 2018, the Design & Web Services team began preparations for “Gutenberg,” a major change to the WordPress content editing interface. Part of that preparation has included development of the “NC State Blocks” plugin. This plugin will make it easy for campus WordPress users to design branded, accessible, and attractive content quickly and easily.

While the whole team has been involved in writing code, Lauren and Miles have shown exceptional leadership in their work on the “NC State Blocks” plugin. This includes:

  • Training the rest of the team in React-based JavaScript coding
  • Standardizing our development processes and establishing best practices
  • Devising a plugin architecture that makes the project easy to extend and maintain
  • Creating a reusable-component system to simplify and improve development
  • Ensuring compatibility with Gutenberg while the new interface underwent major changes
  • Creating a programmatic way of generating a block attribute glossary
  • Demonstrating incredible creativity in solving design problems
  • Leading meetings with colleagues to discuss the needs and development of this tool
  • Presenting on their work for other UNC System institutions and the broader WordPress community

When the new editor is released for wide use on campus next year, the “NC State Blocks” plugin will be extraordinarily useful to WordPress users across the university. NC State is at the leading edge of WordPress and web development, in large part thanks to Lauren and Miles’ efforts.

For these reasons, we nominate both Lauren and Miles for the Pride of the Wolfpack Award.

Infrastructure Upgrades

While the bulk of what we do involves front-end development—designing websites and the tools that help you put content in your websites—the “Web Services” part of “Design & Web Services” reflects our role in helping keep the campus web infrastructure up and running.

Our team often serves as the go-between for campus and our colleagues in OIT’s IWS group and others in OIT. We’re involved in crafting the communications strategy for major changes. We translate client goals into technical action items, helping our sysadmins understand the day-to-day needs of campus users. And we help our clients navigate technology changes as NC State’s computing infrastructure changes and evolves.

In 2018, we were involved in four major changes to the campus web infrastructure:

  • cPanel Migrations: Many campus websites are hosted on OIT’s cPanel web hosting service. Early in 2018, the web servers that power this service were upgraded. Our team was involved in communications and testing to minimize downtime and help ensure a smooth migration from old machines to new.
  • PHP Upgrade: PHP is the backbone of the web. If you use WordPress or Drupal or many other content management systems, you’re using an application that runs on PHP. In 2018, all websites running on PHP 5.6 have been (or will be very soon!) upgraded to PHP 7.1 or higher. This upgrade makes your websites faster and more secure—and required a fair amount of testing and development effort by our team.
  • www4 End-of-Life: If you’ve been around the university for a while, you’re likely very familiar with the www4 service for hand-coded HTML websites. For various reasons, that service is coming to an end at the end of this month. That meant we were busy throughout the year advising campus users on alternatives and helping them dive into WordPress.
  • Go Links 2.0: Go Links, the popular campus link-shortening service, received a major upgrade this year. The heavy lifting was done by OIT Design alum Chris Deaton, who moved down the hall to OIT’s Outreach Technology group two years ago. But we were very happy to help in testing the upgraded application and helping with the communications strategy.

9 Projects for 2019

Yesterday was our last team meeting of 2018. Rather than our normal meeting, Jen asked us to share some of the things that we’re excited about for 2019.

From that conversation—and taking some inspiration from the WordPress project—I’d like to close with nine projects we’re excited for in 2019 (in no particular order):

  1. Migrating clients to Gutenberg: Once it’s accessible enough for us to roll out, the new block editor is an incredibly powerful tool.
  2. Launching NC State Blocks: We’re really excited for everyone to start using this.
  3. Improved development, testing, and upgrade processes: DevOps! It’s not just a buzzword!
  4. Building a pattern library: One part developer resource, one part best-practices documentation, this has the potential to be a must-use resource for folks across campus.
  5. Building a new, modern theme: Technology moves fast, and a lot has changed since we released Hillsborough.
  6. Building a service portal: Early next year, we’ll be meeting with the ServiceNow team to start work on building a proper IT service portal.
  7. High-impact campus clients: We have some big projects coming up that will affect everyone on campus—including the university student centers, Transportation, and more! Stay tuned!
  8. Training and tutorial videos: We’re going to continue offering our normal training workshops. But we’re also looking forward to offering short “just in time” videos to help guide users through specific tasks.
  9. The Conflux: I’m not going to tell you what this one is. But it’s exciting!

We’re looking forward to working on all of this and more! I’m grateful to work with this team, for our amazing clients, and at a great institution. Enjoy your winter break, and we’ll see you all in 2019!