Hotspot: Michele Hindman in the Zone

Michele Hindman, web architect, CAS-IT Services, UNT

April 17, 2017 — Depending on your age, you might remember when Webcrawler and Netscape were big in 1996, Bill Clinton was president and only 20 million people were using the internet — mostly through a dial-up connection. That's when Michele Hindman, a middle school student, created her first website; it was her childhood hobby. Now she is the senior web architecture manager for UNT's College of Arts and Sciences.

Describing her first website, Michele said "It featured an animated gif starry background, some pictures of my art and rainbow horizontal rules. I made a lot of websites for fun throughout my middle and high school years."  She said she was completely comfortable using Adobe Photoshop, HTML, CSS, PHP, and Javascript before she got to college.

Michele has lived all over the country, including Las Vegas, San Diego, and Nashville, Tenn., and went to high school in Texarkana, Texas, where her parents still call home. After living in Denton for 14 years, she now considers Denton her home.

Michele Hindman, UNT web architecture manager "All my life I'd been told I should be an artist when I grew up, but I wasn't sure how to turn art into a sustainable career," Michele said. She switched majors a few times because nothing fit quite right. "While working on my degree, I joined the College of Arts and Sciences IT Services in 2006; back then it was known as CAS Computing Support Services. I was a student employee, a web developer. This was before we used a content management system for most of our sites: everything was static HTML, so CAS needed someone who knew HTML and CSS." As a part-time employee from 2006 through 2009, Michele designed and developed close to 30 websites for CAS and posted content updates for folks who didn’t know HTML."I didn't view it as a possible career until I was already working for UNT, but it clicked into place for me within the first year or so at CAS IT Services: "This is what I want to do!"

All that tinkering and part-time work paid off: while working on her bachelor's degree, Michele was hired full time in 2009 to help move each of the 26 academic sites to Drupal, which took her and her team almost two years. "I love solving problems. They’re like puzzles to me. I like looking at a complex process, distilling it, creating something that makes things easier, more efficient for people. I like working for academia. We’re surrounded by so many smart, passionate people who know so much about so many different things," she said. Cyrus Haskell, web architect, and Jacob Rhoads, IT manager, "were the two folks who helped make it happen."

Michele's husband, Kevin Edger, also works at UNT; he is as a graphic designer in the Division of University Relations, Communications and Marketing and also attends UNT part-time. He and Michele are parents of two cats, Luke and Sir Earl Grey, but Michele is an admitted coffee aficionado and heartily recommends Denton's Cafe Shift on Locust Street.

In 2009, the year UNT adopted Drupal as its official content management system, Michele says that's when she learned how to do Drupal development. "We built everything from the ground up: our theme, content types, views, module configurations, installation profile, everything," she said, and trained users on how to make necessary content edits. She now leads a team responsible for the design, development and administration of all web services for CAS. Serving more than 12,000 students and 600 employees, Michele manages the back end of 49 Drupal sites, while designing and improving the front side for the college's services.

Benchmarks: What would you tell an incoming freshman who is thinking about a career in web development?

Michele: Make things. Tinker. Create a silly website or an app. Explore different languages, tools, frameworks. Have fun, see if you enjoy it first.

Having found her niche and "a sustainable career," Michele also develops web-based solutions to improve efficiency or social media strategies for more than 30 departments and programs. She trains, supervises and mentors her team, and in February became one of the first Drupal experts at UNT to volunteer to train struggling Drupalers across campus in the UIT-organized 2017 Drupal Training Program. Michele's Drupal Basics class, which she will teach on April 20, 2017, filled up only days after it opened for enrollment.

In 2013, Michele decided to return to UNT as a student to pursue the Bachelor of Arts degree in Information Technology, once she had a clearer idea of what she wanted out of school, she said. "I've been working full-time and going to school part-time for the last four years. It's been a long journey, but I finally graduate this May!" Last semester, she took nine hours while working full-time — a heavy load she does not recommend.

Faculty and staff rely on her deep and extensive Drupal knowledge to support their online presence. When she is not helping a Drupaler, she may be performing user research and usability tests to make sure the CAS web services are meeting defined, measurable goals. Her duties also entail writing and maintaining documentation, including software requirements, user guides, training materials, disaster-recovery plans and other internal knowledge to ensure business continuity. Michele and members of her team frequently answer web-related questions from many of the 100-plus Drupal users in CAS and even more from across campus.

In 2016, Michele and her team upgraded more than 40 sites from Drupal 6 to Drupal 7 in four months, so helping Drupalers navigate the new version is an ongoing activity. With Drupal 8 released on Nov. 19, 2015, web developers of the quarter-million Drupal sites worldwide also can count on that "sustainable career" Michele was seeking.

Reviewing site analytics and identifying design and content that needs to improve is an ongoing process, she said. Special projects, such as bigdata.unt.edu in March, sometimes crop up unexpectedly. Other competing projects include managing current and future web-related projects, such as the creation of new sites for the new College of Sciences and College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, automated analytics reporting, and better tools for researcher and lab sites.

Michele plans to continue to graduate school for a master's degree in computer science, she said. "I'm especially interested in researching human-computer interaction and user experience, with the intention of making the web a better, more useful place. "Over time, I've grown interested in improving the user experience of websites. I'm motivated by the work of Jakob Nielsen and other prominent UX researchers." 

Benchmarks: What would you tell a new graduate in IT/web development who is looking for a job?

Michele: This might apply to most graduates looking for a job, but get help with your resume and portfolio. Think of it less as a resume and more as a marketing tool. Resumes aren’t homework assignments where you have to meet a word count or sound fancy: you’re trying to market yourself. Think about what your potential boss needs and use your resume to describe how you meet those specific needs in plain words.

Speed painting examples by Michele Hindman

"I never quite gave up my art roots. To relax, I like doing something called digital speed painting. It's where you set a time limit — usually around an hour — and paint something as quickly as you can. I find it really engrossing and rewarding: my mind completely empties out, and there's only the art in front of me," she said. "I usually paint in Photoshop, using a Wacom tablet. Cleanup's a lot easier than real paint!"

Michele also is "big into video games" and has been playing them all of her life, she said. Right now, she plays "Overwatch" pretty regularly and mainly uses heroes D.Va, Rein, and Zen, but has not been able to put down Nintendo's "Zelda: Breath of the Wild" since it came out.

Benchmarks: What is your favorite saying or quote?

Michele: I try to remember this one when I’m attempting to solve design problems: “We need to fear the consequences of our work more than we love the cleverness of our own ideas.” — Mike Monteiro

About her smartphone, Michele said "I'm especially fond of Spotify," a digital music service that provides access to millions of songs and she tracks her jogging with RunDouble: C25K (couch to 5K) —"when I actually run," she said. For a book Michele "couldn't put down, she recommends Stephen King’s "The Running Man," and for web-related books, she highly recommends Steve Krug’s "Don’t Make Me Think" and Gerry McGovern’s "Killer Web Content." And, while I haven’t read everything there, she said, "I can confidently recommend anything from "A Book Apart."

 

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