Episode 261  on April 23, 2018Behind the Screens

Behind the Screens with Kat Armstrong

First time DrupalCon attendee Kat Armstrong tells us about her first DrupalCon experience, how she's managing multiple web properties for Maricopa Community Colleges, and why she became a vegan.

Transcript

Chris:
On this episode, I'm going behind the screens with Katherine Armstrong here at DrupalCon Nashville. Katherine, you're the project manager for Maricopa Community Colleges. So introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do.
Kat:
I work at one of the largest community college systems in the country in Phoenix, Arizona. I'm a project manager in our central IT office. So we support all 10 colleges in the system. I've been working on Drupal projects for about three or four years. It's my first DrupalCon. It's just been really exciting to take all the terminology and concepts that I've heard for the last few years and actually get some more concrete understanding behind them. I went to the site builder training the first day and so that was amazing to finally get some hands-on experience and make those concepts and terms a lot more concrete.
Chris:
Excellent. So wow, 10 different colleges that you work with in Maricopa County. As the project manager, how is Drupal working? How are you working with Drupal, but how does Drupal fit into 10 different projects? How do manage all of those together?
Kat:
It's quite complicated because we have a complicated organization. The autonomy between some of the colleges and the district is in flux. So some colleges have some of their own support teams, but there's been a move recently to centralize some of that. So we have colleges who have websites that are on WordPress and SharePoint, and we're trying to bring them into Drupal and also update. We just went through, last fall we went through a big update of our main website, bringing it from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 along with the redesign.
Chris:
Oh wow.
Kat:
So that was pretty exciting. Now if you go to maricopa.edu, you see our new Drupal 8 site.
Chris:
Aha. So there's a maricopa.edu that is sort of the central place to go that has resources out to each of the other colleges. And now you're trying to bring some of those colleges, pieces of those in as a centralized system?
Kat:
Yeah. So we think of that as our marketing site, more for prospective students, prospective employees and the community. The next phase of the project will likely be working on the marketing sites for the colleges and then also figuring out where we put the content for current students and current employees, trying to make it more of an audience-specific approach.
Chris:
We're seeing a lot more of that with higher ed. Lots of universities, big universities down to the community college level all having these same strategies or these things they want to implement to simplify things, to simplify searching for information and getting stuff out for students. Have you had any experience with any other colleges or while you're here at DrupalCon, talking to anyone else from the higher ed realm?
Kat:
Yeah. I used to work at Arizona State University, where that's definitely a popular model and talked to somebody from Ohio State too. I think and I went to a couple sessions on really thinking about putting the user first and making it easier for them. Those have really been my favorite sessions so far because I think that's key in our success as a support structure for the colleges we serve is to put students first and to make sure that everything we do is to make life easier for them, make sure they're not spending all their time trying to pay their bills and trying to figure out how to sign up for classes. That's time they could be studying or figuring out what they do want to do as a career. It's definitely an important thought that we all need to keep in the forefront of our minds as we plan these projects. I think higher ed's starting to realize that.
Chris:
I definitely have seen that trend. So you said you've been in Drupal for a few years now. This is your first DrupalCon. So what have you done here at DrupalCon and how has that experience been for you?
Kat:
It's been fantastic so far. I've been really impressed with the quality of the sessions. I think I saw in the brochure that there's a large number of people that applied to have these sessions, and the Drupal team really was pretty selective in what they chose to actually present. I think that's great because you do get people who are really excited about what they're doing, and like I said, the quality of everything I've been to, unless there's been something that's been a little over my head, all of the sessions have been fantastic. Some of my favorites have been the ambitious experience platform. I think I'm missing a word there. Not thinking of things so much as a website but thinking of it as an entire experience and platform that meets all the user's needs with all the different devices they're using, which is definitely very ambitious for our organization and any organization, but it's great to see the direction these things are going.
Another great session that I went to this morning was on incorporating users into usability testing, I should say it was on, and how it's actually really simple to do. The presenter gave some really great guidelines for doing that. Get eight to 10 users if you can and come up with 10 to 12 simple scenarios for them to run through and then watch where they struggle. Just give them up to three minutes for each of those scenarios. She even had this great way of grading how they did, so you can know where to spend your time. That's something I would love to see us do more of.
And then finally, went to a great session on leadership and teamwork yesterday. It was a three hour session. The thing I really liked about that is it wasn't just here are the things you need to do to be a great leader or a great follower or a great team member. It was here are qualities of great leaders and what does it mean to you and really getting you to think about those things. So rather than giving you the answer, it was really a guided discussion through thinking about your own beliefs and what the research has shown works well.
Chris:
More like starting from the why instead of from the what at the end but really getting at the core of it.
Kat:
Exactly.
Chris:
That's excellent. So this is your first time being immersed in this depth of Drupal culture, and it can be overwhelming at times. So we're here on Wednesday. You've had a few days to acclimate to it. Tell me about your experience actually just being around this much Drupal all at once. How does that feel?
Kat:
It's definitely a lot of Drupal, a lot of really smart people who can have a lot of technical skills that are far above and beyond me. Everybody's been really nice and friendly. I definitely get the vibe of inclusion and people are very welcoming, so I really do appreciate that. Went to some of the social events. Sang some "Sweet Caroline" karaoke with some of my colleagues at an event last night, so it's been fun too, which is nice. It's nice to go to a conference and actually have fun.
Chris:
That's wonderful. If you could give a piece of advice to somebody who is maybe on the fence about whether they want to go or not, what would you recommend for them?
Kat:
Without knowing the specifics of what that person's situation is, I would say that I feel like I've definitely gotten a lot out of it, both from a very technical, how I can make my projects better and structure them differently to also where are the trends going and what's the latest research showing to even just some soft skill stuff that never goes out of style. So I guess my tip would be if you do go, if that's the right thing for you, get to meet some people and find people who are doing similar work to you or maybe work you aspire to because there's a lot of amazing people here who are doing some great things and it's a great opportunity to take advantage of that.
Chris:
That's an excellent answer. I realized that's sort of a soft question when I put it out there, but you totally filled that in for me and saved it. That was great.
Kat:
Thank you.
Chris:
If you were told that the conference was ending right now and you had time for one more session, what's that one piece you're still waiting to get your hands on?
Kat:
That's a hard one because I've got sessions on the brain that I'm like but I really want to go to that one. I also feel like at the same time, I've gone to so many great sessions already that if it did end today, I would be pretty fulfilled. I would say even though I'm a project manager, I haven't actually spent too much time going to the project management ones. I've been to other project management trainings in the past, and so I pushed myself this time more toward the Drupal trainings or website-specific trainings. But I would like to go to and see specifically what the Drupal community has to say about project management. So I think one I'm planning to go to tomorrow is how do you find your place in the Drupal community as a project manager? So that would probably be the next on my list if I only had one more session.
Chris:
I was actually going to recommend that one to you because I think that one's being administered by a project manager at Lullabot, Darren Petersen and he's a fantastic project manager. I definitely would recommend that one if you could get one last one in before it ends.
Kat:
Good to know.
Chris:
We'll flip it a little bit from the technology. If you woke up tomorrow, and let's just say the internet was gone. There are no more 10 colleges to try and hook together or no more brochure site, what would you be doing with your time?
Kat:
I am an anti-speciesist vegan. I believe that animals are beings who are not objects, and they feel pain, joy and suffering just like we do, and 70 billion animals are killed each year for our use, so I would probably go into full-time, be an activist full time if I could for the animals.
Chris:
Wow. That's a first I've heard that answer, but that's an excellent answer. I love how you can tell when people's passion comes out. That's very cool. Is there anything or any particular websites or areas of interest that you hang out in? Have you met up with anyone else in the community who shares that interest?
Kat:
I would love to meet some other people in the community who share that interest. I'm actually fairly new to the community, but one of my favorite websites is climatehealers.org. There's so many reasons to become a vegan, from not only ethical reasons but also environmental and health reasons. So I encourage people to ... There's so many resources out there, but that's one of my favorites.
Chris:
Excellent. All right. So let's wrap it up with if you could share some gratitude or some thanks with somebody who maybe gave you a little push along the way or some help somewhere. It could be a presentation you heard that was really inspiring. Is there anyone you'd like to share some thanks or gratitude with?
Kat:
Yeah. So I've got to do a shout out to one of my favorite team members, who has been my partner in crime throughout this whole DrupalCon. Last year was her first year, and so she really encouraged me to go. She even helped me fill out all the paperwork at our company to come and suggested the site builder training. We've gone to a lot of presentations together. So shout out to Amy Somma, my favorite business systems analyst who's really made this a great DrupalCon experience for me.
Chris:
Wow. That's a great answer and another first because the person you're thanking is actually sitting right across from us right now.
Kat:
Yay, Amy.
Chris:
That was wonderful. Kat, thanks for taking a few minutes. It's been really great to get to know your first experience at DrupalCon and hear what's going on down there. So good luck with all that.
Kat:
My pleasure, Chris. Thank you.
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