Small Shop Blues: Technologies You Should Know

by Jim Heiney, Web/Exchange Administrator at Lock Haven University
on December 08, 2015

Once upon a time, I administered the web server. I made sure the services ran and the server was backed up, and I did the usual administrative tasks. Then, one day, someone said to me, “You run the web server, so you will be our web developer.” Poof! It was like magic.

Except it wasn’t. 

It turns out that what I was doing wasn’t even close to web development. When you’re in a small shop, however, you get the privilege of wearing a bunch of hats. If you are in the same situation or think you might be down the line, I’d like to give some advice on what skills to focus on in order to better support OU Campus™ and your users. I’ve been piecing it together for a while and if I can save some poor soul the time, I’m more than happy to share.

html-css-blocksNot to state the obvious, but you should know the basics. HTML and CSS are simply two things that you should be sound in. You don’t have to be an expert, but be comfortable using and spotting errors within them.

Next up are JavaScript and jQuery. Nowadays, JavaScript pretty much falls under web basics. It’s hard to find a site that doesn’t use it. While you’re at it, you might as well pick up jQuery as well. It can make things that would take an expert a while to figure out in JavaScript amazingly simple.

If your implementation uses a framework — OmniUpdate favors Bootstrap and Foundation — this is another thing that would be good to have working knowledge of. You may never have to change any of the code, but it will help you understand why you are seeing certain CSS classes and IDs in your code.

Finally, we come to XML and XSL. Just to clarify, XML is a markup language and XSL is a family of languages that transforms the XML into the pages you see on your website (aka: your production server). These are the engines that drive your OU Campus implementation. If you want to do any customization behind the scenes, you should get cozy with these two. You can do this on your own, but I also highly recommend attending the annual OmniUpdate User Training Conference, where they offer a series of hands-on workshops for beginners to advanced users, including workshops on utilizing XML/XSL alongside OU Campus. I’ve taken the beginner workshop and it was well worth the time.

There are other advanced candidates out there (SASS, LESS, and XSL-FO, to name a few), but the techs I mentioned should be enough to keep you occupied for a while. It might seem like a lot of information to take in if you’re new to the game, but it’s time well spent and you should at least be able to get familiar with it all in a few months. Take note: if you want to do development, you’ll need a little more work with the various technologies.

Here are some resources to get you started:

  • Codeacademy.com is a good place to get comfy with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • W3schools has primers on the same and some jQuery as well.
  • Finally, for XML and XSL, I recommend OmniUpdate’s own Yves Lempereur’s excellent insights.

 About the Blogger

jim-heineyJim Heiney is the web/exchange administrator for Lock Haven University (LHU). He’s been at LHU for more than 15 years and is still amazed at how much more there is to learn (and he willingly accepts that fact) for those who work with technology. His philosophy of “never stop learning” has led him from English teacher to IT guy with a few other odd stops along the way. When not at work, he can usually be found at home with his family. In his spare time, he can be found writing, drawing, or playing the occasional computer game.

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