During my two-and-a-half years at the Victoria and Albert Museum, I was promoted twice, first from Web Content Manager to Web Developer, and then up to Web Technical Manager, the most senior technical web position in the museum. As a result I gained a broad experience of managing a large corporate website, from content creation to the subtleties of XSL. Highlights include the following:
When I became Web Developer, the code used to produce the V&A's website was in a terrible state. Most pages had upwards of 150 errors that would cause W3C validation to fail, and the site failed to meet even the most basic accessibility requirements. I commissioned completely new HTML templates for the site, working closely with the designers to produce code that could be broken down into building blocks that would fit into the data model used in the museum's CMS, Rhythmyx.
Once the designers had finished building a compliant site, I recoded over 250 XSL templates in Rhythmyx to ensure that the code produced by the CMS was standards-compliant. Once that was done, I went through all Level A and AA accessibility requirements, and made sure that either the V&A website met them, or we had a plan in place to work towards meeting them.
Not only was the site's code a mess, but I also inherited a content management system that was in disarray, even though it had only been bought recently. The system – based on Rhythmyx from Percussion Software – had been customised to such an extent that nobody in the museum understood how it worked. The result was that when things went wrong, there were no in-house skills to call on, and attempts to fix things normally made it worse. This didn't prevent the site relaunching with a new design and CMS in , but it did mean the relaunch brought a whole host of new problems, not least the unreliability of the new CMS.
I went on a Rhythmyx training course and read all the documentation that came with the CMS, and then I went through every aspect of the system to ensure that not only did I understand how it worked, but that it was set up properly. I completely revamped the system's workflows, menu structures, user roles, naming conventions, content editors and page templates, and over the course of a year I transformed the system from problem child to functional system.
I developed and maintained a number of web applications at the V&A, particularly in Perl, PHP, and MySQL. Highlights include:
The museum's Perl-based events calendar, which interfaces with an Oracle database that takes its data from the museum's booking system, Vista. Not only did I extend its functionality considerably, but I also recoded the application's template system to make the calendar accessible.
An application to enable visitors to upload their pictures to the V&A website; a good example is the Share Your Knitting section of the site. The backend to this PHP-based system was developed by a third party, but I had to persuade our CMS to publish a PHP front-end, which is what you see when you look at the application on the website.
Web 2.0 Technologies
During the last six months of my employment, I introduced a number of Web 2.0 technologies to the website, including podcasts, RSS feeds and artist blogs.
The V&A uses Linux/Apache serve the website, and Windows servers for running Rhythmyx. I trained in Apache administration and worked with the system administrator to maintain the performance of the servers while visitor traffic to the website trebled in just two years.
Web Project Management
I managed a number of web projects from inception to completion, including the production of the Christopher Dresser exhibition microsite and the Ceramic Points of View site. The latter involved 60 videos and transcripts, each of them streamed via QuickTime from an Akamai streaming server.
When I became Web Technical Manager, I inherited a web stats package that was on its last legs; it could no longer cope with the size of log file being produced by the V&A web servers. To solve this problem, I bought a new server and installed WebTrends on it, pointing it to the log store on our Linux server, to which WebTrends connected via Samba. I set up profiles for each of the six web servers in the V&A server farm and collated the statistics monthly, ready to report to the DCMS every year.