In late October, the Web Professionals group officially relaunched with its first meeting since early 2020. The virtual town hall attracted 50 attendees from across campus.
Rachell Underhill, director of web and information systems for The Graduate School, is one of the organizers working to relaunch the group. “Once we get up and running again,” she said, “I hope this organization will begin to develop its own self-sustaining energy, similar to what we had pre-hiatus. We are supported entirely by the collective efforts of our dedicated members.”
Organizers are Underhill and three ITS employees, Paul Cardillo, support developer, and Gia Branciforte, front-end web developer, both of ITS Digital Services; and Daniel Reeves, ResNET program assistant director for digital services.
Web Professionals is open to any member of the Carolina community who creates or contributes to Carolina’s web presence. The “vibrant” group, Reeves said, “serves as a resource and community for campus for all things web related.”
Historically, Web Professionals “has been a great resource in finding solutions to problems, navigating the University’s systems and resources, learning about professional development opportunities and networking with colleagues,” Branciforte said.
The group is not officially affiliated with any department or campus unit, including ITS.
Even though the group went several years without a formal meeting, it maintained a website and Microsoft Team of more than 200 members. During the hiatus, members have used the Team to informally gather, ask questions and share learning opportunities.
Long history at Carolina
The history of Web Professionals is intertwined with the history of Carolina’s web presence. “This group has a long history at UNC,” Underhill said. “I have no doubt it will be around for a long time to come.”
The roots of Web Professionals, just like Carolina’s earliest websites, date to the early 1990s. The group’s first iteration was as the Gopher Herd, referencing the protocol Gopher, widely regarded as the precursor to the world wide web. Sometime after the move away from Gopher, the group renamed itself the Web Walkers. Another iteration, Campus Webmasters, followed.
In 2020, the group changed its name again to Web Professionals. The group intended that the name reflect the group’s breadth, encompassing developers to designers to content administrators.
Expanding membership and community
One of the first goals for the group is to expand the membership, especially to those who are new to Carolina or whose roles have changed since the pandemic. “I know there are a lot of new people who have joined the University since we went on hiatus,” Underhill said.
During the meeting, each organizer underscored the “big tent” approach for the group.
The group is open to “anyone who has interest in the web or whose responsibilities are related to the web in any way,” Reeves said.
“We really welcome everyone,” Branciforte added. “We have folks from communications and marketing positions, IT positions, designers and managers. I want to create a space where people from across campus can learn new things, float ideas, troubleshoot issues and find a professional community,” she said.
“I’ve built valuable professional networks and friendships with the folks I’ve met in these meetings over the years,” Underhill said. It can be tempting, she said, to stay in your own bubble. “These gatherings gave me chance to feel less isolated.”
Reflecting the diversity of membership, learning and skill-up opportunities have historically included a wide variety of topics, both technical and non-technical.
In the past, the group met regularly to network and share information. Meetings often featured a mix of activities, including guest speakers, presentations, discussion, knowledge sharing and learning opportunities.
Many topics were not ones strictly around web development or design. Past meetings included project management, digital accessibility and Adobe tools. The website includes an archive of past meeting recordings and meeting notes.
One of Reeves’ goals for the relaunched group is to be proactive and solicit ideas for presentation content.
Presentations don’t just give an opportunity to learn from others, they also give presenters the opportunity to learn and grow.
“This community gave me a chance to deliver some of my first technical presentations in a safe, friendly environment,” Underhill said. “It’s a great place to get started presenting, especially if you are not naturally comfortable in front of an audience.”
Future meetups may involve learning and networking opportunities with other groups on campus, including Digital Accessibility Liaisons and the newly formed 542 Club for visual and graphic designers on campus.