JOB: Since arriving on campus in 1996, Steve Miller’s been a full-time research programmer, better known as the campus Web administrator or the campus webmaster. His position is half-time in the campus Computing and Communications Services Office (CCSO) and also half time in the Office of the Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs.
What do you do as Web administrator?
I’m responsible for the upper-level Web pages on this campus’s Web site, [www.uiuc.edu]. My job is to help make our Web site easy to navigate for both on-campus users and those from around the world. I consult on campus Web-technology issues and also help some organizations manage their sites.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
It’s an ongoing challenge to keep all the main campus Web pages and their links accurate and organized in a way so that all types of users can find the information they’re looking for. Campus organizations, units and programs are always changing, both in title and Web site location, so the main campus Web pages that link to them also must change. There are nearly 1,000 units and programs to keep track of. And unlike a printed directory, Web pages are expected to be accurate all the time. Keeping up-to-date on Web-related technologies is also a major challenge. So I do a lot of reading, review other sites – both academic and commercial – and talk with other webmasters to stay abreast of the technology.
What got you interested in computers and Web administration?
Just before I retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1995 as a Major in communications and computing management, I saw a co-worker’s computer running an early version of the NCSA [National Center for Supercomputing Applications] Web browser "Mosaic." Part of my job at the time was to deploy photojournalism and photographic crews to cover military events around the world. The Web seemed like a good way to publish our stories and photos for internal use. Several months later I demonstrated the technology to Air Force leadership in the Pentagon which helped initiate the Air Force’s first experimental Web site. After leaving the Air Force, I entered a PhD program at Southern Illinois [University] and ran their main Web site as a grad student. When the UI public affairs office and CCSO created a full-time Web administrator position I applied and was selected.
Are you working on any special projects?
The campus Web is exciting to me because it has so many powerful problem-solving uses. We always have new projects under development. We’re building virtual campus tours that include 360 degree panoramic views from points all around campus. We’ve taken thousands of digital photographs so far to construct the site. We’re also building three-dimensional views of campus for a set of Web-based interactive campus maps. We’re finishing up a Web site on the history of the university that contains high-resolution archival photographs showing the first campus buildings and influential people through the present.
What is your educational background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in art and design from Southern Illinois University [at Carbondale] and a master’s degree in human resource development from Webster University in St. Louis. I completed one year of studies toward a doctorate in education from SIU. Like many other webmasters, I’m self-taught, because there hasn’t been much in the way of formal training until fairly recently. Now there are many courses on campus that cover the software applications and programming skills that webmasters often need.
Do you ever get any strange or funny e-mail messages from people who have hit on the UI’s Web page?
At first I thought they were strange but now I’ve come to expect the unexpected. Some days there are over a 100 e-mail messages to the webmaster. I get the standard requests from parents wanting to know more about the UI at one end of the spectrum to foreign grade-school students requesting obscure facts about certain types of dinosaurs. (The UI hosts a great site about dinosaurs, by the way). Another e-mail asked for advice on treating an ill horse. And of course we have one of the best Vet Med schools in the country which I forward e-mail to. If it’s something I know about or can find the answer I’ll try to help them. But most e-mail is forwarded to the appropriate department.
You said you retired from the Air Force. What was your job in the military?
I had several jobs because they tend to expect people to have a broad range of experiences. In additional to journalism and photography management, I helped produce a monthly 30-minute film and video program of Air Force activities around the world to show the troops the diverse missions of the Air Force. I also managed nuclear missile crews on alert in underground silos in Little Rock, Ark., and Wichita, Kan. I’ve lived in nine different states and four foreign countries and have traveled through many of the countries in the free world, including the South Pole.
What are your interests outside of work?
I have a pilot’s license and have flown down to the Bahamas and Mexico many times on vacations. My 17-year-old daughter and I love to scuba dive the Florida Keys and Catalina Island off California. We hope to dive the Great Barrier Reef in Australia soon. We also water ski Clinton Lake in the summer and just snow skied near Galena.