Welcome to our first Developer Chat! Carleton’s Web Services is at the forefront of new and emerging web technologies, and Mike Corkum is helping to lead the way. He sat down with Chris Cline, ITS’s Communications Specialist, to talk about all of the amazing new web technologies Web Services is bringing to Carleton.

Mike Corkum

Mike Corkum

CC: What is your role in Web Services and what kinds of tools do you use to do your job?

MC: I’m the Senior Web Developer at in Web Services. I would say my role is fairly spread out. I have a lot of institutional knowledge and lots of experience with our legacy systems. Right now I’m helping to build the back ends of the of our up-and-coming projects, taking care of the infrastructure, the local development environments, and the WordPress side of things. WordPress and Laravel are the main libraries that I use to do my job.

WordPress and Laravel are PHP libraries–they’re written in PHP, which is a common language in web development—and we’re building on top of them. Basically they’re the frameworks for what we build.

I also do quite a bit of dev ops.

CC: Can you define dev ops for our readers? 

MC: Dev ops stands for developer operations. Developers work to produce code on their local devices, but dev ops involve any number of things that happen to the code after its written. For example, how the code gets from your device to a server, how the code is committed, reviewed, tested, and deployed on that server, and how these servers are built, run, and maintained.

CC: What are some of the new technologies and features you’re bringing to the web at Carleton?

MC: RDS, or the Raven Design System, is a component library that Carleton web designers can use to build the front end of their websites. The idea behind it is that you can break websites into little blocks known as components. We’re making this huge library of all the different components that web designers at Carleton might need and making them available as a service for anyone making a Carleton website. The components will be mobile friendly, accessible, and follow Carleton’s brand. RDS will allow web designers at Carleton to put together a modern website within minutes.

RDS allows us to unify all of our web front ends. At the moment, a lot of our web pages are built in different themes, and RDS lets us to take any website and build it with the same framework on the front end, ensuring the same functionality and a similar look and feel. And it’s all powered by APIs.

CC: What are APIs, and how are they related to RDS?

MC: API is short for Application Programming Interface, which is a software intermediary that allows two applications to talk to each other. APIs are just a common ground for different applications to share information.

In RDS, APIs allow us to request data from certain data sets. When the application receives data from the API, we write logic into RDS to take that data and translate it into the components that can be built into a site.

Take campus buildings for example. Say you want your Carleton website to generate a list of campus buildings. Our API contains that list of buildings and the departments that are housed within them. By doing what is known as an API call, you can have your website a request that list of buildings and departments. You don’t need to manually add this information to your site, because RDS will take the data from the API and populate a component on your site containing our buildings and departments.

Together, RDS and APIs let Carleton web developers drop the components we design into their web sites and populate all kinds of different data from the API quickly and easily. It’s really amazing.

CC: What is cuTheme and why is it such a big deal?

MC: cuTheme is the latest version of our theme. A web theme is the customized look, feel and functionality of a website packaged together.

We started work on cuTheme after WordPress released its Gutenberg editor a few years back. Gutenberg is a block-based website editor, meaning each element of a page is portioned into blocks. For example, a news listing appears in one block, while a gallery of images appears in another. It allows people to go into their page, pick the blocks that they want to include, and they see their data rendered in real time as they edit. So what you see in your admin view is what you see on the front end of the website.

We’ve never really had that before in WordPress; it’s a complete user interface change with a much better editing experience.

We used to have two different themes called CMS and Framework. They had a somewhat similar look and feel, but slightly different functionalities.

Now, we’ve merged a lot of the functionality of CMS and Framework into cuTheme, along with a whole new look and feel. Gutenberg makes it a lot easier to develop new features, so we’ve been able to create a lot of amazing new functionality in cuTheme.

cuTheme will also deliver a smoother experience for our users with a much faster site speed. We’re super excited about it.

CC: Why is site speed important on the web?

MC: Nobody likes to go to a web page and wait! Site speed is important for so many reasons. It’s important to keep people coming to your website. It’s important for Google, because they measure how fast a page loads when deciding what pages to show in a search result. You always want your pages to load as fast as possible.

Carleton recruits students from countries all over the world, and some countries are still developing their internet infrastructures. If we can make our pages load faster on our end, they’ll load faster in these countries as well. So it’s very important for the university too.

CC: Where do you see Carleton’s web infrastructure in the next two years? What about in the next five years?

MC: In the next two or so years, I’d really like to see all the websites we manage running cuTheme, powered by this unified framework we’re building of RDS with an API backend. The work we’re doing right now will help us develop in a way that the community has never seen. In five years, I imagine we’ll be looking forward to what’s next and developing for new and emerging standards, continuing to move Carleton forward.