Meet Your Colleagues: USS Student Engineering Team
Author and technologist Akshat Paul described software development as “the process of shifting from chaotic complexity to elegant simplicity.”
Creating an elegant but practical piece of software is complicated. It’s also a study in contrasts — functionality (how well something works) versus usability (how easy it is to use); development backlogs versus resource restraints; and mobile-friendliness versus IT security controls.
Perhaps the only certainty in software development is that it’s “predictably unpredictable,” said Garth DeVries, manager for the Student Engineering Team in UIT’s University Support Services.
“Because the fiscal year ends in June, a lot of project requests for fall semester come from now (April) until then. We’re just entering the time frame when everything really stacks up for us,” DeVries said, noting that his team is juggling more than 30 projects. Despite some “aggressive schedules,” he said “our percentage is very high for hitting our target dates.”
Part of DeVries’ team develops, improves, and maintains student-facing technologies for campus partners like Academic Affairs, Admissions, the Academic Advising Center, Enrollment Management, the Office of Scholarships & Financial Aid, Student Affairs, and the Office of the Bursar in Financial Services.
“My job satisfaction comes from helping our partners succeed, whether that’s answering a question, troubleshooting a problem, or figuring out their particular configuration needs,” said Jeramy Berry, a principal software design engineer.
Student-facing technologies include MobileU, the Degree Audit Reporting System (DARS), and the Ad Astra room scheduling system — all of which are integrated with PeopleSoft, the platform behind many IT systems, software, and web applications used by U students.
PeopleSoft Campus Solutions, for example, helps manage the student life cycle, allowing students to build their own course calendars, check outstanding fees, and verify graduation requirements, among other things. It’s also used for recruiting, alumni relations, and donor activities, and helps faculty members schedule classes, automate course enrollment, and record grades.
“Basically, all requests that involve student data come through us,” DeVries said, adding that the U adheres to strict IT security policies that ensure restricted and sensitive data are securely created, processed, transmitted, and stored.
“As a manager, I’m very fortunate. I can turn these folks over to do their work and let the department run until they need me.”
– Garth DeVries, director, USS Student Engineering Team
Another part of the USS Student Engineering Team oversees Northstar, a student management system developed by the Utah System of Technical Colleges (UTech) to track student progress, attendance, and tuition for competency-based programs for seven of Utah’s eight technical colleges, as well as Salt Lake Community College’s School of Applied Technology and Technical Specialties. Northstar’s core purpose is to provide administrators, faculty, staff, and students with the data they need to meet various accreditation requirements.
“This team gets along really well,” DeVries said. “As a manager, I’m very fortunate. I can turn these folks over to do their work and let the department run until they need me. Everyone is quite competent, and staying on task is something this team does very well. There’s a tremendous amount of knowledge here, which is also extremely helpful.”
Though they like to keep a low profile, DeVries and his team have played an integral role in several high-profile projects. They were part of a major programming effort to launch an Admissions web application for students at the University of Utah Asia Campus, they helped create a new user interface for Campus Information Services (CIS), and they built a structured query language (SQL) statement for the PeopleSoft student database during development of the My Class Map wayfinding application.
Because students have come to expect a digital experience that matches what they use in their non-academic lives, DeVries said his team regularly works with UIT Content Management & Accessibility UI/UX designers and USS Quality Assurance staff to create a unified, user-friendly experience across all student systems.
“Though we’re constantly balancing the need to meet technology requirements with competing deadlines and priorities, ultimately, our job is to solve the practical problems faced by our students,” DeVries said.
Our monthly newsletter includes news from UIT and other campus/ University of Utah Health IT organizations, features about UIT employees, IT governance news, and various announcements and updates.