As stated in the French version of this page, the first and foremost requirement of the informatics expert of the GAC-EPA is to be fluent in English. This is necessary not only to understand the programming, but also because all the documentation, the naming schemes and the comments inside the code are exclusively in English. A rationale is given below.
There is also some fun! (see end of page)
- keep the site up-to-date (bulletins, announcements, calendar, tributes, documents, …)
- administer the access accounts of the committee members (e-mail, forum, wiki, data base, CERN/HR documents, …)
- provide a sub-site for the committee only (meeting minutes, data base of presences).
- maintain the data base of GAC-EPA members (not the data but the programming, forms, tables, backups, …)
- send newsletters to the members
- interface with the hosting service (Infomaniak S.A. in Geneva)
- prepare the presentations of the Committee at the Annual General Meetings so they are both usable on stage and available on the site at the same time.
- help committee members with informatics problems.
- relatively fast internet access from home (uploading of files of 1 to 10MB should not give a problem)
- a computer with the necessary tools (text editor, ftp client, e-mail client, web browser, remote screen access)
- preferably, but not necessarily, the home computer should also run a local web server, MySQL installation etc. so that tests can be performed off-line
- HTML, CSS, SVG and the W3C standards.
- SQL and MySQL data bases (but nothing very advanced)
- ftp basics
As with all organisations of volunteers, simplicity in operation is the most important pillar of success. The webmaster's job is not a full-time occupation: one forgets details quickly, so a minimalistic approach is the most robust. I have tried to apply this underlying principle of utmost simplicity to everything the webmaster does.
A second principle is to make all electronic documents future-proof. That means not using any proprietary formats (i.e. no "Word" or "Excel" documents, no videos in funny formats; images must be in jpeg and vector graphics in SVG, the rest is HTML or simple text where possible.) This concern with a long-term operation is also the reason for trying to work as much as possible by function and not by person.
Last but not least, make information as accessible as possible: content should be searchable (i.e. retype a table in HTML form rather than publishing an image of it)
- the website is a static site: there is no CMS (Content Management System), pages are edited as simple UTF-8 text (though I did use a marvellous site maintenance tool called Golive, which unfortunately is now defunct and sadly there is no adequate replacement, hence the fallback on a text editor)
- all naming schemes are uniquely in English. This guarantees that there are no problems with accented characters in file names, variable names, references, etc. Likewise all documentation, program comments, design graphics, etc. are in English only.
- electronic communication within the committee should preferably go through a Forum rather than by e-mail. E-mail is repetitive, not suited for collaborative work, and difficult to archive. It is also not suited for passing on documents to a successor.
- the tools are open-source where possible, and the site is independent of CERN or any third-party (social network sites such as FaceBook). It is hosted on Infomaniak, a local Swiss hosting company (but the use of open-source tools and simple web technologies ensure that the entire system could be moved to a different host easily, or even be hosted on a machine belonging to the GAC-EPA).
- ISO formats are used throughout.
Keeping things under control in an environment where the group undergoes frequent changes is not free of problems. Each year there are elections to the committee, and while the changes are not drastic, the new committee members have to be given access, be taught some of the tools, and maybe be helped in other ways.
Tools also change over time: the SQL functions of php have changed, the old versions been deprecated, so that the forms to access the member data base have to be adapted.
Printed documents are not following the same rhetoric as web-based ones: each bulletin not only has to be extracted from the code for the printed version, but some sentences have to be changed, or replaced by links. Keeping links to external resources up to date is another task that is infrequent but important.
Is there fun in this job? Yes: for one thing, you will keep up your skills in programming and computing. But there is a lot of creative work too: designing the site, its appearance (interesting, when using CSS) and its operation. There is satisfaction in building an operational system that people like and use. Finally, the webmaster is a permanent expert, invited to all the GAC-EPA meetings, which are an interesting and timely source of information about the CERN Pension Fund and Health Insurance Scheme as well as other items.
So why do I want a successor? After twenty years it is time to move on, and get a new person in. I will still be there for questions, and I will certainly support the new person until he/she is completely autonomous.