Staying on Top of the Tech that Helps Schools Navigate the New Constant Change

You’re one of the most senior members of the entire North Star team, Ryan, and I’m always amazed at what a great listener you are in meetings and conversation! You’ve got such a wealth of knowledge and experience to speak from but you’re exceptional at hearing what others bring to the table. You and your development team tackle the most technical challenges our team and our clients face with a lot of enthusiasm and grace. Thank you for all your service at North Star! I know the last year has been full of changes for us all. What stands out to you when you look back on your 18th year with us?

Ryan: One of the most significant things from our development department in the last year has been a pivot from completely custom website development projects to more projects in our new tiered offering. Traditionally, we approached everything as a unique problem to solve for each client. However, we recognized that we were often doing many of the same things, perhaps slightly differently, for so many of our projects — especially websites for our education clients.

We are now creating our own library of solutions for things like a website’s main navigation, directories, and mobile expressions that we can rapidly deploy and develop or customize at that point. The ways we are able to save time, cost, and efficiencies by going this route are providing value for the client and freeing our team up to concentrate where they need to have that unique problem-solving development work done. 

How has the nature of your work changed as a result of COVID-19?

Ryan: When coronavirus first hit there was a huge need for clients to get their message out quickly — what they are doing as a school, and why. The environment they are in is still changing rapidly. Quite a bit of website support we dealt with early on was getting that messaging on their site, using plugins and other agile solutions. This situation has made it clear how everyone needs a disaster or crisis management plan. Part of that plan should include how you get your message out and use your platform and website to do it. 

Our team has always been fairly remote anyway, but I do miss the office interaction. All of us are local and we’ve missed working in the office. But it has been nice to see the products we’re creating with campaign funnels. Our development team has been contributing to those campaigns for implementation and automation of leads as they come in through Unbounce, WordPress, and elsewhere. We’re working out a method for automating those leads into the results dashboard statistics so clients have a clearer sense of what’s working.

What are you excited about next?

Ryan: I’ve always enjoyed learning and staying up to speed. Development is constantly changing — there’s something new to explore every day. One of the challenges, really, is trying to filter out what is going to stick in the long term from all the new things that crop up. For me personally, one of the big areas to focus has been helping with online marketing needs at North Star. I’m looking forward to further refinements of the scorecard our clients look at each month and helping bring more clarity around how our work is affecting results for our clients. The technology available can help us do that better, but it involves learning new tools, like Google Data Studio, for example or visual recording tools that can aggregate analytics or performance stats from a platform like Facebook. 

That’s one area I’m excited to keep learning in. Another is staying on top of new ways development can both create products and support the offerings North Star already has. So often, development or tech can make something better or more efficient. There are a lot of changes in development work right now. We are deeply invested in WordPress and there are good things rolling out all the time, like the new Gutenberg editor. There has also been a big shift in the languages that are used in development work. Much of what used to be back-end development has shifted to the front end as everyone keeps looking for ways to make things more responsive and easier for the end user. 

How about on the personal side? Anything you’re looking forward to on the horizon?

Ryan: My wife Sara and I have been really hoping to pursue opportunities with foster care. That’s probably the biggest thing in our house. We had the opportunity to have a newborn baby girl in our home earlier this year through a process called Kinship Care, which is a step before foster care. We had been interested in fostering and adopting before and this gave us an insight into the process and what it would be like. Sara was adopted so the opportunity has a special place in our hearts.

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