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Former Archaeologist Discovers New Dig as Web Developer

by Kristyn Back

It’s not every day that you meet an archaeologist turned web developer, but recent Tech Talent South graduate Alison Hight is as unique as her excavation artifacts. Her toolbelt consists of digital archaeology, design, and web development which she hopes to utilize in her next role. She may have the attributes you’re hoping to find – so get to digging.

What program did you just complete?
Tech Talent South’s Code Immersion Program.

What did you build during your time in the course?
Within the context of the course, we built a number of web applications with Ruby on Rails, including a Marta app, a ‘Contact Book’ app and Twitter and Reddit clones. In my time outside of class, I would build on my apps by improving their interface with AJAX, adding embedded videos, or simply improving the styling.

I would also often recreate the apps from scratch with a number of changes or with elements from other projects. My final project was a mapping application using the MapBox API, inspired by my former work as an archaeologist and digital cartographer. With more established, non-web-based mapping software, it is possible to create custom borders within the map frame, adding transparent layers in your custom shape over the map which you can then turn on and off. This is something I attempted to recreate with my final project. While I did not bring my full vision to completion before the end of class, I am still working on making it a great (and useful) free web-based tool.

What other past tech/creative projects have you worked on?
As an archaeologist, art historian and 3D modeller interested in technology, I’ve worked on a number. For the past several years I’ve been working as the field photogrammetrist for four different archaeological digs around the Mediterranean (Selinunte, IT; Samothrace, GR; Thebes, GR; Vjose River Valley, AL), creating geographically accurate, scaled and textured 3D models of trenches and artifacts using photographs.

Additionally, I recently worked with Emory’s Michael C. Carlos Museum to help restore an important classical vase using 3D printing. I laser-scanned the fragments, aligned them in a 3D modelling program, then printed a model of the completed form on a 3D printer for the conservators to use as a guide to piece the vase back together. I also enjoy playing around with drones and Unity (a game development software that integrates C#, 3D modelling, audio, and mapping). I’ve worked on projects using both while I was employed at the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship.

What are your best technical or creative skills?
Prior to jumping into TTS’s Ruby course, I had a background in archaeology, web and print design, social content strategy, product photography, 3D modelling, digital cartography and game development. With a background as crazy and diverse as mine, I think my best skill would have to be the ability to pick-up new skills quickly. I’m always looking to build on my old skills and learn new things every day. I love it when employers throw new tasks at me that require learning a whole new software or skill set. My favorite previous jobs have all involved my supervisors coming to me with new projects and telling me to ‘figure it out.’ I’m on it, y’all. That being said, I love working in front-end design and am building on my skills every day. Good design holds a very important place in my heart. It led me to get my bachelor’s in art history, and to attend graduate school in the same field – let’s talk balanced composition and color theory!

What’s next on your list to learn?
JavaScript. Tech Talent South’s course covered a little JS, and I had a smattering from my time in game dev, but my final project with mapping has required much and more. I have taught myself some AJAX by building on to a few of our class projects, a task that has been both challenging and rewarding. I’m continuing to teach myself JS as I move forward with my mapping application, and as I move forward with front-end development. I really want to master the ins and outs of JS before moving on to anything else so I can really master any future mapping applications with ease.

What tech/tools are essential to you?

An Ode to my Wireless External Mouse:
There once was a girl with her mouse
Without which she would not leave the house
She forgot it one day
And that day was so gray
The girl wept for lack of an external mouse!

No, but seriously, Google, StackOverflow, and clear documentation are everything.

How do you stay informed & on top of emerging trends?
Hype, obviously! In addition, I read Reddit every day; r/webdev, r/futurology, r/programming, and other pertinent subreddits. All the articles from the big blogs end up there.

What’s your ideal internship/job?
My ideal job would utilize some, if not all, of my pre-existing skills, rather than pin me into a cut-and-dried junior dev role. I would love the opportunity to build on my code skills that I picked up at TTS and learn and grow in a new professional environment, but my ideal job would also utilize my background as a digital archaeologist and designer to begin adding value to the company right from the start.

Interested in working for a startup, mid-sized company, or a corporate giant?
I think all of the above would be great learning experiences for me. While I would certainly not turn down an offer from a corporate giant, assuming it offered more training, mentoring opportunities and room for advancement, I think I would much rather stick to working with small to medium-sized companies. I have a wide range of skills that could be really useful to a start-up or small company, where everyone does a bit of everything. I really enjoy the challenge of start-ups and the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of building something great.

Post graduation plans?
I’m out on the job market. Until I get picked up by a great company, I’ll be spending my time working on my personal website and finishing up a few other outlying freelance projects.

When are you available to start?
Right. This. Minute. However, I have had interviews with, and inquiries from, a few great companies already so that may change soon.

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