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ATS Unpacked: Why I love my job and you might, too

“Academic Technology Specialist” is one of the most generic titles I’ve ever held — it’s hard to guess whether the position answers LMS help tickets, digitizes media, updates webpages, runs workshops, or any of a hundred other things that fall broadly under “academic technology”. It’s easy for such a position to escape attention — especially from people who aren’t actively looking for jobs (as I wasn’t a year ago). After nearly six months in this role, I’d like to unpack what being an “ATS” has meant for me, and why the currently-listed History ATS position might be worth considering even if you’re not otherwise looking for a new job.

"Difficulty manatees" after the swan song

It’s once again the season for the “DH Awards”, an international DH-themed popularity contest with an award category for “best exploration of DH failure” that debuted in 2014, the year “What Ever Happened to Project Bamboo?” was published. Alas, that year I lost to Melissa Terras’s “Reuse of Digitized Content”, and I haven’t had anything worth nominating in that category since.

This year, I decided to revisit and submit my keynote from last year’s “On the Benefits of Failure” symposium at the University of Alberta, recently made available through their digital repository

Truth be told, I hate watching videos. I also never write out my talks in advance, so I have nothing written to draw upon, beyond my slides. A text version, then, was only possible as a derivative. I ran the video through YouTube’s auto-captioning, cleaned up the transcript, and did a light edit before posting the text on my website.

Introducing "Digital Humanities Across Borders"

“Digital Humanities Across Borders” (DLCL 204, cross-listed with Comp Lit and English) kicked off last week. As of today, there are seven registered students and three intrepid auditors (including two area studies librarian colleagues). 

The Digital Humanities Summer Institute workshops I’ve taught before have a similar number of classroom hours, but packing them into a single week produces a very different dynamic. My DHSI classes focused on one specific, technical topic (Drupal for DH projects), which led to a very different experience of both class preparation and teaching. When it comes to building Drupal sites, there’s a clear set of sequential steps. There’s a set of functionality that are relevant for most humanists, and that’s what we cover. In the afternoons, the students work on their own projects, because we only have five days to build something and giving homework isn’t particularly feasible. I wrote all the course materials and came up with the pacing for the syllabus myself, but it wasn’t difficult to make it all fall into place.

My first quarter at Stanford (DLCL ATS round-up, fall 2018)

The “Academic Technology Specialist” (ATS) role at Stanford follows an unusual model for a DH alt-ac job. These positions are jointly funded by Stanford Libraries and a department, and while ATSes report administratively through the library, they typically have their office in the department, and spend most of their time working with scholars there. As an ATS, your assignment is straightforward but expansive: support your department in whatever way you can. The job description has a laundry list of expertise that one should have, but in practice, what you work on is shaped by your actual expertise and interests.

With an eye towards making the reality of the ATS position more comprehensible to both local colleagues and others who might join the organization in the future (since I didn’t have a clear picture of the job when I started, to say nothing of when I applied for the position), here’s what I’ve ended up doing my first quarter here.

Existing projects

Projects built on content management systems need care and feeding, and my predecessor, Mike Widner, built a lot of Drupal-based sites. Some of them were hacked during the interim between his departure and my arrival, and were infected with javascript that uses visitors’ computers to mine cryptocurrency. Others were hacked and tampered with, in ways that didn’t come to light until I tried to do something with them.