Q&A: Webmaster Sven Aas

Posted: February 6, 2007

Sven Aas started in his new post as Mount Holyoke's Web Team Lead on August 28, 2006. We checked in with him recently to see how he's settling in and what he's working on.

Q: What are your primary responsibilities as the College's Webmaster?

A: I am responsible for most of the software that runs on the College Web server. In particular I oversee the operation of the new content management system that was launched last June, shortly before my arrival here. There were some growing pains but it's gotten much better, though I still check the Web site at 6:30 every morning just to make sure everything is all right. During J-Term we upgraded the CMS software to a newer version, and we're in the process of migrating many more of our Web sites into the CMS, including all of the academic departments. Theresa Chamberland (Web developer at LITS) and a team of students are hard at work on this.

Q: Wow, that sounds like a lot. Are you involved with other projects as well?

A: Yes. We are enabling streaming video for College Web sites, which will give our users a more flexible way to share videos. Down the road we intend to use this technology to enable live broadcasts online.

I'm also working on a centralized solution for blogging and news feeds at Mount Holyoke. The first official College-hosted blog will be launching very soon. I'd love to see blogging and RSS become a bigger thing here. And I'm working on tools for the Senior Symposium registration process, the Pathways project (a four-year career curriculum being piloted at the CDC), and quite a few other things. I've even done a little work on ELLA (the College's electronic learning arena).

Q: Where did you work before coming to MHC?

A: I worked for HBO in New York City as a software engineer for the On Demand program. I was there for five years as a Java developer writing software for HBO's international ventures and for HBO On Demand. Before HBO I worked for a Web consulting company called Rare Medium, which built Web sites and Web applications for corporate and start-up clients.

Q: How does your work at MHC compare to work at HBO?

A: I got to work with great people at HBO, and I'm happy to report the same is true here at Mount Holyoke. I have greater responsibility in my new position, and I work with a larger variety of systems and technologies, but I find the environment less stressful. Part of that is just being out of the city, but part of it is also the move from a corporate to an academic environment. In the business world the financial stakes are high when new services and applications launch, and whenever problems occur. In the academic world the most pressing concerns tend to be the needs of the people in the College community. I'm also pleased, after years of working on internal systems, to be working on something that the world can see.

Q: Where were you educated?

A: I was a Five College student; I earned my bachelor's in astronomy from UMass Amherst. I completed my master's in computer science at New York University's Courant Institute.

Q: Tell me about your family.

A: My wife, Leslie Fields, and I both grew up in the Berkshires. She's a Smith alumna, and also did her graduate work at NYU. She was a curator at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York and now works in the Smith College Archives as an archivist. We have a 2 1/2-year-old son. We moved up to Hadley this past summer from Montclair, New Jersey.

Q: Are you enjoying being back in New England?

A: Yes. When we worked in New York it took over an hour each way to travel the 12 miles to work. Losing that commute gives us an hour and a half back every day, time we can spend on ourselves and our family. It's nice being in the country again, and it's especially great having more open space. Our son has much more room to play in our yard, and he loves seeing farm and construction vehicles everywhere--he may be the only person around who loved the construction at the Village Commons, and now he has the new residence hall project to watch. We enjoyed climbing Mount Holyoke with him on Mountain Day.

Q: How do you like working at MHC?

A: I'm excited to be working in academia. Dot.com work was exciting, and there are a lot of interesting projects at HBO, but I really like the fact that my work now supports education. I don't get out of my office as much as I'd like, but whenever I do I find it invigorating. It's good to feel the rhythm of the College, and to meet more of the students, faculty, and staff who make this place what it is. That's the best thing about getting pulled into so many projects.

Q: What's the greatest challenge in your work?

A: All the learning I have to do. But that's why I love this field. To be successful working with computers and technology you absolutely have to keep learning all the time. I regularly have to fix things I haven't ever seen before, despite working with the Web in various capacities for more than a decade. There's constantly new technology to explore, and new expectations of what Web sites are and what they can do.

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