by Alivia Kliesen, DLINQ Intern, Computer Science Major

I was obsessed with virtual pets growing up. There were the obvious ones like Neopets and Webkinz, but my obsession did not end there. Whether I was raising virtual horses on howrse, breeding fantastical creatures on creaturebreeder, or roleplaying Warrior cats on user-made webs sites, I found myself immersed in whole new worlds and communities.

My favorite niche virtual pet site was called Anatheria. I spent hours each day cultivating my pets’ interests and skills, establishing a thriving shop, trying and failing to start clubs for other Anatheria users to join, and talking to my online friends. I’m only able to access Anatheria’s homepage now (if only I could remember the password I once used!), but the artwork there remains the same and fills me with nostalgia for simpler times.

On Anatheria, I became exposed to HTML for the first time. Users were allowed to add customization to their main profile and pet profiles using HTML, and my middle-school self naturally had to keep up with the latest style trends. I started with the basics of simple text editing, and eventually graduated to designing entire custom layouts for other users. Although some users charged actual money to design these layouts, I never felt like my skills were good enough to justify this. I also lacked a bank account at the tender age of twelve years old.

DLINQ Inquiry

As a DLINQ intern, I have dedicated time each week focused on “inquiry” where I explore a topic of interest. Going into DLINQ, I knew I wanted to tie my computer science major and interests into my work. For a personal project, I have started building an online portfolio to display my computer science projects. The process of teaching myself how to build a portfolio website from scratch (versus using a content management system like WordPress) has been incredibly exciting and enriching. It has also been great for my own professional development! I only recently became a computer science major and don’t have a ton of programming experience yet, so any time spent adding to my programming skill set is time well spent in my opinion.

A Brief Introduction to HTML, CSS, and Javascript  

Later on in this blog post you will notice me referencing things like HTML, CSS, and Javascript, which may be confusing for those of you who have no familiarity with website development. Let’s take a brief break to go over what these three web design tools do. 

HTML is a “standard markup language.” It is used to create web pages through addings things such as images, links, tables, and formatted text. 

CSS is a style sheet language. It adds style to a webpage and changes the layout of it through margins, borders, backgrounds, positioning, navigation bars, and many more cool features. 

Javascript affects the behavior of webpages and adds a lot more interactiveness to websites. For example, you could make a registration form on a webpage for a user to fill out using javascript.

And there you go! Although these are simplified definitions, perhaps they’ll come in handy if you’re ever designing your own virtual pet profile! Let’s get back to Anatheria now.

Here’s a quick glance at the skeleton of my portfolio homepage (built solely from HTML and CSS):

Although it’s just a basic layout and design right now, it’s taken me awhile to get all the containers and margins in the right position. Learning CSS and HTML on my own has certainly been challenging but fun. I’ve been using w3schools, youtube tutorials, and stack overflow to help me. w3schools has extensive guides and tutorials on how to implement all sorts of different website elements in CSS, HTML, and Javascript. In contrast, youtube and stack overflow are better at helping fix more specific problems I run into as I code. A combination of all three has been the most useful for me.

(snippet of code from portfolio)

DLINQ Consultations

This summer at DLINQ has been full of exciting and diverse work, but I’ve found that the majority of my consultations have tied back to some type of web development. Two projects I have embarked on this summer are working within the official Middlebury site to update the First Year Seminar pages and helping create a WordPress site with a few other interns and members of DLINQ. As I find myself occasionally going into the HTML (text editing) and CSS (style formatting) of the websites, my mind drifts back to my younger days on Anatheria. Who knew that raising virtual pets would come in handy one day!

The most exciting aspects of web development support are getting to see changes in real-time and being able to help people. Although my personal inquiry has focused a lot on my own personal development and skills, getting to use these interests in my consultations with other people has honestly felt great. With the First Year Seminar website, a lot of changes needed to be made quickly as first-year students flocked to the site to find out information about the upcoming school year and registration. It was important to work quickly and efficiently in order to keep up with registration updates. In contrast, the wordpress site has a bit of a less urgent pace, but it has been really interesting to try and recreate the vision of students who don’t have as much experience with website design. Using their google docs and google slides, two other DLINQ interns and I have been piecing together the structure and format of the WordPress website.


Looking Ahead

As we go into Fall 20/21, I’m excited to continue working with DLINQ to support members of the Middlebury community and also pursue my own passions in computer science. I’ve always strived to find work that combines my personal interests with a larger goal of helping people, and I’ve found that my internship at DLINQ has struck the perfect balance between these two principles. I tend to care about the applicability and the usefulness of the work I produce, so it’s super exciting to create work that lives on the web for other people to view, use, and provide feedback on. However, there’s also something special about learning new things just for personal enrichment and because it fascinates you.

In the end, my summer journey at DLINQ has truly helped me realize and clarify what I want to do with my newfound computer science skills. I want my work to feel useful while still evoking some of the same wondrous joy I once experienced on Anatheria, which is a big reason why I’m pursuing web development and design. I used to build my own custom Anatheria profiles for fun, and now as an “adult” I help Middlebury community members with their web projects. I think my twelve year old self would be proud of what I do (actually she’s definitely too busy on Anatheria to care).

To all others interested in web development or learning HTML/CSS: take the leap! You’ll never know when you can use those skills down the road, and they can certainly bring you happiness in unexpected ways.

Feature photo by Marcus Spiske on Unsplash