Matt Bear's Work History

After the MOCAS Rehost project ended, I started looking for a new job. When speaking with recruiters and human resource professionals, I would frequently hear the same questions asked again and again. This means that my resume doesn't convey as much information as I would like, or I'm glossing over details that might be important. So I've decided to create this web page that goes into more detail about what I've done in my professional life.

The Early Years

Microage and Miami

After graduating from Miami University, I went to work for a company called Microage Technology Solutions. (Don't try to find them; They fell victim to an expansion plan that was too ambitious and had to close.)

For my first job with Microage, I was sent back to Miami University. My coworker Gary and I were doing break fix work on PC's and Apple computers.

Eventually another opening appeared and I was transferred by MTS into that position on the recommendation of the contractor who was leaving the position. That's how I wound up in...

Powered flight in Evendale, Ohio

This organization is now called General Electric Aviation, but when I was there it was known as General Electric Aircraft Engines or GEAE. This was a great experience. I really learned a lot here about large organizations and how they worked. My job was a sort of "jack of all trades" IT consultant for MI&ES, or Military Inlet & Exhaust Systems. This was a group of engineers who created the engines used by the aircraft of the United States Military.

These engineers were frighteningly smart. I'm not exactly an idiot, and these guys just blew me away. I'm really glad that I was exposed to these engineers so early in my life. I learned something very important from them:

There is always an answer to every problem, even if the answer is "We can't fix it yet".

While I was here I was involved in a lot of interesting projects. Some of these projects were:

I also learned that many large companies have a problem with keeping contractors around for longer than a year. Apparently there were some legal decisions against Microsoft and Procter & Gamble that really soured them on keeping people around who weren't on the payroll. So after about 14 months, I was sent back to the MTS office with GEAE's thanks and best wishes. About two months after that happened, MTS's challenges finally caught up to them, and the company ceased to exist.

Working for Big Brother

That statement isn't really accurate, but a few months after MTS filed for bankruptcy and laid me off I was hired by LexisNexis. My career path here was simple: I worked in the Enterprise Solutions group, which later became the Custom User Interface group. Basically LexisNexis is a subscription search engine that has a huge set of databases covering a lot of magazines, legal decisions, white papers, public records, and other periodicals. A lot of Fortune 500 companies and large law firms would subscribe to the service and run searches, and LexisNexis would get money. (Why do I call them Big Brother? The Intelligence Community is barred from keeping certain information types about American citizens. That doesn't mean that a private company can't keep that data and sell access to the data to the members of the Intelligence Community. LexisNexis is one of those private companies. It's scary how much information they have, and can gather from public records.)

Now because a lot of our clients were Fortune 500 companies, when they complained we listened. My group basically was put together to take a requirements document from a client and create a custom web-based interface that better fit the customer's intranet. And if that wasn't enough, we could add search terms to the client's search automatically. So if the users were only interested in documents from the past 90 days, we would code that date restriction into every query the client submitted so the user didn't have to do it. That made them a little more productive.

While creating these custom interfaces, I used Macromedia Dreamweaver, Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Visual Studio and Microsoft Visual SourceSafe. In fact while I was here I created an extension for Dreamweaver that would automatically put the LexisNexis logo on a page. There was a restriction as to the background color that could be added. In retrospect I should have made the background color transparent, or provided a dialog box that would've allowed the designer to enter a hex code to provide the correct color.

One of the things I am most proud of in my time at this job was my creation of a JavaScript function that would automatically insert the footer information into the bottom of each page of our custom interface. This may not sound like a big deal, but prior to me writing that script we would spend about three weeks updating each and every page by hand. Now that's not a big deal, but my teammates and I were just updating a year. So to go from 2003 to 2004 took three weeks.

Does that strike you as silly? Me too.

So I wrote a JavaScript function that would automatically insert the content of the footer at the bottom of each page. A little later the lead designer came over to me and said "This is neat, but I don't want to remember what I have to type to get it to work correctly." To make him (and his designers) happy, I wrote a Dreamweaver extension for the JavaScript function which provided them with a little dialog box that allowed the designers to turn off a certain link, as well as specify which frame the link target should appear in when the user clicked a link. (That's really awkward. We used HTML frames to divide up document content. The footer links were usually in one tiny frame and the main content appeared in a different frame. Clicking a link in the footer would put the link target in the little tiny footer frame so it was darn near impossible to read. My extension allowed the designers to tell the function to put the footer link content in the main content frame. Then the users could read the information much more easily.)

In retrospect, I wouldn't have used JavaScript to build this function. I would have used a combination of XSSI's to make sure that the document was fully accessible. I got away with using JavaScript because all of our CUI's required it for their functionality. It's not something I'd rely on now, however.

The technologies I used to create these interfaces were mostly HTML and JavaScript, but this job provided my first exposure to the requirements of Section 508. There were several sites for Federal Agencies, including JAG and the Army Corps of Engineers and this meant that our web pages had to meet the requirements of Section 508. (Little did I know it, but this exposure would help me out a lot in the future.)

I worked at LexisNexis for about a year. Then on September 11, 2001 a bunch of misguided people crashed some planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This was a very important to me personally, because a lot of the Fortune 500 companies we worked with had located their main offices in one of the towers. According to information from the LexNex NOC, the bandwith utilization graph was holding steady at 95% before the attacks, then it just dropped to zero. That was their first indication that something was wrong. Then we all turned to the TV and saw what happened. A few months after this event, my position was eliminated. So I packed my bags and left Miamisburg.

Quiet Time

I left LexisNexis with a severance package, but one of the terms of the package was that I wouldn't work in the field for a year. Later I found out that I could've argued this point in court and had it thrown out, but at the time I wasn't interested in causing problems. I sat out of my profession for a year, working the occasional side job.

Rather than sit idle and do absolutely nothing, I used the time to read a lot of books and articles from Eric Meyer and Jeffery Zeldman that dealt with CSS and Web Standards. After reading these books and articles I put the principles and guidelines into effect on my own personal website. Just a lot of experimenting and understanding the benefits these technologies offered. In addition to the Web Standards experiments, I learned a lot about the WAI requirements and how they matched up with Section 508's requirements.

North To, Cleveland

My noncompete agreement from LexisNexis expired, and I announced my availability for hire on Shortly after that, I received a call from a recruiter. EDS had put out the word that they needed someone to work on a contract for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Cleveland. This recruiter thought I would be a good fit.

After a quick phone interview, I was hired on to work for the DFAS Web PMO. My first task was to redesign the extranet web site so it went from a table heavy set of pages to a CSS based design. This resulted in pages that were about 3/4ths the size of what they had been (page size was reduced by an average of 27%). (Why can't you see the site? You can't see it because the DISA has restricted access to that site to people who need to see it. Basically only people in the military can view the site.)

Once my supervisor saw that I knew what I was talking about with Section 508, she asked me to put together some training materials for my coworkers and a list of resources for her to use. I did so, and the training materials I put together were later used as a large part of the DFAS Section 508 guidelines. These guidelines were used by everyone across the agency. My work with the guidelines wasn't limited to web pages. The Web PMO was responsible for all the content that appeared on DFAS's public and private websites. This meant that my coworkers and I had to review every single document that someone wanted to put online for Section 508 compliance. I reviewed Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, RTF documents, Adobe PDF documents, HTML pages, and plain text documents. In fact I created a custom CSS file that allowed me to test HTML pages quickly. This CSS file highlighted problem areas in the web page. It doesn't work in Internet Explorer, but Mozilla Firefox and Seamonkey with the Web Developer Toolbar handle it with ease.

While working on that, I also found several areas that I thought could be automated. One of the problems we had was with our Web PMO email address. The Outlook mailbox had a limited storage space, and so messages would be copied out to a network volume every so often. We discovered that our email message storage was taking up too much room on the network drive and would have to be reduced somehow. To address this problem I created a Python program that would

  1. Get the current date and a date 90 days earlier
  2. Look at the last access date of every email message on our network drive
  3. If the last access date was prior to the 90 days earlier date, the message would be copied into a ZIP file archive

Using the last access date instead of the creation date allowed the script to ignore messages that we were possibly using while archiving the messages we weren't using. Thus our references would always be available to us.

Shortly after this, there was a thought that we would move from a Windows NT-based webserver to a UNIX based webserver. My boss wanted to have all the HREF values changed so they were lowercase instead of mixed case. I wrote a Python program that would:

  1. get every HREF of every web page
  2. convert the value to lowercase
  3. replace the old HREF with the lowercase version and
  4. save the modified web page

The move to a UNIX server never happened while I was there, but it was reassuring to know that I had a tool that could do the job.

But the automation didn't stop with things that made our administrative tasks easier. I applied them to our web sites as well. There were several contact forms that we used for various things. Each of these forms had a page full of custom logic. When we had to make a change to the form page, it required tweaking, and the JavaScript code was fairly fragile. Since the code was pretty much cut and pasted from one page to another, I took a page from my time at LexisNexis and put all the common JavaScript code into one external JS file and pointed each form page to that file. That way we had a single source for our form validation library and only had to update the JavaScript code in one place for each change we needed to make. This consolidation also allowed us to write higher-quality JavaScript code since we had some more free time.

As I mentioned earlier, the Web PMO was responsible for all the content that appeared on DFAS's public and private websites. I performed several tasks for each of these sites.

Public Site

Extranet Site

Intranet Site

External work

One of the coolest things that happened while I was working at DFAS-CL was the job we received from the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller) to redesign their Department of Defense Financial Management Regulation website. This required work on their web site as well as work on a set of Word and PDF documents. One of my coworkers, Michael Tipton, came up with the winning design, and then I did the following:

Sample screenshot of modified DoDFMR website: Screenshot of modified Defense Department Finanacial Management Regulation site. Update July, 20, 2009: I've since discovered that the DoDFMR has removed most of the features that Michael and I created. No menuing system, no news scroller, and the form validation script has been duplicated. So a lot of the cool features we added are now gone. You'll have to look at the big version of the image with my notes to see what we created.

These Word documents are sent out to various subject matter experts for their comments and recommended changes. Then the comments are integrated into one document and converted to PDF. I floated the idea of using something like MediaWiki to coordinate these changes and edits, but the client declined. (With the success of the Intellipedia, I hope the Comptroller's office reconsiders that decision.)

The changes we made improved the site immensely. Don't take my word for it, my supervisor received an email shortly after the site went live that shows it (names withheld to protect privacy):

The DOD FMR website looks great. Please let [my boss] and her team know it looks very professional, and is much easier to browse. It's also great to have the links working.
--K.H. with Business Transformation Agency, Financial Management

Shortly after I completed my work with the DoDFMR site, my contract was terminated. Apparently the boss three levels over my head didn't see any purpose to having me stick around, so after 18 months I was looking for work again.

Back to Columbus...and DFAS?

So once again I put my resume on Four weeks after my contract with DFAS-Cleveland came to an end, I received a phone call from a recruiter for a project down in the Columbus area. This project needed someone with extensive experience with Section 508 requirements immediately for their work with a Federal agency.

After the phone interview started I learned that the project was called MOCAS Rehost and was taking place at the DFAS Columbus branch. This project was different from almost everything I'd done before: I was a "Documentation Specialist" now, with the key role of verifying that the documents we were making were compliant with DFAS' Section 508 guidelines.

The guidelines I had helped define over a year ago.

Let me tell you, that was a real challenge ;)! I put together some training material for the four people on my team who were actually creating documents, trained them on making compliant documents, and then ran out of things to do.

So while I was wondering how I was going to earn my pay, I noticed that a lot of the time the writers were doing things in a slow, manual way. Since I had the free time, I wrote some Word macros to make the process of creating compliant documents much easier. Later I worked as a technical writer myself.

While working as a technical writer on the project I implemented a document tracking feature that my supervisor found very useful. Before I created my tracking sheet, she was trying to keep track of over 125 documents and their status using a collection of Post-It notes and scrap paper. My tracking sheet and implementation of a Microsoft Visual SourceSafe project put an end to that nightmare.

After the project manager saw the improvement in tracking the 3000+ pages of documentation, she asked me to do something similar with the various administrative tasks she was trying to manage. (She used to have two people helping her, but they accepted other jobs and were never replaced.)

I put together a set of documents that contained listings of all the company owned hardware and software, serial numbers, purchase order numbers, etc. in one location so she could actually find what she needed. In fact it worked so well I was able to track down a laptop that was thought missing.

In addition to this, the project lead wanted to know the status of defects in the product. She wanted me to take every defect report and examine it by hand before putting it into an Excel document. I was able to write a VBA macro that took care of all that for me. In fact it cut the time involved from two hours a day to three or four minutes a day.

What next?

In May 2007, I and my teammates received word that the contract between DFAS-Columbus and my company had been terminated. There's some disagreement between DFAS and my old company about payment, and it looks like it's going to get really ugly, so that's all I'm going to say about it. A month after I learned of the termination, I left the company to explore other opportunities. I'm not currently employed by anyone, but I'd like to be (this not working thing is fun for a few weeks, then it starts to get boring).

There are no restrictions on where I can work, and I have no non-compete agreements to hinder me. I'd prefer long term work when possible. The time I've spent as a contractor has been very valuable: I've seen how a lot of organizations work and the things that may not work. That broad base of knowledge has been very useful to me over the years. The problem with being a contractor is that you are constantly on the move. It would be very nice to be able to put down some roots and see a multi-year project through from original concept to ultimate product.

So if you are in need of someone who has extensive knowledge of (X)HTML, Cascading Style Sheets, JavaScript, and other front end design tasks, please let me know. I'll be happy to talk to you.

Millenial Technologies: 2008 and early 2009

I was hired by Millenial Technologies to do front end design for their web based customer relationship management application. That went pretty well, but then the 2008 Credit Crisis hit, and things slowed down to the point that no work was coming my way. So I'm taking the things I learned there and I'm going to be building on them in the future.

Another fun thing I just did was work out at Honda of America. They needed some help taking their site to the next level. The webmaster did a good job doing what she could to get the site built, but she was running into gaps in her knowledge. That's where I swooped in to save the day. I spent two days working with her, answering questions and solving problems they had. It was fun because it was more teaching than the typical "Fix this, do this" stuff I'm used to (not that I don't enjoy that too, but it's nice to pass along the knowledge I've gained). I also worked with SharePoint Designer for the first time, and it's kind of neat, but I think I still prefer Dreamweaver.

The Dispatch Printing Company: 2009

Through Brooksource's Columbus office I recently finished working with the Dispatch Printing Company on some projects. I created a new website (templates for HTML, CSS; Artwork) that integrates with the AdPay and PlanetDiscover services. Recently I discovered that in the first 12 days of the site being live, the page views increased by 80% over the previous site that OhGetIt replaced. There were 17,000 unique visitors. It also generated $5200 in revenue while the previous site did $360. That's an increase of 14 times! (What can I say? I'm proud of that.) While at DPC I created several templates for Dispatch web properties that connected the property to the PlanetDiscover service. I also implemented the BizList Widget, which is the yellow search box in the right column of several DPC web properties. That was fun.

I was brought back by the DPC a few months after that first term on a six week staff augmentation contract which had me building another new site, ThisWeekSports. I built the HTML, CSS, and prepped the graphics for the web. The site also uses Kickapps for their social media needs, so I had to create the CSS rules for the community they host. The goal was to create the CSS in such a way that a visitor wouldn't know that they were vistiting two different sites. I think I did a good job doing just that.

Where am I today?

The following paragraph is now obsolete. I've taken a job at the Affinion Group doing web work. Yay!

Still looking for that wonderful opportunity to do good work in the web arena. I have extensive knowledge of (X)HTML, Cascading Style Sheets, JavaScript, usability, accessibility, interaction design, and other front end design tasks. JQuery and Django are two more things I'd like to use more of in the future, but I'm not limited to them. In fact I'm looking at ASP.NET 3.5 right now. Plus there's more to learn about databases, Adobe Flash Adobe Flash and Flex (particularly visualization with PaperVision3D), and HTML5.