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Pixel art of Billy Hylton being interviewed

Interview with Billy Hylton

Job Title:

IT Program Manager

Place of Work:  

NC Government –  Dept. of IT – Environmental Quality 

Industry your place of work utilizes: 

I work in North Carolina state government for the Department of Information Technology and focus on modernizing how the state does environmental permitting. 

What got you into Web Design/Development?

In the late 90s my roommate, Jon, ran a popular fan site for the band Radiohead. He would work late into the night posting updates and I would occasionally hang out with him while he worked. It was exciting to see him connect with fans around the world. He showed me the basics of using Netscape to publish content and I was hooked. My first website project was for my college radio station – WRFL at the University of Kentucky. I think the entire thing consisted of images. All the words! It was terrible but a great opportunity to learn. It was a great time for experimentation and discovery with the web.

What does a typical day or week look like for you? What sort of things do you do?

I lead a technical team of Developers, Business Analysts, and Project Managers who work with a broader cross-functional team to transform the environmental permitting experience for North Carolina businesses, citizens, and others as well as state government staff.  It’s a very complex project and involves migrating data, streamlining government processes, and includes a lot of people learning about how permitting works (or the permitting experts learning how solution development works). During a typical week, I might do the following things:

  • Meet with a representative from the EPA to better understand federal legal and security requirements for our new permitting system.
  • Join requirements/process improvement working sessions for specific permit programs
  • Lead a weekly meeting with our development team. In addition to team member updates, we often focus on 1-2 hairy challenges. This could be about process (How can we work in a more agile manner with our program staff?), technology (What’s the best way to integrate with X system? Is there an API?), or navigating the complex world of gov permitting.
  • Have 1:1 meetings with team members, colleagues, or leadership.
  • Meet with technology vendors who are seeking to do business with the state and support our program. 
  • Work on specific technical pieces (i.e. implementation of a “common data model”)

What types of web technologies do you work with most often?

From the earliest part of my career in the late 90s/early 2000s, I have worked almost entirely with open source technologies and frameworks. WordPress and Drupal have both played an enormous role. Currently, our team utilizes the Microsoft Power Platform as the technology stack for our permitting platform, along with a portal called SiteFinity. We use MS Dynamics, a “low code/no code” platform heavily (although we have learned that this tool is much complex than it sounds to build a large enterprise solution). All of our work is stored in the Azure government cloud environment. 

What is your favorite thing about your job?

The favorite thing about my job is the opportunity to build and support things that make it easier and simpler to interact with North Carolina state government. 

What do you wish you could change about your job?

Culture. I would like to see a more entrepreneurial culture in our division that rewards experimentation, pilot projects, modern product development practices, and more agile processes. 

Where do you see your section of the web development/design industry going?

In government, I see UX practices becoming more widely adopted. For example, we are doing a lot of wireframing  to show program staff how their new solution might function. Although wireframing is very common in many other industries it is less so in government. I also see the low code/no code trend grow significantly in the years ahead. There is so much need for digital transformation in government and simply not enough development staff. Ultimately, we want to enable “citizen developers” (government staff) to launch and build applications to streamlines processes. 

What technology and/or skill do you wish you learned before you entered the industry?

Data underpins so much of the technology solutions that I support. If I could go back in time, I would learn more about data management, technologies, governance, etc. 

What are you looking to learn or what skill are you looking to build next?

I want to grow stronger in all things UX. This includes tactical work but also the “sales” aspect – persuading colleagues and team members that it is worth investing the time and resources in user-focused solution development. Although not directly related to Web Design and Development, I am trying to cultivate new habits with regard to “mindset.” For example, when a change is clearly needed, taking the steps to enable that change even if it’s scary.

What questions should I have asked that I didn’t?

Hmm.. how about “What are a couple of lessons learned over the years?” For me, one is that sometimes a door will open and it is not always clear where that new opportunity will lead. This is scary because the decision could potentially hurt your career or send you in a meaningful new direction. For example, I was a Web Designer at UNC-Chapel Hill earlier in my career. Around 2010 I had an opportunity to step into a management position, supervising other Web Developers and Designers. I didn’t realize at that time, that this was a different path from being hands-on every day, doing creative work, and being immersed in all things web development and was more on a leadership track. It was the right choice but I do wish I had fully considered that change and talked to others who had made a similar move. 

What would you tell someone to do who’s looking to get into the industry? How should they best prepare themselves?

A few thoughts:

  • Don’t overthink it and just start taking steps to grow your skills. With so much information out there, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and stuck (for me at least). I think just taking steps to learn, practice, experiment, etc. even if you don’t have a clear plan  can help point you in the right direction.
  •  Certainly Boot Camp type programs can be an affordable path for quick immersion into Web Design and Development and a good way to make connections with industry.
  • Consider government! Not only can you make a substantial positive impact for citizens in your town, state, or country, but there are internship opportunities and  jobs out there with decent pay and benefits. It’s a great way to get started and a potential career path.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in the industry and ask them questions like this one. People like to talk about themselves and their careers and are often happy to respond. The worst thing that can happen is that they will say  “I am too busy, sorry.” 

Anything else you’d like to tell future designers and developers?

I recommend having a “peer mentor.” Find another designer or developer, or even someone in a slightly different space, have regular conversations. This can be a great way to learn, share, and get support on professional and life matters. 

Is there a way people can get in contact with you to ask questions etc?

The best way to reach me is to connect on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/billyhylton/

Last Question: If you had to be a zombie and you had to eat someone’s brains, whose would it be and why?

I am a podcast nerd and love great interviewers. Dax Shepard, of Armchair Expert, is probably my favorite. He knows a lot about a lot of things, super funny, well read, and can interview anyone. I’d probably eat his brains.