We Are IT | Meet Alan Benson
Alan Benson initially considered becoming a doctor but switched his degree to management information systems, and we sure are glad he did. As an ITS application developer and designer, Alan has spent the last 25 years building custom webpages and applications for numerous FSU departments and initiatives. You may have seen Alan's work in the Engage TLH app, SGA Voting app, Telework Request app or the Salary Analysis tool to name a few. Outside work, he spends days playing with his kids, doing projects around the house and cooking for the family.
Where are you from?
I was born in Hudson, New York, but Florida is really my home. I have lived here since I was 15 and consider myself a Floridian.
Where did you attend school?
I am an FSU graduate. I got my degree in management information systems and it has served me very well for my career. As I get older though, it seems I become more curious in engineering and wonder where, say, a degree in electrical engineering might have taken me.
Why did you choose to work in technology?
When I finished high school, I really struggled making a decision about what I wanted to do. In the back of my mind, I had always wanted to be a doctor, so I started taking classes towards that goal. It didn’t take long to realize I didn’t have a knack for remembering—or even pronouncing—all things organic chemistry or AP biology and this was probably not the right career path for me.
Advisors used to say, “Major in what you’re interested in.” And I have always had an interest in computers. From our family Commodore 64 to my first Intel 286 computer with 4 MB of RAM, seeing what those machines could do and sometimes even taking them apart, I have never grown tired of computers.
So when I was offered a position in User Services at FSU in 1997, I moved to Tallahassee to start the job and begin taking classes towards a management information systems degree. In 1998 I was offered a full-time position providing computer support for AIS, which led to the job I have today once I graduated with my degree.
How long have you been at FSU?
I have been around this department for 25 years.
What is your role at FSU?
We build webpages and custom apps for departments across campus, and I really enjoy what we do.
We develop specs and work closely with the User Interface team or department representative to get the webpage or app to where they can review it. Then we correspond back and forth on what they would like to see changed. After that, we pass it to the customer for testing. Once the page or app is working the way the department wants, it goes to production.
The last couple of weeks I have been working with an ITS group to rewrite the resereg.its.fsu.edu and camreg.its.fsu.edu webpages. The pages were written in PHP, and I am translating them into a Java app.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy when we finish with an application, and the customer is pleased with it, and it seems like something they are going to get some use out of—hopefully something that made their life easier. The student voting application, for example … The old application was so old we weren't even sure how people were able to use it. I felt we transformed the app from webpages that were current around the early 2000s to webpages that were current today. I felt like we made it so much easier to use, and it looked so much better. Plus, the customer seemed to really like it. That brings me a lot of fulfillment.
What is the most rewarding project you have worked on at FSU?
When I first started in this department, we custom-wrote the entire application to distribute financial aid to students. I worked on that for about 15 years. It was the biggest project I ever worked on and is used by countless students year after year. That was really something.
Otherwise, it's just fun to go from one project to another and take something from nothing to a working application. It is always nice when the customer is happy with the final product. It's neat to see that.
Other than your cellphone, what is your go-to, can't-live-without piece of tech?
My laptop. In fact, I prefer a computer to my cellphone. If I have to look something up on the web, it is much easier to find things and type on a laptop. I use my personal laptop more than my phone.
If you were to invent one piece of technology, what would it be?
I would like to look at a webpage and be able to drag things around to position them just the way I want them. Then, once you are satisfied with how you have everything arranged, be able to grab the CSS code behind it and put that into your application. And your page layout is done! I have seen a few tools that tried to accomplish this but never one that really got it right.
Besides that, I would like to invent the ability to apparate, like in Harry Potter, so you could instantly go from place to place. Need something from the grocery? There and back in five minutes. Want to drop in for dinner with the folks? No problem, no matter where they live. Such a time saver!
What is a fun fact about you?
I am known for cooking and do most of the cooking in our house. I am willing to try anything, but my go-to dish is lasagna. It is still a favorite for my family and often gets requested for our extended family get-togethers.
I also love to watch The Great British Bake Off and get ideas from them. They do some amazing things.
Talk a little bit about your family.
My wife and I have been married since 2004. She works in Enrollment Management at FSU. We met through someone in my department who worked with her and set us up. We have two children, a son who is 14 and a daughter who is 11.
What do you do in your free time?
Aside from playing with the kids and stuff, I like to work on things around the house. I am known for taking things apart and fixing them.