Inside DELTA: 5 Questions with Alan McCoy

Alan McCoy pictured leaning up against a pillar on Centennial Campus.

Alan McCoy is a PHP developer at DELTA. Photo by Katie Harris on Centennial Campus.

Alan McCoy’s varied experience in applications and web development has paved the way for him to thrive in his current role as PHP developer at DELTA. 

After earning a bachelor’s of fine arts from East Carolina University, McCoy considered becoming a high school English teacher, but instead ended up working as a technical writer for a technology company. 

“We had a client contact us with the question, ‘Does anyone in your office know how to set up one of these webpages?’” McCoy was confident he’d be the right person for the job so he got to work learning HTML. “That’s really all you could do back then, just HTML. You could put an image, links, text on a page and that’s pretty much it,” he says. 

From there, he went to work at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, on a research grant, which lended him a lot of room to grow. “We were able to experiment with a lot of early web technology and throw things at the wall and see what sticks.” 

Alan and his kids. Selfie of Alan and five others.
Alan and his kids.

After another web developer job at Hampton University and a role in the private sector at an advertising agency, McCoy made his way to Raleigh in April 2015. 

“I decided to move to Raleigh to be closer to my kids, and I landed this perfect job at NC State and have been here ever since,” says McCoy. 

How would you describe your position? 

“Most of my job is concerned with helping to keep Moodle running and to help integrate other systems with Moodle, especially for Outreach and non-credit and increasingly internal training,” says McCoy. “Last year, we started hosting the campus-wide data security training. Right now, we have a little over 31,000 registered for that.”

Some of McCoy’s other work can be seen in the psychology spotlights DELTA Grant project where he worked with the backend of WordPress to allow psychology professors to create a library of resources. 

McCoy also helps out with solving support tickets for the academic side of Moodle and other instructional tool projects like the creation of a new syllabus tool

“One of the things I’ve always loved about the work I do — I get to go to work and solve puzzles everyday. So much of programming and web development involves getting two things to work together and integrate,” says McCoy. “And, figuring out how to move data from one place to another to where it can be used and benefit the user in the best possible way.”

What has been your favorite project at DELTA?

“The integration with REPORTER and Moodle,” says McCoy. “I’m really happy with how it has turned out so far. And it’s allowed me to put together an API [application program interface] that we can use for other things down the road.” 

McCoy explains that much of the functionality used for the integration can be reused and also helps to expand Moodle’s functionality as well. 

“It’s great being able to work with the REPORTER developer team to get these two systems talking to each other and sending data back and forth.”

“It’s like this grand puzzle that you know where the pieces are but you have to figure out which pieces fit with which other pieces. It’s like taking three separate jigsaw puzzles and trying to put them together into one big jigsaw puzzle. It’s fun,” he adds. 

What is your area of expertise? 

Beyond McCoy’s obvious expertise in applications development, he also has a knack for using his prior experiences to communicate technical concepts in a way that everyone will understand. 

“When I first started doing this, back when web developers were called webmasters, they pretty much did everything from server administration, coding, front-end design, and image editing,” says McCoy. “Having that background really helps me to not look at things purely from a programming perspective.” 

McCoy is able to use his background to put himself in someone else’s shoes when thinking about how to explain his work or details of a project. 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“Oh, definitely the people,” says McCoy. “I know everybody says that, but it is so true.” 

“I’ve never worked in an environment where there was such collaborative support from everyone around,” he adds. “It’s so great to see how people should collaborate and help lift each other up and help each other solve problems that benefit everyone in the long run.” 

McCoy recalls one of his favorite instances of the collaboration foundation at DELTA was during the creation of the digital nameplate tablets outside everyone’s office. 

Bill Hicks, Steve Bader and David Tredwell were among the team who helped create and design the software and engineering work. “They were all from different areas among DELTA and they pitched in and did this thing together, and it’s fantastic,” McCoy adds. 

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

One of Alan's abstract painting pieces. There is a white background with black lines going throughout.
One of Alan’s abstract paintings.

Much of McCoy’s time outside of work revolves around his four kids, music and art. 

“Three of my kids play guitar, so whenever we’re all together, we usually break out the guitars at some point and sit around and play.” McCoy adds, “A couple of the guys here play as well, so we’ve actually gone out to the lobby after 5 p.m. and jammed for a bit. That’s a lot of fun.” 

About a year and a half ago, McCoy started abstract painting in his free time, which has turned into a fun and relaxing activity for him. 

“It’s something really cathartic about slapping paint on the canvas and just playing with colors and shapes and seeing what happens,” he says. 

One of Alan's abstract paintings. Abstract art with lines and shapes.
One of Alan’s abstract paintings.

McCoy has also been into 3D printing lately after Bill Hicks got him into it. “We’ve been geeking out over that,” McCoy jokes. 

McCoy keeps active by getting back into racquetball and taking hikes to the farmers market on the weekends.