City of Dallas

Preface:
I worked for the City of Dallas for over ten years. I began as a contractor for IT and web programming. During my time at the City, I decided to enter the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer program at Techskills. I helped me close the gap between front end design and back end development. After several years as an IT analyst, I became a Controller III (SQL Programmer) for the Dallas Municipal court. I retired from the City in 2016.

Dallas Municipal Court

My duty as Controller III was to migrate a 30 year old database into a 21st century database. This was no small feat. It took the cooperation of Dallas Municipal Court, Dallas Police Department, Dallas Marshall’s office, Dallas Constable’s office, Dallas County Court, Texas State Court, and the Federal Court. The municipal court is a large source of revenue for the City of Dallas. When a citizen gets a ticket, they enter the municipal court database. The ticket may become a warrant and the police need to be notified immediately. This is why the involvement of so many departments is required. Over time, data can be collected and analyzed by me. The primary user of that analytical data is the Dallas City Council. To give an example of the type of data that is requested would be, “How many citizens received a parking ticket in West End area of Dallas?” City council can then use the data I provide to justify building a parking garage or not. Because this type of data is often open to the public, the data analytics are important for companies to leverage when doing business in the city.

Database Architecture

When I started, our database was migrated from an old IBM database to MS SQL 2012. The on site server was a Dell PowerEdge quad core Xeon with 64 Gb of ram. The purpose of the on site was primarily for a quicker query on our own database. The integration of our new database and the database of the state and federal government was time consuming. There were many languages that had to convert data from one type to another. I found myself using AJAX, XML, C++, ASP.NET, and several other languages that I had to learn quickly in order to interface with other databases. On my end, most of the development was done in Visual Studio on .NET framework.

User Interface Design

My design was initially a gathering of ideas from the directors. We agreed upon creating three mobile computing stations for the public. The interface was centered around the municipal court database and what the public may be looking for. The use of this system was mainly to reduce the amount of time citizens walked around looking for answers inside the courthouse.

Display Design

This design was a result of the laws requirement for the court to provide to the public a list of people who are required to appear in court on each given day. We took several trips to other cities to see what types of systems were being used. We also toured the Dallas Airport to review how their flight display system worked. I tested on the Raspberry Pi but the video processing power was not smooth enough for us to read the display. We ended up using Dell core i3 computers with a Samsung pro display.

The development was basically about a hundred lines of JavaScript, HTML, XML, and CSS. Most of the development time was spent trying to convert my SQL database into a table that JavaScript could read. Once I developed a good working script for retrieving the data, I divided it by three alphabetically. I used an average of our prior court cases to get an even amount for each display. The fourth display was a JavaScript for time and quick courtroom information.

Dallas City Attorney

From 2007 to 2014 I was given the responsibility of responsive web design and development for the Dallas City Attorney’s office. The Dallas City Attorney is one of the largest law firms in Texas. The City Attorney is responsible for the city ordinance database. It was my responsibility to update the amendments to city ordinances. I also updated the design regularly. The website has an average of 30,000 new users monthly with returning visitors many times more. These users are mainly people looking for simple code ordinances or building codes. For the City, it was imperative for the database to be up to date for legal reasons.

Dallas City Attorney

Database Development

For the intranet my hardware consisted of Dell PowerEdge and IBM servers. VM Ware was use to array our processing power and memory. WAMP was installed into virtual server running MS Server 2012. Apache, PHP, and mySQL were a vital role for back end development. These services have become easy to install, and needs some updating every once in a while. After testing with the average workload, we determined the website performed best with at least 2 Xeon cores with 8Gb of ram allotted on the virtual machine.

For the front end, we used cloud hardware provided by Compucom which is regularly upgraded. The website was basically a finely groomed web folder with pure HTML, and a sprinkle of JS and CSS. This programming technique helped keep the refresh rate down. Our analytics was provided by Google.

User Interface Design

My main concern was ease of use for new users. Prior to my design, there was too much data on the front end that was not of use to a City customer. I could see this by the design and read it by the analytics. I removed all the extraneous data on the front end and replaced it according to what people were searching for, codes and contacts. Initial development was pure data. Then I designed around the data. I made three initial designs for the Warren Ernst website. There were a group of employees that were picked for the testing and development of the new sites. Taking feedback from these groups was beneficial to the design in terms of what was left for the customers. The final design was an agreement upon the executive attorneys in the office. The front end was developed with Artisteer. The header art consisted of a drawing in Photoshop over a drone photo I took in West Dallas. I used Dreamweaver to complete the programming parts Artisteer was unable to accomplish. Most of the code was presented in HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. This simple design presented well and was super responsive across all devices. The evolution of the design reduced help desk calls by staff and city customers.

Intranet Design

The intranet was developed with MS SharePoint, MS SQL JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. Attorneys and paralegals used the database for working in groups, file sharing, and working cases. In addition to the use of SharePoint, I also developed sub-domains that were WordPress as a CMS. The intranet design was an integral part of the office. It allowed for the City to integrate databases with the county and federal courts.