California College of the Arts Fosters Collaboration and Distributed Content Management with Pantheon

Allen Fear is the Web Director at the California College of the Arts. His team also oversees the websites for the Center for Art and Public Life, which focuses on important issues in community development and service learning in arts education; and for the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, which serves as a forum for the presentation and discussion of international contemporary art and curatorial practice.

In this guest post, Allen explains how Pantheon’s Multidev capabilities help his team to manage the college’s website.


One website, dozens of contributors

California College of the Arts is a nonprofit institution that educates students to shape culture and society through the practice and critical study of art, architecture, design, and writing, and we offer an MBA in design as well. We have about 2,000 enrolled students, 21 undergraduate and 12 graduate majors, and campuses in Oakland and San Francisco.

Our website is one of our most important tools for telling our story and showcasing the work of our students, faculty and alumni. We use it to reach out to future students around the world who want to enroll and learn more about the college’s programs and culture.

Four people manage the college’s core web websites: a designer, a developer, a web editor, and myself. In addition, more than 50 people across the college contribute website content and make other page updates.

Why Drupal?

Before adopting Drupal a few years ago, we had a primarily static website with a custom-built CMS for isolated sections of dynamic content. Drupal allowed us to open the site up to more content contributors and add features at a faster clip than before. The open-source community that Drupal brings together acts as an extension of our team and has helped us grow and maintain the site, especially in those cases where a contributed module offers a solution for a particular feature request.

While every organization is unique, many are working to achieve similar goals. Drupal’s community is a kind of hive mind where problems can be solved collaboratively and solutions shared openly, which in turn accelerates development, fosters innovation, and benefits the community as a whole.

Sustaining Success Means Failing Faster and Experimenting More  

As an art college, we get a lot of requests to feature content in ways we’d never considered before. Before Pantheon, trying out new approaches, iterating, and testing to make sure a particular commit was ready for our production site could be difficult tasks.

Pantheon’s platform is designed from the ground up to foster experimentation and iteration by providing a smooth glide path for pushing code changes through a development project’s stages and for moving content and files around quickly and easily between environments. Its three environments (dev, test and live) and workflow tools like Git and Multidev allow us to not only ship code faster, but also to experiment and iterate with greater freedom and frequency.

Multidev in particular supports our ability to innovate. In a matter of minutes, Multidev gives us easy access to a new branch environment that we can use to try new things, all in the safety of discrete environments that we can merge into the master branch and push to the production site if the experiment pans out and is ready to be implemented. Some of our favorite things about Pantheon include: 

  • Branching. Best practices are baked into Pantheon’s development workflow, and that makes adopting them virtually automatic for anyone making code changes, including contractors or other third parties who might be working with us. That in turn fosters collaboration and mitigates risk. We don’t need to worry about someone pushing changes to the master branch to test changes out because we can do all of that in our personal development environments and wait to share and merge until after we’ve had a chance to kick the tires there.

  • Multiple Cloud Development Environments. Each team member gets an individual development environment to work in, so experimentation and testing happens on a site with exactly the same configuration and platform setup as the live environment. This eliminates problems related to workflow and environment discrepancies and allows us to maintain focus on the issue at hand. It also makes it easy for us to fork and merge directly from the hosted development environments, so we can readily switch between working independently and collaborative according to our needs. The development environments are so quick and easy to spin up that we have even started using them for simple content and design tweak demos.

  • SFTP and Git integration. Since Pantheon lets you use either Git or SFTP to access the codebase, we can commit changes even if there are issues with our local site copies. You don’t need a local environment to make and test changes, which can remove the terminal as a barrier of entry and makes it possible for us to work with others even if they are not comfortable with GIT or the command line. The SFTP and Git integration allows you to temporarily deviate from version control best practices and sidestep the command line, but then ties everything back nicely into a GIT commit that can be merged and managed via the command line going forward.

Maintain focus on what matters most

High availability, reverse proxy cache, and database replication were all attributes that we had explored adding to our sites, but the costs associated with building and supporting a stack with that degree of complexity kept it outside our reach. Pantheon’s offering took the complexity out of the equation and made the business case for us. But perhaps the greatest benefit Pantheon has given us is the ability to shift focus more fully to the things that our end users care most about rather than things like devops workflow and systems maintenance.

The fact that Pantheon is always pushing the envelope on these fronts means that we stay at the cutting edge of best practices just by working with the platform, and energy we might otherwise be spending on building, maintaining and mastering the technologies necessary to support development are spent on what matters most, engaging our end users.



Topics Education