5 Questions with Support Engineer Neil Minton

April 26th, 2016


Get to know Neil Minton, Archive-It Support Engineer! Neil joined the team in 2015 and has already played a significant role in maintaining and improving Archive-It’s software systems–from the architecture that supports our web application to the Wayback interface that our partners depend on for accessing their archives

What brought you to your new role with Archive-It?

It all started with a cragel. I saw an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about a mix between bagels and croissants—a cragle. The place making them happened to be right around the corner from the Internet Archive. I had already been a Wayback Machine user, particularly for academic research in college, but I didn’t make the immediate connection between Wayback and the Internet Archive. So I stopped inside to find out what they did. Since it happened to be a Friday (which are an open lunch and tour invite), I joined the tour. IA had just started its formal volunteer program, and I had some time on my hands, so I signed on to help with a new CD Digitization project.  After a few months, Brewster and I talked about the project and its workflow. When he realized that I was a software engineer, he suggested that I apply for a job.  And that was that!

What’s it like to work at the Internet Archive so far?

Everyone is really open, friendly, willing to help. There are so many friends and partners of the Archive who come by, and I’ve learned how crucial our friends like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are to the freedom of the Internet.

What is the most exciting aspect of web archiving? The most challenging?

I worked for Walmart for many years in E-Commerce, initially for their wholesale club division—Sam’s Club—then for their international and research divisions.  Walmart is regularly #1 in the world in sales volume, so the Internet Archive is a quite a contrast for me. It’s exciting to be in a place where the work is more than part of a bottom line. For example, I got a chance to go to the Archive-It partner meeting soon after I joined the team, where I spoke with a partner who is focused on collecting legal briefs. So much of our case law is still in print only, and without the historic case law records each case would have to be tried anew. Our Archive-It service is used by partners to prevent our legal system from falling into shambles. In a way, Archive-It and our partners are the ones enabling our legal system to move into the digital age.

I sort through challenges every day. The dynamic nature of the web also makes it difficult to capture and playback accurately. Sites that make heavy use of JavaScript and access distributed APIs are huge challenges to playback within our Wayback Machine. I help overcome those challenges for partners regularly.

What web content are you most interested in saving for future generations?

My personal interests are mostly focused on educational content, specifically around computers and programming documentation because the fields change so frequently. But some of the most interesting work that I’ve seen at the Archive has done has been around recent political ads and journalism. Many news outlets, some that you wouldn’t expect, change content without making the changes clear or publishing the appropriate errata. The truth no longer remains the truth when you go and check on it a year, month, or even day later.

Anything that the partners and your new colleagues might be surprised to learn about you?

I worked with my family in the carnival business growing up, and saw most of the continental United States before age 14. During that time I was homeschooled, and even tested out of 3rd grade. I’m the first in my immediate family to go to college. And now, after a hiatus, my Mom and Dad are back on the road!