Joining the Web Services team

We’re in the process of recruiting for a Senior Web Developer within the Web Services team (check it out, developers!). I’m now on the other side of the recruitment process, having recently joined the team myself in May as Chief Pixel Pusher (as known as Web Design Manager). So I thought it would be fitting to share my experiences so far.

First impressions

Hopefully, I made some good ones! Walking into the team office on my first day I could see a team of busy-but-not-stressed people who seemed to be quite happily sharing chocolates and other treats in the middle of the room. Some good signs already!

As I got to know the names, jobs titles and the projects, I learned that this was an experienced (and friendly!) team with a huge range of skills across design, UX, content, development, and customer support. This is important to me, as I like to learn whatever I can from other people.

Part of the induction was sorting out new equipment that would enable me to push my pixels better and faster than ever before. I was offered a top of the range iMac, any software or service that I needed, plus a new chair (my choice of colour – perfect for a designer).

We also moved to a new office shortly after I joined. It’s modern, bright, and pretty close to the kitchen for the all-important coffee run. It’s also in a fantastic location on campus.

Jumping straight in

Like a child belly-flopping into the pool on the first day of a holiday, I enthusiastically jumped straight into some really interesting work in week one, starting with the design of a template for our story-based ‘long form’ content.

I am heavily involved in front-end development so this project was a great opportunity to use some really clever tools to create a template in the smartest way possible. I created a new build process based on Node, Gulp, BrowserSync, JS and SCSS. This was the beginning of what will become a new process for front-end development that includes automated testing (using Mocha, Selenium Grid and Testing Bot) and continuous integration (Jenkins).

We are free to suggest new tools and techniques here, which I think is great. For example, we have switched from Photoshop to Sketch for UI design work. Looking at the results so far, I don’t think we’ll regret that move.

Collaboration

I’d like to talk about how we collaborated on an extremely sensitive and vital project. The shared Spotify playlist was an incredible challenge but we came together to create a large playlist of (mostly) great songs with an incredible diversity of genres that we listen to regularly. The Beatles, Biffy, Daft Punk, David Bowie, Jurassic 5, Justin Timberlake, Manics, Marven Gaye – all sorts. It’s a fantastic way to discover new music and get to know each other.

Okay, so the Spotify playlist wasn’t a vital project, but it did demonstrate that we have a real mix of people with different tastes who can still work well together. Our real projects focus on ensuring the website is always improving to meet the needs of our users and promote the University around the world.

Since May, we have collaborated to launch a new template for schools, implement a smarter search facility for scholarships, design and build a new room booking system, start running A/B tests to demonstrate how we can increase conversions, and gather a serious amount of qualitative and quantitive user data that will help us make better design decisions going forward.

Agile, our way

We run our own flavour of Agile to break projects up into small user stories that are easier to manage. We recently moved from Trello to Pivotal Tracker to give us more control over our priorities and allow us to estimate project completion dates with more accuracy.

This whole process puts the focus on regularly releasing things into the wild, i.e. launching new features and content. It moves us far away from the traditional process of working on something large for months on end and then flicking the switch to launch.

There are daily stand-up meetings with Pivotal Tracker up on the projector screen to keep the focus on priority stories and keep communication flowing. We also present the shiny new things we create to the rest of the Marketing team as part of the monthly Show and Tell.

Smart stuff

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived, having never worked within a University before. What I found was lots of smart stuff has been put into place. The use of multiple testing environments (development, staging and production). Regular and effective user testing. A comprehensive content production process. Just a few of many examples I could use.

There are some very impressive plans for the future of our team, the wider Marketing team, and the University. Our recent Scottish University of the Year award doesn’t mark the end of these plans, it’s just part of the beginning. Reading back, that previous sentence sounds a bit cheesy. However, it’s true!

Before we know it, that exciting future will soon be the present. And on that note, I will conclude by saying that I can already see joining this team is one of the best moves of my career so far.

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