We are in the process of recruiting a Senior Web Developer within the Web Services team (check it out, developers!). I’m now at the other end of the recruiting process, having recently joined the team in May as Chief Pixel Pusher (aka Web Design Manager). So I thought it would be good to share my experiences so far.
I hope I made some good ones! Walking into the team office on my first day I saw a group of busy but unstressed people who seemed to be happily sharing chocolates and other goodies in the middle of the room. Some good signs already!
When I got acquainted with the names, job titles, and projects, I learned that they were an experienced (and friendly!) team with a wide range of skills in design, UX, content, development, and customer support. This is important to me, as I like to learn all I can from other people.
Part of the induction was choosing new equipment that would allow me to push my pixels better and faster than ever before. I was offered a top-of-the-line iMac, whatever software or service I needed, plus a new chair (my choice of color, perfect for a designer).
We also moved into a new office shortly after I joined. It’s modern, bright, and close enough to the kitchen for the all-important coffee rush. It’s also in a great location on campus.
I jump right in
Like a kid jumping into a pool on his first day of vacation, I eagerly threw myself into a really cool job in the first week, starting with designing a template for our story-based “long form” content.
I’m heavily involved in front-end development, so this project was a great opportunity to use some really clever tools to build a model 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 including 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 switched from Photoshop to Sketch for UI design work. Looking at the results so far, I don’t think we will regret that move.
I would like to talk about how we collaborated on an extremely delicate and vital project. The shared Spotify playlist was an incredible challenge, but we came together to create a massive playlist of (mostly) great songs from an incredible variety of genres that we listen to on a regular basis. The Beatles, Biffy, Daft Punk, David Bowie, Jurassic 5, Justin Timberlake, Manics, Marven Gaye – all types. It’s a great way to discover new music and get to know each other.
Okay, so the Spotify playlist wasn’t a viable project, but it showed that we have a real mix of people with different tastes who can still work well together. Our real projects focus on ensuring that the website is always improved to meet the needs of our users and promote the University worldwide.
Since May, we’ve worked together to launch a new model for schools, implement a smarter scholarship search, design and build a new room reservation system, start running A/B tests to demonstrate how we can increase conversions and collect a considerable amount of qualitative and quantitative user data that will help us make better design decisions in the future.
Agile, our way
We run our own version of Agile to break projects into smaller user stories that are easier to manage. We recently switched from Trello to Pivotal Tracker to give us more control over our priorities and allow us to estimate project completion dates more accurately.
The whole process puts emphasis on regularly releasing things into the wild, i.e. rolling out new features and content. It takes us away from the traditional process of working on something big for months and then flipping the switch to launch it.
There are daily stand-up meetings with Pivotal Tracker on the projector screen to keep attention on priority stories and keep communication flowing. We also present the brilliant new things we create to the rest of the marketing team as part of the monthly Show and Tell.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived, having never worked at a university before. What I have found is that a lot of clever things have been put into place. The use of multiple test environments (development, staging and production). Regular and effective user testing. A complete content production process. Just a few of many examples I could use.
There are some really impressive plans for the future for our team, the wider marketing team and the University. Our recent Scottish University of the Year Award it doesn’t mark the end of these plans, it’s just part of the beginning. Re-reading, the previous sentence sounds a bit corny. However, it’s true!
Before we know it, that exciting future will soon be the present. And on that note, I’ll wrap up by saying that I can already see joining this team is one of the best moves of my career so far.