Digital Marketing & Communications

We've seen 1s and 0s you wouldn't believe

Topic: Team

A day in the life of a developer

📥  Development, Team

This is the first in a 'Day in the Life' series for the different roles in the Digital team. If you've ever wondered what our team gets up to on an average day, or what it's like to work in a particular digital discipline, read on.

Here's a typical day as a developer, based on what I did on a recent Monday.

What I spend much of my day looking at

What I spend much of my day looking at

I get in around 9am and immediately make a coffee before cracking on with some work. Our team plans our work in two-week segments called 'sprints', and this is the last day of one. I start reviewing the code for some recently finished work so we can try to get everything ready to be signed off at the end of the day.

At 9.45, our daily standup happens. Everyone in the Digital team stands in a circle and says:

  • the most important thing they did yesterday
  • the most important thing they'll do today
  • any blockers that might prevent them from doing that work

Standup only lasts about 10 minutes, but it means that everyone in the team knows what they're meant to be doing and what everyone else is working on.

After standup, I finish looking at the reviews. Everything looks good, so the stories are now ready for the Development Manager to look at and accept (or reject – but let's hope not).

Next I get together with a few other team members and do our fortnightly infrastructure review. We set aside an hour to make sure our documentation is up to date and identify any potential problems or upgrade work we need to do.

After a break for lunch, my afternoon is nice and clear. I spend the afternoon working on a new feature for the Content Publisher. 'Unpublishing' allows our editors to temporarily remove a page from the live site without deleting it entirely, so they can continue to make changes and republish it later if required. Having hours at a time to really get my head into a problem is one of my favourite parts of this job, and working on something our users will find helpful is always satisfying.

The day finishes with a retrospective about the completed sprint. Everyone in the build team shares what they thought went well during the sprint, as well as any issues they encountered. I really like our fortnightly retrospectives – they're a good way to wrap up a sprint, celebrate our successes and discuss ideas for making the next one even better.

So, that's what it's like to be a developer in the Digital team.

 

From Awe to Roar – My first weeks in Digital

📥  Team

It has been just over two weeks since I joined the Digital team as a developer. Before, I had spent ten years working for a small business in a similar role, plus dabbling in accounting, data analysis, operations and database engineering. I decided I needed a new challenge and a change of environment and was lucky enough to be given this opportunity.

Big changes, big relief

After being in a slightly insulated environment for so long, I was worried I might be spending these initial weeks struggling to get to grips with a new way of working, a new team and new systems. Would my new colleagues be scary? Was my knowledge still relevant? Would I be able to remember where the office was?

It wasn’t as scary as I’d feared! There were definitely major differences to adapt to, but luckily I’ve found myself in the midst of a hugely talented and helpful group of people.

The team here were very welcoming and I instantly felt at home. In the stand-up meeting on my first day, everyone gave an introduction and described their tasks for the day. They ranged from being able to log in to their computer (me!) to lofty content and development tasks (everyone else!).

Newbie on Rails

My first tasks didn’t involve a huge amount of coding, but there was a wealth of knowledge to be gained from investigating the existing code and seeing how it all fits together. I had worked on large projects before, but I hadn’t encountered one of this size without having already been involved in its development. It was very interesting to see all the gears and pulleys behind the scenes and the differences in implementation from what I had dealt with before.

Although I don’t consider myself an expert in Ruby on Rails by any stretch of the imagination, I had worked almost exclusively with it for almost a year before coming here, so I was able to hit the ground running. I’m looking forward to being able to expand my knowledge of Rails further, as well as adding some other language strings to my programming bow further down the line.

I find it particularly rewarding to solve problems, so having the chance to help out fixing bugs and tracking down issues has been oddly enjoyable – earlier this week I dusted off my SQL skills and delved into a database to help determine why a particular piece of code wasn’t co-operating.

Dragon Day

At the end of my first two weeks, the tasks were completed and ready to go live. It was the day I had been waiting for ever since I was offered this position: Dragon Day! A little explanation for anyone currently looking confused: when an update goes live, whoever produced the update has the opportunity to press a button to make an impressively-sized dragon toy roar. The roar is followed by a round of applause from the rest of the team.

When it was my turn to push the button, I really got the feeling that this was the right place for me, that the team is a supportive and cohesive one, and that the work of each team member is valued.

I’m looking forward to plenty more roars in the future!

 

Me first big ship

📥  Beta, Design, Team

Ahoy there! Me name is Tegan and I be Digital’s fresh meat. I joined on the first o' December last year. I’m not long graduated from university, with twenty months in industry, tamin’ the wild seas of the web.
I’m a design buccaneer, a user experience swashbuckler. I conduct hearty user research, rescuin’ marooned users from the shores of confusion, and I make user interfaces delightfully easy to use. I also have a fair working knowledge of code which helps me parlay with devs.

Batten down the hatches an’ I’ll tell ye a little tale ‘bout me first big ship.

</pirate>

Sail, ho! There be a ship!

When we release a new feature or change, we call it ‘shipping’.

This ship had a mission: to grab your attention, inspire you to keep reading and build upon the University of Bath’s visual language with a new visual cue.

This element will be used by Collections, thematic pages with handpicked articles. But it may expand to other aggregate content types, like departmental landing pages.

We’ve called this new element a Hero – it’s well-built and displays outstanding achievements and noble qualities! I kid, it’s actually a technical term for a prominent banner on a page.

Hero image is a term used in web design for a specific type of web banner, prominently placed on a web page, generally in the front and centre.

 

The blueprints

Pile of paper with wireframes of the new Collection hero

To start off the design process, we collected data from current users to see what their behaviour is currently.
Using the scroll heatmap, we could see where people linger on the page.

Scroll heat map snapshot

This heat distribution demonstrates that people don’t spend much time above the fold (the top bit of the webpage that is visible without scrolling down). Users quickly scroll below the fold to read the actual content. This is the hottest spot on the entire page.

Next, we checked out how other people do it. What are the current standards, what does and doesn’t work? This process is called peer review and it is a great opportunity to draw inspiration from what other people have done.

Stop. Sharpie time!

I squirrelled away in a meeting room with the collection of Sharpies and A3 paper to punch out weird and wonderful ideas and directions.
I developed a handful of these ideas further, then mocked them up as high fidelity prototypes and presented them to the product owner for feedback.

Armed with feedback, I iterated on my designs with more sketching and more mock-ups to bring back some new and improved ideas to the table.

I collaborated with Sharpie champion and user experience privateer, Dan, to create a new piece of visual language for featured images. This hinted at the existing call-to-action arrow shape with a bit more visual embellishment.

The prototype on artboards in Sketch app

14 artboards later, we were ready to demonstrate the design on a multitude of device sizes and its limitations. These were shown to the Director of Marketing & Communications for final approval.

Sail ho! The design was approved!

All hands on deck!

To breathe life into this new element, we needed to wire it up to the Content Publisher. This required input from multiple disciplines: designers, developers and content producers.

My role was to create the front-end by gluing HTML and Sass together, while Iris developed the working bits to add a new hero section in the editor, and content seadogs composed some explanatory microcopy.

Collaboratively working with Iris was a breeze, and each piece of work slotted together like a jigsaw puzzle. The build took 2 days, with a further day of squashing bugs and browser compatibility testing. 36 git commits later, we were ready for review.

As this was my first time working with both the Foundation framework and the university's visual language, Origins, I think I did good! Some code structure optimisation and minor (but significant) design changes came to light in review, but all the required amendments were quick and soon got the green light.

Pull requests to production put the build into motion. It was time to weigh anchor and set sail!

Fire in the hole!

The deployment dragon roared out across the sea (department) as the ship... shipped.

Peter Pan ship flying into the distance

This feature was a huge blocker for launching the Research collection, so having it ship was an achievement for the whole crew. You can now see the Research Collection live, or read Hanna's post about it from a content perspective.

This is, admittedly, not my first ever ship here at Digital. So far I have set sail to several little ships, or... dinghies, but this feature was my first big one. Drawing upon my own skills and those of the people around me, we have created a cool new element to drive forward a new chapter in the University of Bath’s visual language development.

I raise me grog to the crew and all future ships!
Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life fer me...

 

To infinity and beyond: my first 2 weeks in Digital

📥  Blogs, Team

2

As Christmas day fast approaches and the sound of tapping keyboards becomes a distant memory, I'm given time to reflect on my first few weeks in the digital team and what I've learnt so far.

About Me

My role within the Digital Marketing and Communications team is that of Content Producer. In time, I will be responsible for originating new content including audio, video and copy for the transitioned University website. I'm massively looking forward to this challenge and hoping I can use my creative eye, experience and vision to good effect. In the meantime, I have been somewhat haphazardly familiarising myself with the backend applications and processes that keep the digital team afloat. And which, quite frankly on the first day, gave me brain freeze!

I'm pleased to say this hasn't lasted.

What I've been up to?

There's no doubt there has been an awful lot to learn and mistakes have been rife. Justin and Rhian have been great and guided my early efforts with the patience of saints. This is all the more remarkable given the amount of work currently being shoehorned into place for Student Recruitment. So thank you and hats off! As with every well-oiled machine, it's important to be familiar with all the nuts and bolts that keep it ticking over and for the past couple of weeks I have been learning the basics: how best to use Trello, transitioning various content items on the Content Publisher, understanding the structure of Open CMS, learning about how the team functions, what Show & Tell is and how Standup works to name a few.

Am I the finished product? Not by a long shot, but Rome wasn't built in a day!

Who says all work and no play makes.....

In all honesty, I have been bowled over by the positive dynamic of the team as a whole. The agile method of working, something with which I was not all that familiar, actually works! Not only does it provide a great way to get to know the rest of the team but it encourages collaboration. The autonomy the agile method also provides really allows content producers to take full ownership of their deliverables whilst also advocating a 'two heads is better than one' approach. The functionality of the new CMS is clearly a testament to this. As is the laughter that sporadically echoes around the marketing floor!

What I've learnt?

What have I learnt in my first two weeks? Umm well, I've learnt I can eat Hanna under the table in an eating competition, that Richard has an incredible array of Christmas jumpers, and Phil (gone but not forgotten) has one of the most contagious laughs I've ever heard. However, I digress!

On a more serious note, I've learnt lots and am happy to have been thrown in at the deep end and given the freedom to make mistakes. After all, there is no better way to learn than by doing… then bogging it up… then doing it again… possibly bogging it up again and then finally getting it right! I feel fortunate that, in the heat of battle, frantically typing on my mac like something from the launch sequence of Apollo 13, I haven't got trigger happy and published anything I wasn't supposed to yet!

What do I like most about the department?

Attention To Detail - Everybody in the team is meticulous in their approach to content. Full-stop. No stone goes unturned and a real emphasis is placed on taking time to ask the right questions in order to develop 100% user-orientated content.

Passion - Everybody in the team is clearly passionate about their role and understands their contribution to the overall marketing strategy. This shared vision provides cohesion and direction.

Creativity - I really like the fact that the team's methodology is still a work in progress, people are open to challenges and finding new ways to improve their process. We are not afraid to tear up the rulebook or, of that truly terrifying word CHANGE!

Honesty - People can handle the truth here! I really like the fact that, because the culture is so positive, everybody is able to honestly analyse their own work and its value. In the best creative environments, there are no egos to tip-toe around, truth and logic can be handled and, as long as there's justification, challenges are welcomed and implemented.

The future....

What does future hold I hear you ask. Well, I'm looking forward to getting more familiar with the various faculty heads and processes, becoming a Jedi master of active corporate tone and, in time, helping to originate new content that meets the team's very high standards.

So thank you for having me, have a fantastic Christmas and, in the words of Tiny Tim,

'GOD BLESS US EVERYONE!'

2

 

The neverstarting story

📥  Beta, Communication, Development, Team

Do you ever have a piece of work that never quite makes it to the top of the to-do list? Something that needs doing but is not really crucial enough to be prioritised that highly. It lingers in the background, knocking on the door of your subconscious every time you think of the project.

We had something like that. A story in our backlog which so very nearly made it into sprints, but never actually did. This happened so many times over 5 months that it became known as the 'cursed' story.

Then one day it acquired a different nickname. The original product owner was so fed up of it not being done that he wrote this comment on it.

PO comment

And the 'champagne story' was born.

But the comment didn't seem to help because nearly a year passed before it finally made it into a sprint. The story itself seemed to become more daunting the longer it was unstarted. It was essentially about republishing related content when an item gets published. Important but not groundbreaking stuff.

In the end the story got reduced in scope and then finally made it into the backlog for a sprint. It just so happened that I was the person who picked up the story and actually got the feature done. After all the delays and near misses, the feature itself was quite straightforward to implement.

So you are probably thinking that there was much rejoicing at this being done and I went home happily clutching a newly acquired bottle of champagne? Well, not quite. You see, the product owner had since moved on from our team, so there was a question over whether the champagne would arrive. The team put out a few gentle reminders.

Reminder

The message was out there and we waited. At the same time this was happening, it was my turn to bake for our GBBO sweepsbake. And that is when I had an idea.

What if I baked a cake in the shape of a champagne bottle to celebrate the story being done? And what if I delivered it anonymously to the office? I wondered what would happen.

Cake

 

Detective

It was a fun day. I sat back and watched as people in the office were trying to work out who had made this cake. There were some top detective skills put into practice but somehow I managed to get away with it until the following day when I owned up to being the secret baker.

All in all, I enjoyed finishing the story and baking an interesting cake for the team. I learnt a lot about my colleagues and how much fun they are to work with.

Keep shipping! (and baking)

First impressions – five reasons why I love working in the Digital team

📥  Blogs, Team

They say a week is a long time in politics. But it seems just seven hours can be a political aeon. Because the day before I started my new role in the Digital team, I went to bed in a prospective mood, only to wake to the shock-and-awe news of Trump's election success. With two proud Americans on the team – and the rest of the department seemingly of sound-mind and warm blood – I walked in to an office that was in a palpable sense of shock. But that didn't stop the team welcoming me with open arms and big smiles. These guys are made of strong stuff, I thought.

What I'm doing here

My role here is that of Digital Producer. In time, I'll be planning and producing new content for the transitioned website. For now, I'm getting to grips with all the facets, faculties and faces of the University, and its marketing and web teams.

I come from the world of consumer journalism. Specifically, design and tech websites and magazines (which means I haven't tapped any phones; but I have reviewed a lot of them). In that life, I chased referral traffic and copy sales. If ever the mantra 'done is better than perfect' rings true, it's when you and a thousand other publications are wrestling for search dominance during an Apple unveiling. Fun? Sure. Rewarding? Regularly. Hectic? Definitely. Shambolic? Often. By comparison, the Digital team here is a well-oiled machine. Laser-focused, calm and professional. My new co-workers come from varying backgrounds, but what strikes me most is the air of expertise and attention in producing the best work possible, quickly, and with little-to-no fuss.

The story so far

In my first two weeks, I've sat in on planning meetings; taken part in sprints and fast-turnaround tasks. I've watched as seemingly impossible requests are explored, executed and delivered within what should be unscalable deadlines. I've been to two Show & Tell events – single hour sessions every second Friday, where the team and invitees present success stories and share knowledge – and been blown away by the confidence of the presenters and the quality of the work. And above everything – I've not heard a cross word exchanged.

Plenty of opinion, yes. Healthy debate and cross-examination, sure. But all for the greater good of the task in hand.

This isn't just refreshing. It's positively energising, and a world away from the frazzled grind of consumer journalism.

Why things are GOOD

In keeping with my previous career, though, I thought it might be appropriate to get the last of the clickbait out of my system with a time-honoured listicle.

Behold my five favourite things about working in the Digital team, and what I've learned in the last three weeks.

  1. People care. They care about the quality of the work. They care about how it's presented. They care what it says about the Digital team and the University.
  2. Reason underpins everything. There's no punts; no execution without validation. Hunches are locked in a top drawer. It's not empiricism, it's user-centric design at its finest. And it works.
  3. Office furniture is for sitting on, not for hurling at staff writers. Critical interrogation is welcomed here. Without having to duck from an airborne keyboard as you spike someone's copy or question their caption writing.
  4. I’m surrounded by really smart people, both the academics and University staff; and the direct team I work with of developers, editors and designers.
  5. There's a clear goal, and it's not improving a bottom line or turbocharging share value. It's in producing the best quality work possible within a deadline that does the job it was designed to do.

Have I landed on my feet here, I asked at the end of my first week. Yes. Definitely. A week might be a long time in politics – but in the Digital team, time's flying and I'm having fun.

 

Goodbye titles are hard

📥  Communication, Team

This is my last week as an employee of the University of Bath. I have been coming up The Hill daily for roughly the last fifteen years - first as a student, then as staff - so it's an emotional time.

The University has changed significantly in that time, and yet there is a strong sense of the familiar everywhere I look. The library is a great example - all new equipment and an improved layout but I still see the corners I used to haunt as a mathematics undergraduate more than a decade ago. The places my group used to sit and puzzle through the latest problem sheet and the floor where we definitely didn't create a small camp during an all-night coursework session.

Similarly, the Web Team / Web Application Team / Web Services / Digital has changed people, moved department, moved offices three to five times (depending how you count it) and yet the belief in the web and the desire to build the best and most interesting things we can remains the same.

I've been in this team a long time and learned a huge amount. I started as a junior developer (not that we had that title at the time) and learned about Java and PHP web development as well as the various bits of infrastructure underpinning all this. I wrote Personfinder, which eight years on is still a favourite application amongst our users and I found some notes the other day where one of the sysadmins in BUCS (as it was then) took me through restoring servers from tape backup. Fortunately I have never had to use that information!

After several years of application development we moved our focus to OpenCMS and thus began the first great CMS transition where we moved a load of Dreamweaver sites into the new system. Through this time we were still developing applications and looking at new ways to be productive. It was around then we first dabbled in Scrum and Agile with positive, if mixed results.

Many years of CMS work later, we saw changes in government and their approach to digital and this heralded the rise of GDS, the coming of Ross and the second great CMS transition. We retooled to use Ruby on Rails, growing in confidence as a software house and built our own content management system. The last few years have seen concentrated development resulting in a system we are all proud of and which is making genuinely positive changes in content publishing around the University.

I've learned so much in my time here, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities. One of the great things about the Digital team here is the openness to change and the chance to develop beyond the traditional bounds of the job description. I am moving on to become a Lead Developer at GDS and I can honestly say that wouldn't be happening if not for my experiences here.

So, after 53 Show & Tell presentations, thousands of lines of code, hundreds of retrospectives, loads of accepted features (and more than a few rejected...), dozens of slightly terrifying server repairs, a couple of conference talks and one instance of the bringing down the entire University website it is time to move on.

I will look back on my time here with fondness and I'm going to miss everyone here a great deal. So long and thanks for all the commits.

So long, and thanks for all the gifs.

📥  Team

On Friday 11 November, myself, Tom and Liam will be saying goodbye to the University of Bath.

I will have served for 14 years, 3 months and 13 days. Well, longer than that actually as that's when I started in a permanent position. Initially, I was working at the School of Management on a temp contract.

Tom Natt will have worked here for 12 years 2 months 17 days. His stint at the University is also longer than that figure. He joined as an undergraduate student back in 2001.

Liam McMurray will have done 8 years and 29 days. No gotcha there. That's how long he's been here.

Tom and I are founding members of the team. In the initial incarnation, we worked to an almost agency-like model. We took on projects for clients around the University and received funding for that work. This was because we needed some way of procuring funds for a team that was so new and not yet well established.

Liam joined as the team began to move away from this model. We started to focus attention on the critical parts of our website. Our homepage and our sections on studying saw multiple improvements from this concentration of effort.

Shortly after that, the team adopted Agile working practices based on Scrum. This helped us tremendously in our work. We continually prioritise and organise our work in order to deliver based on our users' needs.

Relatively recently we've embarked on an ambitious programme of transformation of our website. This involves putting our content through an evaluation against user needs. This a crucial basis for how we are transitioning content to our Content Publisher, and away from our legacy CMS.

It is fair to say that since the team's formation we have seen huge changes and improvements. After a very long journey, it feels the right time for the three of us to say goodbye. It is of course with much sadness. There is also a little bit of jealousy as we know that the team will keep improving. It's hard not be a part of it anymore.

The great thing about the Digital team is that, as someone once said, they keep being ambitious.

Work hard, bake hard

📥  Team

The Great British Bake Off is popular in our team, probably because our team is composed of humans. So, of course, we have enforced fun to go with it.

We call it the 'sweepbake' or 'sweepsbake' (opinions are divided on the extra s).

The rules are simple:

  • everyone in the office randomly draws a Bake Off contestant
  • when your contestant is eliminated, you must bring in baked goods, ideally homemade

The result is an onslaught of delicious carbohydrates that lasts for about three months.

Here are some of the treats we enjoyed this year:

Rhian's cheese straws

Rhian's cheese straws

Phil's cupcakes

Phil's cupcakes

Miao's cookies

Miao's cookies

Sean's apple pies

Sean's apple pies

Iris's lemon snickerdoodles

My lemon snickerdoodles

Fortunately, the campus has excellent gym facilities and some lovely running trails to balance all this out.

What I've learned in my first few weeks as a developer

📥  Development, Team

A little over two weeks ago, I started a new job in the Digital team as a Junior Developer.

While this job is new to me, the team isn't – I first joined in January 2014 as a Content Producer. But I'd been thinking about a possible move to development for a while, and found myself taking every opportunity to nose around our codebase and ask questions about how things worked. This escalated to building stuff in my free time (like a Rails app that makes it easier for our office to plan our massive orders for Schwartz Bros burgers). After a slightly scary interview, I was lucky to get the best of both worlds: moving my career in a new direction while staying with the team I've loved being part of for the last few years.

My new mission: build cool stuff that makes our users' lives easier. And while I've only just started, I've already learned a lot.

Turns out I am OK at this

Since this is my first job in development, I was a little nervous that it would take me a while to get up to speed and become a useful member of the team.

Fortunately, Phil and Tom apparently didn't share my nerves and had already drawn up a healthy to-do list for me to tackle. I was excited to be shipping code within my first week.

After getting through three relatively small stories, I moved on to my first bigger feature: making it possible for users to choose the order in which Team Profile list their members. As with all our team's work, this is now being reviewed by another developer and I'm looking forward to the feedback.

Content and development skills do overlap

The day-to-day of content and development might look pretty different. But our team shares a single set of Digital Principles, and those principles work for content, design and development alike.

Many of the things that were important when I was a Content Producer are still important as a Junior Developer, from working in an Agile way to taking the time to properly document processes and decisions. And striking the right balance of being clear and concise is valuable for writing both content and code.

Having experienced the challenges of content production and transition for myself, I also hope that will help me bring some unique insights to our development work.

Looking like a cool hacker

I've spent more time in the command line this fortnight than I probably have in my life. There's a lot to remember, but I'm already starting to see how it can speed up my workflow.

I've also started using the text editor Vim, which comes with Unix and is accessed through the command line. Vim looks arcane and terrifying. But it's actually not that difficult to get to grips with and has already saved me time.

Looking cool is still a perk.

Shipping useful things feels great

The first piece of work I shipped was a pretty small change to the list of all items in the Content Publisher. Previously, Person Profiles were just listed by the role holder name. I amended this to include the person's name as well.

This was a small tweak, but it solved a problem our users had been struggling with for a while – picking one Senior Lecturer out of a list of dozens is frustrating if you have to check each one individually.

Pushing to production to a round of applause felt really good. Knowing that it's something users have been looking forward to made it feel even better.

Development is fun

Okay, I already knew this from doing it in my free time. But it turns out it's fun professionally too. (Whew!)

Getting stuck on a problem can be frustrating, but the thrill of "it works!" when I finally hit the solution has yet to get old.

I'm also fortunate that everyone else is happy to answer questions, offer advice and help me out when I get stuck. Making things on my own was fun, but I prefer being part of the team. And I'm looking forward to continuing to learn.


Also, we're hiring right now – find out more about working in the Digital team.