Engine Room Live internal conference 2016

We did it again – and this time it was even better!

Pretty much immediately after our inaugural Engine Room Live event last year, it was decided that we needed to run another one this year. People loved it! And who were we to deny the people?

So, plans for our second one began. What was it that had made people love it so much? We needed to make sure we knew what that was, so that we could make it even better.

Throwable mics for the audience Continue reading “Engine Room Live internal conference 2016”

A faster FT.com

How slow websites damage publishers revenue

The FT is building a new version of its website.

Conventional wisdom states that web performance matters and the emphasis of new technical standards like H2 and products for publishers like AMP and Instant Article is speed, acceleration, and instantaneousness.

But why does this matter to our business?

We wanted to understand how much the speed of our website affected user engagement, specifically, the quantity of articles read, one of our key measures of success. Using that data we then wanted to quantify the impact on our revenue.

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Can We Test It? Yes We Can

Hopefully as developers who practice more-or-less test driven development, the excuse that “this code isn’t really testable” should always be challenged these days – indeed, one definition of “legacy code” is “code without test cases”. But what about the non-executable artefacts of a component? There’s usually more than just a binary file involved in deploying a service: for example, a service might transform documents using XSLT, invoke an internal scripting engine, or have a configuration file generated by some templating framework. Can we automate checking on these additional pieces of the jigsaw to reduce the risk of launching broken deployments?

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Salesforce, mobile & Front end stories

Salesforce has its own proprietary language called Apex. Apex provides easy to build data views and because the out of the box interface is never enough, it also has it’s own front end proprietary language, Visualforce. Apex is very much a Java-like object-oriented language in syntax and grammar, however the concept of programming is rather Database – oriented. With Apex you can access and perform all the known DML actions on your data. Visualforce is a markup language with plenty of tags that essentially are ‘translated’ as html elements when the pages you have built are rendered. Furthermore Visualforce has out of the box JavaScript components that will enhance the flow of the UI. Take the two together, Apex + Visualforce and you have got a powerful combination of customizable views and data manipulation. There’s nothing you can’t do right?

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Hackathon? No, not yet. Ideas Splurge!

In many cases, the answer to “How do you organise a Hackathon?”

appears to be “You don’t. What you need is an Ideas Splurge.”

Giving away the punchline: In crude terms, an Ideas Splurge generates more well-thought-through ideas per person in less time. More people meet and talk in less time. It is more inclusive, and less off-putting to newbies. It can be arranged at shorter notice, and there is less to go wrong. It leaves folks wanting more, rather than, as with many hackathons, “well, I’m glad that’s over”. An Ideas Splurge is, fundamentally, more effective at tackling the disconnects between disparate groups within a company.

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Using sabotage to improve

Given a long enough time frame everything breaks.  How ready is your business for a serious disaster?   This is a short account of some of the preparations the technology team at the FT have been making to ensure we can keep delivering world class business news and analysis even when things go very, very wrong.

Over the past few years at the FT we have steadily been increasing our disaster recovery testing with planned failovers and deliberate acts of sabotage to our own estate. Taking a leaf from the Netflix simian army, we have gradually improved our services’ resilience with what we have learnt from these exercises.  For example, powering down DNS or Active Directory servers have highlighted areas of weakness that we have been able to mitigate or remedy completely. Continue reading “Using sabotage to improve”

Organising the Engine Room Conference

The FT Technology department just held an internal conference, with a panel-based format similar to/entirely copied from EdgeConf.

The whole thing was arranged in less than a month and, apart from some VC hiccups, ran remarkably smoothly with some good feedback from the 100+ attendees.

So what made this work, both in getting it organised and in the event itself? The organising group sat down and tried to work it out.

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A Product Manager’s visit to the Engine Room

My notes from the FT Engine Room tech conference, 2nd Feb 2015, from a Product Manager’s perspective.

Earlier this month I was invited as a panelist to the Engine Room conference here at the FT. As I spent last year exploring BDD practices as a product owner with the development teams, I was there to contribute on the automated testing panel. I decided to make it a full day and stayed in the audience for all the five panels. I expected a day of in-depth conversations around technical tools and engineering practices. I came prepared for that I might not understand even half of the details, but hoping to catch up on the latest trends in FT Technology. My expectations were wrong. Most of the discussions centered around what we build and how we manage our product life-cycle and as a product manager I found myself right in the middle of the action!

After a great day at the conference I wrote up my impressions from the panels and from discussions throughout the day. This is a (slightly edited) note I sent to Product Management at the FT. Perhaps there are thoughts you will find useful!

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