The workflow change that helped us deliver more, deliver faster

What is a software peer review?
In the same way someone peer reviewing an article to be published in a newspaper will be looking for more than just spelling and grammatical errors, an engineer peer reviewing a change to software will be checking the work hasn’t made any false assumptions; has fulfilled its requirements; won’t cause problems or extra work for anyone else later on; and, of course, it’s a good idea to check for spelling mistakes too.

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IT janitor – how to be the guy at the back with a broom

On Saturday mornings, my 5 year old son goes to football training. This means I stand on a cold school playing field next to some other cold (and socially awkward) dads making small talk about how cold it is.  A few Saturdays ago a dad who works in the IT department for a large city bank was on the phone for large parts of the session.  Working in IT there are certain words or expressions that exhibit the cocktail party effect.

So, without wishing to eavesdrop I could not help but overhear these phrases: “unix patching”, “how long till we can restore service” and “rollback plan”.  I could tell he was dealing with a legacy piece of his IT estate, so I did not ask him why he did not have a resilient set up that allowed him to use A/B patching groups and chose not to comment that ‘planned downtime’ is still downtime and should not really be tolerated.

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Mobile Testing: The Uphill Struggle

The Early Days

When the Financial Times launched its first Mobile Web App in 2009, little was known about the potential impact mobile platforms would have on the way we consume news and information.

The existing, but recently launched, m.ft.com site was already a successful platform in its own right, primarily aimed at the business user on Blackberry Devices which were unable to effectively render www.ft.com.  In 2007 the launch of the Apple iPhone device and subsequent success of the App Store, provided an opportunity to offer a portable digital FT that FT.com Desktop users could access from their pockets at any time.  The iPad was launched a few years later along with a small number of Android alternatives.

The FT met this new challenge with native apps that would work on each of these individual platforms.  The initial presence in the App Store and the subsequent retreat in 2011 are well documented.  What has been maintained throughout has been an opportunity for FT readers to access the FT on whichever platform they choose.

In 2010, the FT Mobile QA team was in its infancy.  One part-time test resource was assigned a handful of devices based on what was currently being actively sold and marketed. This was a fairly simple task given there wasn’t much choice on offer at the time.  The devices included handful of iPads, iPhone 4’s, HTC Desire’s, Blackberry and a Samsung Galaxy 7”.

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Web vs Native

… How technology has shaped the FT’s digital strategy

Native apps, Web apps, HTML5, responsive design — the media industry’s transition from print to digital is full of terminology and technical choices. The engineering manager at FT Labs, an emerging Web technologies division of the Financial Times, explains the pros and cons of each and how FT has found its way.

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Caveat Emptor SaaS

The Financial Times began its journey into cloud computing a number of years ago and recent years and months have seen an acceleration in the use of the cloud beyond just email and CRM and into core systems of record.

Cloud computing describes any kind of computing hosted online, via the internet.  Software as a Service (SaaS) is one of the many cloud computing terms, describing a software delivery model in which software and associated data are hosted centrally on the cloud.  Other cloud terms include Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).  In a SaaS instance, a single version of the hosted application is used for all customers in a so-called multi-tenant architecture, in which the application scales horizontally to serve multiple customers.

SaaS promises a number of benefits over traditional software, including:

  • reduced costs through outsourcing hardware and software maintenance and support to the SaaS provider

  • usage scaling to meet the demands of the customer, supported by pay-as-you-use models
  • faster feature release cycle and automatic upgrades

I jumped on the FT cloud wagon 2 years or so ago and have been actively involved in selecting, integrating with and managing services with a number of SaaS vendors during that period.  The journey hasn’t always been easy and for some of our requirements, SaaS may not have been the right model.  This post details some of my thoughts, considerations and challenges with SaaS, including non-functional considerations such as performance, latency and availability, the challenges of fitting SaaS around your application development lifecycle and coping with operational restrictions.

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Behaviour-Driven Development at the FT

I’ve spent a lot of my time at the FT talking about and attempting to do Behaviour Driven Development (BDD), but only recently have I become convinced that it makes my life as a developer easier.

Behaviour Driven Development Mantra

I think this is because it’s easy to focus on the wrong things. In this blog post, I’m going to discuss what I’ve learned about doing BDD over the last 3 years.

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Introducing a history of technology at the FT

There’s already some publicly available information on the FT and its history, which focuses mostly on the personalities and politics, skipping over many of the technologies which have come and gone over the years.

A quick straw poll in the office reveals that we still have a few links in the chain of living memory; people still working in the company or recently retired, who can remember back through several of the most significant changes in technologies used to get the FT out of the journalists’ heads and onto the pink paper in the hands of the readers (and only much more recently onto their computer screens).

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Events and Interviews

Here are some recent events (organised or attended by FT Technology or FT Labs) and interviews.

 21/03/2014   Conference– “Edge is a new kind of non-profit one-day conference on advanced web technologies for developers and browser vendors, raising funds for CodeClub.” LONDON, MARCH 21, 2014. Presented by FT Labs, Microsoft and Google. Some #edgeconf traffic on twitter. Reports and thoughts from host Andrew Betts, ….

 

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Introducing the FT Technology Department Blog

Welcome to the FT Technology Department Blog. Here we will be sharing our experiences with technology which hopefully others can benefit from as well as offering up things we have built.

Our perspective is that we do some great work at the FT but we are not a startup working without baggage so we can provide some informal and balanced views on how to deal with the practical issues that occur when old and new tech have to kiss and make up.

Hope you enjoy what we have to offer in posts from areas as diverse as infrastructure (e.g., decommissioning), software development (e.g., BDD), and software as a service (e.g., how to pick a vendor), complementing our sister blog at FTLabs, and other themes such as a History of Tech in publishing.