Punctuated Excitement

27th May '166 of your Earth minutes

Punctuated Excitement

When I try to tell new acquaintances about what I do, the conversation usually finishes in 30 seconds with them saying something like “oh yeah, IT, I thought so” or “so you’re a web designer?”

So I don’t really get a lot of time to show them how exciting it is for me. I feel I’m probably at my most passionate when talking about these things. What can I say, it excites me!

I get the same even with some of my closest friends. They’re not really interested in seeing me get super excited about all that ‘internet stuff’. These people – as much as I love them – are oblivious and totally ambivalent towards the joys of what I do.

But I’m a developer. I don’t know why, but I love the possibilities of code. I love the challenge and the euphoria of success. I’m addicted.

Basically, my point is: this post is my opportunity to rave about something that has happened over the past couple of weeks which has really stoked my fire (and many other potentially sexual euphemisms, sorry).

With any hobby that becomes a profession, it’s not always the enjoyable experience you imagine it will be 100% of the time.

I’m not complaining; I’m extremely lucky to be paid well to do something I enjoy. But let’s be honest, no one gets to do their most exciting work every day of the week.

And perhaps you never should have that pleasure. It would probably be really exhausting.

So it seems the career of a developer is only ever destined to be at best punctuated with moments of intense enjoyment.

These past few weeks, I was lucky enough to experience one that I won’t soon forget.

As some of you may know, I work at isev, a small (there’s 6 of us right now) web design/development/marketing/hosting/email service provider based in the heart of England at the very birthplace of the Industrial Revolution… Telford, Shropshire.

Don’t be put off by this remote and little-known locale, it’s been a hotbed of technological thoroughbreds for decades… a well-connected enclave for the more cost-aware tech companies of the past half-century.

Capgemini, Epson and others – all have graced the one town that forces you to go round and round on some of the longest slip-roads (“on-/off-ramps”) in England.

And then there’s isev. Started about 8 years ago by our 2 directors (“founders”), it has grown steadily by supporting local, national and international clients with unwavering loyalty, supreme quality and excellent service.

I joined isev about 4 years ago as Lead Developer and have tried to bring improvements to our development processes all along the way: introducing git, promoting the use of Open Source, contributing to Open Source, standardising through frameworks (Laravel, Bootstrap) amongst many other improvements.

This has brought a lot of little joys for me personally and the team as a whole. It’s improved our efficiency immeasurably and cemented us as a valuable partner to some amazing clients.

But with all of these very worthy and notable accomplishments, I still feel lacking in one area: I have always hankered for working on a product with a great team that are all invested in the idea and love working on it.

I think being on the fringes of the tech startup industry has definitely had an impact here. I was lucky enough to work alongside Joel Gascoigne on some projects while he was building Buffer in his spare time.

At isev, we’ve tried over the years to build a product, but you can’t force people on the team or outside to be excited by something; it has to come naturally. I haven’t experienced anything close to that since being here… until this past 2 weeks.

Sunsets always lead to sunrises

It all began about 3 weeks ago. We became aware that Sqwiggle would be shutting down and like many other teams who used it daily, we were really saddened by the news.

Sqwiggle was a great little tool. As a remote worker myself (I’m in London), and with other remote workers on our partially-distributed team, Sqwiggle gave us all a sense of belonging to something bigger. What would we do without it?

Sqwiggle’s shutdown was rapid and not much notice was given. I don’t blame anyone on their team, this must have been a gut-wrenching decision to make after pouring so much of yourself into a product used and liked by many.

The signs were there though: development had pretty much stopped altogether, the app was becoming increasingly clunky, social presence had almost completely dropped and with the team seemingly switching focus to (and subsequently sunsetting) another product – Speak – it became clear that the focus had moved firmly away from Sqwiggle.

Little did we realise, though, just how much this little app – that irritated some of us (me) at times – would be so fundamental in the whole team feeling closer. You really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone!

Coincidentally, we’d recently reignited discussions of building a product, discussions which had started to pick up pace as we began to fix up one of our earlier projects in readiness for prime time.

Also in the back of my mind was the recent release of Laravel Spark and something of a burning desire to deploy an app using it.

The stage was set:

A perfect MVP storm!

This was an opportunity not to be missed. But what I witnessed on this occasion is something that still takes my breath when I think about it.

I began coding a simple prototype to prove that we could create a Sqwiggle replacement for our own uses. It was a little rough but it worked and I was able to quickly demonstrate how it would work in a team setting.

This seemed to ignite the touch paper and suddenly everything changed up a few gears. It seemed that everyone on the team was super excited by the possibilities of this technology: both as a way for us to replace a beloved tool but also as a product we could all get 100% behind.

Things moved very quickly. With everyone on the team getting involved, content, designs, servers, code and features were all coming together almost in perfect harmony.

The main goal was to get a beta launched by the end of the week. And I’m happy to say we did it!

Thanks to Spark and other tools such as Bootstrap, it’s even more polished than a typical MVP.

But minimal it definitely is. We tried to keep it lean and even dropped some functionality which I had in the prototype because it was a little rusty.

With only one significant hiccup along the way – a poor choice in real-time technology – we managed to go from nothing to something we are all extremely proud of in just about 9 days and launched a beta which has gained a little over 100 active users in a single week.

The idea’s definitely already been validated, but this proved that even a minimal product can still capture an audience who were missing a superior solution.

It feels amazing to have been able to achieve this and I really hope we can grow PukkaTeam. But by far the best thing about this process has been the exhilaration that I’ve personally felt (and I know the rest of team isev have felt too) that’s come from being in ‘the zone’ and having an amazing flow for more than just a few hours. When everyone on the team has this, it becomes infectious and can be extremely motivational.

I can still feel it now.

It’s a huge testament to the whole team. Everyone has worked hard (without working into the ground). We should all be able to look back at this period with pride and I’m sure we will all remember how good it can feel to be web designers, developers, and marketers.

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