Dev Discussions: Our Commitment to Refining our Craft

Mike Ash

This January marked the start of my 19th year working at SiteCrafting, and in those years I’ve seen lots of things come and go as we’ve grown and adapted. One of the things that has had longevity is the monthly gathering of our development team to connect with each other.

These gatherings, now called Dev Discussions, originally started out as a chance to talk about what things we’d been working on, neat technologies that might be worth exploring, or problems that we wanted to talk through. As everyone was working on different projects and often flew solo, it gave us a chance to learn a little bit about what other developers were thinking about.

A few years ago we decided to take these Dev Discussion sessions in a little different direction and switch our focus to continuing education. That year, each member of our team gave a 15-20 minute presentation on a topic that was relevant or interesting to them, then led a discussion/Q&A session. We got to learn about things like building APIs with Swagger, end-to-end site testing with Cypress, creating animations using D3, how to approach refactoring a codebase, and what actually goes on under the hood with SVGs. Aside from needing to learn enough to be able to speak knowledgeably about a chosen topic, we also used this time to work on presentation and public speaking skills.

Last year we focused on three topic areas, split into teams, and let each team determine a topic within that area to explore. We stuck with the same topic for three months and wrapped up with a half-day workshop to put some of what was learned into practice. We covered Drupal, ReactJS, and some techniques developers can use to prepare for tackling their next project. Aside from needing to switch to an all-digital experience due to the pandemic, the team enjoyed diving a little deeper into the topics and being able to dedicate a chunk of time to our workshops.

Knowing that last year was going to be a challenge with everyone working remotely, I wanted to keep a pulse on what was working and what wasn’t by applying our values of Research and Stay Curious to the process. With the help of our GearLab team, we ran internal focus group sessions after each workshop to give us something other than our gut feeling to tell how the team was responding. Based on those sessions and periodic feedback surveys, our teams tweaked their approaches to their presentations and workshop as they heard how the rest of the team was engaging.

That data also informed our approach to the 2021 Dev Discussions series, as we had feedback that could be used in combination with our team goals and strategic plan to tweak our format a bit. Unlike last year, where everyone got to spend time with all three topics, we’ve split our team into two groups that will spend the entire year really digging into either modern JavaScript or the Symfony framework. We’re hopeful that each developer sticking with a single topic for an entire year will allow them to achieve a deeper understanding of something that is highly relevant to their daily work. We’ll still have presentations and workshops and time to dig into issues together, it’ll just be in a tighter-knit group.

Who knows what 2021 will bring, but we’ll keep learning and paying attention to the process, so we can craft a great experience for our team, and as a result, our clients.

If you’re interested in seeing what this looks like from the inside, come join our team.