This past weekend I had the chance to speak at jQueryTO about creating a stronger developer culture within organizations and teams. Specifically, I wanted to share some of my own experiences and get people thinking about how they can create similar cultures of their own.

It’s a topic I’ve been interested since I started as a developer and one we feel really strongly about at Jet Cooper. This past year, as we continued to iterate on our process, we focussed a lot of energy on what we could do to strengthen both our development process and culture within the studio at large.  In my talk, I shared our insights from inside and outside of projects, which I’ll try to summarize here.

Inside Projects

Inside our projects, we’ve been focussed on killing the stagger between developers and designers, so that we start at the same time. This has given us a stronger and more unified approach to the work we do and has given developers a chance to contribute ideas and feedback at early project stages. We even rearrange our desks for the duration of the project so that we’re actually working side by side, which has helped immensely in making better decisions together on an ongoing basis.

By starting on projects earlier, we also gain the opportunity to research and prototype. It’s our chance to try out new techniques and grow our skills without having to worry about production code or timelines. We treat our prototypes as experiments that try to solve a single problem at a time. This way, we can focus our efforts and more easily abstract lessons back into design. And that’s the beautiful part about this – we’ve created a process where development informs design just as much as design informs development.

Outside Projects

The work we do outside of projects is just as important in creating a healthy development culture. It gives us all a chance to collaborate beyond our projects and collectively share and grow our insights together as a studio. Here are some of the cross-studio activities that I shared over the weekend that have been working for our team:

  • Monthly Demo Days: Demo Days are a chance for each project team to show off their current accomplishments and challenges to the rest of the team. It enables us to learn from each other’s projects in real time and provide support where necessary.
  • Weekly Dev Talks: On a weekly basis, all of our developers meet to share new techniques we’ve been using, weird bugs we’ve encountered, and anything else on our minds.  These have been largely self-initiated by the devs and have now become a part of our regular weekly rhythm. Our Design Talks and PM Talks work in a similar way.
  • Creative Recess: Two days out of each month, the whole company takes a break from projects and provides dedicated time for exploration and experimentation.  It’s entirely self-directed and our chance to play with more complex tools that may not fit within a project’s timeline. Often, lessons and insights can be brought right back into our projects. (It’s how we got the team to adopt SASS last year!)

These are just some of the notable things we’ve been doing, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. There’s plenty more that we’ve been working on across all teams in the company, and definitely plenty more down the road. We’ve seen a lot of great results so far and our team is happier for it.

Why are we sharing this?

We hope to spark discussions with other developers and get them thinking about what they can do on their own teams to build a stronger developer culture.  Here are some ways you can get started:

  • Talk to your designers. There’s a good chance they’re experiencing a lot of the same frustrations as you so it’s something you can solve together.
  • Become an advocate. I can’t stress this enough. Talk about the benefits of a strong dev culture and try to turn your frustrations into meaningful discussions about how the situation can be improved.
  • Take the initiative. Even if it’s on your own time, take part in early project brainstorming, and do some research and prototyping. It often takes one person to just get the ball rolling and people will see the positive results.

As a developer, I feel really lucky to be part of such a collaborative team. It takes a lot of work, but with support from your team members, it’s something everyone can benefit from. I had a great time at jQueryTO and I’m looking forward to sharing these and other thoughts with more audiences in the weeks to come.

(Oh and PS, we’re hiring!)