Hadrien’s voyage of discovery continues and in this blog he discusses a few of the events he has attended since arriving in San Francisco 2 months ago, and how these have impacted upon his work so far and our focus for After Digital going forward.
“About six weeks ago, I got invited to a limited preview of a system called Singly (a social feeds aggregating API) where we got to play around with the API and give feedback in the process. A couple of weeks later, Singly organised a huge hackathon in one of the fanciest, most work-conducive spaces I've ever had the pleasure of visiting. The only rule was to make use of their API, but beyond that we were free to do whatever we wanted. So over two and a half days about 120 people worked relentlessly (some in teams, others by themselves) day and night, coming up with new ideas and setting up processes in the blink of an eye. This was a wonderful atmosphere to be in, for a whole weekend I got to feel like I was living in a world where thinking outside-the-box and efficiently was not only valued but largely encouraged. People were helping each other and sharing their ideas, showing that the work produced was far more important than the money that usually drives it.
“During these events, I get to see how other people work, both in a personal and professional capacity. I also ended up spending a lot of time talking with the wonderful people behind Singly, seeing where and how they get things done. They have managed to generate a lot of interest around their platform and one of the first things I noticed is that everyone is committed to building a quality product people want to use, there is no cutting corners. They communicate a lot, not so much with fancy processes or tools, they just talk through all of their decisions thoroughly. Everybody's ideas matter, and while the core of the business is led by Singly themselves, they're always eager to know what their users think. They regularly implement their users' ideas and where they don’t they will explain their decisions.
“Building quality solutions that excite both the makers and the users is exactly what After Digital strives to achieve. I would add that in my opinion a successful product is one that is built out of passion, because you're not simply getting what you were expecting, you get a lot more. I can definitely see how Silicon Valley has made its mark on Neil (our Managing Director), providing an office space that makes people comfortable and inspires them, or in my case the biggest office space ever. We're not just making websites any more, we now try more and more to share the fruits of our respective passions, and it's all about valuing what each and every single person brings to the table.
“From my perspective, it's about discovering new technologies, or new uses for existing ones. It's about breaking down existing problems and coming up with creative solutions. It's about seeing how we work and improving on the process. Luckily for me in San Francisco being in frequent contact with such motivated people makes this task an exciting game, one I wish I could keep playing forever. In the space of only two months I've learnt two new programming languages, discovered different frameworks and APIs, and learnt new ways of working. I've worked for After Digital for more than four years now, a good part of it being the lead developer, and it was obvious to me that we could keep improving on processes, making our lives easier and not harder as the company grew. We've made quite a few changes through the years which have contributed to After Digital's ongoing success. At this point in time we're making some radical decisions that will take After Digital's work from very good to outstanding, and it starts by making full use of everybody's potential.
“After Digital has a strong team of highly motivated people, everybody has a reason to be there, and none of us even know what it means not to ‘go the extra mile’. One of the problems most companies face is to bring all that talent together, and one of the biggest changes we're trying to implement is a way for all the different teams to collaborate more meaningfully. This means fewer processes overall, but ones that everybody can easily follow. This also means undertaking work we can always be proud of and avoiding redundant work which could become painful over time. The developers and myself are currently putting some of the necessary building blocks for this in place, it's a short-term effort for long-term benefits. We'll have a platform every team will be able to use and share, which will help and encourage everybody to produce better quality work in shorter periods of time, whilst being aware of everything that happens across other teams. The aim - less time worrying and more time innovating, concentrating on the real problems and building on the existing solutions.
“The success of After Digital is also due in no small part to the Open Source communities, a thriving world here in San Francisco. A lot of people tend to associate Open Source with not making any money. As far as I'm concerned, this is actually looking at the problem the wrong way around. If you have a good idea and decide to implement it, you may never have all the resources to achieve it properly. On the other hand, by relying on Open Source, you can get your idea started, put it out there and improve on it with the help of other people. Everybody gets to use it for free and add to it, and everybody benefits from a more complete solution in the end. This means more time concentrating on the real problems. As part of our drive forward After Digital will soon start making some of our work Open Source. We really hope to be able to help a large number of people out there who will, in turn, help us in the long run. We constantly revise and improve our products and it's now time to not let that work wither but instead use Open Source to take it further. At the end of the day we deliver expertise, not code.
“As for now, working remotely is a great experience, it's still quite new to me and I'm sure to a lot of my colleagues too, but it's allowed me to take a step back and look at the way I/we work. I've always loved what I do so getting motivated is never a problem, although in San Francisco I sometimes motivate myself beyond exhaustion, being the passionate geek that I am. My next stop will be South Korea (more precisely Busan), a country that has accepted technology as an everyday tool and not just the next fad. It'll be interesting to see what I can learn from them, but I'm expecting there will be a much larger focus on cross-platform development, delivering systems that work across a range of modern devices. Most of what I've experienced here so far has confirmed this idea - that a good site that works cross-platform is a much more viable and economical approach than delivering a number of different solutions. You get to concentrate on one solution properly instead of implementing different products that essentially all answer the same problem.
“So far this has been a remarkably stimulating experience, both personally and professionally. I suspect this is only the beginning of a series of great changes for After Digital and myself, and I hope we get to share this passion with existing and prospective clients a lot more as time goes on.”
When we next hear from Hadrien he will no longer be 'our man in San Fran' but have moved on to the next stage of his travels in South Korea, where a whole host of new opportunities and experiences await him - Bon Voyage!