SitePoint Podcast #80: FullCodePress with Team Australia

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Episode 80 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week Kevin Yank (@sentience) chats with James Mansfield (@jmans), Adam Schilling (@schilling) and Lachlan Donald (@lox), three members of Team Australia, the winners of this year’s FullCodePress web development competition in New Zealand. They reminisce about their experience planning, designing, and building a complete site in 24 hours.

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Interview Transcript

Kevin: September 24th, 2010. Three members of Team Australia discuss building a winning site in 24 hours. I’m Kevin Yank and this is the SitePoint Podcast #80: FullCodePress with Team Australia.

And welcome to a special episode of the SitePoint Podcast. I have run around the halls here at SitePoint headquarters and even beyond in order to pull together three members of the team of Australia’s FullCodePress contingent this year. This was the winning team this year, they were up against a team from New Zealand and an All Stars team from overseas. I’m sure we’ll hear all about that, but before we get started I’ll just ask you guys to go around the table and introduce yourselves; let’s start with James.

James: Thanks Kev. Yeah, my name is James Mansfield, I’m a designer for 99designs, my role for Team Australia was the user experience advocate which was looking out for the user basically, so doing interaction design and a focus on the usability of the site and I guess also information architecture as well, so that was my role.

Kevin: Cool. Regular listeners of the Podcast will remember James from two weeks ago; he was on with Matt Magain to talk about user experience design. Another familiar face to podcast listeners would be Adam Schilling; Adam used to work at 99designs, these days he’s at August Creative, is that right Adam?

Adam: That’s right, yeah, I’m User Experience Designer here at August, and for FullCodePress I took the role of HTML and CSS “marker-upperer”, the technical term; I think that’s one of the reasons why I went for that role, (laughter), yeah.

Kevin: And Lachlan Donald who does my job at 99designs, he’s CTO there.

Lachlan: Yeah, hi, I was the web developer for the team, which as far as I’m concerned was the easy job; I just had to beat WordPress into shape.

Kevin: (Laughs) So these roles, let’s start with this, these roles were they sort of hard-coded, did FullCodePress mandate that you needed a developer, you needed a marker-upper, and you needed a user experience advocate or was it just whoever shows up does whatever they can do?

Adam: Well, the roles seem to me to be pre-specified, but I think one of the awesome things that happened on the day was there was a lot of role sharing, and it was particularly beneficial that quite a few of us had worked together previously. And so, yeah, a lot of the responsibility was doled out accordingly.

James: Yeah, there were definitely set roles, so FullCodePress said we’ve got six positions available on each team, I think there was six or seven, and everybody applied for one of those positions, and I believe you could apply for multiple positions as well, so there were six roles. But, yeah, like Adam said, in that environment when there’s 24 hours a lot of those roles overlap and a lot of people are helping out, like I went and helped out doing some HTML and CSS yet I’m the user experience advocate on this, so in that environment you really need to share tasks and, yeah, that played out on the day.

Kevin: So, Lachlan, how much of the rules can you remember? There was the three of you, there were three other members of the team; is that right?

Lachlan: Yep, so three other roles. So there was a content editor and there was a designer and also a project manager.

Kevin: Cool. And you guys had 24 hours to build a complete site from nothing, right?

Lachlan: Yep.

James: Correct.

Kevin: So you guys flew to Sydney, is that where it was this year?

James: No, it was in Wellington this year actually.

Kevin: Wellington.

James: So, in New Zealand which was a lovely venue, a nice place, it had some great coffee there and, yeah, it was a nice town. It was pretty cold there were some very cold mornings and some windy mornings, but yeah it was a really nice experience and a lovely place to visit.

Kevin: So what’s the first thing you remember doing?

Adam: In Wellington?

Kevin: Well, yeah, sitting down as a team you got this big job ahead of you, where did you start?

James: I remember admiring Adam’s luggage when we first arrived in Wellington (laughter). He had this beautiful red bag, and I thought it had love hearts; did it have love hearts on it Adam?

Adam: Uh, well, (laughter) often mistaken for love hearts, yes, but no.

Kevin: It was some graphic design thing, right?

Adam: Well, I’d like to think so, but no (laughter). The first thing I remember about Wellington was landing in Wellington; you’re sort of like you’re coming in over the ocean and then there’s this air strip coming up ahead, but you can’t see it until the very last minute and then suddenly you’re landing, and then you’re sort of still going really fast down this track and you see that the air strip ends and it’s more ocean on the other side.

Lachlan: Yeah, I remember looking down at water and saying to you, Adam, “Yep I hope there’s runway soon.” (laughter)

Adam: Yeah. In terms of getting started, we were quite fortunate in that the hotel that we were all staying at had a boardroom, and I forget who, I think it was either you James or Lachlan; somehow we managed to swing that room for the entire day before the event.

James: Yeah, we were quite lucky there.

Kevin: So you had a pow-wow just to strategize before you found out what it is you were going to have to build.

Adam: Exactly.

Lachlan: Yeah. I mean one of the big technical questions for Adam and I, like literally the day before, WordPress 3 had been released, so we kind of as a team we had about five or six sort of meetings leading up to, and we’d all decided that WordPress was the way to go. And so then WordPress 3 came out and Adam and I had to decide kind of hours before whether we were going to bet the farm on kind of a new platform, so yeah, we spent a lot of that day I guess playing around with all of the new sort of child themes stuff and just getting a feel for WordPress 3.

James: Yeah, I remember the day before in the boardroom in the hotel and you played I think the introduction video that was talking about all of the new features for WordPress and we’re sitting there umming and ah-ing about whether we should go with it or not.

Lachlan: Yep.

Kevin: So you guys had decided on WordPress going in; how much of an idea did you have of the type of site you would be building, like what did you base your decision of WordPress on?

Lachlan: So, one of the things we had going into it was all of the past sites, I guess, from the past years, so we had a look at those and kind of got an idea of the sort of sites we’d be doing, the sort of content.

Kevin: So for those who don’t know FullCodePress you’re always building a site for a charity, a non-profit of some kind.

Lachlan: Yeah, and it’s always a charity from where you’re from, so we had an Australian charity and New Zealanders had an NZ charity; with the exception of the U.S., yeah, they got a New Zealand charity as well.

Adam: I think between Kylie Liggins, the project manager, and James we had basically built up a, I don’t know if you call it a folio, of maybe 30-odd competitor sites or, well, other charity sites. And so we had a good idea of the types of things charities were doing, how they were going about doing it, and we had several discussions about how we might tackle those sorts of challenges if they came up in the client briefing session prior to the event.

Kevin: So the techie guys were working on WordPress; James, as a designer was this the main stuff you were doing, researching the market of charity websites and figuring out what works and what doesn’t?

James: Absolutely. Yeah, we got together as a team quite a bit in the lead-up to it. We had a lot of Skype conferences and discussed ideas and had plans and strategies. And, yeah, something that we all did was go and research other non-for-profit sites, and I think there was a great article on Smashing Magazine I think it was that had best practices for non-profit sites and charity sites, and we looked at that and read lots of the advice and thoughts in there, and printed out a lot of the sites as well. I remember being on the flight over with Adam and Kylie and having I think a stack of about 30 pages, 30 websites, and going through what we liked and what we didn’t and what we thought would be appropriate in certain situations, so there was a fair bit of planning and preparation and thinking about what we would do if given certain websites and certain charity sites.

Kevin: So I want to get to the actual 24 hours as quickly as possible, but after that meeting were you guys basically just hitting the sack getting as much sleep as possible, is that the plan?

Adam: (Laughs) No, uh, we went out that night (laughter).

Lachlan: Our strategy was we talked over strategy of trying to get the American guys incredibly drunk the night before and one of us would take them out for drinks, but it didn’t quite end up working out that way.

James: They went to bed really early, I don’t think they came out at all; I think it was just the Australians and the New Zealanders. Maybe it was the jet lag, they’d flown all the way from America, but yeah, they were absent the night before. I think we went to a great bar in Wellington called Hooch which was a nice cocktail bar if anyone’s over there, over that way.

Kevin: Noted. So that American team was new for FullCodePress this year, were they a daunting team to be up against?

Adam: Yeah.

Lachlan: Yeah, well, I’d say they had some big names, like I mean their developer was one of the WordPress developers, so apparently that convinced the WordPress guys to release version 3…

Kevin: Oh, wow.

Lachlan: …a bit early just for the competition. Might have been that we were told just to, ah, you know.

Kevin: (Laughs) So needless to say they were using WordPress 3.

Lachlan: Yeah.

Kevin: Cool. Alright, so you went out, you had a good party night, arrived at the hotel, what, bright and early the next morning?

James: I don’t know about you guys but I slept really poorly the night before which didn’t help me in the event. I think I was just playing through in my mind how the contest would play out and what we’d do and, yeah, I certainly didn’t get a good night’s sleep.

Adam: Well, I remember being up until about maybe 1:00 or 2:00 a.m. hacking on some em based layouts.

James: Oh, wow.

Lachlan: Yeah, that’s right, I was up on trying to figure out closed captioning for Flash videos, that’s one of the things that we thought we were going to get was video just kind of based on a hunch, and so we wanted to figure out how to do the accessibility side of that right.

Kevin: And em based layouts, Adam, that’s creating a layout that will scale with font size changes, right?

Adam: Exactly.

Kevin: Wow. Yeah, tricky. I know not many of the CSS frameworks do that sort of scaling. I think YUI’s CSS layout framework is the only one I know of that does that out of the box. But you were coding from scratch?

Adam: Yeah, we were largely coding from — actually, no, hang on, we were basing on one of the child themes or we created our own child theme off of one of the default themes in WordPress, yeah.

Kevin: Alright, so before we get into the code let’s talk about your setup at the place, at the event. You guys I remember watching some of the videos you were putting out at the time on YouTube; it looked like you had quite a deliberate sort of desk arrangement. Can someone talk me through that?

James: Sure, everybody had a quite different arrangement, we decided to all sit facing the same way and were facing the wall, we had lots of index cards and Post-it Notes and were planning to use butcher’s papers to wireframe ideas and share ideas, but we very much went into the event thinking we want to share as much as possible with each other and not to go off into our own areas and do our own thing individually, so our desk layout reflected that. We were all— We sat next to each other facing the same direction looking at the wall and that wall was going to be our task list and what we were trying to achieve. So, yeah, it was a deliberate setup.

Adam: And our seating arrangement was fairly deliberate as well, so sort of seated alongside people we were most likely to collaborate with as the sort of day went on. So I think from memory it was Lachlan (developer), myself (HTML, CSS), then it was Yanni who was our graphic designer, then James (UX), Robin who was doing our copyrighting who also spent a good deal of the time with the client, who we’ll get to, and then Kylie the project manager. And the desks were while we were in a line facing the wall we were kind of on an angle almost in like a V-shape so that we could clearly see each other and talk at the same time.

Kevin: Cool. So let’s talk about the client. I guess that your meeting with the client was the first thing that happened, was that like at 9:00 a.m. or something like that?

James: So that was at 11:00 a.m., it kicked off at 11:00; they introduced the three clients for each of us at 11:00 a.m.

Kevin: And you were all there for that or was it a team representative that met with them?

James: We were all there for that, so everybody in the event including the volunteers all were in the foyer of the building and they announced it to everybody in that context, and then we all went off into our rooms from there and went at it basically. And we’d talked about this in the lead-up to this and we were going to spend as much time as what we thought we needed as a group just discussing and finding out more about their business and their business needs. And I believe we spent more than everybody else, any of the other teams, sitting down and discussing in quite detail what they were looking for and what we could and couldn’t do and sharing ideas with each other.

Kevin: Was there a lot of tension there? I can imagine some of the team members would have been like “Let’s just get started!”

James: I didn’t feel it. I felt like everybody was really enjoying the discussion and talking about ideas and throwing out ideas for how they thought it could work. We also, we took the approach of all sitting down and sketching out ideas as well, so we spent I think maybe two hours with the client talking about their needs and their brand and understanding what their existing website was doing and doing well and not so well. And they had a corporate video which we watched as well to get a better idea of their communication style and who they were appealing to and what content they had. And then after all those discussions we all brainstormed with pen and paper, just a marker or Sharpie, we all sketched out ideas for how we think the homepage should work as well, and I think that was a really important exercise so that we’re all quite clear and we all felt like we had our ideas heard and discussed, and that was a good thing. And then after that we were like, okay, we’re three or four hours into this, we really do need to break up and go on, but nobody — it didn’t feel like anybody really wanted to run off and start doing their own thing.

Kevin: So when you did finally break up and start working did you work very independently do you feel?

Adam: I don’t; I feel like we worked really closely, like Lachlan and I we went off and started talking WordPress setup stuff and Lox to his credit did a huge amount of work in probably those first two or three hours in terms of setting up the whole framework and getting the themes up and running and all that sort of gear. So, yeah, and there were conversations going on right by me with Yanni, the designer, and James was continuing to work with the client in figuring out how they would tackle some of the upcoming challenges; it was fairly collaborative I found, with Kylie sort of roaming around checking on people making sure that we were on track and that everybody was sort of happy with the path we’d chosen.

James: We also were quite in the beginning we planned to have regular catch ups every couple of hours and sit down for five minutes as a team and get away from our computer and get away from what we were doing, we knew that was important to have those sessions and we continued to do that throughout the day as well.

Kevin: So, Lachlan, as the developer, what was provided? Was there just basically, I don’t know, a shared hosting environment with an empty directory is that what you were dealing with?

Lachlan: Yeah, so basically we got given our own shared host which kind of had a LAMP stack on it, MySQL, Apache PHP, and from there, yeah, we were left to our own devices basically.

Kevin: Were there any surprises with that environment, anything that you found you had to spend some time wrangling that you weren’t counting on?

Lachlan: Well, it was actually a bit of a disaster. We had almost I think an hour and a half of downtime about halfway through the competition where something happened with that server and it kind of went completely offline. So, yeah, thankfully Adam and I had decided to kind of use local development virtual machines.

Kevin: So you were just deploying to that shared host, you weren’t developing on it?

Lachlan: Yeah, so the only real catch was that the content was being edited on that shared host and we’re kind of — to kind of make it as a spectator sport as possible we had all of the code on GitHub and we had a little bar up at the top of the site that kind of gave you to the minute updates on what changes we’d pushed and what was happening. So, yeah, there was that aspect and the content was being edited on that shared host, but we were actually doing the development on our local machines.

Kevin: Alright. So, Adam, I’d like to hear from each of you what do you think was the biggest challenge that you faced in your particular area of this project, downtime aside? Or was it routine; was it exactly as you expected?

Adam: Yeah, there weren’t too many surprises with what I was doing. I mean if there was a challenge or two it was that there was a lot to code up, and I was fortunate that Lox and James were there to lend a hand with that towards the end of the competition. And I guess one of the other curly things was calculating dimensions sort of on the fly and making sure that that layout was going to work.

Kevin: So you mentioned that before; was that a deliberate strategy like it was something extra that you planned to do from the beginning that you thought would give you a leg up over your competition?

Adam: We’d considered it with that sort of thing in mind, that sort of ‘a leg up’ in mind, in some of our chats before the competition, but it wasn’t really until we’d met the client that I decided we would go with it all the way. So, our client was Lions Hearing Dogs, and we were dealing with people who had hearing issues and they basically have these dogs allocated to them to help alert them to danger or to the telephone ringing, things like that. What came up in those conversations with the client was that some of these people with these hearing issues would also potentially have vision issues because they may be elderly and they may have suffered injuries to the head and things like that, so they may have vision issues.

Kevin: So magnified fonts on a not-necessarily-modern browser was pretty important it sounds like.

Adam: Yeah, that’s right.

Kevin: James any other surprises from you from the user experience perspective?

James: I don’t think there were any surprises. Just to add to what Adam was saying as well like we knew accessibility was one of the key kind of things we were being assessed on at the end of the event as well, so that’s why I think Adam and, look, I think from what I understand we were I think we came out the highest marked out of the three for accessibility as well, so I think the effort that Adam and Lachlan went to on that front really did help us get over the line and win the event, so I think it certainly added to their workload but it was well worth it.

Adam: Yeah, I was just going to say I’m really pleased with the way the site came out considering that it’s WCAG 2.0 AA compatible, or compliant.

James: It’s a pretty hard ask to do that in 24 hours I think when, yeah, the amount of time we’ve got and the pressure we’ve got and the quality of the design work that all teams were trying to achieve as well, yeah, it was a tough challenge for you guys to make that happen, so yeah, full credit to you guys for delivering on that as well.

Kevin: So Lachlan overall do you feel like you learned a lot about WordPress in this particular project? I mean had you built something end-to-end with WordPress like this before?

Lachlan: So, I mean I’ve worked with WordPress 2 a whole lot before but this was the very first time I’d used three and there some significant differences, so yeah, in that sense I learned a lot basically about all of the WordPress 3 changes. And aside from that just I guess I polished up on a lot of best practice ways of doing things.

Kevin: All positive, you wouldn’t hesitate to recommend WordPress as a general framework for building content based websites at this point?

Lachlan: Yeah, absolutely, I’d totally recommend it, I mean WordPress 3 addresses I guess a lot of the remaining niggling issues with things like dynamically generated menus, you know, you have your custom post types which kind of makes it more of a general CMS than just kind of a blogging engine. So, yeah, it was fantastic, basically like it just made our job, my job, so much easier.

Adam: I was really impressed with it. I’ve got to confess I was kind of someone who had been drifting away from WordPress for a while, and having that opportunity to hack on WordPress 3 during the event completely renewed my interest in it.

Kevin: Cool. So the biggest difference between your day-to-day work as a web designer or web developer and this particular project I think was the time factor and the fact that you were working around the clock for 24 hours. How did you deal with that, what was that like? I know if I try and put myself in that position I love coding as much as the next guy, but after a couple of hours of solid code hacking I want to take a break and do something else, but you guys didn’t necessarily have that luxury. How did you deal?

Lachlan: I mean I think the really big thing for us was Louisa, our client, who ended up being there with us for the full 24 hours. So I mean it’s kind of different than say a normal development flow where you’ll occasionally meet with a client, I mean basically we’re in a situation where we could sanity check the work we were doing on almost a minute-by-minute basis with the client, and she was just really bubbly and friendly and knew everything about her business. And, yeah, I think that was a really big element for me was kind of that interaction, and aside from that as James mentioned we scheduled kind of breaks every hour or two and there was some definite craziness around 2:00 a.m., but yeah, we made it through.

James: I know I certainly hit a wall I think at about 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. I had jumped out of the blocks with a coffee on the first day and I think I suffered for it the next day. I had a real lull first thing in the morning on the Sunday, but then heading to the home straight I thought, alright, we’ve got all these things we need to do and I just kind of bit off things and went at them that way. But yeah, I certainly suffered and yeah Louisa was fantastic, as Lachlan was saying, as a client she was everything you’d hope for in a client, very open to ideas, very eloquent in terms of relating ideas back to her business and why things were or were not she didn’t think were suited. And her and Robin, Robin our content editor, worked fabulously together, like I was sitting right next to Robin and those two spent probably 12 maybe more of the 24 hours together talking about and writing and editing the content to fit on the site, and they really made the site for us, the stories that were in the site and the way the content flowed; you know that old cliché “content is king” really came to the fore for us, and I think again that was one of the key factors for us winning was the stories that the site told and the way it communicated that, and yeah, full credit to Louisa the client and to Robin the editor there for their effort and their work.

Lachlan: Yep, absolutely.

Adam: I agree.

Kevin: Lachlan mentioned some 2:00 a.m. craziness; our listeners won’t forgive me if I don’t push you on that, what kind of craziness happened?

Lachlan: Well, so, I think the craziness kind of started with the American team’s conga line (laughter).

James: Stars and Stripes everywhere.

Lachlan: Yeah.

James: Flags.

Kevin: So what, did they come down the hall and through your room and all this stuff?

Lachlan: Yeah, basically there was a stream of, as James said, stars and stripes and yelling.

James: And then there was some arm wrestling as well, I don’t know what time that happened, but Yanni our graphic designer he busted off his shirt and broke out his singlet and went out and represented Australia in some arm wrestling against the others. I think the Americans ended up winning that one but it was some craziness.

Kevin: Yeah, I think that explains why they didn’t win FullCodePress, they were too busy conga-lining and arm wrestling.

Adam: Was there a game of werewolf or something as well?

James: That was with the volunteers I believe; the volunteers in the middle of the night were playing some games.

Kevin: Adam there was a video posted of you holding a potted plant (laugher). Is this representative of your state of mind in the waning hours of this contest?

Adam: I think so. I think the volunteers — I’m going to happily blame the volunteers here. I’m going out to have my interview and I think they had been setting up the camera and were focusing on this plant that they’d put on the seat where I was going to be sitting, and as I came in they basically just said, “Here, hold this,” so I’m holding it and, yeah, it —

Kevin: It’s halfway through your interview before you realize you’re still holding the plant.

Adam: (Laughs) Exactly, exactly. And it was just my mindset was just still in the room still figuring out how to solve problems and somehow I’m talking about other unrelated things in front of a camera.

Kevin: I’ll be sure to get that URL and post it in the show notes where you’re earnestly talking about the design work you’re doing and then just mid-sentence you go, “Why am I holding a plant?” (Laughter)

Adam: Yeah.

Kevin: So as the time crunch bore down on you guys was there much change in scope? Was there anything that you had to like slash off your list as we won’t have time for that, or did you have extra time to do some things that you didn’t think you would be able to?

James: Definitely cut down on the scope, like we certainly started out with a huge amount of features and functions. We were realistic about what we could achieve, I felt like we went, okay, here are all the things we’re going to try and do and here are all the features and pages and things we’re going to try and do, and we broke them up onto index cards and onto lists and, yeah, towards the end we were like, no, we’re not going to get time to do that, no, we’re not going to get time to do that; yeah, we certainly didn’t have any time to do anything extra that we wanted to do. We went into the event with a bit of a strategy of trying to do one really quite nice interaction or one thing that really stood out, and we didn’t really get the opportunity to do that; I think in the course of the event there’s not that much you can achieve, any nice JavaScript interactions or Ajax interactions to make them accessible within 24 hours is, in hindsight, quite unrealistic. So we wanted to do one little thing or one key interaction that was nice but we didn’t really get the chance to do that.

Adam: I think what did happen though was we were seeing, I remember at least, sitting there with Lachlan and Yanni and James and watching in awe basically as Robin and Lou essentially wrote the entire site, and it’s quite a big site, from scratch. So there was a huge amount of effort going on down that end of the table, and the stories that were coming out of Lou were amazing, like they’re really inspiring and I just remember at some point in the day us sort of mutually agreeing that the stories of these Lion Hearing Dogs—

James: Saving lives.

Adam: Yeah.

James: Stories of them saving people’s lives.

Adam: This was what was important, and more important than any sort of interaction feature or whatever that we could possibly dream up, it was the stories that had to shine through this site. And so that’s what we focused on and we had these little snippets of stories in the mastheads on each page, we had little quotes in the sidebars, and we just tried to assist that, telling those stories as best we could and I think that that’s what paid off.

Kevin: Hmm. So, as you came down to the wire take me to those final minutes, what was going on? Had you locked it away and you were just sort of catching your breath or was there a last minute flurry of commits and testing and what was going on in that last half hour?

Lachlan: So basically we’d kind of decided our strategy going on was to be feature complete at hour 18, and we pretty much got there. So basically the hours after that were spent kind of polishing, lots of content work, browser compatibility, fixing up little things; one of the small JavaScript things we got was that video on the front page folds back to a transcript without Flash, so things like that. I mean I was — I thought that we managed the timeline pretty well; in the last couple of hours we’re nearly falling asleep but I don’t think there was kind of a flurry to finish stuff it was more just refining.

Adam: There was one thing, Lachlan; do you remember in the last ten minutes feeling fairly delirious but agreeing that we would go back into the site and add a smattering of microformats?

Lachlan: Oh, yeah (laughs).

Adam: (Laughs) Just on the ‘Contact Us’ page.

Lachlan: Yeah, there were a few last minute things as well, but that time’s pretty hazy.

Adam: Yeah. Because we’d gone an extra hour on then we were supposed to by that point because the organizers had agreed that due to the server outage—

James: Yeah, they extended us an hour, didn’t they?

Adam: Yeah.

Kevin: Okay, so, and probably by that point the last thing you wanted to do was spend another hour working on it (laughter).

James: Yeah, I was actually not too happy about the extra hour, I have to say; I’m like I’m fine to finish, I think we should just finish when we were designated to finish.

Kevin: So what was the process, the 24 hours expired, there must have been a judging period after that; were you guys sleeping at your desks while that was going on?

Lachlan: I think we went out drinking actually (laughter).

Adam: Yeah, we went out for a couple beers.

Kevin: Of course you did.

James: We found the nearest pub.

Kevin: I forget I’m talking to the Australian team here (laugher).

Lachlan: Yeah, so basically we went off to the local pub and sampled some fine local beers and waited for the judges to convene, and I actually don’t think I would’ve had so many of the local beers if I’d realized that we had to come back up for an interview with the judges.

Kevin: (Laughs)

James: I reckon that helped us, Lox.

Lachlan: Yeah, possibly, possibly.

Kevin: So you came back and you got the word that you guys had won, what do you think put you over the top? Did you have much of an eye on what the competing teams were doing during the contest or was it something you got to discover afterwards and go, oh yeah, we beat them on that?

Lachlan: So all of the sites were basically posting updates as they made them to the site, but it’s really hard to tell until the site kind of starts coming together in the end, and I mean we were trying not to focus too much on the competition I think in the final hours.

James: Yeah, we were getting screenshots, like this is meant to be as public an event as possible, so were getting screenshots of the other teams’ designs probably from the 12 hour mark on, maybe even slightly earlier, and we were keeping an eye on those things. But, yeah, like Lox said, we were quite focused on what we were doing and sticking to what we were doing. After the event we went off and had something to eat and drink and some sustenance, and what actually happens is everybody, all the teams, have an interview; we sit down with a panel of the judges and talk through with them what happened and why we did things the way we did.

Kevin: And they quiz you on your code and your design.

James: Yeah, absolutely, and they were pretty — they were quizzing you, Adam, and Lachlan about some of your rationale for why you did stuff. In between that as well they interview the clients, so when we finished the first thing that happened is they interview all the clients and find out how the clients felt about the process and the site and the outcome and whether it met their needs and their requirements. So the client was doing that while we were off, and then each of the teams go into the panel and talk about our rationale and process as well. And I think that’s where we really won as well. I think Louisa the client was rapt with what we’d done; we’d had a great relationship with her, a great working relationship with her, so she was really happy with the outcome, and when we talked through our design rationale for the site our site was probably nowhere near as ambitious as the other two sites and some of the things that they were doing in terms of socializing their sites. Ours didn’t really do that in any elaborate way, and we justified that by saying, well, the client just doesn’t think that their customers would be wanting those kind of features and would be interacting with it in that way. So, yeah, I think we — Kylie Liggins, did a fantastic job of presenting why we did things and the rationale for what we did to the team, and I think that was another thing that really helped us get over the line.

Kevin: So besides scope limiting and being smart about making choices that limited the amount of work you had to do and the level of polish you could give to what you did do, were there any other secret weapons, any other things that you felt put your site over the top?

James: I think away advantage is one thing, like we said, we got together in the hotel boardroom the day before and also just getting up and all going out and finding somewhere for breakfast in the morning and sharing ideas over breakfast and hopping on a plane and sharing ideas on the plane. I think all those things helped as well, helped us form a good team unit, and that’s really important; in 24 hours you’ve six people who really need to integrate and work well with each other, so I think away advantage was one thing that I think helped us.

Kevin: And of course the three of you had been working together beforehand so I guess you probably work together fairly well.

Adam: That’s right, and I had also been working with Kylie for a couple of months here at August as well.

James: And I think that really helped as well, us knowing each other and what each other could do and we could depend on somebody for this and we could get somebody to help out with that was quite important for us as well.

Kevin: So, to finish this off I’d like to hear from each of you sort of why you went into this, what you were expecting going in, and what you feel you got out of it coming out the other end; maybe start with you, Lox.

Lachlan: So, basically I mean I kind of went into it as looking at it more like I guess a programming challenge competition, and yeah, I think I came out of it — I don’t think anything really that kind of we delivered was incredible technically, but I think what I came out of it with was a real appreciation of the content and the team side of things. And, yeah, just as James said, just working with everybody really helped, and I guess time management.

Kevin: Adam?

Adam: I think going into it I was mainly wanting to put my own skills to the test. I just wanted to see could I do it, could I put out a high quality level of work in 24 hours straight and how would that be received; would it be received well by my peers. And I also really liked the idea of collaborating in a high pressure situation, that’s a bit crazy but I did like that idea and I thought that would be really exciting.

Kevin: And James?

James: Yeah, similar to Adam I went into it as a personal challenge to see how I would cope in that environment, and I think I went into it really open to learn a bit more about how a team could function in that situation as well, like we obviously get quite a lot of time to work on our websites, like I work on one website day in and day out, so to me it was gonna be interesting to really squash down a timeframe and see what we could achieve in that time. And I feel like I learned a lot in that regard, like I feel like I learned a lot about dealing with the different disciplines and about planning and preparing, like I said, we did a lot of planning and preparing, that was super important for us. And the other thing is I was looking to have some fun, looking to meet some new people, talk about some of the issues that I’m passionate about and, yeah, have some fun in the process. And we did, we had loads of fun, it was a fantastic weekend, met loads of really interesting people and had some great discussions and, yeah, it was a fantastic event and I’d encourage anybody out there to give it a go, to apply for the next FullCodePress, it’s a lot of fun and, yeah, give it a go.

Adam: I agree. The organizers, the volunteers, and the other teams, USA and New Zealand, they were just amazing, it was such a great event.

Kevin: Alright, well I think that’s a good place to leave it, guys, thank you for joining me.

Lachlan Donald, once again, is CTO at 99designs, you can find him on Twitter @lox. Adam Schilling is User Experience Designer at August Creative, and you can find him on Twitter @schilling. And James Mansfield is User Experience Designer at 99designs, you can find him on Twitter @jmans.

And I, of course, am Kevin Yank, you can find me @sentience and follow SitePoint on Twitter @sitepointdotcom. Be sure to visit the Podcast website; if this episode is anything like the last big interview we did there is going to be a really healthy comment thread. You can head over to sitepoint.com/podcast to chat with other listeners about this show and also I’m sure our three guests today will be chiming in there to answer any of your questions that you have about building sites under pressure!

So thanks again you guys for being with us.

James: Thanks Kev.

Adam: Thank you.

Lachlan: Thanks Kev.

Kevin: This episode of the SitePoint Podcast was produced by Karn Broad, and I’m Kevin Yank. Bye for now!

Theme music by Mike Mella.

Thanks for listening! Feel free to let us know how we’re doing, or to continue the discussion, using the comments field below.

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  • JamesFarrell

    Congratulations to Team Australia. I’ve come to the conclusion that at the end of the day there are no losers in Full Code Press.

    You put yourself forward as individuals and benefit from the experience. Wach client benefits even more.

    I think that Fullcode press is a fantastic event and I hope it spreads far an wide from it’s roots down there…

  • powerpotatoe

    I enjoyed listening. The interview provides some good insights and learning points for strong project management and project team work.

    The team organization of Team Australia also provides a good example for the previous UX Designer discussion. Depending on the project (in this case a short time frame but big product), responsibilities must be delegated to the person/people with the most experienced skill set needed for the job in question. Although all of the team members on Team Australia may be familiar and experienced with all the various tasks required for the project, not all members focused on every task. No doubt, all members were involved to some extent in every part of the project, but everyone had there own part of the job for which they were primarily responsible. There were many distinct roles required, therefore many different job titles and responsibilities were delegated.

  • http://wydajnykomputer.pl ChrisPL

    I thought this was going to be a bit boring episode but it turned out quite interesting. Well done on the questions, Kevin.

    Too bad there were only 3 teams.

    So after this contest, do you think that making websites could be done faster (in a matter of 2-3 days rather than 2-3 weeks)? Do you feel like a business that brands themselves “we’ll complete your site in 24hours” could find customers and be successful? And do you think that having a small team working on a small website (and sharing working positions) is better than having more people on a team, but at which everyone is an expert (although for his position only)? Which would speed up work more and which would improve the end quality?

    • jmansfield

      Glad you found it interesting Chris.

      I think that aggressively time boxing a project could be a unique business offering for web design/development teams out there. To make it work though the business owner needs to be there throughout the process. Within such a short period of time decisions are made very quickly so the business owner needs to be there to make them otherwise they are not likely to get what they wanted. Also I’m not sure how many employees would like to work in that environment – it took me days to recover!

      This time boxing approach is what the Agile development process does as well, which is a very well adopted process these days. In Agile, teams are given set periods of time (iterations & releases) in which to deliver and it works really well.

      As for your big team v small team questions, that’s a difficult one. Generally a smaller team can move faster and output more but as a business/website gets older and has more artefacts to maintain a bigger team is required.

      The other factor is quality. A bigger team is required if the quality and attention to detail is important. For example a person dedicated to quality assurance will mean you’re website will have less bugs and work better in more browser. A person dedicated to SEO is more likely to move you up the rankings than someone doing it part time. As usual it’s all about context, if you’re a new business in a new market then small team will be best but if it’s an established business is a competitive market then a bigger team is likely required.

  • Lachlan

    Thanks for listening guys! I had so much fun participating, I’d absolutely recommend it to anyone.

    @ChrisPL It’s worth remembering that 24 hours of 6 peoples time is still 144 hours, or about 8 business days. I think it’s only really possible to do a project that quickly if you have constant contact with the client or a very, very clear brief. I suspect the first thing to go would be quality.

  • http://wydajnykomputer.pl ChrisPL

    Thanks for your replies James and Lachlan. You make good points. It seems like there could be a need for a instant website making company. I’ll keep that in mind :)