FullCodePress Interview: James Farrell, Australian Team

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James FarrellTwo teams from two countries with two web sites to complete for two charities. In 24 hours. With an audience watching every move. That was the idea behind FullCodePress held in May 2009 at CeBIT.

James Farrell was the programmer chosen for the Australian team which completed a great web site for the DDLC NSW. He kindly shares his experiences with SitePoint.

Did you or the team do any preparation in the build up to the event?

TextPattern was our initial first choice of CMS. I spent a lot of time researching the product and installing relevant plugins.

I also familiarised myself with Joomla. That would have been an option had we required a community or multiple user permission handling.

Had you worked with any of the other team members before?

I hadn’t met any of the team until the night before. Our first team meeting was dinner in a Sydney kebab shop.

You chose WordPress as the content management system. That was a safe and solid choice, but what were the key factors that influenced that decision and did it cause any problems or limitations?

It’s not easy to choose a CMS before the event because you have no idea about the requirements. Although TextPattern was our first choice, we couldn’t find plug-ins to fulfil the brief. Joomla was also rejected because none of us had templating experience with the product. We made the late switch to WordPress because most of the team had used it, it has a good range of plugins, and templates are straightforward.

In terms of limitations, perhaps our main problem was that we couldn’t set up a local development environment on our PCs and connect to a single common database server. WordPress saves the URL of the site in the database and, although I’m sure we could have got around this, time was tight and we had to move on. The development environment wasn’t ideal and it probably hindered us.

In the last few hours we were uploading a lot of content and WordPress caused a few issues, such as losing changes. It was a pretty stressful time.

What tools did you use for development? IDE? Source control? Testing suites?

We used Subversion for version control, but didn’t manage our code as well as we would have liked.

What was the biggest challenge?

The main challenge was the unique circumstances under which we were working:

  • The event was held during the Cebit Exhibition so random people would poke and chat with us.
  • The time constraint meant we were limited in what we could deliver and created additional pressure when problems arose.
  • It was frustrating not being able to start work until other aspects were completed. For example, Elle could not code the HTML and CSS until the design had been completed.

And what turned out to be easier than you expected?

Staying awake all night was easier than I expected. Concentration was a problem though — I had just one 15 minute break during the 24 hours. It wasn’t ideal but there’s so much to do in such a short time.

Did you need to drop or simplify any features because they couldn’t be achieved within the 24 hours?

We had to drop our newsletter management system (the Mailpress plugin). It had been working at an early stage but, during integration, it suddenly failed. I spent a while trying to figure out the problem but ran out of time. That was a big disappointment.

In which areas did you beat your competitors and where did they beat you?

I prefer our visual design, but that could be my personal preference or bias. Alexi did a great job with stimulating an emotional response, while communicating a strong positive message.

It’s hard to criticize anything. It’s such a draining experience so I have nothing but respect for what the other team accomplished. It was a competition, but the important thing was that two great charities received fantastic web sites that will revolutionalize their day-to-day operations.

Would you have done anything differently with the benefit of hindsight?

Although WordPress was my favored option, I regret not having prepared more. I spent a lot of time researching plugins on the day.

Ideally, I should have had a few solutions and platforms mapped out before hand. In reality, however, it’s difficult to find the time to prepare when you’re working full-time in the days leading up to the event.

Did you learn anything that you can now use in your day-to-day job?

Definitely. I know WordPress well now and have a few ideas for plugins that I’ll start soon.

Would you enter the FullCodePress event again?

Yes, I would do it again — even though it was the most pressured work situation I’ve experienced and probably took a few years off my life! I met lots of great people, both competitors, organisers and supporters.

Thanks, James.
James Farrell is a freelance web developer based in Sydney. He specialises in high quality, affordable web site design and creative online marketing solutions for small and medium sized businesses. He has been programming since he was 13 and is skilled in web site interface layout, UI design, XHTML, CSS, PHP, Javascript and Flash. You can follow James on Twitter at http://twitter.com/james_farrell.

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Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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