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Software development .2020 at Beeks

Chris HodderHead Of Software Development
2nd Dec 2020

The roadmap to building out the Beeks software team.

 

In 2017 we were given a simple mission: allow our customers to self-manage their services. The scale of this task was monumental. Along with the small matter of delivering features familiar to users of the competition; AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, etc. There was also the sheer variety of our customer base… from individual traders to brokers and from blockchain trading exchanges to large financial institutions, each with their own individual needs and quirks.

We’re going to need a bigger boat

At that moment in time we had a team of two and to meet the challenge, we knew we had to build an incredible team, and we had to build it fast. We have since grown from just two developers to a department of 11 people in the last three years, including QA and designers as well as developers. In the past year alone, we have successfully onboarded five dedicated new hires who, as well as being excellent at their role, have been a fun and interesting addition to the team. Four of them were onboarded remotely as we adapt to a changing work environment in the face of a global pandemic.

What this incredibly talented team of software professionals has managed to achieve in the last few years in regards to our e-commerce platform and institutional customer portal will be well-known to our customers, but this really is just the tip of the iceberg.

Behind the customer-facing scenes lies an in-house management system processing fully automated and automation-assisted workflows to our networks, systems, support and sales teams that help facilitate their daily work. Behind that, at the core of our system lies a powerful, custom-built automation engine integrated with dedicated servers, virtual hosts, network devices and even our ticketing system to get the work done.

None of this would have been possible without one of the best software teams I have had the pleasure of working with.

Building Fast with Python and Django

With a company growing as fast as Beeks, having a software stack which keeps pace is a must. Quick iteration times are crucial to delivering features to our clients and while it can be managed by many different technologies, the Django framework has significantly helped our development.

Software professionals familiar with the various technology stacks available are fully aware of the huge timesuck the boilerplate is in greenfield development and Django has allowed us to leapfrog this by way of a powerful ORM, flexible views and expressive templating language. The ability to just get something up and running this fast has been invaluable as we expand our systems to meet new requirements.

And if there is one constant in a fast-growing company, it’s the ever-increasing list of requirements! As Beeks continues to grow and adapt to the needs of our customers, so in turn our systems have to grow and adapt so as to provide these services. Not just to support new products, which require new methods of automation to provision and control them, but also all the support infrastructure behind this for communicating with customers, managing our infrastructure estates, and assisting the other teams in their work.

New types of customers brings new types of challenges

While we are on the subject of new requirements, 2020 has seen Beeks collaborate with new global partners such as IPC. The opportunity to work with them in providing large scale bespoke infrastructure has been a challenge which our networks and operations teams have admirably risen to. It has also presented an opportunity for the software team to engage with these new partners and collaborate with them in designing the next iteration of our systems. This development has included new infrastructure management features, support for more customised infrastructure deployments and a full facelift of our institutional client Portal… and a roadmap of more to come!

Flexible Working to Fully Remote

Like many companies have experienced, 2020 has taken us from an office-based organisation that offered flexitime to becoming fully remote. Like everyone else we initially thought we’d all be back in the office within a month or two, but as the days have turned into months, we have successfully adapted to a new normal. We were lucky enough to have already experienced remote working with colleagues across the world, and the occasional hybrid meetings with team members working from home, but to now take every meeting over Teams has taken some getting some getting used to.

It also presented a challenge to hire and onboard new team members – it’s so important for new hires to get time with more experienced members of staff and have access to ask questions. Yet with all the communications technology, we’ve found that people are actually talking less – it seems to feel so much more invasive to send a private message or an email, than to roll a chair over and say “can I just ask you a quick question?”

To mitigate these challenges, we found success at assigning “Onboarding Buddies” to mentor new developers. We make it clear that Buddy’s should prioritise answering questions and fortify that it’s not an imposition on their time to send that message and get help. We have also adopted Pair Programming (remotely by means of shared screens) to make sure our new hires get the support they need.

It’s been tough for our new colleagues too – it’s hard enough to remember names on your first day, but even worse when you can only put a Teams icon to the name!

I expect that in 2021 and beyond, companies will become even more flexible to provide the best environment for their employees to thrive and get work done. From a productivity standpoint, we might struggle to get those that have thrived working from home back into the office full time if that is the future plan. But for those that have found it harder to work productively without the structure and bustle of the office, it will be a much welcomed relief.

The roadmap ahead

To say 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, professionally and privately, is an understatement. I’m sure I’m not alone in looking forward to 2021 and the possibility of returning to some normality. We will also be looking forward to another year of growth, change and challenges (of the more positive variety). We expect to see further growth in the development team to support our new and exciting product development (I can’t say any more on this but stay tuned for upcoming announcements!).

One Beeks stalwart that will certainly be missed by all this year is the annual Christmas party (and possible more infamous after parties!). Is it too early to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year? Not for me… with nobody around to object, I have my Christmas playlist on already. Yo Ho Ho.

 

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