With over 12 years of experience in digital and accreditations in both Adobe and Magento, our head of ecommerce development, Adam, is a fount of knowledge. In this article, he shares some of his top tips for developers starting out this year. From open-source to headless to Waterfalls..? Get ready for some great expert insights!
“I’m a massive advocate for anything open-source. When I started in software development, open-source software was not necessarily a new concept. Netscape Navigator was released as ‘Open Source’ back in 1998, but what was new around this time was the kind of software being released. Many software programs were released under a free to use, modify and redistribute licence, which became something that catered perfectly for small to medium sized businesses. The sort of businesses that needed an internet presence but where, up until this point, the initial investment would have been too high.
All of a sudden, any person who had bothered to learn how (say for example) Magento worked could now sell that skill to someone who didn’t. All without having to go to university and get a Computer Science degree. Around 2007 there seemed to be an explosion in first the acceptance and then the adoption of platforms like WordPress and Magento. These enabled freelancers, small businesses, and even small agencies to get a foothold in the digital media industry.
For clients and developers alike, the main benefit of these platforms was that they provided the CMS (content management system) for your clients with absolutely no licence fee or subscription. Better yet, they were highly customisable, and the software was predominately supported by the developer community, through sites like stack overflow. Tens of thousands of people who were actually eager to help each other solved any issues they might have had. All done with the common goal of making the platform better for everyone.
15 years on, open-source has won. And open-source technologies are pretty much the industry standard. The benefits of this movement didn’t end at the products that we can provide for our clients. As developers we have become used to actually paying very little and more often than not absolutely nothing for the tools that we use to build solutions to our clients. The Developer community is truly altruistic, and the internet has surely benefited as a result.
If you haven’t already, jump on the open-source train now. Don’t worry, even though it left the station a long time ago, it’s not as fast moving as people think. You can catch up pretty quick and jump on board – there’s always room.”
Want True Performance? DO Lose Your Head; Go Headless
“Firstly, what is Headless? What does this even mean? Well, the best way to describe it is to describe what it’s NOT. And it’s NOT a platform like Magento, Shopify or WordPress. Not in their traditional forms anyway. Headless is also not a thing that you can point at. The easiest way to put it is that it’s an ‘approach’. Let’s look at it in practical terms…
Take any old WordPress site. It has a front end, which is the part that users interact with, and it has a back-end admin part too, aka a CMS. This is the part you can log into and use to provide content and other configurations that are then visible on the front end. The entire system is all in one place, all on one server. Sounds fine so far, right?
But wait a minute – here comes Google, the self-appointed sheriff of the internet with even higher performance expectations for our sites. The harsh truth is that these old platforms, as good as they are, do not do well in Google’s performance metrics, namely Google lighthouse. This ‘monolithic’ architecture just cannot compete with a headless solution.
Primarily, this is because a headless solution’s front end exists completely decoupled from any other data source, like a CMS (back end) or PIM (Product inventory manager). The result is that the part of your solution that is exposed to the browser (and Google) on page load is incredibly light. Weighing in at just a few KB, it loads in ‘fractions of a hundredths’ of a second. In some circumstances you don’t even need any server hosting. I know, right? (Take a look at platforms such as Vercel).
So WordPress, Magento and Shopify… they’re dead then? Jump off them before they sink to the murky depths of digital history? Absolutely not. And here’s why:
This is a fantastic thing for a client to hear as there’s a lot of businesses out there that have put years of investment into platforms like Magento and WordPress. Now it’s time we future proof them with Headless as a way of serving the front end and maximising performance.”
Be Agile; A Developer’s Job Is Never Done…
“Anyone who has ever worked even adjacently to a digital project that involves an online presence knows that they’re just never finished. Yet ‘we’ as project leaders need to set deadlines. The problem is that we tend toward setting a deadline far, far off in the future that is determined at best by adding up the collective guesswork of designers, developers, and project managers, and at worst, just when the client NEEDS it by.
The problem with something that’s far away, is that the further something is from you, the harder it is to hit! This is Waterfall. And for sure it eventually gets the job done. Usually, dragging the project over the line kicking and screaming. Leaving everyone involved tired of the work, and more often than not, each other.
Why is this? I think one reason is because the words ‘Go Live’ terrify everyone in equal measures. That coupled with the project team striving for perfection and the client expecting the same. Forgetting what we all know: the fact ‘a website is and should be never finished’ so by definition it cannot be perfect. Perfection is the enemy of progress.
So how do we overcome this? I have found that, if you can get buy-in from the client, an ‘Agile’ approach for software development is much better. Breaking a large project up into more manageable, predictable chunks of time known as ‘Sprints’ you can eradicate that looming deadline feeling. Hitting agreed project milestones over much shorter timescales gives a distinct feeling of progress for everyone.
Ideally, releasing your solution into the wild sooner in, for example, a BETA phase. I find this keeps all parties more energised, and if you do this right and reach ‘minimum viability’ with an e-commerce solution the client can even start trading. Overall, it forces all project stakeholders to work more closely together and form better relationships. As a developer, hitting more frequent milestones consistently fosters more trust with the client. Compared to your developers going ‘off grid’ for 8 to 12 weeks sitting in a dark room wearing the same hoodies day in day out attempting to achieve the impossible. Perfection.”
If you’re not already using open-source, headless solutions, or agile projects, now might be the time to start. Do you want some expert insight into your ecommerce site? Click here to contact us.