Global Personals, the n00b experience

By: Darren Walker

Tags:

  • team

Hi. My name is Darren Walker and I have recently joined the development team here at Global Personals. You may know me from such conferences as Scotch on the Rocks 2011 and Scotch on the Rocks 2013. I also appear in THREE photos with Ben Nadel1 on his infamous blog. Anyway, Sam asked me to blog about my first few weeks here at Global Personals as the new starter experience for developers is something they’ve been working on.

What have I learnt about Global Personals?

So I’ll begin at the end and let you know what I have learnt about Global Personals so far. Essentially Global Personals’ feature product is the WhiteLabelDating.com platform, an “Ecommerce As A Service” engine which allows pretty much anyone to set up a dating website. For free. When you look under the hood of the WhiteLabelDating.com platform you see a pretty big conglomerate of moving parts.

The basic requirements of a dating website are fairly obvious, except in this case there are two main consumers for the service: the member who has joined a dating network, and the associate who has set up their own dating website. Everything is geared towards supporting these customers, so the dev team has to deliver subsystems for flexible UI’s, card processing, content moderation, website analytics, partner payments, website administration, image processing, geo location, messaging (inbox and instant), customer services, CRM, reporting, mobile access, searching, notifications (e.g. websockets), newsletters, online marketing, to name but a few.

The current architecture is a good ol’ ColdFusion application that serves the desktop browser version of the dating website, with a bunch of satellite Ruby applications for ancillary functions, including serving up the mobile pages. There is a fair bit of tasty JavaScript on the front end for user experience enhancement. Plus the usual suspects, Apache and MySQL.

In my view the strong customer focus at the company is in part a side effect of having an internal team that runs its own dating websites using the WLD platform; this obviously drives a lot of the technical feature requests. Revenues are based on a profit share so it’s kind of a win-win situation. So there is a team dedicated to helping partners make more money. And there is a 24/7 team of content moderators looking after the members and filtering out the scammers.

Starter experience

A lot of this stuff I picked up because Sam and Tim B took the time to explain it. To me this a pretty important part of joining a new company. Sure, the codebase and system architecture are the obvious things for a developer to want to know about, but simply understanding the operations of the business can be immensely helpful when proposing solutions or interpreting functional requirements.

So this part of by newbie experience has been pretty good at Global Personals. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to sit down with some of the internal users of the system and see how it’s used in the trenches.

On the technical side, it only took about 3 days before I was able to start writing code and submitting pull requests on Github. This may sound like quite a long time but I heard stories of some developers taking weeks to get their systems up and running. This is due to the complex nature of polyglot development these days; for each of the many parts of your stack there are dependencies and updates and configurations and access controls and desktop clients and ssl keys and paths and fonts and color schemes and so on.

At Global Personals there are 2 bits of technology that help ease this pain, the use of development VM’s for the WLD platform itself and a nice wee script that installs and configures all the necessary bits on your development box. This worked pretty well for me, except I initially tried to run the installs and download the VM’s over wireless and it basically didn’t work. Once I was on the LAN everything worked great. Actually another useful bit of technology was Andy, the Senior Developer sat next to me who had written up the instructions on the wiki patiently sat through all my n00b questions.

In addition to the free drinks fridge and extra strength developer coffee, as a developer a great perk when working here is a proper QA team and a modern devops team. Just less to worry about so you can focus on the job at hand. For Global Personals it means better platform stability and higher utilisation of the developers.

One of the first tasks a new starter in the dev team has to tackle is adding their face to the globaldev website. This is a bit corny but helps to make you feel part of the team and is also a nice little test of your ability to follow instructions, and use source control.

On the process side, Global Personals uses a pretty extensive and varied suite of online tools for managing projects and various bits of communications. I have created at least 12 logins to (work-related) online services since I joined. It’s actually refreshing to work at a company that is not afraid to try new ways of working. Just simply using a shared google doc for reading/writing technical requirements is SO MUCH BETTER than emailing round Word Documents like some kind of 1990s civil service hell (I’m looking at YOU, previous employers).

My favourite collaboration tool in use here is Campfire, which is instant messaging with a ‘room’ for each project or topic. You can see the history of conversations and get a real-time train of thought with all the team members. Plus lots of pictures of kittens.

I also seem to have arrived just when the development team is tranistioning to Agile software development. This is interesting to observe, particularly as the ‘new guy’.

There are quite a few more ropes for me to learn but so far the new starter experience has been pretty good, especially considering the complexity of the organisation and the systems we’re working with. Technology and business aside, the best part of the experience is down to having a really great team here. And free beer on Fridays. FREE BEER!

has pictures of himself taken with other developers at conferences around the world, like a programming Santa Claus, and posts them on his blog. Ben was unable to attend the recent Scotch On The Rocks conference in Edinburgh, to help cope with the disappointment the development community created a fake persona, NotBenNadel and took pictures with him instead. You can see the results of this unhealthy obsession here.

  1. Ben Nadel is a popular ColdFusion and JavaScript developer / blogger. Ben 


About the Author

Darren Walker