August 29, 2019

First 6 Months as a Developer at RELEX

Hi, I’m Anna, and I have been working at RELEX since the beginning of spring this year. I’m a part of the Web Application Team (WAT). Our efforts are focused on developing and improving the front-end of the RELEX Planning Cloud, the part our users see.

Expectations and reality

Previously, I worked for small consultancies. It was interesting to discover what it’s like to work for a big SaaS product company and to be a part of a much bigger team. I expected some good and some bad. Overall, what I found was much better than I expected.

The team is big and has grown even further since I joined, and will probably be split in two in the coming months. We have a product manager and a separate UX team who tell us exactly what we need to develop so that life becomes easier for our users. There is a QA team that does most of the testing and makes sure that things work as expected and that they don’t break other things. The release process is handled by yet another team. This separation of responsibilities makes it possible for each team to focus on what it does best.

This means, for example, one can devote one’s attention to writing good code rather than feeling under pressure and consequently rushing the task. Of course, we have goals, milestones, and deadlines, and sometimes we find a bug that needs fixing quickly. However, in general, we take time to discuss, write, test, review, test more, create beta versions, test them again, and finally, only once the testing is complete, release new features and other changes to production environments. At first, I was surprised how slow this process was compared to that in my previous jobs. But then I learned to appreciate it. It reduces stress and lets you focus on writing the best code you can to solve the most critical problems.

The technical side of things

Our team takes time to keep the codebase up to date with modern tech. We regularly update to the latest versions of the libraries we use, and always look at the ways the codebase can be improved. Refactoring work is always appreciated, writing tests is strongly recommended, indeed expected, and each change is reviewed by two other team members. This review process is immensely helpful. Having a second and a third pair of eyes improves the quality of decisions, keeps the code cleaner and easier for others to understand, and sometimes catches problems you hadn’t anticipated.

There is a lot of focus on refactoring. We follow one of RELEX’s values, “stop doing stupid things,” in development too, and we take care to eliminate existing technical debt. For example, there has been a lot of effort put into incrementally moving away from Ember to React, and we’ve had some success (disclaimer: Ember works well in some situations, it didn’t work well in our case).

It is a great feeling working in a team with so many smart and talented people. There is always a lot to learn from discussions and code reviews. The atmosphere is relaxed, friendly, and collaborative. It is easy to ask for help or advice or find a second pair of eyes and hands if pair programming is your thing.

We keep each other in the loop and make sure everyone is well informed. In our team, we have (almost) daily check-ins where we talk about things we are doing right now, assign reviewers, and discuss any roadblocks. Every week we have a joint meeting with our Product Lead and the UX team to discuss our week’s progress, priorities, and any concerns.

Then there are weekly catch-ups for all dev teams, monthly meetings, and company-wide presentations (broadcast and recorded for everyone). It makes sure that all RELEXians know where the company is now, how it is doing, and where it is going. It is nice to see the bigger picture of which your everyday tasks form a part.

Life at RELEX

Initially, I was hesitant to apply. I was still hesitant when, eventually, I was offered a job even though I considered RELEX the company I wanted to work for – I had promised myself never to commute for more than 15 minutes, and now it happens that it’s three times longer than that. But there was an option to work some of the time remotely, and that solved my dilemma. However the funny thing is that I almost never make use of this option because I like going to the office: it allows me to interact with people, go for lunch with my team-mates, take exercise breaks, do pull-ups in the lounge (okay, I do it once or twice a week and can do only 4 assisted pull-ups but it’s a start, and it’s also a lot of fun) or go for a Wednesday run in the forest nearby.

In May and August, there’s an opportunity to take part in inter-company orienteering competitions. In general, there are so many people with so many interesting hobbies that one can almost certainly find a group to join and do something fun after work.

I am also very glad and grateful that I can sometimes bring my dog Woffles into the office. He is doing a challenging job; entertaining people, making me take proper breaks and, of course, sleeping.

Anna started her RELEX journey in March 2019 and already feels as if she has been there for years. She, weirdly enough, loves Javascript. On a daily basis, she uses her detective skills to find where bugs are hiding in the codebase and her creativity to create new things. In the free time, you have equal chances to find her coding, drawing, taking photos, reading, walking the dog, and contemplating existence.

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