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From Placement to Head of Digital (part 4): Branching Out to Improve

Last week was all about getting my first job, how I went about getting it, what I did and some of the key things I learned. This week I’m going to be talking about how I set myself a live project outside of work that allowed me to take my technical knowledge to the next level.

Working within an agency like Fantastic means working on new clients and projects all the time. This is great as it means as developers we get to bring different designs to life every day. Adding new interaction, fluidity and all around ‘wow’ to the front end. Behind the scenes we use some great platforms such as WordPress, Shopify and our very own bespoke solution, Sirius.  Because of this it means a lot of the heavy lifting has been taken care of. By heavy lifting I mean custom functionality that pushes our developers to their limits. Don’t get me wrong every now and then we are gifted with a challenge, whether it be a fully functioning site builder that allows translation across sites to a completely bespoke pricing matrix that allows all customers to pay different amounts for their products.

It’s A-liveeee…Project

I don’t like to wait around until I’m asked to do something to learn it. As soon as I’m asked I want to be able to say “Yes no problem, I’ll do it like this…”. It’s important to keep your tools sharp, make sure you are up to speed with the latest methods of development, as mentioned above that’s not always possible with client work so what do you do?

Create a Live Project

That was the next big step in my personal growth and the biggest learning experience I’ve had to date. At the start of the project I set out one goal…  I want to learn how to interact with social platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. It grew in to much more than that but everything was built around this goal. Instead of jumping in and creating a basic “hello world” application I wanted to create something that I was passionate about, that way when I got home from work and was tired and just wanted to watch Dexter (well worth a watch!) on TV I would feel motivated to work on my application and it worked.

The Idea

If you’ve read the rest of this series you will already be aware that I started at Fantastic on my placement year and what a struggle finding a placement was for me. I decided I wanted to make this easier for other people but at the same time still achieve my goal.  That’s when I started looking at the online portfolio. There are lots of platforms that allow you to sign up and showcase your work. But I thought, we’re in a digital age. Everyone is using Twitter, they’ve already uploaded all their content to Vimeo and YouTube why should they upload it again. I decided my live project would be the “evolution of the portfolio”. An online platform that allows users to showcase Flickr, Instagram, Vimeo, Twitter, YouTube and their own projects all in one place… for free! From that Unifolio was born.

Ongoing Learning

I won’t go in to the full build of Unifolio, that’s a whole other post but now that it’s up I have a great platform for testing new techniques and functionality. This means when a client comes to Fantastic wanting a bespoke solution, we already have a tried and tested solution. A great example of this is the social feed used on F1 in Schools. They wanted to showcase everything that was going on across their social media on their homepage. This required us to interact with Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. We needed to connect to these different platforms using their APIs and because I had already done this I was able to take everything I had learnt in the build of Unifolio and use it to create a great plugin that exceeded the client’s expectations. We have been able to reuse this code on many occasions, saving massive amounts of headaches and time.

Conclusion

You’re not always going to be able to learn everything you want working only on client projects, you become limited to the requirements of the client. It’s important to keep progressing your skills and make sure when someone asks if you can do something you already know the answer. The best way I found to achieve this is to create a live project that I was passionate about. By creating something that you enjoy and want to work on you will find yourself going out of your way to work on it. If you’re busy, tired or just can’t be bothered it will give you that little push which ultimately means you’re spending more time learning.

Here at Fantastic we are always looking for talented individuals to join our growing team. If you would like to work with us, send your CV and portfolio site to digital@fantasticmedia.co.uk.

Takeaways

  • Don’t wait to be asked to start learning
  • Outline a goal for what you want to learn
  • Think of an idea that works around that goal
  • Create a live project that you’re passionate about
  • LEARN!

Have you worked on or working on a live side project? Share your experiences in the comments section below. Don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter and stay up to date with all the latest posts on our blog. Would you like to follow me on twitter @thorp88

Next Week

Next week will be my final post in this series and I’ll be talking about becoming the Head of Digital here at Fantastic, some of my day to day and a little about what’s next.

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Director at Fantastic Media working on everything from UX and CRO to e-commerce and digital strategy. My design and development centres around the users experience and making sure everything we do has a goal and a measurement of success.

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