There and back again
Having a fantastic experience working at Shropshire Council for 48 weeks on my placement year from Staffordshire University, it only took me another 36 weeks to finish my studies and return to the Shire – picking up where I left off with my excellent colleagues at Project WIP. This is my story so far…
My placement with Project WIP
I started my WIP journey on 1 September 2014. The team was very friendly, each taking time to make me feel welcome, have a friendly chat, and explain in detail what their role entailed. Having worked in teams consisting of students, I was familiar with working as part of something, although a team filled with web experts, collaborating daily in a structured processes, was something else entirely. I was excited and eager to learn everything.
Most Shropshire Council websites run on a fantastic .NET framework content management system (CMS) called ‘Umbraco’, a technology I’d never come across before. Unaccustomed to how Umbraco functioned, I was guided through the different layers over a few months, beginning with content, and had a look at the posts the team had made on this blog. I also got involved in the development and maintenance of the websites built using WordPress.
Joining our content specialists Mark and Jane was a fun experience, and the best starting point to learn the ropes. Getting familiar with Umbraco’s back office was an effortless process thanks to its intuitive design, and the structured templates (or Document Types to use the correct term) the team had built to make it easy for editors to make changes. Spending time responding to web support queries, and creating and editing service areas on the main Shropshire.gov.uk website with support from Mark and Jane, I became familiar with the content and structure of the site, in addition to relearning how to write in a way that uses shorter sentence and paragraph structures and plain English.
Writing for a public-facing government body was a new notion for me. With the number of services provided by Shropshire Council, there were also many tones to adopt depending on who you were addressing. It was a learning curve to train the brain to write in slightly different ways depending on the context, but through referencing our style guide (created for the editors who maintain various websites and online services for Shropshire Council), using our social media, and with the assistance of my team members, I learned how to communicate effectively with the public, colleagues and other professionals.
Although my time focusing on content came to an end, the skills I’d gained are used every day to work with our content professionals, and to help create a better product for the user.
UX (user experience) and design
As a web team we focus on providing the best experience we can for the users of our products. To do this we put maximum effort into working with the client to design a suitable solution (part of our process can be read in a previous post), which means understanding the customer, what they are trying to achieve, as well as any circumstances that could hinder them (we use personas as part of this process).
During my time here, I realised the importance of UX and designing with the guidance and information UX provides. Attending a few UX workshops I understood the dramatically different ways in which people can react to, and interact with, webpage structure, design and content.
Now it was time to delve into the part of the web that excites me most, the code. Web developing was what I’d been striving towards, and now it was time to exert my knowledge in real applications.
With Umbraco being .NET based and having ties to AngularJS, I was in a great position to hit the ground running with this framework, having prior knowledge in C#, AngularJS and MVC frameworks.
By this time I also had a good knowledge of the structure of our websites and how they were built. With new access to the different layers through the code, I was able to understand how the building blocks of how the code fitted together on the Umbraco, server, and database sides. This was very useful as it allowed me to integrate or extract code easily, and create websites from scratch without confusion.
We take accessibility very seriously as we have such a diverse set of customers, and it’s important to provide a good and equal experience to all. We incorporate accessibility needs into our design and development process, making sure that we are compliant with WAI WCAG2.0 (web content accessibility guidelines) standards, to at least AA level – i.e. using colour schemes that have high enough contrast, that labels are provided for screen readers, etc.
I spent the final months of my placement creating, editing and improving services on new.shropshire, overhauling the intranet (and prototyping it as an open source package), as well as helping to create a new website for the Shropshire County Pension Fund.
Having had an excellent experience at Shropshire Council and with Project WIP, in August 2015 it was time to say Auf Wiedersehn and continue my studies. But I would return… TO BE CONTINUED!!