Switching careers from teaching English to web development was a daunting prospect at first. My impression used to be that the majority of people working in the sector would have predominantly computer science and mathematics oriented backgrounds, and without a qualification in either, I wasn't confident that my ambition would ever become a reality.
I could teach myself well enough, and my spare time then, as now, tends to be occupied by creating pages or programs to practice my nascent development skills. However, I knew that in order to really understand the process of building websites rather than simply the technicalities, I would have to find somewhere willing to take me on. More importantly, I would need them to devote their time to demonstrating and explaining that process as it happened.
With this mind, I contacted Agile Collective and I was surprised and impressed by the lengths to which they went to make sure I got to experience almost every aspect of their work. From day one I was made to feel welcome at their office on Cowley Road, and the atmosphere was always inclusive and friendly.
Within the first week I was shadowing Aaron and Maria as they built a site about Safer Pregnancy for the charity Sands. From a technical point of view this was really useful because I got to see version control platforms like Git in action, as well as how website design, structure and theming were separated out between different members of the team. No matter how many questions I asked them, they always took the time to answer them in a way a novice could understand.
Having never used Drupal to build websites before, I was given access to a lot of online resources which I took full advantage of whenever I wasn't shadowing or attending meetings with my colleagues. Through them, I got a thorough grounding in all the core aspects of Drupal 8 site building, as well as the use of many of the more popular modules. Beyond that, I learnt a huge amount about modern front-end development using CSS with SASS and Gulp and using Git to manage project versions.
Aaron was also great at explaining the details of Agile software development and how it differs from traditional project management to provide a flexible yet focused approach to web design. This included how they used the Kanban workflow to organise and prioritise tasks and Harvest to keep track of their billable hours. With Agile becoming a popular methodological choice for many web development companies, this was exactly the sort of information I needed going forward into the industry.
One particularly striking thing about the Agile Collective is their openness. As a worker's co-operative, they have a flat management structure, so decisions are taken mutually between members. This means that everyone has a say in the direction of their business and the proceedings of all meetings are deliberately transparent. Since they were happy to let me attend many of these meetings, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the management and shape of their business including how they delegate work, organise budgets, plan for future projects and even discuss their brand identity.
If you happen to be in a similar position to me and want to find out more about the industry, get some quality work experience, or see how co-operatives work differently, I would definitely recommend getting in touch with Agile Collective.