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Connections with ExactTarget (2013)

stress
/stres/
verb

  • a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.

This past summer, my team was tasked with architecting and building a product for ExactTarget's user conference, Connections.

What is Connections?

Connections is a user conference that ExactTarget holds for its clients, prospects, partners, developers, and employees. A lot more information can be found here.

This year, we (ExactTarget) were looking to make waves in the tech scene (you know, since we were recently acquired by salesforce.com).

The Initial Ask

My team started gearing up for this about 3 months prior; the earliest a team has started to prepare for Connections ever. "We'll have plenty of time," I thought to myself. Boy, was I wrong.

Two months go by, we have developed 1 1/2 different products. One fully functional app. The 1/2 was prototyping of what our designers/VP thought they wanted. "Thought" being the keyword.

So we have a month left. It's getting to crunch time. Lo and behold, we get word that we have to start over. We're not using anything that we've created so far. SHIT! I'm sure other people were thinking it also.

Technically we didn't have to start from scratch, we just had to move the stuff we had already created to a different URL route. For the most part, we could still use our node server we had been working on that ran our app.

Developing Gone Crazy

With 3 weeks left until the demo, my team did work. We accomplished so much, even with requirements, designs, and functionality changing every few hours.

This team was one of the best I've ever been apart of. Our manager let us do what we needed to do in order to deliver everything on time; He even helped with some coding stuff!

It was the speediest development cycle I have ever seen. On average, we deployed code every few hours over a 3-week period. Even on weekends. Stackato really helped us accomplish this feat.

Crunch Time

With the demo a week away, a lot still had to get done. Our VP of Technology was planning on presenting this at our company meeting on Friday. Talk about stress.

We get a good amount of done by Thursday, but realize we'll have to stay late to get it done by the company meeting the next day. This is in addition to staying late every other day for the past month, just later this time.

It gets to be around 11pm, and we've finished just about everything. We're feeling good. And shit, we just got an email from the lead UX designer with some news. Looks like we have to develop an entirely new navigation scheme/layout. And from the screenshots, it didn't look like it was going to be easy.

We get to it, everyone with their individual tasks. 2+ people are working on the new navigation at any one time. Progress.

Finally, we finish around 8am. I have just enough time to go home, take a shower, and head back to the office. I was thinking to myself, "I sure hope this $#$@&!@ works!"

And it did. There were only a few small errors, but my team were the only people that noticed. Everyone else thought it was the coolest thing ever.

The Connections Demo

Tuesday rolls around. We've been making content changes left and right along with a few functional changes. I cannot wait for this to happen (more like be over haha).

Everything is set up. The keynote has started. Our VP of Technology takes the stage. It's fucking go time, and all I can do is sit on the edge of my seat and hope everything goes well. It was probably the most nerve-racking time of my life.

IT WENT OFF WITHOUT A HITCH!!! I was so proud of my team and what we had accomplished. It turned out to be the best demo in the history of Connections. This was based on attendees and Salesforce's feedback over the next week.

Needless to say, I was ecstatic. We had accomplished what we had set out to do. It felt so good; coupled with the fact that I could finally relax and actually had a little more free time.

Take Aways

  • Stress is inevitable
  • Good team chemistry is key
  • Rapid release cycles are important for these types of projects
  • You cannot do everything by yourself. Accept help from others
  • Tested and proved new technology for others to use at ExactTarget

I am extremely glad I was apart of this. Not many developers get the opportunity to develop something of this magnitude and present it to so many people on a main stage. A modified version is being presented at Salesforce's Dreamforce and Connections UK. Such exposure. I consider myself very lucky

For all you non-nerds, you could probably stop reading here.

The Awesome Technology

For this demo I got to experiment with awesome, bleeding-edge technology. They include:

  • Stackato
  • Backbone v1.0.0 (other projects are stuck in the past)
  • Backbone Marionette
  • Handlebars
  • Redis
  • MonogoDB
  • Node.js
  • FuelAPI
  • FuelUX
  • MomentJS
  • RESTful services

It was sweet, and I cannot wait to continue building it.

 

I am a life-long learner, adventure seeker, and front-end developer for @ExactTarget