How Do You Build a Modern Media Company Targeting Millennials? PolicyMic's Developer Reveals AllEditor's Note: This post is part of a technology education series sponsored by Treehouse. In this Q&A series we turn to our very own product team to discuss PolicyMic’s web development and design.
Name: Anthony Sessa
Title: Senior Full Stack Developer – Responsible for managing development process and standards.
College: Georgetown University – School of Foreign Service / Science, Technology and International Affairs
PolicyMic (PM) You used to work at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., so how did you find yourself at PolicyMic?
Anthony Sessa (AS): After I graduated, I joined the Department of State as a New Media Technical Advisor. The experience was great because I got to work on technologies critical to American security, but was a bit rigid because we were limited to pre-approved technologies.
I wanted to build, learn, and experiment quickly, so I headed to a start-up in California. After a few years of building products on the West coast, I moved to New York and started my own design and development agency. PolicyMic started off as one of our clients and quickly became one of our biggest clients. After spending time with their product and team, I became a true believer and decided to join full-time.
PM: As a startup, there’s always something to build. How do you go about prioritizing the product roadmap and keeping the dev team organized?
AS: In a startup, I believe that engineering priorities should be flexible enough to pivot when needed. That being said, keeping a near and long-term roadmap is key to proper execution. The near-term roadmap should be detailed and robust, while the long-term roadmap should be broader, since there is a high probability things will change by the time you get there.
At PolicyMic, each new feature (we call them sprints) is measured with a discrete goal – like a 1% increase in sign-up conversions or helping editors become more efficient in order to save “X” hours per week in their jobs.
Additionally, features will often require sprints that don’t affect the end user. For instance, if we are going to build a mobile version of our website, which requires optimized images, we will most likely spend time figuring out a way to generate images more efficiently across both the mobile and desktop version of the website. We may also spend time organizing code, or designing a better deployment process. These are things which the end-user doesn’t get to see or experience. For aspiring developers, it’s important to have a deep understanding of development tools so that you are always working more efficiently.
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PM: So what’s next for PolicyMic? What cool things are you looking forward to building?
AS: Product-wise, we are building a next generation publishing and analytics system. It’s been a lot of fun to design and should be even more fun to develop. Having built a custom CMS from the start, we have learned a ton about the tools that PolicyMic will need to build a global newsroom. Given the demands – an intuitive but powerful media-focused content creator with robust analytics capabilities – we are going to build some cool and impactful technology.
Another fun project I’m really looking forward to working on is desktop notifications. Desktop notifications are made possible by Websockets, which allow information and alerts to be streamed live on your desktop similar to mobile applications. For example, when an editor receives a new article or a writer receives feedback from an editor, we can alert them (like sending a push notification) in real-time.
PM: Despite the availability of so many template media products (CMS, analytics, etc), PolicyMic has built almost every aspect of the site internally. How has this decision helped in the development process and the goal to create a better performing, more user-friendly site?
AS: With custom solutions, you get flexibility. As we rethink the entire news creation and consumption experience, we have been empowered to shape the technology to reflect our specific needs. Most existing CMSs were built for legacy media companies. They have limited options in terms of design, UX and UI, and weak analytics offerings.
The risk of building your technology is that you have very limited resources, so everything you build needs to be impactful. If you don’t have the resources to build your own CMS, its probably best to master WordPress, Drupal or Movable Type or buy into a SaaS CMS like Camayak. That said, we have found that building our own CMS has created a deeply integrated culture, where editorial and engineering work seamlessly to solve big challenges. Not only has this led to breakthroughs technologically, but also it has resulted in a lot of new insights across the whole team as to how digital media companies should work.
PM: Looking ahead, what technology would you like to see developed over the next few years and how would that impact PolicyMic and its readers?
AS; A technology currently being developed for mainstream usage is called WebRTC (web real-time communication), which allows for live video recording from your browser. In the near future, anyone with a smartphone can open up his or her browser and live stream video to the web. As a result, you will have a whole new way to create and take in ‘live news’ and other genres of video content.
I am also really excited about what Google Glass sets out to do: augment reality. A simple application that is in the works is an app that identifies all available outlets in an airport. Others are working on an app that would send firefighters critical information when there is a fire. You can start to see what kind of applications can be developed for a device that you are able to use so quickly and easily. It may open up an opportunity for PolicyMic to start breaking news and creating new content from various sources in real-time.
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