Back to school: Building a WordPress development team with first year students

About 2 months ago I was approached by a local NGO (“Liderii de maine” / “Tomorrow’s Leaders”) and invited to take part into one of their programs dedicated to helping first year students to understand the importance of internships for their future careers. I was told that my role would be to lead the web development group and to teach them how to build an internships portal during a hackathon taking place in 6 weeks. Challenge accepted!


The challenge

When I said yes to this role I was really excited about the opportunity to introduce WordPress to young students. I still remember my first interaction with Flash and how it changed my life and hopefully, some of these students would feel the same about this hackathon. The next day I’ve realised that things are not that easy, I have to deal with young students who either have no idea of what WordPress and web development are or just have little knowledge of HMTL, CSS or / and (hopefully) PHP.


Building the team

The first thing I did after meeting the students was to start creating the team. Helped by Alexandra, my colleague from the WordCamp Romania’s organizing team, this is what we implemented:

  1. we defined our goals using the SMART approach which I always use: team’s goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely;
  2. we defined the roles, we had 3 sub-teams: the front-end team, the back-end team, the content handling, translations and testing team and we had Alexandra as the project manager;
  3. we set up the communications channels: weekly in person meetings, weekly hangout calls, Slack, Google Docs and so on.


Working environment

From the beginning I had a single requirement: we would build the project with WordPress and everyone agreed. So, I’ve started to talk to my young team about how cool WordPress is and to show them how many things can be achieved relatively fast and easy with it. For a better understanding of WordPress I’ve encouraged them to watch the WordPress Beginner Class tutorials from YouTube, created by OSTraining and GoDaddy.

A very tense moment was when I realised that I have a team of 20 people who don’t have any idea what Git is or how to work with a local development environment and many of them need edit the same files in the same time. Luckily, I remembered reading something about the Cloud 9 platform and after some research I’ve decided that it’s a good fit for our team’s needs. I signed up for their Educational plan where for just $1/month you can create a workspace and have as many students contributing to it as you need. When I first introduced C9 to the students I told them that it’s similar to Google Docs 🙂 . Uploading, downloading, editing are all very easy and fast and you can even get access to PhpMyAdmin, but the platform has its limitations and I’ll mention them a little later.


The Hackathon

I must confess that I was nervous before the start of the hackathon about what might happen and about achieving our main goal: delivering a MVP by the end of the event. Obviously, working with a team of young students is different than working with a team of even entry level developers. There are all kind of new challenges and misalignments, different than I would have expected from a regular development team, especially from a high performing team as we have at Crowd Favorite.

The hackathon started and everyone got involved and did their roles, helped, communicated very well and after just 2 hours we were already seeing the first results. Unfortunately, this was also the moment when I noticed the C9’s weaknesses: when you have more than 3-4 people editing the same files and other 4-5 more people working in the WP admin becomes really slow until it crashes. And when it crashes the workspace needs to be restarted and after the 3rd time, the workspace wouldn’t start anymore. So, we had to contact the support, which is good by the way and they tried to help us as fast as possible but even so, we lost almost 1 hour.

After we resumed the work on C9 and our project was again on track and looking really good, at a certain point we’ve decided that we can move it to the live server and we can finish the work there. We did it, the migration went smoothly but after about half an hour we had the second major road block that evening: we found ourselves banned from the server. It seems the small hosting company wasn’t expecting so much traffic from us and they decided to block us. Not funny. But, we fixed that too, everything went well and in the end when we had more than an MVP, we delivered an internships website for students, with a lot of features proposed directly by them during the brainstorming sessions from our 2 months of working together. The site is not live yet because it still needs content, but I’ll follow up on this and I’ll update with its url when it is officially launched.


Why all this?

Simple, because I love WordPress and we, at Crowd Favorite, want to encourage the young people to learn it, to apply for internships and to see what it can be like to work with high performing web development team.

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