Ghyston's Innovation Day 

Charles Rea Charles Rea

05-05-2020

We ran our first Innovation Day last week: a day for our developers to work on whatever they wanted to learn and develop their skills. Despite the unexpected challenge of running everything remotely, the company rose to the occasion and we've ended up with some impressive new tools and learnings.

What sort of things did people work on?

The brief for the day allowed individuals freedom to pick and choose what to work on, as long as it had the aim of giving productive benefits to them or to the wider company. Some people trialled several cutting-edge technologies, with an eye to evaluating how they could be used in our future development projects. Others used the day to prototype new applications and tools, to help improve and automate processes within the office. Several took the opportunity to delve into an area of technology they wanted a chance to get more exposure to.

There's a long list of great things people produced, but here's a few of my highlights:

  • Thea and Isaac tried out Flutter, Google's UI framework for mobile apps, which has been gaining a lot of traction within the industry.
  • Several of us prototyped applications using Blazor, Microsoft's upcoming framework for writing client-side web applications using C# code running in WebAssembly.
  • David and Alex built real-time web applications using SignalR, including an app for running virtual pub quizzes during the current lockdown.
  • Our designer, Andrew, produced some snazzy new persona templates for use in projects.
  • Alex and I took on the challenge of building Ghyston's own "mini-cloud", providing a platform-as-a-service approach to allow automated app deployments within Ghyston's network. We wanted to reduce the barrier to entry for developers to build and deploy their own side projects, and so promote continuous personal development within the office, as well as giving us the chance to dig deep into the internals of Kubernetes and cloud orchestration.

Overall, the day was thoroughly enjoyed by all involved. It was a great chance for people to experience some new technology, work collaboratively across the office and just generally have some fun. There's a massive benefit to the company here in enabling our developers to build the skills and experience they need to stay at the forefront of the latest technical advances, and it gives us the chance to trial new tools and approaches in a risk-free environment. Not to mention, the benefit to staff morale shouldn't be understated!

Tips for future events

I really recommend any company looking to develop their employees' skill sets should try out this sort of initiative. Here are a few tips to make sure it's a successful event, and to ensure you see the benefits:

  • Get people to think of ideas to work on in advance: if people come to the day with a plan they can hit the ground running and make the most of the day.
  • Catch up at the start of the day and set some goals. We're used to using daily stand-ups to communicate and set goals on our day-to-day projects, and the Innovation Day is no exception. Having people share what they're working on with others is a great way to encourage collaboration and cross-contamination of ideas.
  • Catch up again at the end of the day to share any learnings or demo what you've made. Knowing you'll need to demo something at the end of the day really helps focus the mind on achieving something and is good for ensuring setting goals that are achievable in a day.
  • Get high-level buy in on the benefits of giving developers this time. We've found that the long-term benefits of giving time for personal development really pays off in the long run, as you'll end up with a happier and more productive team.