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Yahoo7 CTO Paul Russell on the media giant's stack overhaul

George Nott | July 25, 2017
Switches out PHP framework running on virtual machines for Node.js on Docker containers.

“It really takes it to the next level,” Russell says.


A la Node

The stack overhaul has also required a significant reskilling of staff.

“We had a business full of PHP developers with some front end Javascript developers and that's where we started,” Russell says.

Over the last year PHP developers have been reskilled to become Node developers.

“It’s something we're really proud of. It’s no mean feat. Node developers are very hard to find in the market and we have created, ourselves, a good number who are now very skilled. And that was that was a fantastic thing to do in terms of people on the team,” Russell says.

Managing the change was fairly easy, given Node’s rising status in the enterprise.

“They were keen. A lot of other companies have started moving towards node, so from a career development point of view it's great to add another string to their bow; it’s a good in demand skill,” he says.

The team – which uses Agile methodologies, switching between Scrum and Kanban when needs be – was also buoyed by the promise of time being freed up to be spent on Yahoo7’s ‘backlog’ of innovations.

“They were chomping at the bit because the old system really was a pain to maintain. Everyone was super keen just because of the promise of a more efficient development environment,” Russell says.

“It’s a more of a promise because we are in that transition phase. But it's really become apparent how much time we are going to save. When we look at our backlog of things we'd like to put out and test, it's exciting to know that we're going to be able to do that. In the past we had that same backlog but we'd just know that we wouldn't be able to get to a lot of that work.”


Nimble on needs

Lifestyle and entertainment website Be is the first of the seven sites to be relaunched, and went live last week. News, Sport, Weather, TV Guide, PLUS7 and Prime sites will follow one by one over the coming quarter.

Each site will undergo stringent user-testing with focus-groups engaged to suggest improvements. A speedy test and learn process means new features can be quickly adopted or dismissed.

“We do a lot of split testing so whenever we are contemplating a new feature we build a relatively minimal version of that and we put it out to a small percentage of our audience and see what happens,” says Russell.

Each feature has a set aim (for example to increase click-throughs) and associated metrics.

“That test and learn is the really big part of our process and I think we've used that really successfully as we've rolled out some really big changes and some really small ones that can have a big impact as well,” Russell adds.


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