This is a little bit of an odd feature to announce…in most normal months it wouldn’t rate as a “new feature”, and there’s probably other cooler things that we’ve done recently – for example support for LGSR MOT dates has been added for one of our heating contractors, a new integration process to receive updates for fire safety work, and limiting the resolution of pictures taken by the mobile app. However, this change is notable for 3 reasons…
When the login screen to an app changes it shouldn’t come as a surprise. We announced the change via our normal release notes last month so all users were explicitly warned of the change, and we felt it would be useful to have this page as a reference in case they missed last month’s announcement.
Our products are constantly evolving and changing, but we try very hard to make all upgrades and updates invisible to users wherever possible. The login screen has remained “visually” unchanged since 2010, even though under the hood the authentication sub-system has been upgraded several times, and the screen itself has received 2 or 3 small tweaks each year. We try to navigate a stable path between “state of the art” and “reliable, proven”, and that often means the core elements of the application slowly receive less love as they become more stable with age. We’ve tried to tackle that so that it looks fresher and gives us a springboard to enhance it further in subsequent releases. The new visuals and layout also nicely tie back in with our website and provides a method to showcase to our own users any capabilities of the system that they might not be using.
The final reason for announcing the feature is that it nicely shows how we are trying to coach new programming talent within our team. All the changes to the screen were made by James, one of our first year MMU apprentices. James worked closely with Mike to get the look and feel right, and the integration with the website looking seamless. He then had to work with me to test, review, and ultimately merge his changes. This represents about 27 hours of work from James, has taken him outside of his comfort zone, and has been a real piece of work that benefits the product as a whole which he has enthusiastically owned throughout the development lifecycle. This is the sort of “cosmetic” change that we (computer programmers!) often don’t value as highly as technical fixes or new architectures, but it is a vital part of a living product and is an example of the kinds of tasks that we find we are tackling more since we started working with the MMU apprentice degree programme.
Our products are built on an open source stack that is constantly improving, but at the same time it stays stable so that we can upgrade at our own pace. The new login screen still has some code that can be traced back to Epix’s very first web-application from 2001 (before James was born!) – and the code still works today. The platform has moved on a long way since then, but we believe we’ve taken our users on the same journey of stability with long term improvements, and now through the partnership with the MMU we are continuing the process by the injection of new talent and ideas. I hope that James is still here in 19 years to write about the code he wrote in his first year, and he has to explain his “legacy” code to the apprentices of 2039!