Design, Technology

“Each workday was different” – Anna and Joona’s not-so-secret summer diary

October 31, 2019

Read time 9 min

In this blog post, you’ll get to meet two of our 2019 summer employees, Anna Puura and Joona Juusti. They both worked in our client teams last summer and are now shedding a little light on a “typical” workday at Reaktor – which they both admit doesn’t actually exist. 

Anna, Helsinki

With a fresh cup of coffee in my hand, I climb the stairs to the 5th floor of our Helsinki office. My team for the summer is seated there – three other Reaktorians and myself, working on a health industry project. I’m doing both UX and visual design. Before starting the job, I had mentioned that it would be cool to work as a part of a health industry project team where I could, perhaps, partner up with a more senior UX designer and hone my skills. As it happens, my wish came true on my second day of working at Reaktor. I found it super motivating that they listened to me even though I’m a summer employee.

Today, as usual, I begin my day by checking my calendar, mail and Slack messages. The instant messaging service Slack is the most common way of keeping up with day-to-day stuff throughout the company. This morning, I spot a great list of plug-in recommendations on one channel. On another one, a long conversation about cordless vacuum cleaners makes me smile. My personal favorite is a channel called #hobby-outdoors, where outdoor-loving Reaktorians exchange tips and stories on hiking and backpacking. As I’m planning a hike for this autumn myself, I consider typing in a question about camping gear.

My new best buddy, the Kanban wall

My thoughts on camping are interrupted by the start of our daily meeting – a brief stand-up session where we go through our Kanban project wall full of sticky notes with different tasks and other project-specific things written on them. We talk about what’s in store for us today, and who will move forward with which task next. In the project, we always do just one thing at a time, following a “finish what you’ve started” principle to avoid overlapping tasks. 

This is the first project where I’ve gotten to use the Kanban method for real, and getting used to it took a while. During the first few weeks, I found myself wondering if we spent too much time gathered around the wall, just talking. But then I began to see the benefits. As it turned out, the wall’s proven to be a very handy means of communicating and keeping track of the project workflow. It also helps me to understand the big picture. 

Pairing is caring 

After the daily meeting, we pick up on our design work. Today, my colleague and I have paired up to  sketch a pen-and-paper wireframe. We draw out and discuss different options and simulate the UI to find out what might or might not work. 

Before joining Reaktor, I’d gotten used to working rather independently. That’s why I sometimes still feel butterflies in my stomach when my colleague is looking at an early-stage design on my computer screen. At the same time, however, I’ve noticed that iterative pair work is super beneficial for both the project and my own growth as a designer. Whenever I’m going through a creative block, my partner’s insight helps me overcome it. We’re constantly sparring and exchanging ideas, which helps the design to fall in place much quicker. 

Banana talk and mutual decisions

By afternoon, the wireframe plan is moving ahead and A3 sketch sheets are piling up on our desks. Next to us, our developer teammates are steadily uttering the word “banana, banana… banana!” – they’re testing a speech recognition interface we’ve all been working on the past week. 

We interrupt them for a minute to ask their opinion about our sketch. I find the review stage of the workflow particularly interesting and educational. The developers in our team look at our design from their perspective, and give us new ideas and iterations. With their feedback, we head back to the drawing board and edit the design until it gets green light from all the team members. 

Before the design moves on to the developers’ hands to become a functioning UI, we build a more detailed visual layout based on the wireframe which everyone in the team takes one more look at. In this way, decisions are made together throughout the project that everyone in the team can stand behind.

All in all, I feel that communication inside our team has been working well throughout the summer. I find that important. In addition to being able to fluently communicate about work-related matters, it’s easy for us to joke around and get to know each other. That makes working together feel relaxed and easy. For the end of my summer stint, we’re planning to have a team day with a dinner and some fun activities – apparently, a graffiti workshop is waiting for us.

Joona, Turku

A five-minute bike ride along the Aurajoki river takes me to the Reaktor Turku office. After dropping off my stuff at my desk, I head to the kitchen and brew myself a cappuccino. My day is now ready to start. I check my mail and delve into Slack for a while. As usual, there are noteworthy messages on both project-specific and general channels.

I work as a developer in an international project that can only be described as huge. Because of its size, the project has been divided into smaller sub-projects. In my team alone, there are dozens of other experts, some working for Reaktor, some for the client, and some for other vendors. In total, the project employs hundreds of people in several different countries and companies. My team’s focus is launching a new system in a sizeable new market. 

A culture of helping each other

After reading my messages, I take a moment to catch up where I left off yesterday. I check a Jira ticket and start working on the code I wrote yesterday. In this project, a Jira ticket usually refers to a small feature or a defect that needs to be fixed and every developer is working on their own ticket, one at a time. However, whenever in doubt, I can ask one of my senior teammates for advice on how to best solve the challenge in question in this specific project. One of the great things is how skillful the people at Reaktor are – and how easy it is to turn to any one of them whenever you’re in need of sparring or advice. 

Now, towards the end of the summer, I realize I could’ve set the threshold even lower when it comes to asking for help, rather than contemplating a given problem inside my head for too long. A couple of times, for example, a problem has turned out to be impossible for us to solve within our team alone. In these situations, my co-developers’ long experience has been exactly what’s needed to recognize this fact and take the action needed to solve the problem. 

Daily meetings across time zones

After a few hours of coding, it’s time to hold two quick daily meetings. The first one is a 15-minute Skype meeting with everyone in the same sub-project team, which in practice means people in four different countries. We go through what’s cooking in the project, what things might hold up our work and what’s good for everyone to know. This meeting is followed by another short daily meeting, this time with my team members in Turku. Today, we chat quite freely about how the two sub-project teams are doing.

When we’re done, we all head out to lunch. The benefit of a small office is that everyone knows each other and anyone at the office is free to join in, regardless of which project they’re working on. Today, our lunch talk pretty much covers everything from traveling to Lapland to different dog breeds. 

When we get back to the office, I notice that getting my mind off work things has paid off. I manage to solve a coding problem I’ve been trying to figure out since morning. I make a pull request of my finished code so the other developers in my team can review it. This way possible errors can be detected, and others can share their feedback or ideas with me. Then I start reviewing my teammates’ code – it looks neat, so I accept the pull request. It makes me happy that during my summer at Reaktor I haven’t felt like “just a summer employee” for a single second. On the contrary, for this whole time I’ve felt like I’m a Reaktorian just like everyone else.

Reaktor and Turku: a match made in my dreams

Before I know it, it’s already afternoon. I scan the Kanban board and pick a task that’s next in line. I also modify my code based on earlier feedback and browse through Slack. I spot an interesting discussion about different headless CMS systems and take a look at a couple of articles linked to it.

Before heading home, I write down a couple of things so I’ll remember to get back to them tomorrow. I also mark down my working hours, and while heading out the door, shout out a cheerful “bye-bye” to the people still left at the office. 

While biking home, I find myself reflecting on the past summer. My impression of Reaktor has always been that everything they do is high-quality. When a couple of summer jobs opened at Turku, I was excited! After going out to lunch with a contact who had worked at Reaktor Turku for a while, I was convinced I should seize the day and apply. The recruitment process was impressive: it entailed two quite long interviews, during which I got to refactor my own code among other things. 

There’s also a very strong culture of self-development at Reaktor, and I feel like the company really wants to invest in the growth of its employees. For example, there’s been a wide variety of trainings available during the summer, and everyone’s free to take part in any of them. 

 

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