How to Build a Single Source of Truth: DWP Digital

Apr 27, 2022
hackajob Staff

Part of a Developing with DWP Digital series.

Ready to find out what being a Developer at DWP Digital is like? We take a sneak peek at one of their latest projects and the task to build a single source of truth with Front End Developer Adam McKenna. Discover his opinions on the end of React, as well as the highlights, setbacks and tips for doing a project just like this. If you’ve ever wanted to make an impact with your work, and wondering how you could join the team then keep reading.

Meet Adam

Hi Adam, tell us more about yourself/your journey into tech and your current role at DWP Digital.

I’m a Front End Developer in DWP Digital and I’ve been working as a Developer for about 7 years. Like most people, I started in agencies at one point moved to Germany and worked more for enterprises. I enjoyed the work itself but I wanted to make a difference and not just wonder about the bottom-line. From there I ended up working in a charity and then joined DWP Digital. Having always been interested in accessibility and user experience, it was key for me that these two things are centre place in this department.

I’m also interested in other areas of the business. Currently, I’m trying to understand the Product side and why we need it. Also the design and making sure it fits the needs identified and that it does this in the most effective way possible. What I like here is that if you have an interest you can delve into that, you’re not just restricted to your role on paper.

Tell us more about Colleague View - what's its aim?

I’m working on Colleague View which is in Alpha at the moment. The purpose of the product is to make the experience of agents and claimants easier, more efficient and more accessible when they’re trying to access information across our benefit lines. Our goal is to create a service where an agent can serve the customer at the first point of contact – giving dynamic information in the right context and at the right time.

The product evolved because we listen to our users. Our product owner found that the agents were very frustrated with the way they currently work – they work across 17 different systems – and a lot of research had to go into this. Helping the agents succeed in their role is really important to us, and so it became clear how needed this was.

Whilst working on the project, have there been any specific highlights that stand out to you? Have you been able to see its impact yet?

So this project is currently in Alpha, meaning nothing has launched yet but we still do a lot of user research testing, and it’s extensive for every project whether it’s customer-facing or like in our case, internally. The response has been so overwhelming. We’ve heard things like:

“This is amazing, it’s going to really change our world”, “When’s it coming out?” which has been incredible.

I’ve built a lot of stuff where I’ve never actually seen it getting used before, and a lot of developers would say the same. To see it get used and to be received so positively, even if it's still in Alpha, is a massive motivator and highlights the fact that if we can get this live, it would be good for the agents. We’d still need to test and validate for the users but I'm hopeful.

Were there any setbacks to the project, and if so how have you overcome these?

Being a Front-End Developer in Alpha you don’t do a lot of development. The dream approach is that you start in Alpha and create a rough and ready prototype. Then when it comes to Beta, you throw the Alpha away and start again. It works really well usually as you use the off-the-shelf GOV.UK stuff. This helps it to be recognisable. Our application is custom therefore we had to build a lot of components from scratch, so I think it’s a setback that we might have to re-do this when it comes to Beta. However, if the code is written to a good enough standard who knows, it may not have to be a setback. Again, I'm hopeful.

What languages and frameworks make up your tech stack for this project?

Generally, we use JavaScript for Frontend and Backend too. Sometimes people think it’s not secure or mature enough for the Backend, but we’ve found it to be great over the years so it’s kind of proven itself. In my project specifically, I’m using React as this is a data-heavy application and something like Angular or React or Vue is better for this. It needs to be refreshed instantly and you have to move between screens really fast so it’s perfect for this. That being said, there’s lots of new technologies I had to pick up: Typeline, Gitlab stuff, CI/CD Pipelines etc. It's incredible the ways you get to develop here.

Recently there has been some sort of exodus from React, what is your opinion on this and what technologies do you think we’ll be seeing soon?

React is still the industry standard for frameworks but I think people are moving away from frameworks in general, so not just React but also Angular and Vue. React is made for applications that are complex and where there are lots of animations and reactions. If you’re making something basic, it’s not really necessary. For example with the government websites, it’s more like one thing per page - so this is more simple to develop and static sites are faster to develop.

You get to develop in other areas too because of the static sites; we get to do more with the backend. Or you can get more involved in internal projects. And it’s a great journey we’re currently going through looking how to make things accessible and useable without alienating developers.

What advice would you give to those who are thinking to join DWP Digital?

First thing is to prepare yourself for a different way of life, especially if you were working in an agency before like I was. Learn everything about GDS approach (Government Digital Standards) including working in an Agile way, through project processes like Alpha or Beta, Live or Discovery etc. It’s well documented so you’re already set up for success. Learning Node.js would also be pretty useful. I did a tech challenge when I joined to test my general technical skills, so I’d prepare for this too. Most of all, be prepared for your work to make an impact and have more meaning.

If you'd like to read more about Adam’s thoughts on why developers need to challenge Product and Design then click here. And if you're interested in joining Adam's team, or similar, at DWP Digital then head on over to our platform where you could be matched with them. It takes just 5 minutes to sign up.