Dec 26, 2016

What it's like to work as a developer at BBC News

The BBC is a pretty large organisation. Today it employs around 20,000 people (actually around 35,000 when you include part-time and fixed-term contract employees) across a huge number of divisions. The BBC Careers website typically has over 100 vacancies posted on any given day. Before I joined the BBC, I found the sheer scale of it a bit intimidating. Usually I can get an idea of what it’s like to work for a company by reading their job advertisements and their engineering blogs, but with the BBC I was almost completely clueless. In this post I hope to shed some light on what it’s like to work as a developer or tester for BBC News.

Just a small disclaimer first: from an engineering perspective, the BBC is not like most other companies — it’s more like dozens of smaller companies, each with their own engineering department, working towards a common goal. News, Sport, Programmes, iPlayer, Radio… As digital products, these are all built mostly independently of each other. I work for BBC News, so a lot of what I’ve written may not apply outside of BBC News.

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Jul 22, 2016

Redefining the BBC News core experience

In the beginning of 2012 the BBC Responsive News team wrote about how they provide a “core experience” for users by default, and then progressively enhance the page if the browser cuts the mustard. At the time, this was cutting edge. They were able to build pages that worked on practically any browser without compromising the experience for users on modern browsers. To quote directly from the Responsive News blog:

This technique is still in use today, and is an integral part of the front-end strategy for all modern BBC News pages. In 2012 it allowed the team to provide a fast and lightweight experience for users on low-end devices. 7 HTTP requests totalling 21KB was all it took to load the core experience of the BBC News front page. All users benefited from this fast initial page load, with modern browsers progressively enhancing the rest of the page after the content was loaded.

It has been over 4 years since the BBC News core experience was first built, and a lot has changed since then. Today, the core experience consists of 91 HTTP requests totalling 685KB – over 32x heavier than the original core experience. With JavaScript disabled this can be reduced to 137KB – still over 6x heavier.

The BBC News team is aware of their website’s shortcomings. Back in May 2015 I conducted a huge performance review which I’ve spoken about extensively both internally and externally (video). A lot of work has been done over the last year, and many of the issues mentioned in those slides have already been addressed. Despite this, the elephant in the room is still the core experience.

That’s why when BBC News ran an internal hack day (where people can form teams to work on whatever they like) I took the opportunity to totally redefine the BBC News core experience.

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