E: Well, let’s start firstly with what your role is here at fulfilmentcrowd?
J: So, I am a software developer here and I work on our new app, which will be launching in a few months! My main focus really is on the front-end of it, effectively what our users see and interact with, that’s what I’ve been working on for the last year and a half.
E: Great stuff - and have you been enjoying it? Has it been a good learning experience for you?
J: Before I joined I only really had the experience of working on a project myself, I had never really worked in a business environment before - that was quite a change, going from working on my own to working with a great team of developers has been great. I feel like I joined fulfilmentcrowd at a really exciting time as well, we were just planning the new app, thinking about what technologies we were going to use and what will it look like 2 or more years down the line - all of this was going on within my first 2 months here - so yes it’s been really interesting to see the development of this. From the foundations of the app, to now as we are nearing the launch and getting ready to onboard customers, it’s all really interesting to see and be a part of.
E: Yes, that's such a good point - I can imagine being a part of something from the beginning to launch is great! What role have you had to play in the creation of the app in particular?
J: Yeah, so, the way we’ve been building it, everyone in the development team has managed to touch every part of the app - since we are quite a small team of people, it’s not like one person works on one particular feature, we are all working together on this one goal. Most of the time it will be me taking the designs and making them a reality, ,, and then others will work on how to integrate the app with the database and system behind the scenes.
E: What else can you tell our readers about the technological side of building the app? Are there any new features that they can get particularly excited about?
J: When we were planning on building the app, we had a main focus on improving user experience overall and also improving the things that are a part of the current platform.
One crucial thing we have identified when building the app was that people are simply using their phones more, so the main technological focus was this idea to create a mobile-first and an on-the-go experience, which really did influence the technology that we used to develop it, like I said. This tech has enabled us to build new optimised apps for iOS and Android; it’s also enabled us to build a brand new file upload tool for customers to input data into the app.
I think that both potential and existing customers will really see an improvement and feel the benefits from the technology we have chosen - because these new web frameworks and technologies have given us the ability to be really flexible with what features we build and how we build them, so yes I certainly believe this app will bring a lot of benefits to customers. Potential customers will benefit most from the new self-onboarding process that we have built within this new app; existing customers will definitely benefit from the app being proactive! The app will tell you when something needs your attention via push notifications, giving customers peace of mind that everything is going smoothly, without the need to constantly log into an app to check.
E: What would you say you are most excited about going live in terms of the new app’s features?
J: Probably the thing I am most excited about is something called Webhooks, which is effectively this idea that people will be able to trigger an action when something happens in the app. An example of this would be when an order gets dispatched, you’ll be able to pretty much instantly trigger an action across thousands of different third party services, or even your own custom app. That’s what I’m excited about because this will really enhance that user experience - which has been our main focus from the beginning and throughout the development of this app as I mentioned earlier. We’ve also developed a dedicated website for developers which will help our customers connect to fulfilmentcrowd services through Webhooks and our new API, so i’m also excited to see how that’s going to help customers take advantage of this new functionality.
E: That’s great - and I love the fact that you’ve all kept enhancing the user experience at the forefront. I’m looking forward to seeing it all come together! I’d like to know a little more about how you came into this role? I did hear on the grapevine that you developed an app yourself that helps kids to learn code - tell me more about that!
J: So, I’ve always been surrounded by technology from a young age and have always had an interest in it. About 9 to 10 years ago now, something was released called the Raspberry Pi, which is a very small computer (around the size of a credit card), and there was a local event in Preston to get people excited about this and to learn how to code. So my parents thought: “well, he’ll probably like that, let’s go along!” From there I really had this interest in learning how to code - and before this moment I had never heard of the software development and coding side of it; mainly because that’s more of a high school thing, and at the time I was just at the end of primary school!
The idea for the app called Edublocks which is what I’ve been running and developing for the past 5 years, came from using Scratch which is commonplace in schools to use when learning the basics of coding - it’s effectively a drag and drop programming environment, really easy to use andis a great way to get people to start learning the basic concepts of how coding works. Then when you get into the middle of high school, you can then make that transition into text based programming where they sit you in front of a slightly daunting looking code editor, but you don’t know what to do because it’s such a leap, especially from Scratch - the lack of the drag and drop feature really makes you lose all familiarity.
That’s how my idea for my app came about - I wanted to put something that was in the middle of these two platforms. The main language that is used at the education level around the world for text-based programming is known as Python - because it is probably one of the easiest languages to use and you can easily learn the core concepts of programming. With Edublocks, it mimics Python so the blocks you have in Scratch will build this text-based program, so as you drag and drop the blocks, it generates that text-based programming for you - and you are actually learning as you go along because the blocks represent a lines of code and as you drag + drop the blocks, with all the help in front of you! It isn’t taking that text-based environment away from you, but it integrates a graphical element into it.
E: This all sounds really interesting from a developmental side for sure. Did you then take Edublocks to schools?
J: Yeah, as this program progressed, it’s become a web-based platform and now I’m working on a mobile app for it. It gets mainly used in schools or by people who are interested in learning how to code at home. It started off as just a small thing that I wanted to do because I saw a need for it. I started the initial version on a weekend and then a few weeks later, I released it - people thought it was a really good idea so I developed it more to the point where thousands use it every day. I actually checked yesterday, and over the past year, it has been used in over 170 countries. So, yeah, it’s made a really positive impact in that space that I wanted to impact and it has definitely served its purpose - and continues to!
E: I find that so cool, like, you identified the gap and now you occupy that gap really successfully. So, I also heard that you went to Google for a convention tell me about that, what was it like?
J: With EduBlocks, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a lot of different companies and in 2018, I went to Silicon Valley in California - which looked incredibly futuristic, it was like peaking into what the future would look like with self-driving cars dotted everywhere.
So I got invited to go down to Google HQ and meet with the developers of this tool and have a feedback session, where I got to see what they were working on and share ideas on how they can make it easier for developers like me. It was a really good experience to meet with those people and the effects of that have definitely been seen because I was able to communicate with the developers of Blockly and work to make the platform that I used to make Edublocks better - so, yeah it was a really good experience to go down there and network with those people.
E: And it all sounds so cool as well, you know, to be able to network as you say and talk shop with people who are interested and passionate in the same things as you - really great stuff. What would you say your proudest moment would be?
J: Well, I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to do lots of amazing things over the past few years but there are two that come to mind.. The first being to be able to put this program out into the world and to see people benefit from it, because sometimes when you develop something, there can be a real disconnect between you and the users - you know, you just build something, push it out and people do what they want with it. But from this, I am able to see the impact that it has! I’ve read stories about how they really want to learn code, and how my program has helped them do that. Stories from teachers, too. They’ve gone from using Scratch to text-based programming, to which they saw a lot of people put off from learning about this; and they said, in the last year we have used your program, and it’s made both the teachers and students lives easier. That really was a proud moment for me.
The second example that I’ll always remember was the opportunity I had to go to the big Python conference that they do in America - Pycon. I went there and did a talk to the education group they had, and then one of the organisers of the event came to me and said that they were doing some 10 minute talks on the main stage in front of 4,000 or so developers. My name got put in a hat, and my name was picked! I did a talk to all those developers, sharing what I do, so yeah that was definitely a huge moment for me in my career so far.
E: You should be really proud of those moments - what amazing achievements! Well Josh, thank you so much for getting in conversation with me today, it has been an absolute pleasure!
J: No problem at all, Elle - thank you for having me!