Bridging the Gap Between Tech and Non-Tech – A Marketer’s Perspective

It was 2011 and I had just started working for a web company in its IT sector. My role was one of the less “defined” ones, at the confluence of sales and tech, a bit the middle-man amongst departments that were in tacit conflict. There was always at least one project sold under a misunderstanding or misrepresentation.

When pointing out an impending disaster to the directors (such as a project being undersold, or us being unprepared and understaffed to complete it on time), they would take the sales rep’s side because “he is the one who brings the money in, certainly not the devs.” Yet it was the devs who were turning those projects into concrete realities. It was the devs who should have been consulted for an in depth requirements analysis and a correct time cost evaluation, for sales to evaluate the money cost from there on. The departments, however, avoided communicating with each other whenever they could, assuming the other’s affairs were secondary to their own. They both overestimated their grasp on the other team’s skills and endeavors.

Now try for the sake of discussion to put yourself into a CIO’s shoes. Picture your IT department. What will your first thoughts be? Will you lament the money the department has wasted, or linger on frustration due to poor results, delays and bitter compromises? What measures should you take?

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Business First, Tech Later – Or Is It?

Corporations teach that IT must be run like a business, with CIOs as business leaders, not technology pundits. Investments into IT should be spurred by business strategy. Nevertheless, at the 360 IT infrastructure event in London in 2010, with the recession causing a shift in IT roles and responsibilities, the general sentiment was that IT is very much a “changing face of business.” Attendees seemed to acknowledge the necessity of developing oneself and one’s staff into well-rounded, “business-savvy and technically-skilled” workers.

The results of an ulterior CA Technologies study from 2012 on over 800 global businesses showed a clear disconnect between IT and their execs as the main reason for missed opportunities for revenue growth and reduced customer engagement and satisfaction. 34 percent of the Business respondents in the survey dubbed their relationship with IT as “combative, distrustful or siloed”, and almost just as many on the IT side agreed.

Perhaps the best solution is for both sales and marketing departments to better their technical knowledge, and for tech teams to improve their administrative and marketing knowledge?

The Middle Ground: An Insight on How To

Belinda Yung-Rubke, director of Field Marketing at Visual Network Systems, is sure the answer sits in finding a common language and setting up common objectives, while Jimmy Augustine of Hewlett Packard urges a forceful bridging of the IT and Business gap. “The two should be one, like peanut butter and jelly. The right hand should know what the left hand is thinking and vice versa.”

Jeff Tash, CEO of Flashmap Systems, Inc and author of the free Architecture Resource Repository Site, recommends a three-step approach to bridging this gap: Consolidate, Standardize, Communicate. Initially, this involves eliminating redundancies, reducing resources, and aiming for reusable products and services instead of one-offs.

Most important is the final step, communication. Marketers and techies can often speak completely different languages. One group talks about B2B, B2C, CPCs, CPMs, DMOs, PPAs, PPCs, ROI, and UGC, and the other talks about HTML, CSS, JS, SQL, XML, JSON, IDEs, and APIs. It’s important to define a common vocabulary, so that no one is nodding along in meetings without any idea of what the discussion is about. Tash recommends to “make certain that both technical and non-technical audiences share a unified knowledge base” to ensure a dialogue of ideas, rather than a monologue.

We often see an expectation for techies to speak the marketer’s language, but not the other way around. In Vish Mulchand’s opinion, “the bosses you have to get the budget from don’t care about the technical side of why you’re pitching for a certain investment; they want to know how it will improve the business and grow revenue, so the tech guys need to know how to communicate this.”

Want to start bridging the gap between you and IT? Take a step towards them with our free crash course in HTML.

It can be difficult for marketers to find motivation to learn tech language, but it can lead to more independent and self-sufficient behavior. In larger organizations, a simple typo fix can take weeks to make its way through bureaucracy. In smaller agencies and startups, you can usually just tap a developer on the shoulder and ask him to fix it. But consider the fact that even a one-minute interruption can require 10–15 minutes of ramp-up to resume working. With a little effort, marketers can learn just enough to be able to make small changes like these, avoiding bureaucracy and keeping developers focused and efficient.

interruptions

It might be wise to take a leaf from the startup world in this regard, where the lines between marketing, product and development become blurred. Instead of treating different aspects of a project as silos, marking territory, and making sure no-one crosses borders, all of these different aspects are treated as offensive weapons to win in the market.

Keeping Quality High When Rushing Web Development

No one likes a rush job. They usually mean high stress and late nights, and leave you disappointed in the end result. Unfortunately, many clients only come to you when they need something yesterday. But just because the deadline is tight, doesn’t mean the project has to be a hectic rush.

Plan

Often clients try to “speed up” the development process by skipping the early stages. If you bypass the proposal, discovery and planning stages, and jump straight into development, then you’ve circumvented half the work, right? Wrong.

If you have loads of time on your hands, you can afford to skip the planning stage (although it still would be a terrible idea). But when you have a tight deadline, proper planning becomes even more important. If you try to skip it to save time, you’ll end up losing significantly more time down the line.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” —Abraham Lincoln

Whether it’s a website or application, following the Minimum Viable Product concept will help streamline your development process. Separate each requirement into “Must Have” and “Nice to Have”. You can then further separate them into what needs to be included for the initial release, and what can be added on in a future round.

Finally, if you’re not 100% sure on an idea, prototype it before building it out completely. When the deadline is tight, you can’t afford to lose valuable hours by coding up a flawed concept. Prototyping will allow you to test out your ideas quickly, get feedback from your client, and avoid wasting time going down the wrong path. There’s been an influx of prototyping tools in the last couple of years, so you’re spoilt for choice here. Some notable ones include InVision, Atomic and Marvel.

Bonus: Ensure your next launch goes smoothly by downloading our free resource – the High Speed Launch Checklist.

Pick the Right Tools for the Job

Using tools that are either too lightweight or too complex for the job will drastically slow down your web development process. Many agencies jump immediately to WordPress whenever a basic site is needed, but if you’re creating a blog or simple marketing website, consider using a Static Site Generator. Not only will they speed up your development process significantly, but since the end product is plain HTML, it’ll load around 6x faster!

If you’re creating an eCommerce website, instead of going straight for one of the old-school mammoth CMSs like Magento, take a look at some newer options like Shopify or SquareSpace. Both of these have beautifully-designed themes and take care of all the minor things – like hosting, analytics, and SEO – that would otherwise all add up to take away a lot of your precious time.

Don’t Start From Scratch

Whether you’re creating a completely customized design or a standard layout, using frameworks to jumpstart development is a great way to save time without sacrificing quality.

You can pick and choose the elements that you’ll need, to avoid bloating your site with unnecessary code. Even the most customized layouts will benefit from normalizing CSS, which makes your site render more consistently across different browsers, or a simple grid system like the one included in Bootstrap or Foundation.

If you’re a fan of Material Design, the developers at Google have put together a framework called Material Design Lite, which will allow you to quickly install its basic components to use in your site.

If you’re doing similar projects again and again, consider creating your own boilerplate code. For example, if most of the work you do is creating WordPress sites, creating a custom boilerplate will allow you to skip the repetitive part of the development process. Make sure your boilerplate includes all the generic functionality you need, while making it easy to build custom layouts on top. You could even include one of the above frameworks in your boilerplate.

If you’re creating a fairly run-of-the-mill design, it’s a good idea to start with a theme and modify from there. ThemeForest provides themes for many of the major CMSs like WordPress, Magento, Drupal and Joomla. Some of the newer CMSs like Shopify and SquareSpace have themes built into them. Unfortunately, many themes are quite difficult to modify, so unless the theme you pick almost completely fits your design, you’re probably better off coding it from scratch.

Even if you don’t go with themes, using plugins instead of custom code is a must when you’re pressed for time. Try and go for plugins that are style-agnostic, so that you don’t need to spend time overwriting the plugins code to get it consistent with your site’s design. For example, Wufoo is a popular way to build and insert a form into your website. Unfortunately, their solution is to iFrame in a form, which forces you to use their themes that may or may not mesh stylistically with your designs. As an alternative, FormKeep’s solution embeds plain HTML into your site, which gives you complete control over how it looks.

Bonus: Ensure your next launch goes smoothly by downloading our free resource – the High Speed Launch Checklist.

Done is Better Than Perfect

When you’re doing a rush job, you’re never going to be completely happy with the end result. Keep in mind that “Done is better than perfect.” This was one of Facebook’s maxims for almost 10 years. It represents the hacker culture that allowed them to grow so quickly, and will allow you to ensure your project makes it out the door on time. The maxim has since been retired, but only after reaching 1 billion users and being worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

done-is-better-than-perfect

If you’ll be working on the project after launch, a really great idea is to use a shame.css. The idea behind this is to put all of your hacky code (and there will probably be some hacky code, given that it’s a rush job) into one file that you can fix up when you have more time. By putting all of these hacks and quick-fixes into one file, they keep your main codebase clean and make them easier to isolate and fix later on.

Ultimately, when you’re in a rush, the most important thing is get get it done by the deadline. This means letting go of what it should be, and focusing on what it can be. “Out of all the different directions a design could go, the best one is the one that gets finished and ships.”Dan Cederholm, co-founder at Dribbble.

Why You Should Use a Static Site Generator

In the beginning CERN created the Web, and the HTML was the Word of the Web, and the Web was HTML. It was all perfect and perfectly simple, as we all know true genius lies in simplicity. But the problem soon arose that not everyone who wanted to have an online presence knew how to code. With plain old HTML, this meant that anything from a minor typo fix to adding a new feature had to go through multiple departments.

The birth of content management systems during the late 90’s carried the promise that you’d never need a coder or programmer again. With little or no knowledge of HTML or programming, the CMS would manage files and images, provide forms, complex content searches, and any other feature you could find a plugin for. But all of this came at a cost – websites became slower to build, slower to load, and it was difficult to really customize anything, so most people just bought a theme instead of creating their own designs.

The Advent of Static Site Generators

Brian Rinaldi, Content and Community Manager at Telerik, suggests “static websites today are just like vinyl LPs: they’re coming back.” Static Site Generators provide a middle ground between static and dynamic websites. There’s no abstract database – all the content is stored in text files. Instead of generating the content on demand, like a dynamic website, they pre-generate the content, so the user sees the file exactly as it is on the server. Adding and editing content is not as easy as on on a dynamic CMS WYSIWYG editor, but Markdown and Liquid templating make Static Site Generators a more flexible than an old school pure HMTL site.

All of this means that Static Site Generators are ideal for any site that doesn’t need to generate content on the fly. You can’t build a social media platform on a static website, but if you just need a blog or marketing website, Static Site Generators are the way to go.

Bonus: Want to find out how awesome your site can get with a Static Site Generator? We’ll show you some examples in this free resource.

Why have Dynamic CMSs been so popular?

Dynamic CMSs like WordPress or Joomla saw their moment of glory throughout the 2000’s because they allowed anyone to create or edit a template-based website. With very little knowledge of HTML, CSS or JavaScript, anyone can install a predefined theme and start writing blog posts, without having to go through a web developer each time.

Some dynamic CMSs are also fairly customisable – many massive companies like Wired, and Quartz, and TechCrunch have completely retailored WordPress into essentially a new CMS, making it ideal for their specific needs.

wired

Wired uses a customized version of WordPress

Why Are Static Site Generators On The Rise?

While dynamic CMSs are great for people who need a basic WordPress (or Joomla, or Drupal) theme website, or for massive corporations requiring e-commerce platforms like Magento that can support thousands of people, they create challenges for those in-between. For one, it is difficult to create custom layouts. Starting with a theme means hacking away at the existing code before implementing your own designs, and starting completely from scratch is a monumental effort.

Without a lot of development work, dynamic CMSs are slow. Even with development work, caching causes a website converted to static HTML to load significantly faster than the same site rendered from a dynamic CMS. Smashing Magazine ran a test on their own site – the static version loaded 6 times faster than the dynamic version. This is especially important for mobile devices, where internet can be inconsistent and unreliable. Studies indicate that 57% of online visitors will abandon a page if it takes longer than 3 seconds to load.

Static Site Generators play nicely with CDNs, such as Amazon, CacheFly or Incapsula, which have also been gaining popularity. When you open a webpage on a static website, that page simply downloads the HTML from the server, which on a CDN can be cached for faster speeds. With dynamic CMSs, when you load a webpage the CMS has to render the page on demand. Although assets can be hosted on a CDN, the webpage itself cannot, which means significantly worse performance for the user.

Dynamic CMSs also expose your website to hackers and exploits – and the more popular a CMS is the more likely it is for it to get under attack. Static websites simply don’t have back-ends to hack into.

Some Examples of Static Site Generators

Jekyll is the most popular example of a Static Site Generator – it integrates easily with GitHub Pages for free. This means free hosting! And GitHub pages are really, really fast.

jekyll

Middleman, Harp and GitBook are also popular. If you use these, you might want to look into Aerobatic for hosting. GitHub Pages is really aimed towards using Jekyll, whereas Aerobatic is generator-agnostic. Brian Rinaldi has put together a collection of simple sites built with various Static Site Generators, for an efficient comparative study of the lot.

Bonus: Find out what your customers really think by creating unbiased questions. We’ll show you how in this free resource.

How Can I Switch From My Dynamic CMS to a Static Site Generator?

The biggest challenge is rebuilding your existing layout, but since Static Site Generators are built around plain HTML, you can usually just save the HTML that your present CMS renders to your desktop, then cut it into a few templates and include files. It’s a lot easier to convert from a dynamic CMS to a Static Site Generator than the other way around.

Jekyll provides tutorials on importing your posts from many dynamic CMSs, including WordPress, Drupal, Tumblr and Joomla. However, pay attention: ensure existing URLs match up! You don’t want any links to your current website to break when you make the switch.