Six Years Later

I joined NET-A-PORTER on 6th November 2006. A lot has occurred in the time since I joined the company and I’d like to share with you some of the things I remember from my time here.

This doesn’t reflect the full history of the last six years, and only represents my thoughts on some of the amazing things I’ve seen since I joined.

The Early Days

When I first joined, there were three other permanent Perl developers, and one contractor. In my time at the company, the number of Perl developers has grown to over two dozen. To me, it feels that every time we grow the team to meet the business’s needs and wishes, they come up with even more needs and wishes. I’m not saying this is a bad thing — if they ever run out of wishes, I need to start looking for a new job!

The technology stack wasn’t too shocking for its time, and definitely no shocks for a Perl application:

  • Apache and mod_perl (v1)
  • PostgreSQL (8.x)
  • Unix servers

The technical team at the time was small enough to mostly fit around one long bank of desks, with web production, Java developers and Perl developers all sitting together. Sysadmin and tech-support were on the next bank of desks over. We sat down the middle of an office, just a stone’s throw from editorial, PR, HR, and, if you had a good throw, the company founder.

As an idea of the size of the company when I joined, my employee number was in the low 200s.

My early months were taken up mostly with getting used to the main Perl application, and trying to smooth out rough edges in the code and processes.

Settling Down

Once I’d settled down into the role and the company a little, I was able to start making my presence felt more — both technically and socially.

I’ve never been very good at blending in, and with a name like Chisel people tend to have heard about you before they’ve met you. Being chatty, nosy and curious in a moderately small company almost definitely raised my profile too.

Technically, I’d spent time making things ‘better’; in my first large project, I decided I’d had enough of writing SQL by hand and decided that DBIx::Class was the way to go. Thankfully, the project went well and people started to see the benefits of using an ORM to interact with the database. We didn’t rewrite existing code to use DBIx::Class — it wasn’t broken, so we didn’t fix it. New projects started to use the ORM where possible.

Preparing To Give Birth

Don’t Panic! I haven’t (yet) produced any biological offspring.

In 2008, the company embarked on one of its largest pieces of work — both in a technical and business manners; talk of a second website turned into a project to create one. Behind the scenes, there was a lot of discussion about how best to approach this challenge, and one of the results of this was the Perl team’s first Catalyst application. This was a totally new application, and an amazingly bold proposition.

I now know from experience how difficult it can be to convince a thriving, growing business to take a leap of faith on a piece of technology that’s only a couple of years old and hasn’t been used by a reasonable proportion of a team. I also know the pleasure of seeing the idea pay off and it be used daily by hundreds of people round the office.

Why Stop There?

Life didn’t stop after the launch of The Outnet. More projects came our way, the team continued to grow.

New technologies were adopted, older and undesirable ones were dropped.

We launched a third website in 2011. Behind the scenes, there have been more changes than I could list. The Perl team grew so large that it was reorganised into four smaller, more targeted teams.

We moved away from Waterfall and became more Agile.

We evolved and changed ourselves, our teams and our approaches to keep up with the demands of the business.

Whiteleys

I joined the company when they were based in a large office in Whiteleys Shopping Centre. Slowly, more and more people joined the company; the desks were pushed closer together; meeting rooms became office space; we spread to offices on the third floor; we even used a well-hidden area just behind shops on the first floor of the shopping centre.

We eventually reached the predicted bursting point. Thankfully this had been planned for…

Westfield

In April 2010, NET-A-PORTER moved to its new offices, tucked away in a surprisingly large, semi-secret location in Westfield Shopping Centre (West London, the only one in London at the time).

The offices were designed and built especially for NET-A-PORTER, and there was so much space when we first moved in we almost didn’t know what to do with ourselves. A Google search quickly reveals the size and beauty of the new company home.

Continuing the tradition of being a successful, growing company, people continued to join, and it wasn’t long before the space started to fill and the desks moved closer to each other. This led to the construction of more office space in Westfield that we occupied sometime in 2011.

If you ever get a chance to see the offices, I think you’ll be surprised at the size of them and how well hidden they are from the general public. Friends and family are very surprised when I tell them we have a secret hiding place in Westfield Shopping Centre that easily hides over 750 people.

The Social Life

With so much already going on at NET-A-PORTER, you’d think we’d all be too exhausted to do anything else. You’re wrong! The company has always had a strong social undercurrent that has continued through the time I’ve spent here.

There are various regular social events: company-wide, office-wide, team based, interest based, and generalised socialising in the ‘offsite meeting room’ (pub!). There are active groups for (in my mind) crazy activities like football and netball, as well as less crazy ones like cycling.

People generally like each other, which is amazing in a collection of people this size and with such varied interests and skills.

The Future

Not owning a functioning crystal ball, or any other devices that allow me to predict the future, I’m not in a position to accurately predict what the future has in store for me or NET-A-PORTER.

I do know that NET-A-PORTER is the best job I’ve ever had, and I’m still happy with my work life after six years with the company. My previous personal-best was just a shade shy of five years, and I’d been disgruntled and looking for a way out for a few months leading up to my departure.

NET-A-PORTER is a busy, driven, ambitious company; one that tries to do things well, and that remembers it employs people, not robots. It’s somewhere that has accepted me for who I am and has let me evolve and thrive beyond what I’d imagined.

I don’t know what the future has in store for me, but I’m confident that if I stay at NET-A-PORTER, it’s going to be interesting, challenging and surprising.

This entry was posted in Miscellaneous, Perl by Chisel. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chisel

I've been interested in technology since my childhood (my Acorn Electron era). Commercially I've worked with C and VBA (Access) [but we don't talk about that]. In 2000 I secured my first role as a Perl Programmer and that's been my primary language since then. I dabble in bash, puppet, and a few other skills that help me dip my toe in the DevOps water, or provide a conduit beween the dev and ops worlds. I joined Net-A-Porter in November 2006 and have been happily evolving with the business since then.

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