By Jacob Topp-Mugglestone, Junior Developer & Wagtail Consultant
When I joined Torchbox as a developer, I was worried. I had no previous web development experience. I was coming from a very different background of laser and plasma physics, where I’d used Python to simulate what kind of conditions hitting a sample with a laser might get, or analyse just what kind of densities my latest experiment might have reached – but never to manage someone’s website!
After finishing my Physics Masters at the University of Oxford and then trying out research, I found that what I loved most was coding – so I started looking for a job where I could do that full-time. Torchbox jumped out at me as somewhere I’d have the opportunity to try a range of different projects, and I was excited about their ethical focus as well – so I applied. Thankfully they were willing to train me up on the web development side of things.
In the month before I started, I was able to meet some of the team at a Wednesday lunch and for a punting trip (in turn, they were also introduced to my baking obsession). During this time, I did some reading up on Django and database design, but once I started in earnest, this got a lot more practical. My line manager, Nick Smith, and the head of the Tech team, Helen Warren, came up with some requirements for a test website to build to get the hang of Django fundamentals, as well as arranging code reviews from the rest of the team. While building that, I also got involved in a little support work for our existing client sites.
Soon, my first big project began. The Motley Fool were sponsoring extensions and development on the open source Wagtail CMS, which Torchbox founded. I was excited to get the opportunity to work on such a big open source project – I started contributing in small ways, with documentation updates, then minor feature changes like adding a way to disable moderation, but quickly was able to gain experience with the support of Karl and Matthew, the other developers on the project. I always felt supported, no matter what I was taking on.
Before long, I was able to get stuck in to developing Wagtail Content Import: an app for importing documents from Google Docs into Wagtail StreamField (since then I’ve had the opportunity to expand it to Word documents as well). From then on, I was nearly full time on this work (as well as some support work for our existing clients). I loved the diversity of it, since it gave me opportunities to pick up experience in all sorts of areas. Over my first year at Torchbox, I’ve developed apps like Wagtail Image Import (my first React-heavy project), Wagtail Content Import and Wagtail Draftail Anchors, helped on others like Wagtail Transfer, and worked on big features for Wagtail itself – of which the biggest, Workflow (a fully-customisable moderation system) has just been been officially released as part of Wagtail 2.10. Early this year, I also joined the Wagtail core team, responsible for keeping the project going, so I’m looking forward to staying involved with Wagtail’s development, with work on features like inline commenting in the edit view and page analysis tools planned for the near future.
I’ve just finished my first year, and thinking back on it, I couldn’t have asked for a better combination of a supportive environment and constant new technical challenge in which to grow into a developer role. The tech team has always been keen to provide advice and learn from each other, and on the other side, there’s always interesting new requirements from clients driving development.
Torchbox is an employee-owned digital agency working with nonprofits and public sector organisations in the UK and internationally.