Our University’s front-end development community

Last fall, I sent around a survey to members of the University in advance of setting up our new Front-End Development Community. The survey asked for information about how people might want the community to work, and also about what they were doing in their jobs. In this post, I’ll share some of the results along with my thoughts.

The survey was sent out to various groups that either do or engage with front-end development. Not all of these groups were technical – for example, I also included some of the user groups for our University CMS platform, EdWeb. This could include everything from content authors to administrators. Overall, only 66 people responded to the survey, so we are only seeing a small slice of the University as a whole. However, it still gives an interesting picture of some of the work which people are doing. I was surprised to see the diversity among some of the responses.

Community focus

The first question in the survey (which everyone was required to answer), asked them what activities they would most be interested in doing as part of the community.  Participants were allowed to select between 1 and 3 options, and the options were in random order to prevent any bias.

Below is a visualisation of the responses, with more details and full descriptions shown in the table.

As you can see, the top five activities picked for the community were:

  1. Sharing best practices and defining standards – 60.61% (40 votes)
  2. Learning new skills and techniques (e.g. accessibility) – 56.06% (37 votes)
  3. Hearing about projects and ongoing work at the University – 51.52% (34 votes)
  4. Giving feedback to University-wide projects which may impact me – 34.85% (23 votes)
  5. Contributing to University frameworks such as EdGEL – 28.79% (19 votes)

Not surprisingly, the most popular activity picked was “sharing best practices and defining standards”. This makes sense within the remit of the community as a place to share information with colleagues. The other top options also focus on exchanging information and learning more about what work is being done elsewhere.

I selected the list of options in discussion with other colleagues, but I didn’t do any real research beforehand to validate these choices. However, the low number of people who selected “Other” would suggest that these options does in fact cover most of the activities that people were interested in. Other suggestions offered focused around improving our internal communication and business processes with clients.

I was surprised that so few people voted for “listening to talks from industry speakers” – this only got 14 votes (21.21%). As I had already started organising an industry speaker talk with Harry Roberts, I decided to continue with the event despite the low number of votes. In the end, this turned out to be the right decision. The event was extremely successful and we had a lot of attendees (you can read my write up on this event here). This outcome seems to contradict the number of votes that we can see here. My guess is that this difference may be because participants were imagining a lower quality of speaker or different type of event (topic or format) when asked the question.


After asking what the preferred activities were, we then asked some questions regarding the community logistics. Each question had a few standard options, with the ability to answer “Other”. Participants were allowed to select as many options as they wished.

Surprisingly, for each question we got an overwhelmingly preferred answer compared to the other options:

  • The best time for people to meet is during working hours (89.39%)
  • The best place for people to meet is in the Central Area, around Bristo and George Square (81.82%)
  • The preferred method of communication is email (87.88%)

At this point we had both a mailing list and a Slack group already set up, but Slack came in second place with only 39.39% of votes. This may reflect the fact that Slack is not being widely used in all areas of the University.

Information about participants

As well as understanding what people wanted to get out of the community, I also wanted to learn more about who our potential participants were. This would help inform what types of events we might run in the future.

The first question I asked was what languages and frameworks people were using. Participants could select as many options as applied to them, or answer “Other”.

In order, the top 5 languages and development frameworks being used were:

  1. CSS – 63.33% (38 votes)
  2. WordPress/Drupal – 58.33% (35 votes)
  3. Bootstrap – 50% (30 votes)
  4. JavaScript – 46.67% (28 votes)
  5. PHP – 30% (18 votes)

The high number of people using CSS and JavaScript was not a surprise. I’m assuming that the large number of votes for WordPress/Drupal comes from the fact that this survey was also sent out to members of the University website community. If we had excluded this group, the numbers here would most certainly be much lower.

Again, I determined the list of options by polling colleagues informally for ideas, but did not do any research. In this case it seems that my options were not as comprehensive, as 25% of people selected “Other”. Popular answers for this option were Java, Node, and ColdFusion. Interestingly, some people also replied saying that they were not doing any development (i.e. they were in a non-technical role).

The next question asked people to choose which title best described their role. Again, participants were allowed to choose as many options as they liked, and were also allowed to select “Other”.

The top 5 options selected for this question were:

  1. Developer – 50% (30 votes)
  2. Website/content manager – 33.33% (20 votes)
  3. Other – 26.67% (16 votes)
  4. Designer – 25% (15 votes)
  5. Tied: Team manager and Project manager – 18.33% (11 votes)

Unsurprisingly, most people who answered the survey considered themselves to be developers. The large response from the University website community, accounts for the high number of website/content managers.

We also got a large number of people who didn’t consider themselves to be any of the roles listed. Some of the other roles listed included:

  • Website/content editor
  • User researcher
  • Digital media producer
  • Learning technologist
  • Website and communications officer
  • Support officer
  • Computing officer
  • Applications architect

As you can see, there is an extremely wide range of roles across the University who are all working on front-end development. These roles can range from the very technical (people doing straight development work), to the semi-technical, or even not technical at all.

Personally, I felt very inspired to see the diversity amongst our front-end development community. I’m looking forward to meeting more of these people going forward at future community events, and learning more about what they do.

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