We talk building websites and beating misogyny with Superrb’s developer Yvette Leppard
Showing an early interest in art and design at school, Yvette soon found that she enjoyed the challenge of problem-solving for a tightly defined brief, rather than open-ended assignments. With a flair for logical thought, it was a perfect match when she tried her hand at web developing. After earning a BSc in computing from Bournemouth University, she cut her teeth building e-commerce sites at Popcorn Web Design in Essex, and more recently joined the team at Hayling Island-based agency Superrb. In a role that has given her more independence than she ever imagined, Yvette spends her days converting designers’ visions into fully functioning, smooth-running websites. We caught up to talk about her gradual transition into increasingly creative companies, and overcoming backwards attitudes in a male-dominated industry.
Developer, Superrb Studio (2014–present)
Web Developer, Popcorn Web Design (2011–2014)Student
Database Administrator, GlaxoSmithKline (2009–2010)
BSc Computing, Bournemouth University (2008–2011)
How would you describe your job?
My job as a developer is to turn designs into a functional website. But my work doesn’t start there: I’ll also be involved in the initial functional decisions, checking designs for potential issues before they are seen by clients and get to build stage. As a team we all work closely together and often have discussions about new features and how they should work.
What does a typical working day look like?
I usually get to work between 8.30 and 9am. My drive takes about 20 minutes on a good day. The first thing I do is check our job management system to see if I have been assigned any new jobs or estimates [a calculation of time needed for a job]. I try to get estimates out of the way first. All my work is done in the office, in front of the computer, but I’ll take the odd window break to rest my eyes from staring at a screen.
If I’m in the middle of a project I will spend the whole day on that, and other times I’ll work on smaller amendments, bug fixes or jobs to improve completed websites.
“Some people can be quite negative about a females in computing. When I started university, I was often told I wouldn't make it through my degree because I was a girl!”
How did you land your current job?
I moved from Essex to West Sussex and, after looking at jobs online, I registered myself with a couple of agencies, who gave me jobs to apply for. I liked the look of Superrb, as it seemed the most varied and creative. I had to create a hangman application for my interview, which I created at my grandparents’ house or at the pub, as I had only moved a few days earlier and had no internet connection! My interviews went well and I was offered a couple of jobs, but I didn’t hesitate to accept Superrb’s offer, and started the following week.
How collaborative is your role?
I work very collaboratively; internally we work closely with the designers to make sure we are building the site to their vision. Any non-design questions are discussed with the account manager, who will liaise with the client. The developers often have internal discussions about new technologies and we exchange advice when developing new features. It’s important to get other opinions, as you may be missing a simple solution or a usability issue you haven't thought of.
Externally we leave the client contact to the account handlers, but I often have email exchanges with Magento plugin developers, to assist with bugs or new features.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I enjoy the variety of project work. Beginning a new project can be daunting, but it's great to have a blank canvas to start from. It's very rewarding to go from a white screen to a completed project knowing that you made it happen.
I don't think anybody enjoys working on old sites. As soon as you finish a project, you’ve learnt new techniques, so going back to a site a year on can make it feel very out of date. Luckily we keep our sites up-to-date, but the process can be time consuming.
What skills are essential to your job?
Problem-solving, logic and the ability to work out issues is key. Communication between the account handlers and the designers is really important for making sure the site is built as it was intended. Also to make sure you’re not doing any additional or unnecessary work.
What tools do you use most for your work?
I work mostly in PHPStorm, which is a really powerful program, with loads of features. I use Google Docs for collaborative documentation, as it's easy to share and allows joint input.
I hate asking the same question twice, so I try and write down as much as I can in a notebook when I am doing something new. I also love a to-do list!
“When I first started, I was surprised at how independent the work was; the entire build is down to you.”
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I always enjoyed anything to do with a computer. At school I focused on art and graphics, but found I preferred following a detailed brief rather than creating my own concepts. When choosing my university course I wanted to try a range of computing subjects to find out where I was best suited. My course ranged from designing networks to computer animation and systems design. It was great to have a taste of lots of subjects before finding my passion.
I have always been encouraged to work hard and believe that I could do anything. Some people can be quite negative about a females in computing. When I started university, I was often told I wouldn't make it through my degree because I was a girl! But this never phased me; it actually made me more determined, as I knew it was what I wanted to do. With the support of my family I graduated with first class honours, a higher mark than some of the people who told me I'd never make it!
What were your first jobs?
As part of my degree I did a placement year as a database analyst for GlaxoSmithKline. I enjoyed my time there, but I wanted a more creative and varied role. When I finished university I moved to Essex, and saw a web agency (Popcorn Web Design) near my house and approached to see if they were hiring. After an informal interview I was offered some work experience, and then got a job as a web developer. My knowledge grew rapidly from there, and I was quickly working independently, on my own projects.
“It’s important to get other opinions, as you may be missing a simple solution or a usability issue you haven't thought of.”
Was there anything in particular that helped you at the start of your career?
I would say my partner and family, for believing in me and supporting me in my journey. Also, Joining Popcorn gave me the opportunity to work as a web developer with more experienced people, which really accelerated my career.
Was there an early project that helped your development?
At Popcorn I built a custom e-commerce system with two other developers. We made a specification and designed the entire system ourselves. The initial planning and the process really made me think about how these systems work, how to keep them future-proof and expandable.
Since working at Superrb, we’ve primarily used Shopify or Magento for e-commerce builds. Seeing projects in both scenarios really helped me understand the pros and cons or custom versus off-the-shelf systems.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
There’s more freedom to the job than I expected. I think this is a perk of being part of a small company and Superrb are very open to new ideas and pushing boundaries.
When I first started as a web developer, I was surprised at how independent the work was. While there is discussion when needed, the entire build is down to you. This makes the job more varied and definitely more interesting than always being assigned one specific part.
What would you like to do next?
I have just started maternity leave, and during my time away technology is going to move rapidly. I know I will need to keep up-to-date with new standards, so I hope I’ll be able to continue progressing as I am currently when I return to work next year.
Could you do this job forever?
Yes, however I see the job changing with the new techniques and technologies available. My job has already changed since I started a few years ago, as animations become more accessible to developers, and browser support has increased. My projects are much more creative than before, focusing on another interesting user experience as well as functionality.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
There are many ways a web developer can progress, it really depends on what you enjoy. Larger companies will allow you to specialise in one area, focusing on either front or back-end development only, since the work will be split across a team. Within a smaller company the role could involve more responsibility (for example in the initial planning stage, or to take on a mentoring role for other staff).
“My job has already changed since I started a few years ago….My projects are much more creative than before.”
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a developer?
If you know you want to be a web developer and you have some basic knowledge of web languages, approach companies and ask for work experience or a junior role. It's the best way to learn quickly!
This article is part of a studio feature on Superrb Studio.
Interview by Indi Davies
Photography by Superrb Studio
Mention Becky Shepherd
Mention Superrb Studio
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