One of the great advantages of our open-plan workspaces is they encourage informal collaboration. It's easy to listen, to learn and to contribute. But sometimes there are topics that benefit from a little more focused attention.
Some years back, our Creative team started an informal “Photoshop Club” to teach Photoshop techniques to non-designers. It met monthly after the end of the work day, and quickly morphed into New Skills Club. Anyone could come in to teach a skill, and topics ranged from fixing photo defects, to multi-track audio recording, to how to scratch and backspin like Grandmaster Flash.
Not terribly long afterwards, our Engineers created the (unpronounceable) WSFPAD, a weekly meeting to discuss new code and frameworks, recent projects, and ideas for future exploration. Thanks to WSFPAD, iMarc explored and adopted new technologies and processes, including code scaffolders, version control systems, disciplined deployment processes, automated server setup and cloud-based infrastructure. More importantly, it spread knowledge of these throughout the entire engineering team.
Over time, iMarc added dedicated user experience engineers to our teams — specialists in usability and front-end web development. Eventually, we started the easier-to-pronounce UXJam, a weekly meeting to share techniques, examples, best practices, worst practices, experiments and yes, the ever-popular browser compatibility issues. Open to anyone, UXJam provides a regular place for UX and back-end engineers, creative designers, bizdev and producers all to learn and share knowledge. To date, UXJam has met for 109 weeks.
Earlier this year, Jeff, our Director of Engineering, decided that after 355 weeks of nobody knowing how to pronounce it, WSFPAD should be renamed and refocused. Thus was born CodeJam.
Like WSFPAD, CodeJam is a weekly meeting to share and learn. But CodeJam also uses targeted projects and even competitions to spur innovation. Engineers get time out of their client development activity to work on CodeJam special projects. Whether it's installing and testing out every major open source CMS we can get our hands on, or competing to see which team can achieve the fastest load time for the iMarc home page, CodeJam has radically accelerated the rate of technology exploration and adoption in our client work.
There's one more Jam to note: JamJam. Started by Kevin, every Thursday morning, everyone is invited to the kitchen to share and try strange and new jams, jellies, and preserves with toast, coffee, and music. It's not exactly professional development, but it has turned out to be a good place to find out what our colleagues are up to and how projects are going. It's at least as informative as our weekly production planning meetings.
To make sure we don't lose the knowledge we gain and share, UXJam and CodeJam have pages on our company Wiki. If you remember something interesting or relevant from a Jam, you can just hit the search box and find it.
So, there you have it: grassroots knowledge sharing and education, given structure by motivated employees and supported by iMarc's management with our most valuable asset, time. Jams are a result of an open and empowering culture, where management not just allows but expects employees find the best way to do anything.