Managing Remote Teams: Advice From the Experts (Part 2)

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Key insights from Adi Hanash, VP of Product at Tempest, and Original Remote Program Product Owner at General Assembly.

Last week we kicked off our three-part series on managing remote teams. As many companies transition to working from home for the first time to help curb the spread of COVID-19, we wanted to offer some advice to help our community navigate this adjustment. GA has deep experience working with a distributed team and has also helped thousands of learners upskill and reskill through live-online formats. With these things in mind, we’ve tapped into our network of experts to answer top questions we’ve received from our partners, and to share tips and tricks that you can use with your remote teams.

For our second segment of this series, we sat down with Adi Hanash, VP of Product at Tempest, an organization focused on building a digital support platform for people recovering from alcohol use disorder. Adi is also a former General Assembly colleague and built the remote learning experience at GA as the original live-online product owner. Adi has transitioned 10 courses to be delivered online and also has 4+ years of experience working remotely himself.

Read on to hear Adi’s insights on:

  1. Engaging your distributed teams.
  2. Getting into the work mindset from home.
  3. Motivating your team remotely.

For additional perspectives on remote team management, check out part one and part three.

GA: Thanks so much for sitting down with us, Adi. We’ve heard from our community that one of the biggest remote work challenges is tracking teams. What is the best way to track attendance and engagement? 

Adi: There’s a piece to attendance worth addressing that is “How do we know someone’s in the office from nine to five or for the prescribed hours?” Having worked on product teams, we start every morning with a quick check-in to set the goals for the day and then hold an end of day check-in. You need to be comfortable allowing a little bit of freedom to do the work in the middle of the day. 

Another piece to attendance is making a decision as a team about what it means to be attending a meeting. For me, the number one thing is being on camera. So, if I’m using a video platform, my expectation is everyone who’s in that meeting is on camera for that meeting. If you turn off your camera, I assume you’ve walked out of the room. Being visible also prevents someone from just listening in while doing other work; it forces them to be more present.

GA: What do you talk about during those daily check-in meetings?

Adi: My product team has a ritual called “stand” that we practice every day. It can be held over a chat platform or in live sessions, but every morning, the team will go around and talk about what they did yesterday, what’s on deck for today, and any blockers or external constraints. At the end of the day, we check-in again and cover what was done that day, any blockers that still exist, and what’s queued up for tomorrow. It’s a really quick check-in that should take 10 to 15 minutes total.

The key is to focus not on the meetings or activities a person will have during the day, but the deliverables for the day. That’s where, as the team leader, you can be very clear on what your expectations are for the work that needs to get done. Or, if you are an individual who is now working remotely, you’re aligned with the rest of the team on what your workday entails. It’s a really helpful way to get everyone on the same page and to make sure that you are setting expectations around deliverables — even in this remote environment.

GA: How do you get into the work mindset before that “stand” check-in at the start of your day? It’s definitely a little different starting your day from home versus going into the office.

Adi: Establish what your rituals are for starting and ending work in your remote environment. This may sound silly, since I know one of the benefits of working from home is being able to be in pajamas all day, but my ritual was that I very consciously decided that when I started work, I put on a collared shirt. I was still in shorts, and that was fine, but the act of putting on the shirt meant I was at work, and the act of taking that shirt off meant I was no longer at work. I’m not saying that’s the right one for you, but I would just encourage everyone to establish rituals.

GA: You also mentioned giving the team a little bit of freedom to do the work in the middle of the day. What do you think about flexible work hours when working from home?

Adi: The most important thing is to not conflate remote working with flexible working  — you have to address them independently of each other. Remote working is the ability to do the work that you have to do from home or in various locations. Flexible work hours mean that you allow a person to set their own schedule for when they are working and when they aren’t. The question of flexible work schedules needs to be addressed in its own way.

When I worked remotely, I was working eight hours, but my mistake was spreading those eight hours over 14 hours, which made me feel like I was working the entire day even when I wasn’t. So when you work remotely, you should be very clear on what is okay to do with your schedule in your day (for example, leaving for lunch) and what is not (for example, cleaning). Do not make the mistake of spreading eight hours of work over too long of a period. The way I’ve managed this is to be very clear on my calendar about my scheduled time. You have to create  boundaries for yourself and for your team to make this work successfully.

GA: What about when you have team members who treat everything as an emergency? How do you deal with that if it falls within an unavailable slot in your schedule? 

Adi: This can be especially challenging for remote workers. I think the number one thing is defining the levels of emergencies with your teams. There should be some version at the top, which is that the business cannot move forward unless the emergency is solved. If it is a company-wide blocker, then everyone has to stop what they’re doing and help solve the problem. Then down at the bottom, there are things like a typo on the website. At that level, you need to ask, “Is it preventing us from doing anything? How many people have reported it?”

Once you get to an understanding of the emergency spectrum, you’d be surprised by how many actually have to be addressed in real-time. So that’s the number one thing I would encourage you to do.

GA: What tips do you have for managing and running large format meetings?

Adi: The most important thing with any meeting, especially larger ones, is to remind people of the opportunity cost of a meeting, and make it clear that there has to be true value driven by the people in the room. So for example, if you have 15 people in the meeting for 30 minutes, you’re not taking 30 minutes, you’re taking seven and a half hours. And if you start to think about it in terms of time as accumulation, you start to become a lot more judicious as a leader around what type of meetings you want to be calling and who’s going to be involved.

Then, if you do decide to proceed with a large format meeting, the number one thing is to have super-clear agendas. You have to be explicit as to what the deliverables for the meeting are. If you cannot define clear deliverables, there are probably better ways to do the meeting than to actually have a meeting. For example, if you need a decision on X, then the meeting attendees have to be defined by who’s responsible for making that decision. So that at the end of the meeting, you’re able to say great, our decision is X.

GA: How can you motivate your team members when everyone is remote?

Adi: For those of you who are in a leadership position, you need to think about what recognition looks like in a distributed room. It’s very easy to say “Great job!” to an individual, but you need to find the ways to publicize their victories and their wins, and more so in this distributed environment because it’s almost a requirement for them to know that even though they’re on the other end of the computer, their work is having an impact and is being recognized.

Chances are, you have some sort of chat platform that you can use. At Tempest we use Slack, and so we have to be creative about how to use it for this purpose. For example, one thing that I love to do with our team is to create a shout-outs time. Every week there’s a certain time where we get onto Slack and just shout out all the victories and wins for the week. Those small ceremonies and rituals help establish the connection, especially with remote employees, that the work they’re doing isn’t being lost to the ether, and that you’re actually seeing it and recognizing it.

A huge thanks to Adi for these amazing tips on rituals and leading a remote team. We’re always here for questions, email cheers@ga.co if you’ve got any!

Managing Remote Teams: Advice From the Experts (Part 1)

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Top tips from Matt Brems, Managing Partner at BetaVector, and Global Lead Data Science Instructor at General Assembly

There has been an unprecedented shift to remote working as companies and individuals do their part to curb the spread of COVID-19. We’ve heard from our global partners that this shift has been a difficult adjustment and that teams could use some tips and tricks to cultivate connections with their remote employees and maintain productivity during this uncertain time. General Assembly (GA) has deep remote work experience and has also delivered live online learning to over 5,000 students and remote workers around the world. With that in mind, we’re sitting down with our experts to get answers to your most pressing questions and the right tools on managing remote teams and adjusting to remote work from home. 

For our first segment of this three-part blog series, we sat down with Matt Brems, Managing Partner at BetaVector and Global Lead Data Science Instructor at General Assembly. Matt has taught 1,000+ students since 2016 and has been working and teaching remotely for the last two and a half years.  

Read on to hear Matt’s insights on:

  1. Identifying blind spots in the shift to remote.
  2. Building company culture and employee engagement in remote teams.
  3. Juggling work and life when they coexist more than ever before.

For additional perspectives on remote team management, check out part two and part three.

GA: Matt, thanks so much for being here with us today. To kick things off, what were some of the concerns you had when you started to teach online, and how might these concerns apply to people transitioning to remote work?

Matt: Glad to be here! One of the challenges in shifting to an online classroom was that I just didn’t know what the blind spots were going to be. I knew the content I was supposed to teach, but the blind spot was how could I ensure my students’ success when everybody was now connecting remotely. Part of it just took some experience, but really, it was about listening to my students. 

As a manager, you know the business objectives that you’ve always had. However, you have an additional blind spot: how do you get your team to succeed with the uncertainty of everyone working from home? Within these unique challenges, you have to create space for your team to share what they need and what isn’t working. Then you have to listen to what your entire team is telling you and act on it. Finally, you need to accept that there will probably be a period where it feels weird and uncomfortable. 

GA: It sounds like it all worked out! We’ve heard a common blind spot is not knowing how to collaborate with teams remotely. Do you have any tips or collaboration tools you’d recommend for managing collaborative work?

Matt: When collaborating with others remotely, it’s important to be as explicit as possible. When I started teaching remotely, I would ask vague questions like, “What’s wrong with this?” or “What do you think about that?” Since my questions were vague, my students’ answers were all over the place. That wasn’t a failure on their part, it was a failure on my part. So when it comes to working collaboratively, I have a couple of recommendations. 

First, break the task down into smaller chunks and make the tasks as specific as possible to your remote employees. Let’s say you need your team to write a report by the end of the day. Instead of just putting the task out there, work with the entire team to divide it up. I’m not trying to encourage micromanagement, but it’s much easier for communication to break down remotely. People jump into their next meetings, people make assumptions about who does what. 

Second, be explicit. Instead of using terms like “end of day,” specify what “end of day” is. Does it mean 5 p.m. or midnight? If you’re managing remote employees in different time zones, which time zone? Being explicit, wherever possible, is a really helpful tool for effective communication.

GA: Really great tips. Another blind spot we’ve been hearing frequently is around cultivating a sense of community while remote — how do you manage to keep your entire team connected?

Matt: When it comes to developing that sense of connectedness in the programs that we teach, we start every lesson with an icebreaker. For example, earlier today, my colleague asked, “If you were forced to be part of a talent show, what would your talent be?” This gets the whole team engaged in social interaction that’s a fun way to share things about themselves that you wouldn’t otherwise know, a promising tactic for building trust. Think about the “water cooler” talk where people share things that aren’t directly connected to work. We can still do that; we just have to be a bit more creative and intentional about creating that sense of a dependable company culture and community.

As another example, General Assembly develops community by doing daily trivia. Katie, our “trivia guru,” announces a time for trivia, comes up with five trivia questions and then asks them in the trivia Slack channel. People compete to be the first to correctly answer the question. It’s a lot of fun because so many people get really into it. Everybody laughs because some people are right on the money and some people are sharing weird, off-the-beaten-path answers. We’re leaning into everything that we would do in-person to build that community; we just have to be more intentional about it when we’re remote.

GA: To expand on company culture even further, what advice do you have for creating norms for your remote teams?

Matt: To come up with norms, start with a shared blank document and let the whole team contribute their thoughts about what’s important. Then transition to discussing these thoughts in a virtual meeting and have people come to a consensus on norms for the group. Specifically, you want to provide a safe space for people to share what they need out of your team environment, and you want to make space for people who have different experiences than you might have. 

I want to be abundantly clear about this: Once the team agrees on a norm, the whole team needs to follow it. And that includes the team leader. There is sometimes this tendency for people in leadership to say, “Hey, we established the team norms, but that’s for everybody else. Because I’m the team leader, I don’t necessarily have to abide by that.” That can be the quickest way for norms to deteriorate and works against building trust. Being clear and making sure everybody adheres to the norms is huge.

GA: A lot of people have children or parents to take care of in addition to working from home – what are your thoughts on flex hours as part of those team norms? 

Matt: I think that’s really important right now. Everybody needs to come together and be flexible and empathetic because this is a difficult time for a lot of people. Recognize that maybe somebody will be able to do good work from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. before their kids get up, and then there are times during the day when they need to take breaks to play with their kids, and then they’ll be ready to hop back on later in the evening.

This ties directly into setting team norms. Norms can include being explicit about the hours that people are available, as opposed to assuming that everybody is still going to be on the nine to five office schedule while at home. In my opinion, assuming that what you did in the office will simply work at home is one of the quickest ways to set yourself up for failure.

GA: On the flip side, how do you set boundaries with family while you’re working, given remote work and home life coexist in the same place? 

Matt: With my fiancé, we had to have very direct conversations about what worked for us and what didn’t. For example, I said “If you come home and my headphones are in, just wave at me but go into the other room. If I’m able to talk to you, I will take my headphones out and come talk to you.”

Some people recommend even having a little sign, like a yes/no sign. If it says yes, you can come up and tap them on the shoulder, but if they flip it and it says no, don’t bother them at that moment. That can be really important. 

GA: One final question. We know that working from home can be stressful, especially when juggling family obligations and health concerns. What advice do you have for people who are having those feelings right now?

Matt: It is very common and normal for people to feel stressed, to feel isolated, or to feel upset about what’s going on. I read on Twitter recently that this isn’t a normal working from home scenario…we’re working from home during a crisis. I have worked from home for almost 2.5 years, and I still feel like something is fundamentally different, given all that’s going on in the news. One of the things that I personally believe is that community is really, really important. And it’s possible to have community with one another, even if you’re not physically in the same room. 

With my fiancé, we sat down with his parents and did a virtual drink. For the first three minutes, it felt bizarre to talk with people on a computer screen, but after a few minutes, you don’t even notice that they’re not in the room. Virtual connections can happen with family, friends, colleagues and co-workers to the extent that you want. Leaning into my community has been really cathartic for me, and I hope that it is for many of you too.

A huge thanks to Matt for taking the time to sit down with us to share his remote work tips and tricks. As we adjust our everyday lives to our ever-changing world, it’s helpful to know that our sense of work, community, and work/life balance does not have to be compromised. 

Do you have questions about managing remote teams that you’d like to ask our experts? Email us at cheers@ga.co.

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Free Fridays by General Assembly: Our Favorite Online Workshops

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At General Assembly, we’ve been thinking a lot about the current and future state of career development and the skills that will build resiliency. Despite this age of uncertainty, we believe that learning has no limits. Whether you’re looking for a new job or wanting to diversify your skill set to become more employable, our community of experts is still here for you, online.

While our Free Fridays promotion of our most popular paid workshops concluded at the end of June, we always have free intro classes and events coming up. From coding to data, marketing, and career development, explore the tech skills that will keep you in demand and in the know.

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How to Teach Online

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As the spread of COVID-19 continues to transform daily life around the world, we at General Assembly have been paying close attention to how the virus is upending education: 

  • Over 1,000 colleges have been impacted, representing more than 13 million students.
  • Teachers serving students in elementary, middle, and high schools are doing their best to adapt, with varied levels of training and support. 
  • Community colleges and nonprofit training providers, already struggling to stay afloat, are facing existential threats.

And this is only the beginning — we are entering a new world of work that will look radically different as the pandemic progresses. 

Last year alone, we saw a 141% spike in enrollment in GA’s full-time remote programs. In some ways, the rise of online learning means that education providers are better-equipped than ever to respond to these changes. Schools are rapidly implementing online programs, video conferencing has never been more sophisticated, and hundreds of thousands of students are logging on to continue their studies virtually.

But the reality is that converting to an online learning environment isn’t as simple as clicking a button. As Kevin Carey put it in The New York Times, colleges are quickly realizing that “it’s impossible to transform a college course into a virtual world overnight,” — and that teaching and learning don’t always work the same way online as they do in person.

At General Assembly, we are grappling with this challenge as well: We recently made the decision to bring all of our in-person Immersive courses online to support more than 5,500 students globally. The good news is that online learning isn’t new to us. We’ve learned a lot from facilitating online programs for over 4 years, and hope to share those challenges — and opportunities — with institutions around the globe as they enter this new and confusing world.

That’s why we’re offering free access to How To Teach Online to anyone. This short-form course — led by one of our resident experts in online instruction, Maria Weaver — is specifically designed for instructors transitioning to a remote format. Whether you’re a seasoned online instructor or a first-time Zoom user, sign up to access new tools, discover essential resources, and gain best practices for impactful online instruction, including how to:

  • Foster online discussions with students.
  • Cultivate classroom culture through Zoom.
  • Plan for student differences online.

In uncertain times like these, it’s more important than ever to share knowledge and experience with those who can benefit from it. This course has helped hundreds of our instructors acquire the basic skills and techniques needed to lead effective online classrooms, and we hope it provides the same value for other instructors out there. 

Our team is committed to making more of our resources and expertise readily available to the global education community, and we see this as an initial, small step in that direction. We welcome any ideas or feedback you may have and encourage you to reach out to us at impact@generalassemb.ly

Register for Free

Tom Ogletree is Senior Director of Social Impact and External Affairs, where he leads GA’s public policy, communications, and social impact initiatives. Tom previously held leadership roles at the Clinton Foundation, CCS Fundraising, and GLAAD. He serves on the boards of the Ali Forney Center and the NYC Employment and Training Coalition, and is an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Five Key Takeaways From The State of Skills: Marketing 2020 Report

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In 2018, we released The State of Skills: Digital Marketing 2018 report, which examined 10,000 results from our Digital Marketing Level 1 (DM1) assessment. Our eye-opening analysis revealed there was a digital skills gap in marketing driven by missing data skills across channels. We also uncovered that top talent often existed outside the marketing function and that seniority — at least below the VP level — didn’t predict a skills advantage in digital marketing.

Nearly two years later, we’ve set out to provide an in-depth look at marketing capabilities and skills gaps with the publication of our new white paper, The State of Skills: Marketing 2020. To develop our latest report, we analyzed over 20,000 users across dozens of countries and numerous industries who took the Certified Marketer Level 1 (CM1) assessment between October 2018 and November 2019. We’ve also combed through significant CM1 data to determine how assessment-takers performed across five essential topics — consumer/customer insights, creative development, channels and execution, measurement and analytics, and marketing technology — and how those scores varied across role, work experience, and other areas.

Launched in October 2018 and created in partnership with the Marketing Standards Board, CM1 reflects a shift from thinking about “digital marketing” as a discipline in itself, toward thinking about the broad set of competencies marketers need to succeed in the digital age. Building on the DM1 assessment, CM1 guides development of critical marketing skills that align with the foundational competencies of our Marketing Career Framework, and enables high scorers to earn the industry-recognized CM1 Credential. Today, leading companies use our assessment to benchmark their teams’ skills, prospect talent, and prescribe literacy, upskilling, and reskilling programs based on assessment performance.

The State of Skills: Marketing 2020 includes key insights from some of these global industry leaders, and highlights both opportunities and challenges for organizations grappling with today’s changing marketing landscape.

Digital has profoundly transformed the marketing function and is now the new normal. CM1 — as DM1 before it — will be key to recruiting and upskilling our marketing populations, ensuring L’Oréal has the right talents to win in the market.

– Lubomira Rochet, Chief Digital Officer, L’Oréal

Top Takeaways From Our 2020 Report

After analyzing CM1 data for thousands of individuals, as well as the job function, seniority, and education levels for 3,300 users who self-reported information about their positions, here’s what we found.

  1. The skills gap in marketing still persists. Digital-native marketers outscored the CM1 global average by 34%. This trend was across all topics and methods, suggesting that an advantage in digital skills quickly turns into an overall advantage in marketing. Thus, corporate marketing organizations must continue to think about regular upskilling as a business imperative to keep pace with the rate of change in the field.
  2. The skills gap is primarily driven by analytics and marketing technology. The overall global average score for CM1 was 46%. When we broke down the overall average into sub-topic performance, we discovered that the lowest-scoring areas were marketing technology and analytics, which averaged 33% and 42%, respectively. However, digital-native marketers scored higher on average — 62% to be exact — compared to the general population of CM1 assessment-takers, and this advantage held true across all topics.
  3. Few marketers are experts in all topics. 57% of CM1 assessment-takers are experts in at least one topic, scoring in the top fifth of all users for that area. However, many of these individuals have at least one topic weakness, scoring in the bottom fifth for that topic area. This means organizations should celebrate high-potential specialists for what they know and embrace areas for skill development. Not every marketer needs to be an expert in all topics, but every marketer should expand beyond their silos and work toward a common baseline of knowledge that enables them to collaborate more effectively with teams that have complementary skill sets.
  4. Top marketing talent is everywhere. Organizations shouldn’t limit hiring to candidates with prestigious educational credentials or traditional marketing backgrounds. We found that 40% of nonmarketers — individuals who sit in functions outside of marketing — outscored the average for marketers. Nonmarketers who came from analytics and consulting backgrounds performed best on CM1, with scores on par with marketers. We also discovered that 30% of users without a four-year degree outscored the mean for postgraduate degree-holders. These findings tell us that expanding talent pipelines could bring diverse skill sets into marketing organizations, increasing the overall supply of marketing talent.
  5. Senior leaders lag behind their junior counterparts in digital skills. Directors, managers, and individual contributors outscored marketers at or above the vice president level across problem-solving methods and marketing topics. Managers and directors scored the highest, which could be attributed to having more marketing experience than contributors and greater exposure to modern, tech-centric marketing tools than senior leaders. This correlation between marketers’ seniority in the field and their technical skill set supports the case that both current and future leaders can benefit from upskilling and digital literacy training.

While the key takeaways that emerged from our CM1 analysis revealed some persistent trends, they also build on our 2018 findings, offering new data for companies looking to digitally transform and advance their marketing organizations. They also guided us toward some insightful conclusions — actionable next steps for companies aiming to transform marketers with cutting-edge, competitive skills that enable business success and drive value.

  1. Marketers need more technical training to keep pace with top performers in the field. Companies will need to train professionals in areas like analytics and marketing technology to close the skills gap between digital-native marketers and their nondigital-native counterparts.
  2. Marketing talent can be found in nontraditional places. Employers who rely on conventional talent pipelines to source professionals for marketing roles risk overlooking qualified candidates with unique backgrounds and skill sets.
  3. There are upskilling and reskilling opportunities at the leadership level, too. Companies should invest in training programs that enable both junior talent and senior leaders to leverage marketing tools and platforms that help their organizations compete in the modern economy.

For a deeper dive into these takeaways and the data we analyzed — including the questions and topics where CM1 assessment-takers shined (and struggled) — read the entire report here. You can also explore our Enterprise solutions to learn more about GA’s assessment-led approach to upskilling and reskilling marketing teams.

Download the Report

General Assembly is part of the Adecco Group, the world’s leading workforce solutions provider and a Global Fortune 500 company. Our Enterprise business has worked with over 300 clients in 25 countries across the globe — including more than 40 of the Fortune 100 — to transform teams through our leading-edge programs in technology, data, marketing, design, and product. With more than 25,000 employees trained, and over 70,000 alumni from our full- and part-time courses, our solutions provide immediate and proven impact on the job.

Keeping Our Learners on Track During COVID-19

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First, thank you for being a part of the General Assembly community. We want you to know that, as a community member, your health and well-being is our top priority. 

In light of COVID-19 developments, we have put in place precautionary measures to keep our community safe. As we all make sense of the evolving situation, General Assembly is guided by two priorities: ensuring safety and health while minimizing disruption to our learners.

Right now, like many education providers, we’re in the process of offering all of our workshops and courses remotely. The good news is, we’ve done this for thousands of people across all of our programs and know how to do it well. Our instructors and teams are laser-focused on maintaining a high-quality experience for our students. 

To learn more about our approach to online learning and best practices for remote classrooms, check out this video

Starting Monday, March 16, we will be moving all in-person programming online and temporarily closing our campus facilities. From here, we will continue to monitor the situation and update you on an ongoing basis. 

GA’s Singapore campus will remain open, and we have implemented safety measures in line with the guidance from Singapore’s Ministry of Health. We will be following updates closely, and will move to remote programming should the situation escalate.

We’ve sent specific instruction and guidance to all of our students and employer partners and leveraged the talents of our online instructional team to ensure a seamless transition to a remote learning environment. 

We’ll marshal all of our resources to ensure our community can continue learning and maintain a sense of structure and connection in the midst of an unprecedented situation.  We’re taking our cues from public health experts in all of the countries in which we operate and closely following recommendations from federal, state, and local government authorities.

We have instructed all of our employees to work remotely if they can and are moving quickly to coordinate a successful shift for learning deliveries on our campuses and at employer offices. 

For real time updates, please refer to comprehensive resources prepared by the World Health Organization and your national health authorities:

  • U.S.: Centers for Disease Control
  • Canada: Public Health Agency
  • Australia: Department of Health
  • U.K. Department of Health and Social Care
  • Singapore: Ministry of Health

We’ll continue to provide updates as this develops and encourage all of you to take care of yourselves and stay safe. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out via email to hello@generalassemb.ly.

5 Reasons You Should Learn to Code

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learning to code

There’s no denying that web development is one of today’s most sought-after careers. With a median salary of more than $60,000 and demand expected to grow 27% from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, web development is a smart career path for many individuals.

But even if you’re not planning on becoming a full-time programmer, learning how to code and having that kind of knowledge and experience can have substantial benefits for your career and further job opportunities. In today’s competitive job market, the smartest workers are those who are able to leverage technology to their advantage — no matter their job title.

Not sure if you want to tackle the challenge? Here are five reasons and benefits of learning to code that will add serious value to your career.

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Using APIs in Full-Stack Web Development and App Creation

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Think about your personal experiences using ride-sharing mobile apps like Lyft. You’re able to request a car to your exact geographic coordinates, right down to the street corner. This functionality is possible thanks to application programming interfaces, or APIs.

An API is a platform that allows different pieces of software, or applications, to communicate with one another. The term is used broadly in the context of programming languages, the web, operating systems, etc. For example, Apple publicly shares a number of APIs powered by iOS, its operating system for iPhones and iPads, for an app developer to use. These APIs allow applications like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to access a user device’s camera, microphone, and much more.

What Is an API?

APIs can fall into a number of subcategories. Many web and mobile applications, as well as devices (e.g., Amazon Echo), rely heavily on what are known as web APIs, which we’ll focus on in this guide. A web API uses the same underlying technologies as web browsers to allow different applications to communicate with one another. Web APIs allow applications to retrieve data or perform actions beyond their built-in capabilities. Typically, an application, using the internet, requests some data or action from an API. The API provides a response, and the application then adapts and displays it. The API’s code is hosted on a web server, which is essentially a computer connected to the internet. Depending on the functionality the API is providing, there may be an additional layer of security involved, such as sending a unique key.

Let’s consider a mobile weather application like Dark Sky. When you use it to check the weather for a certain zip code, the application makes a request to the API tool asking for the weather in that zip code. The API has access to the weather data and returns it as its response. Then, the application goes through the weather data and selectively displays it as, for example, the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit. The same process occurs if you check the weather in another city or at your current location.

How to Use an API

Developers can use almost any modern programming language (like JavaScript, Ruby, Python, or Java) for their own API coding. Most programming languages already come with the necessary software to interact with web APIs, but developers typically install additional packages, or code, for convenience and flexibility.

For any given programming language, there’s usually at least one popular framework — a collection of programs — that can be used to create APIs. Ruby developers, for example, use the Rails framework. Developers can also use packages to add features to their APIs, such as additional layers of security. Any additional necessary programs or packages are usually installed with that language’s package manager, e.g., Ruby’s bundler.

How Does an Internal API Work?

An internal API is one that’s used within a company or organization, although the company can choose to make portions of it accessible to the public. Users within that organization can leverage an internal API to share data and business logic (for example, the company’s rules regarding communication between a user interface and a database) across platforms — i.e., web, iOS, or an Android app. Any company with both web and smartphone apps likely has an internal API.

For example, the food-ordering service, Seamless, has web, iOS, and the Android app. All three platforms use an internal API to request that an action be performed, like placing an order for a client, as well as to request data, like the details of a user’s most recent order. This internal API allows Seamless to internally share data (restaurant information) and business logic (a customer ordering a dish) across different devices.

How Does an External API Work?

Many organizations provide external — albeit sometimes limited — APIs and documentation that allow individuals and companies outside of that organization to develop applications using its services. Depending on the external API, there may be registration, payment, or other limitations involved. For example, The New York Times provides an extensive external API that is free but requires that developers register and follow certain guidelines.

Google Maps also provides APIs that allow developers to embed maps in their websites and applications, as well as access directions and estimated travel times. Lyft, for example, uses Google Maps’ API. Other popular external APIs include Yelp’s Business APIs, which enables the user to find businesses, the OpenWeatherMap API, which retrieves weather data, and the Microsoft Azure Emotion API, which determines emotions in images.

Using external APIs allows developers to create their own mashup applications, like one that uses the Yelp Business API to find top-rated coffee shops in a neighborhood and display them on user interfaces as a map with custom icons via the Google Maps API.

APIs at General Assembly

The ability to work with web APIs is a fundamental skill in web development, whether you want to find a job as a front-end or full-stack software engineer or simply create your own applications. In GA’s career-changing Software Engineering Immersive — offered on campus and online — as well as our part-time JavaScript Development course, students learn the theory behind using web APIs and get hands-on practice incorporating them into their own projects. They also explore adjacent technologies such as AJAX and JSON. Many students choose to use a web API as part of their final projects and create their own applications. Our part-time Front-End Web Development course covers API coding essentials as well.

Browse Upcoming Coding Workshops

Meet Our Expert

Saimon Sharif is a software engineer who teaches JavaScript Development courses and workshops at General Assembly’s New York City campus. He works at the clothing-rental company Rent the Runway, focusing on its front-end stack. In his spare time, Saimon listens to podcasts, searches for the perfect cup of coffee, and reads a few too many articles.

“Given that more than half the world’s population has internet access, with more to come, now is a great time to learn web development to create applications and reach that audience.”

Saimon Sharif, JavaScript Development Instructor, General Assembly NYC

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UX Design Image
  • CC Image Courtesy of Thomas Brasington on Flickr

You can be pardoned for sometimes feeling confused about all the terminology and job titles floating around in the design world. What is the difference between graphic design, visual design, and user experience design? Do each of the three roles provide a different service? For visual and graphic designers, the difference may lie mainly in the job title and salary expectations. However, a user experience designer has very different end goals and responsibilities from a visual or graphic designer. Below is a breakdown of what each of these designers do. Continue reading

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Advanced-Front-End-Web-Development

Name: Nick Schaden (@nschaden)
Occupation: Web Designer/Developer

1. In 140 characters or less, what is front-end web development, from your experience?

A mix of programming and layout that powers the visuals and interactions of the web.

2. If a website were a house, front-end web development would be ______?

Front end development would be the pretty exterior that gives the house character, or the host that invites guests in and makes them feel at home.

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