In order to better understand which areas of computing and IT we felt we were best at, and which areas we felt we required the most improvement in, we filled out a personal capability table. We rated our own abilities in seven different categories, each at one of five levels. My table was as follows.
|Field||Very Good||Good||Average||Poor||Very Poor|
|Networking/semi-formal communication with employers||•|
|Programming and coding||•|
From my results I was able to identify that I may benefit from further developing my skills in programming and coding and therefore specialising, but also from working on the attributes which were lower rated, such as networking/semi-formal communication and work experience.
By rating oneself in each of the categories above, one can gain a structured insight into their abilities in an IT context. This gives someone looking to develop themselves somewhere to start, and may also encourage someone not currently looking to develop personally motivation to do so. I find that the method is overall relatively ineffective and inaccurate, for two major reasons. Firstly, the results can very easily be skewed to argue contrary points. One may interpret a low score in a field to indicate that they should work to improve in that area, in pursuit of becoming a more rounded person. One could also interpret a high score to indicate something they are already good at, but could benefit from specialising further in. My belief is that people benefit from having specialised skills that are in demand, and this is why I chose to develop my programming and coding abilities in the short-term personal development task.
In order to gain a second insight into our skills and subsequent potential role in a working environment, we took the Belbin Test in class. Designed over a nine-year period by Dr. Meredith Belbin and his colleagues, the test is designed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a person relation to the workplace. By asking several questions about how one would react in given situations and the attitude one find oneself with in the workplace, the test it able to paint a picture of someone and the role they likely play at work. The test collects scores in a variety of fields which it then uses to determine which team role a person fits most, including plant, monitor evaluator, co-ordinator, resource investigator, implementer, completer finisher, team-worker, shaper and specialist. Each of these roles is accompanied by a lengthy description and list of strengths and weaknesses. Many find their Belbin Test results to correlate surprisingly well with the image of themselves that they hold. Others find that the test has little merit.
The test originated after Dr. Belbin was invited to observe the meetings between successful managers of various departments and teams internationally who happened to attend the Henley Business School's famous ten-week course for becoming a board member. Part of the course entailed working in teams competitively, against others also taking the course. Dr. Belbin and his three chosen accomplices – mathematician and chess master Bill Hartston, anthropologist Jeanne Fisher, and psychologist Roger Mottram – observed around two-hundred teams as part of the project, categorising the behaviour and actions of team members. After their time analysing team workers, they decided upon eight, then later nine, different roles that they had found in a business-centric team environment.
The test taken by the class consisted of seven questions. In each question, the candidate is asked to tick whichever of the statements about themselves that they feel are true given the specified situation. They are then asked to allocate ten points across the statements they have ticked. The score given should reflect how relevant one feels a particular point is to them. For each question, the points allocated must always add up to ten.
Although not made obvious, each statement in each question is tied to a particular team role, and the position of each role's statement is different for each question. For this reason, the test taken in class offered eight statements for each question. This is due to the late addition of the specialist role. The points that one allocates to particular statements determines the score that one receives at the end of the test for each of the roles. Once one has completed the tests, the points allocated to each statement in each question are placed on a table. Each column of the table represents one of the roles, and each row a question. After copying the scores to the table, the sum in the Total row indicates one's closeness to each role. Although one could theoretically score 70 in a single area, one is likelier to score 15–30 in their more relevant roles, and up to 10 in their less-relevant ones. A typical candidate will show particular connection to 1–3 of the team roles.
The nine team roles all have particular qualities, explained below.
Shaper (SH) — Often taking the roles of leaders and managers, or at least influential members of a team, Shapers are known for their motivation, energy and need for achievement. They are often strongly set on their goals, and may allow the feelings of their subordinates to suffer as a side effect of completing objectives. They are important in a team in order to keep the group moving forward and to say the things people may not always want to hear. Unfortunately, they are prone to being easily provoked, irritable and sometimes offensive to others.
Co-ordinator (CO) — Also useful for managing a team, but with the potential to clash with Shapers, Co-ordinators are calm and generally well respected members of team. Usually found to be better at organising their equal colleagues as opposed to subordinates, and rarely ruling with an iron fist, Co-ordinators are useful in teams with clashing roles and talents. They may not be the most specialised or talented in completing work themselves, but they help to make sure the other members of the team work smoothly together.
Plant (PL) — Inclined to go against tradition and to have a lot of unconventional and innovative ideas, Plants like to work by themselves. They often appear to be introverted, and react when their work is praised or criticised. Plants often become the creators of original and new products or services, and may take the role of a founder or potentially the CEO of a company. Despite the use of their often innovative ideas, Co-ordinators can forget or disregard the practical constraints and implications of their plans, and may not take well to being made aware of this.
Resource Investigator (RI) — Providing enthusiasm to a team and encouragement to follow a new path when made available, Resource Investigators are often useful to a Plant. Not always being the most original or innovative people themselves, they instead find others' ideas and develop them. They are able to make recommendations, and to bring other workers to a project whom they feel would help. Despite their ability to bring life to an idea, they are also liable to lose interest after a period of time once the initial excitement has ended.
Monitor Evaluator (ME) — Often taking the role of decision makers, Monitor Evaluators like to see both sides of an argument and spend time considering them in their head. They may appear to be over-critical and unemotional to other members of a team, but they gain strength from their immunity to sudden excitement. They are level-headed, and like to approach decisions in an organised way, but are generally lacking when it comes to motivating their colleagues.
Implementer (IMP) — Often successful inn climbing through the levels of a business, Implementers are organised and particularly self-disciplined workers. They are able to focus on work that must be competed, as little as they may wish to do so. They have a common sense and practicality that is useful in ensuring a project remains feasible and worthwhile. They are attracted to routine and familiarity, and are hard-working, but may prove to be un-flexible and sceptical of new ideas that lack proof or evaluation.
Team-worker (TW) — Potentially described as the social glue of a group, Team Workers provide support for people in a group, and allow the different members to communicate and work together effectively. They are useful in promoting a good team spirit and motivating the workers, and are able to respond to people's problems. They can be susceptible to stress or pressure, however, and are not often the best decision makers. They may be able to provide support, but this is often related to interpersonal matters, and they are not always efficient as a leader.
Completer Finisher (CF) — The Completer Finisher aims to polish and perfect the work of others. Often thought of as a perfectionist by others in a team, the Completer Finisher may tend to be more conscientious and anxious than is warranted. They are often unwilling or reluctant to delegate tasks to others, partly as they don't trust others to complete the tasks as they envision it. Others may also feel that a Completer Finisher will worry about issues that seem trivial to everyone else, which could potentially induce stress.
Specialist (SP) — Dedicated to their role and using their acute knowledge in a particular area to good effect, a Specialist is often self-driven and able to co-ordinate themselves. They tend to work best alone or with other Specialists in the same field, but still contribute importantly to the team. Specialists may be prone to spending too much time on small technicalities, losing sight of the bigger picture. Specialists are also, by definition, talented in a narrow field, which can lead to conflict.
The Belbin Test is frequently used in the working world by businesses looking to employ a person with particular strengths. By asking applicants to take the test as part of the selection process, employers are able to pick out the people who have shown to be the type of team worker they wish to add to their workforce. The Belbin test can efficiently and accurately show an employer the characteristics of a potential employee, allowing them to make a more informed decision when it comes to deciding who to employ.
By understanding how the Belbin test works and by recognising the particular questions that correlate with the different roles, one can manipulate the test to their advantage. If a candidate is aware of the kind of worker that a business is looking to employ, they can answer the questions with a limited amount of truth, answering them in such a way as to skew the final result. One can appear to show more attributes of an ideal candidate than they truthfully possess, improving their chances of being employed.
The Belbin Test can also be used to improve one's awareness of their own natural team role and learning style. By taking the test honestly, one can develop a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses and therefore be able to better judge, when looking for employment, which jobs they would be good at and which they may enjoy the most. The test is also useful for identifying the areas in which one falls short. Using the results of the test, one can guide self-development activities and make themselves a more employable individual.
After completing the Belbin test, I was presented with the following results.
I feel that these results are limited in their accuracy. Although the test showed me to be a potential leader or manager of a team, I find that I lack the interpersonal skills and strength that would be required for this. I feel that had the test catered for the more recently added Specialist role, I would have shown a strong relation to this. I believe that the most appropriate role for me once I begin in the working world would be as a developer working in a particular field, and integrating the work of others into my own.
|*sorted by score|
In order to gain another perspective regarding our learning styles, we took the Memletics test from learning-styles-online.com. This website asks a number of questions and returns a series of values representing one's strengths and weaknesses.
Each of the questions the user is faced with require an answer in the form of a number. Either a zero, one or two can be entered, and the value that the user specifies relates to how much they feel a particular statement relates to them. Although likely unknown to the user, each of the questions corresponds to one of the learning styles recognised by the test – in a similar vein to the Belbin test. Based on the value given to each of the questions, the website is able to create a reasonably accurate representation of a person's learning style. This is then illustrated as a spider web diagram, allowing the user to recognise a particular learning personality by the shape generated. Unfortunately the website failed to generate the image corresponding to my test results, otherwise the image would be shown.
The Memletics test allows someone to identify the ways in which they work and learn best. Using this knowledge, they can alter the methods they use to learn new and improve their current skills. For instance, a particular person may find form the test that they are a visual learner. They may find that when attempting to understand new concepts, they find themselves reading long articles and becoming confused. With the knowledge that they are a more visually-oriented learner, they could search for graphical representations and explanations of concepts, potentially in the form of images or video. They would likely be able to reach their goal quicker by doing this, and would be developing their skill of efficient learning as well.
The results of the Memletics test can also be used to decide which aspects of oneself should be improved. One may feel that they should try to improve their ability to learn in a verbal way, for instance. Being able to understand information given in a number of different formats is important in learning, and one can become a valuable assets to the customer relations division of a company is one can. Understanding several forms of communication effectively and accurately is akin to being fluent in several languages. One could listen to verbal explanations of concepts that they already understand, and in turn learn to interpret this medium; to convert a verbal explanation to another medium in their head.
The grid below shows the two goals I have set for myself, one of which is to be completed within ten years and the other within three weeks.
|Long term||Become a web designer/developer for an agency or myself.|
|Short term||Finish a website I'm currently building, and potentially build another using technologies I am currently not familiar with.|
In order to create a more definite image of who and where I want to be, I created a timeline illustrating the steps I would take to become a web designer, either in an agency or via self-employment.
2016Utilise my skills to build websites for friends and family, and simply to practice. Doing this, I will be able to build a portfolio of past projects and therefore showcase my skillset. By the end of 2016, I would like to have built at least five websites that could realistically be found in production environments.
2017Work as a formal employee of a company, in an apprenticeship, or as a designer and developer from home. Being able to earn money rather than enter debt with a loan for university will mean that I won't find myself paying money monthly for several years, and losing more to interest. If I was to become self-employed, I would use websites such as Careers 2.0, GitHub and Twitter to find work.
2018Having worked for around a year-and-a-half in web design and development, I would like to be earning around £18,000 p.a. or more. I feel this is easily achievable if I was to work for a business, but it could be harder being self-employed or free-lance.
2019Having more experience and having optimised my working environment, I would like to be generating a larger income by this point; perhaps ~£21,000.
2022Having dealt with a large number of clients over the years, I would like to have a significant portfolio of websites and web applications that I've built. My intention is to use this portfolio as evidence of my skills, helping me to find more clients. I may also be able to generate a stable, ongoing income by charging to host and manage previous customers' websites.
2025By this point, I would like to be working either as a designer and developer at an IT agency or alternatively from home. I would like to be working with a number of clients, and have built a series of websites acting as a portfolio.
In order to begin my journey towards achieving the long-term goals I set for myself, I also set a number of objectives to complete in the near-future. Reaching the final goal and passing the milestones leading to it will leave me with experience that will kickstart my continued development as a programmer and web designer. The effective goal was to show evidence that I was moving towards achieving the first goal in my longer-term, 10-year plan; the list of objectives below target the goals for 2015 that I previously set.
A more detailed plan of what I set out to achieve is shown below. I felt that setting a list of objectives would help to ensure that I achieve the most I can in the allotted time.
|Interim Targets||Actions||Success Criteria||Review Date|
|Familiarise myself with the project, as I haven't had time to work on it for some time.||Read through the source code I've already written, and potentially make some readability improvements.||Being more familiar with the code I previously wrote, in order that I can continue development easily.||8th February|
|Complete the contact page and resultant emailing system.||Continue work in PHP, finish the mailing template, update the front-end accordingly and test that everything works.||The form can be completed by a user successfully and give a good user experience.||9th February|
|Complete the shop section of the website.||Process thumbnails from the gallery and write up key information about different products. Place this data in a MySQL database or JSON file, and then write the back-end for this.||A user is able to load the shop page, view available items, view estimated prices and easily proceed to the contact page.||16th February|
|Make any finishing touches that must be added, and push the change online.||The actions that I take during this stage cannot be clear until the stage is reached, as I don't know exactly which parts of the website development will generate issues.||The website can be visited online from anywhere using a memorable address and via a secure connection, and provides a consistent user experience.||20th February|
I have analysed the directories of the project and read sections of most of the files. I have also used web development tools available on the Chrome web store to analyse in more detail the responses generated by the server running the website when sent particular requests. I have built a mental map of the website, including which elements of it are complete and which parts still require attention. I am also now more aware of the time that particular parts of the website will take to make, meaning I will be able to better judge my progress as I work on the project and to know if I am ahead or behind schedule.
assets folder. I also researched online for a templating system like the popular Liquid, written in the PHP programming language, which I'm already using, rather than Ruby. I found that Liquid has in fact been ported to PHP, and made available in a repository on GitHub. I may decide to use this as part of the email templating system.
The gallery page has been completed, and the images can be easily viewed. The gallery page back-end connects to the database that stores information about each of the items (that will show on the shop page). Based on the number of entries in the MySQL table, the PHP script generates the right amount of HTML to show each of the images on the server.
Because this page of the website was completed in a smaller amount of time than I had originally expected, I was able to move onto the next part of the project – the shop pages – earlier than I had planned.
The shop section of the website was completed on-time, and it allows users to select items from an extensive list. Items are added to an easily-accessible basket at the bottom of the page, and can be easily removed. As long as at least one item is present in the basket the user is able to proceed to the contact page. The list of items picked from the shop page will be appended to the message, and the subject line of the resulting email will be changed accordingly. The reason behind adding the items to a message rather than processing the bank-card credentials of a user is the nature of the website. The products on sale are hand-crafted, and a sudden demand couldn't necessarily be met. By adding the order to a message, the customer is able to add a more personal message, perhaps adding more information about what they would like to purchase. The prices outlined on the shop page are also subject to change, and are rough to begin with. The ordering system allows the owner of the website to give the customer a more accurate quote as to the final price, and payment can then organised.
I found that setting goals to be achieved by a certain point during a period of time can help to improve the productivity of oneself when working, but I felt that in my project it was not truly worthwhile. Although I think that the planning I did before the project did help to a degree, I don't feel that the project would have been any less successful without it; the time spent planning and evaluating the project could have been better spent writing the actual website.
Although I think that the plan had little relevance during the development of the project, I do feel it somewhat helped to organise a list of objectives in my head. I found I was more aware of my progress through the project as I completed particular parts of the website than I perhaps would have otherwise been. At the very least, the plan provided a way to work out how much had been completed and how much still required work, in the same way that a to-do list would have.
I feel the project was successful in terms of the final layout and appearance of the website. I feel that the large, clear header at the top of the page clearly shows the five main sections of the website, and the links to social media accounts are easily accessible. The styles used on the header and navigational links are consistent with those used on the website's buttons and other UI elements. Using HTML and CSS techniques, the website has been made easily to navigate without a mouse, with the header items being highlighted clearly when cycled through with the Tab key. I have also been consistent in the use of typography, using the freely available Source Sans Pro on the majority of the page's content, and Georgia for the logo text. Source Sans Pro is provided as a web-font, meaning that modern browsers on almost all platforms will be able to load and display the correct typeface. Georgia is pre-installed on both Windows and OS X, and their mobile counterparts, leaving only Linux. If the font is not installed on the system, the browser will find another similar serif font to use instead, ensuring the design appears largely the same. Although Georgia is used for the logo in any promotional material, it was designed in such a way that it would appear acceptably in most serif typefaces. Having used Linux for the development of the website, I can confirm that the lack of Georgia does not severely impact the design.
Unfortunately, I feel the project fell short in that I did not have time to complete the blog section of the website. Although it was not mentioned at the planning stage, I had hoped there would be time to at least start modifying the blog to fit the website's theme. The blog is fully operational, and has been for some time, but the layout and basic templates need to be altered to sit smoothly alongside the rest of the website. I don't foresee the process of finishing this part of the website as taking a long time, as the majority of the code has already been written for main site. As common blocks of code have been divided into several files in a way that is optimised for templating, these blocks will be able to be referenced directly. Any changes I then make to the main website's layout will be reflected in the blog automatically.
I also feel the project was not as successful as it could have been due to the time I spent working on the contact page. Perhaps thanks to my general desire to perfect small parts of larger-scale projects and sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture, I spent longer than I could have on the contact page. I spent several hours perfecting the animations shown in the submit button box when the contact form is correctly or incorrectly filled out, as well as the overall user experience. When the form is submitted with erroneous data, for example, the field or fields which prevented the form from submitting are given an obvious red border. When the user then clicks in one of the boxes in question, or uses the Tab key to navigate the cursor to it, the red border retracts back. Without adding any text to the page, the user is clearly notified of where they must make revisions. Although the end result of the time I spent is a positive one, I feel the time could have been better spent elsewhere.
localStorage API, meaning that the website needn't rely on more restrictive and outdated "cookie" standards. As well as saving the user from downloading unneeded data, the user of AJAX means that any changes to the item information on the database will instantly propagate to the website.
I feel there are a few aspects of the website that I would to develop differently, and that I'll re-built or extend in the future.
In the shop area of the website, I feel the shopping experience of a user could be improved. For example, when an item is added to the basket, the quantity of that item added to the order cannot be changed. Instead, the user would need to specify in their message that they wished to purchase several units. I feel a small box in the basket pop-up could be added next to each item, allowing the user to specify a number within a given range. The total price of the order and the list added to the contact form would update accordingly.
As well as by adding the option to purchase multiple units of a single item at once, I would like to add further functionality to the shop and make the user experience less confusing. I feel that the button added to each item on the main shop page is not necessary, and may only serve to confuse. The shop page could also be divided into several separate pages in order to reduce loads times and the length of the document. I also feel that the shopping basket UI could be made clearer when a visitor views a shop page for the first time.
Lastly, I feel the website currently does not provide mobile users with an adequate experience. I intend to create another stylesheet, separate from the
main.css file, which will override certain properties already in use. This will ensure content is easily read on a small, mobile interface, and that the user does not feel at a disadvantage.
I feel that some other aspects of the website were particularly successful, and I think I will use the techniques behind them in the future.
PHP and MySQL, very often used together, provide an excellent way to pre-process HTML and integrate with a database at the server side. The information storage provided my MySQL is very versatile and can be customised to the needs of a particular user. PHP is simple to use and has a great number of built-in MySQL functions, which makes querying a database very simple.
I feel that my workflow during the development of the website was also very successful. For development, my needs were met with the use of Sublime Text 2 and Vim running on Linux to edit source code; PHP and MySQL servers connected to an Nginx webserver locally for testing; and Git version control and GitHub hosting online for tracking and effective open-sourcing. I also used a DigialOcean VPS running Debian Linux and a similar server set-up to my local testing servers, and used a Comodo SSL certificate to provide identity verification and connection encryption. In order to update the website online, I simply connect to the server privately and pull the latest changes that I have pushed to GitHub to the server. In the future I may also utilise a continuous integration service such as Travis CI in order to automatically test the website source for errors whenever a new version is uploaded.
The next step in the continuous development of the Functional Stoneware website is the maintenance of the database and page content. Managing social media presence by contributing to the Facebook page and Twitter account will also improve the success of the brand.
I feel that the next step in my continued improvement as a web designer and developer is to build more websites for local clients. I have heard interest from several people in recent months offering to pay for website creation and management. As it becomes ever more important for artists and other creative individuals and organisations to have an online presence, I intend to bring people and their businesses to the web. Website design is a significant portion of this, but managing social media accounts, being responsible for server administration, and optimising online branding to maximise coverage is also very important.
To conclude, I am pleased with the outcome of the website. I do not consider the entire project of Functional Stoneware to be complete, but this was not my intention to begin with. I now intend to apply the improvements mentioned above over the coming weeks, and to manage the site as it sees use.