10 reasons why we love the Umbraco community

By Sam Bailey

Image: Percipient Studios

Image: Percipient Studios

The Umbraco UK Festival is nothing without its community of loyal attendees. 

The best part of our yearly gathering is having the opportunity to catch up with you during a hacking session, pizza break or pint at the pub to talk over the latest Umbraco news. 

There’s always a sense of friendliness online and in real life that mirrors Umbraco’s claim as ‘the world’s friendliest CMS.’

During the 2016 festival, the outpouring of ‘high fives’ we received was yet another nod to this amazing community spirit. So, we’ve decided it's our turn to share the love back. Here’s ten of the reasons we love you all (as inspired by the day). 

1. You're an honest bunch

Inspiring snippets overheard at the festival...

"This is a safe space right? I have a confession...I like flow charts!" - Barry Briggs. 

"It's a bloody website, it doesn't have to be NASA level, just get it out and working." - Pete Duncanson

"The Get Shit Done book embodies our values and rings true to how we approach Umbraco as a business." - Kris Deminick

"We are not a bunch of d***heads, spend time on stuff that makes a difference to the editors and is not 'just cool.'" - Niels Hartvig.

2. You know that everything can be understood more easily with a meme

3. You don't let a festival get in the way of fitness (or fussball)

4. You're fans of the fox

5. You don't want to miss out, even if it means sitting on the floor

6. You won't let a challenge get in the way of a good badge

7. You know good food when you see it

8. You've got those Umbraco jokes down pat

9. You know that beer = bonding time

10. AND you're dedicated to the Cog cause!

A big thanks to our blog reviewers too!  

Matt from Enjoy Digital - Enjoy Digital Umbraco Fest UK 2016

Kris from Umbraco HQ - Umbraco UK Fest 2016: Simple is the new black

Mike from Dare West - Inside the UK's Biggest Umbraco Event 

Emma from Radley Yeldar - Umbraco UK Fest 2016: Second Largest Global Umbraco Event


We're going on a bear hunt

By Ismail Mayat

On Wednesday 16th November, after being stuck in traffic at Bolton for 45 minutes I finally made it to rainy windy Huddersfield to the world famous Media Centre (okay that may be a slight exaggeration) to attend the third UMBX workshop with 12 other delegates from the north of England.  

Now before I begin, let me first preface, it wasn’t a real bear hunt, no, it was a lot less scary than that but perhaps equally intense - it was a training day that may have involved a ‘Bear the load’ course...

For those who haven’t yet heard of UMBX, it’s a community driven initiative that was recently set up by two Umbraco heavy weights -  Jeavon Leopold (Thrice MVP and creator of a crazy number of packages) and Lee Messenger (MVCForum) also core contributor to Merchello.

The idea behind UMBX is to provide small workshops to seasoned practitioners to plug the gaps in Umbraco knowledge.

The current offering is three (yes that’s right THREE) workshops in one day:

  • Merchello

  • Bear the load

  • Azure with Umbraco

In this post, I’ll fill you in on what was covered step-by-step and also what the mysterious bear hunt involved...

It begins...

After a few mandatory projector teething problems we were off on a full throttle journey into geek land...

First up was Merchello with Lee. Merchello is an open source eCommerce offering that I first glimpsed back in version 1, now it’s at version 2 and already has come a long way. In the space of three hours we covered a lot of material on the basics of configuring and setting up an estore, including:

  • Installation and configuration

  • Product catalogue setup

  • Category setup

  • Product collections

  • Merchello datatypes

  • Working store and cart

There was a lot more, but due to time constraints we were unable to cover it, so we were left with some homework.

After a quick break we moved straight onto taming bears, also known as the ‘Bear the load’ workshop. This workshop covered balancing a flexible load in Umbraco. And how does this involve bears? Well, we used a teddy bear picnic as the example. To do this we all fired up an Umbraco instance that talked to a shared database in Azure, then we looked at the umbraco server table to see who was elected as master bear. The winner won a baseball cap (as modelled by Matt Perry below.

It was a brilliant exercise to demonstrate the Umbraco master election and the result was easy to show but you could tell a lot of work was put into the exercise designed by Jeavon.  

We then swiftly moved onto creating different load balancing scenarios with local testing. We covered some new Umbraco API features namely custom ICacheRefresher (used to notify slave servers in a cluster to update their cache) and custom ServerRegsitrar (used to manually elect a master in a cluster).

Image: A.G. BARR

Image: A.G. BARR

Soon after lunch followed, consisting of sandwiches and cans of Dandelion and Burdock. All us Northerners were very surprised that Lee - ‘a Southerner,’ had never even heard about the wonder that is Dandelion and Burdock, let alone tasted it. Pete Duncanson (Offroadcode fame) and myself made it our mission to introduce him to it.

After lunch it was straight back into it with our third and final workshop - ‘Azure with Umbraco.’  

In this workshop, we looked at all the goodies available in Azure and Umbraco that enable you to create a scalable website:

  • Azure specific configuration

  • Redis for session state

  • Deploying to Azure webapps

  • Azure blob storage for media

  • Azure blob storage for Examine (welcome to the future ;-})

  • Azure table storage for log4net

  • Azure CDN

  • Multi region deployment

To end...

Just like that, the day had flashed before my eyes. My overall impressions? Umbx really is an amazing initiative run by the community to plug gaps in our Umbraco knowledge. The workshop materials were very professional - full colour manuals printed on good quality paper and the swag was second to none - t shirts, stickers, usb sticks AND baseball caps.

The thing that really came across the most was the amount of time and effort put into the workshops and during the delivery you could see that the workshops were being delivered by trainers with deep understanding of the subject matter due to real life experience.

The best bit is that you get all of this for £120.

Image: Peter Kay and Amelia

Image: Peter Kay and Amelia

It’s an absolute bargain, I recall Dan Lister saying: “this is the best course I have ever attended.” A few of us even suggested to Jeavon and Lee £120 is a disservice to what you actually get (the price could definitely be higher).

After finishing up a few of us went out for a well earned curry - anyone who knows me will tell you I’m quite the foodie. If you are ever in Huddersfield you have to visit Kabana. Friends had highly recommended it and Pete had previously tried their food at Huddersfield Mela (fair) where they regularly won the curry cook off. We were not disappointed! Food was top notch and at £15 a head a bargain.

Lastly, to satisfy our sweet tooth we popped into the new gelato place Ice Stone Gellato, I went for the Falooda.

The place was very busy with a huge selection of desserts and ice cream including Redbull flavoured ice cream! Seriously wrong on so many levels.  

We were then regaled by Pete on how he broke his arm in multiple places a couple of years ago when he made his own bobsled by cutting a wheelie bin in half and sliding down a very very big hill at over 30mph.

Overall, (as I’m sure you can tell) I thoroughly enjoyed UMBX and highly recommend it. So, if the UMBX bus comes rolling into town - beg your wife, boss whoever and get yourself onboard, it’ll be the best £120 you ever spent (*price may vary over time).

PS, there are rumours that additional workshops on other niche topics may soon be added.


Unexpected love from the community

By Sam Bailey

Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter

In an exciting new twist this year, we introduced the first ‘Community Space’ to our 2016 Umbraco UK Festival. A rather fitting addition to compliment the ethos of the festival (an event run solely for the Umbraco community) and we were intrigued to see how it would go. 

Perhaps the more intriguing question that came out of it in the end was - ‘why did we not do it sooner?!’. As such a knowledge rich and passionate bunch, it made good sense to hand a space over to you - the community - to share what you’re passionate and knowledgeable about!

Not wanting to meddle too much with the organic concept, we set a 15 minute time slot per speaker and away they went! From mental health through to best grid practises, the topics were diverse but all warmly welcomed! We hadn’t really known what the reception would be like, but at the end of the day so much unexpected love came flooding in on Twitter, confirming to us that the ‘Community Space’ should definitely make a comeback next year. 

Due to the informal nature we didn’t record the sessions, but those who missed it, here’s a brief overview of who was involved and what was discussed...



Image: Percipient Studios

Image: Percipient Studios

Bringing a new topic to the tech table at this year’s festival, Ravi Motha, Umbraco MVP, part time giraffe and joint organiser of Umbraco London Group Meetup discussed the importance of mental health. His talk: ‘Taking care of you’ focused on the need for developers to take better care of themselves and to reach out in times of need. 

“I’d recently started to notice incidents where professional athletes (who use their body as their means of income) were called out for being out of shape or were caught doing things that were detrimental to their overall performance,” says Ravi. “It got me thinking, if you’re a professional athlete you would treat your body well by dieting, training and not smoking but as professionals we may not look after our instrument (brain) as well as we should.” 

In the talk, Ravi highlighted the current prevalence of mental health disorders (one in six have a mental health issue) and gave suggestions for things we should do to make ourselves feel good and supported. A worthy and important discussion to our community space. 

If you’re interested in learning more, take a look at Ravi’s slides

Also, if you’re looking to make friends, gain support and become part of the Umbraco UK community, join us at the next Meetup!


Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter

Emma Burstock, back-end developer at Radley Yeldar came along and shared an overview of her recent experience at CODE CABIN. During her talk, she reflected on the key themes of the retreat and what she had learned.

The first subject in her discussion was about the ideal Umbraco site set up and the importance of architecture and scalability in a good build. She encouraged developers to think big scale and gave a great example, explaining how even a dog walker deserves a site that has the potential to have a global reach.

She then touched on ReactJS and AngularJS and let the conversation open up to a debate amongst the audience, allowing all those who are new to either technologies to learn from the experts in the room. Lastly, she discussed her key highlight from CODE CABIN - the Ditto workshop and explained how it has made her job as an Umbracian so rewarding.

To read more about Emma’s talk and experience, check out her blog review live on Radley Yeldar.


Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter

Anders Burla Johansen, our Tea Commerce workshop guru took some extra time out of his day to talk through the ‘Best practises for version 7 and the grid’ with everyone. 

In the talk, Anders ran through best practises for Umbraco as offered on his site, and explored the back office giving key pointers on the grid. 

While only a brief introduction, he has revealed to us, he will be running a more advanced session next year titled: ‘The Umbraco Grid on Steroids,’ so stay tuned for more from Anders in 2017.


Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter

Darren Ferguson of Moriyama ran a practical training on the Azure Umbraco search, a cloud based scalable implementation of elasticsearch – which is quite easy to deploy and manage once you know how.

In the presentation, Darren provided a method which took people through how to get Umbraco content and Media Indexed into Azure search and how to make queries against the resulting indexing – including faceting and other complex search scenarios.

The code from the demonstration is available here on GitHub and includes some improvements suggested during the talk.


While this is just a taster of what’s got the community talking, if learning more about our Umbraco community interests you, check out our developer Marcin Zajkowski’s recent talk from the festival on ‘Community driven self development.’ 

Image: Percipient Studios

Image: Percipient Studios




Why Umbraco UK Festival was THE BEST ONE EVER (in your words…)

By Sam Bailey

Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter

300 people, 35 pull requests, 100 pizzas, 1 million coffees and a whole lot of ‘geekery’ (as Indra Sarkar put it) - just some of the formula that went into making 2016 the best Umbraco UK Festival ever.

Now, three weeks on, as we retire our orange lanyards for the year it’s time to take a moment to celebrate with you - our loyal Umbraco community and sum up just what made it such an awesome day.

Twitter tells us that you had a merry old time, so we decided we should leave the story telling to you, sharing highlights from the day through your eyes.

Without further ado, here are the highlights, as told by you. Oh and if we didn’t say it already, #h5yr!

The community spirit

The talks

“We have been with Umbraco since version 3 and now are planning to upgrade to version 7. I have learned some neat tricks from Per’s talk which we will undoubtedly use!” - Nick Gardener, Cobham.

"I liked the talk that Theo Paraskevopoulos gave on personalisation. I have a personalisation project coming up so it’s always good to have a relevant one to a project you’re doing." - Carole Logan, Equator.

"I enjoyed the talk about Umbraco as a service - it’s a good concept. At our company we don’t use it as a service, but they said it makes it a lot easier if you use it that way. So it might be a case of thinking about it for the future." - Joe Bolla, WPN Chameleon.

The venue

The kid friendly swag

The celebrity encounters

The pizza

The plug accessibility

The bottomless coffee (although maybe too much of a good thing?)

Coffee pee.png

The beard presence

Photo credit: Percipient Studios

Photo credit: Percipient Studios

The IRL interaction

I work in Umbraco every day so it’s been good to come along and enjoy the social side and catch up with the people you talk to online all the time but don’t usually get to meet in real life. - Carole Logan.

The nap time after

Oh, and that awesome product...what's it called again?

The live talk lineup from Umbraco UK Festival 2016

Were you watching our Umbraco UK Festival Twitter feed live from home, crying into your coffee wishing you could have joined us for our BIGGEST EVER Umbraco UK Festival? 

Well, don’t worry beloved Umbraco community, we’ve got your back. While the festival may be over for 2016, we’ve been hard at work compiling all the news, info and talks from the day (complete with slides too).

You’re welcome.

The Lineup...

Inside the engine room: working at Umbraco HQ - Kris Deminick

Ditto Vs Modelbuilder - Lars Erik Aabech

For the slides, click here.

Community driven self-development - Marcin Zajkowski

For the slides, click here.

Designing for the gap - Barry Briggs

For the slides, click here.

Show me the money: personalisation in digital finance - Theo Paraskevopoulos

For the slides, click here.

Run your apps in docker containers on Windows - Naeem Sarfraz

For the slides, click here.

The Strategy Journey: from mission to transformation - Julie Choo

For the slides, click here.

Packages and your data on Umbraco as a service - Soren Spelling Lund

For the slides, click here.

How "Doing Umbraco" is business and not just code - Pete Duncanson

For the slides, click here.

Umbraco as simply as possible - Per Ploug

Keynote - Niels Hartvig



The 2016 Umbraco UK Festival

By Adam Shallcross

Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter

What do you get when you cross 300 attendees, 13 talks, 8 workshops, 6 rooms, 1 hackathon and unlimited coffee...Why the Umbraco UK Festival of course!

And WOW, what an event it was this year! 

If you didn’t manage to attend you can get an idea of the atmosphere by watching Kris Deminick’s fantastic opening talk - Inside the Engine Room: Working at Umbraco HQ. You could almost taste the community love and excitement in the room!

The Hackathon

The hackathon this year was held on Thursday, the day before the festival, and started out as a nice pleasant room, but quickly became a hot, coffee and pizza fuelled sweat shop. To quote Anthony Dang, “It smelled like developers,” which I guess is the sign of a hard day's work!

The day is always a great event in itself, helping the Umbraco HQ squash all those niggly bugs and issues that they don’t have time to fix.

With around 65 attendees coming and going throughout the day, the event was a great success with 35 issues fixed and 26 pull requests completed.

The day ended with majority of the attendees going for a well earned bit of R&R to a local watering hole to let off some steam and get to know the community better. It seemed we had most of Scandinavia and in particular Denmark with us in a pseudo viking invasion - which was great to see!

The Main Event

This year’s event was held at the awesome CodeNode near Moorgate in London. The venue, designed specifically to run tech events, is a vibrant and collaborative workspace that fits well with the Umbraco ethos.

Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter

This year we decided to split the day into a couple of streams - one for beginners/newbies and one for more advanced and experienced developers. We also threw in a smattering of business non-techie talks for good measure. 

Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter

A major feature across the day was the addition of a wide range of workshops which gave everyone the opportunity to get stuck into a good selection of subjects including: Umbraco property editors, continuous integration and Agile project management techniques.

The Mystical HQ

One of the highlights of the day for me was having Kris Deminick from Umbraco kick off the day. Kris delivered a fabulous introduction to Umbraco HQ and what they do to maintain the platform we know and love. It was a great insight into the team behind the product and demonstrated that there is indeed a huge amount of resource and effort that goes on behind the scenes. 

Image: Percipient Studios

Image: Percipient Studios

Contrary to popular beliefs surrounding open source projects, it's not just a bunch of developers in a basement bashing away at their keyboards. There is a whole ecosystem of support, planning and partnership management going on behind the scenes to keep Umbraco moving in the right direction to ensure it’s progressing and continues to be one of the best .NET CMS’s in the marketplace.

Keeping it Simple

An unofficial and unexpected theme for the day was the ethos of ‘Keep it Simple’. Some of the highlights included:

- Per Ploug showing us how to keep it simple when developing with Umbraco by removing unnecessary complexities and steering clear of complex frameworks that add extra bloat and levels of abstraction where it’s not needed.

Image: Percipient Studios

Image: Percipient Studios

- Pete Duncanson delivered a thought provoking discussion around Umbraco why ‘it’s not just code’, it’s about the business side of things as well as how keeping it simple helps clients understand what is good about Umbraco.

- Niels Hartvig, as always, delivered an inspirational and insightful view of where Umbraco is now and where it’s headed in the future. He also touched on taking development back to basics and keeping things simple as well as the power of the official training course, whether as an experienced developer or not, it’s great to keep things consistent.

Image: Percipient Studios

Image: Percipient Studios


All the workshops were really well received and oversubscribed, we even had some people sitting on the floor just to get in!

We also had some amazing feedback in particular for the ‘Continuous Integration and Continuous Development’ workshop run by our very own Alejandro Ocampo and Callum Whyte. 

Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter


So all in all a fantastic day was had by everyone who attended. An amazing venue, great food and great conversation, showing once again how strong and amazing the Umbraco community is in the UK.

Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter

A big thanks to everyone at CodeNode, the speakers and workshop hosts and also The Cogworks team without whom the day would definitely have been a lot more chaotic! 
As an event, the festival goes from strength-to-strength improving each year we organise it. We always listen and take on the feedback (both good and bad) to make the next year’s event even better.

Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter

Image: Skills Matter

It takes an enormous amount of time and effort to put on, but we love doing it as it is a chance to bring the UK Umbraco community together - and as the UK community is the largest in the world, we think it is well worth it! It is the community that makes Umbraco special and drives the platform, the festival, the local meetups and the addition of other events can only make it stronger.

Thanks to all of you for coming and we all look forward to seeing you again next year!

The internet: a look back in time

By Will Parker

Do you remember what life was like without the internet? Being born in the 1970s, my generation is bound-up in the history of the personal computer. We’re living in the Information Age where computers and internet technology is a central part of our daily lives: at The Cogworks it’s our reason for being.

...The scene as a 5MB hard drive is delivered to a customer in 1956

Credit: 9Gag.com

Credit: 9Gag.com

They clearly didn’t pay much attention to road signs 60 years ago! 

Here at The Cogworks we now like to deliver our products through continuous automated deployment processes!

It's not all black and white

Recently in our London office we held a baby photo competition as part of our Friday Fun Coglympics series. Some of the photos were only in black and white which got me thinking about technology and how the internet has changed both our lifetime and us. We can barely remember life without the internet. Now when I stay at a Airbnb place during my visits to the London office, “what’s the wifi password?” becomes the first and only real question I need answering. 

Q, A, O, P and Z

As a child, my first home computer was the Spectrum ZX81. In 1986 you would probably have found me playing Bricks or Jet Set Willy. Who recalls having to wait 30 minutes or more and change tape five times before the game would load and start?! Imagine waiting 30 minutes nowadays to get your smartphone to boot up in the morning!

By the time I was doing my GCSEs I’d upgraded to an Amiga 1200 which had a 5MB hard drive yet didn’t need four grown men to deliver it.

As the internet exponentially grew in the early to mid 90s, computer technologies have gone on to proliferate our day-to-day lives.

Internet usage in the US

In the space of less than a lifetime, computer technology went from being a sideline spectacle to utterly mainstream and now a ubiquitous part of modern 21st Century life. 

And, as we see in the graph, since 1995 in the space of 20 years, the percentage of the population online has gone from being a minority to over 80 per cent of the adult population. 

So, how exactly have things changed over time? What can we learn from the history of the first 20 years of the internet and what can we expect in the next 20 years?

Back to the future

This is the start of a blog series where I will look back at the early days of the internet and contrast how things are now as well as what may emerge in the future.

Topics I will touch on include:

- Online form development
- The growth and diversity of internet professions
- Content Management Systems
- Changing standards and habits in web design
- The ever changing web browser
- The growth and power of ‘social media’
- Mobile and tablet technology
- Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality

Watch this space...first up will be a piece on online form development just before Christmas. Consider it an early present!

A Beginners Guide to the Scrum Product Owner Course

By Agnes Darricau

Whether you work for a digital company or a charity, are an experienced Project Manager or a university student, you may have heard of ‘Scrum’ or ‘Agile’ but may not know that much about what they are or how to apply these frameworks to your projects. As The Scrum Guide says: “Scrum is simple to understand but difficult to master.”

Here at The Cogworks HQ, we’re all about progressing and encouraging positive, result driven training for our staff because we want the best possible performance outcomes for both staff and clients.

Over the past few months, four of our London staff have attended the two-day ‘Certified Scrum Product Owner’ course taught by Martine Devos, a master in the field who has coached over 30,000 people in Agile.

Head of Content Agnes tells us more...

A month ago, I was offered the awesome opportunity to attend the training which was very exciting for me personally and for my career in the digital world! While the course itself is too comprehensive to explain in a blog post and being new to the Agile world, I thought I’d share a short overview and decode four main aspects of Scrum that were brought up during the training for others new to or interested in Scrum. 

But before we dive in, I think it’s worth defining the different roles involved in the Scrum Framework as that was the first aspect that intrigued me. A Scrum team only includes: the Scrum Master, the Dev Team and the Product Owner and each one of these roles has a defined set of responsibilities.

So, what is a Product Owner and how is it different to a project manager? Well, firstly there is no project manager in a Scrum Team! Martine explained that the Product Owner is a key stakeholder in the project, but he (or she) is not meant to impose things on the team, he is here to motivate everyone and set out a vision for the project. He is ideally always available and possesses great communication skills.

The next question then was: what is the role of the Scrum Master? The Scrum Master should be a facilitator that removes all barriers that get in the way of the development/production team and ultimately surrenders control of the projects to the Dev Team and the Product Owner. 

For this article I want to focus on a few simple scrum concepts that I have heard spoken about in the office, but didn’t know exactly what they were.

Sprint? You mean like Usain Bolt?
Firstly, what’s a sprint? A sprint is the heart of Scrum. In short, it’s a time-box period in which the work gets done. 

Part of our discussion during the class was about the ideal length of a sprint. Some people prefer one month sprints, some believe in two week sprints, Martine suggested the ideal length was 1 week, but in the end, it is all about what works for you and your project.

A question that a lot of people ask is, if a task is not finished at the end of a sprint, is it a fail? 
Martine says in fact it’s the opposite! If the length of your sprint does not allow the time needed to finish a task, it means the estimation was possibly not accurate in the first place, which is OK because an estimation by nature is never 100 per cent accurate! 

The key then is to ensure that your estimation process is refined over time to make sure that the user stories or tasks are broken down in a way that they can indeed be finished within the allowed sprint time.

Estimations - let's get to the point
Another interesting topic during the training was what’s the point (pun intended) of estimating in points and how do you do it? 

This was a topic I was unfamiliar with, as my role at The Cogworks running the content team does not expose me to the way that the project management and development team estimate their work.  

Within the content team, we only estimate tasks in hours. We populate content every day and are pretty confident we know how long each task takes, even if the projects differ in size. However, I am starting to work closer with the development team at The Cogworks, and am noticing that it’s a lot trickier to estimate requirements for complex web projects, so in this case I realise the purpose of using a different system.

Martine explained it’s about estimating the effort more than the length of the task, i.e. you don’t need to know if it will take an hour or six hours, you just need to estimate the complexity in comparison with another task’s complexity within the product backlog. However, if the same kind of task has been estimated several times by the developers, they may know how many hours it will take but usually, points shouldn’t be converted into hours otherwise you’ll lose the purpose of point estimation.

Product backwhat?
Ah product backlog…a buzzword I have heard but never really understood. Basically, the backlog is a prioritised list of things that need to be done within a project. It’s not a fixed list of things, it continually evolves and changes throughout the project’s lifespan. During the course we learned how to build and manage a backlog - which is an essential responsibility of the Product Owner.

As a <Project Owner>, I want to be able to <write User Stories>, so that <I can keep my job>
User stories was my favourite module because it tackled an interesting topic: Companies doing certain things that are trendy without really knowing why and if there is a purpose to it. Currently, Scrum is a go-to trendy framework, so often writing ‘user stories’ can become something people do just because it’s ‘cool’. 

Have you ever written user stories and wondered why you were doing it (apart from ‘because my manager asked me to’)? Martine explained to us that not all projects need user stories, for example - a home appliance company making a fridge would write a user story such as: ‘as a fridge, I want to be able to keep food fresh so that people don’t get food poisoning.’ It’s a little obvious, right?

A user story is usually in this format: ‘As a...I want…so that…etc.’ But the key lesson here is that you only write them if you can define what exactly the purpose will serve.

To scrummarise...
In the end, no matter what company or industry you work in, if you handle complex projects Scrum could be beneficial for you and give you the mindset needed in order to successfully deliver your project. 

There are plenty of classes you can attend but if you really want to learn from a master, we highly recommend Martine Devos’ class. She is passionate and enthusiastic about what she teaches and she she will even go the extra mile and give you tailored advice for your projects.


How Umbraco changed my life

By Marcin Zajkowski - Umbraco Trainer and Certified Master at The Cogworks

Image: Korsan Studio

Have you ever stopped to imagine the way the software we use could change a life? I believe it can and I want to share how the software I fondly refer to as Umbraco changed mine.

It was late 2010. I was studying Information Technology at Bialystok University of Technology when Microsoft Poland announced they were looking for interns willing to travel across the country to evangelise Microsoft technologies. 

I was working full time in a local IT company at the time while playing in the university basketball team and actively participating in a range of local communities (not just IT ones). Despite having almost no free time, I was beginning to think seriously about the future and realised having this on my CV could help (I was also coming to terms with the fact my height meant I wouldn’t make it into the NBA!).

So, I signed up to be part of the Microsoft programme and was sent to Microsoft’s Warsaw office for a two day ‘Train the Trainers’ session, where Microsoft professionals introduced us topics such as:

  • Windows Live services
  • Windows Phone development
  • HTML5
  • Kinect SDK
  • Building websites using Umbraco CMS and .NET platform

At the time I was working as an ASP.NET / Full-stack / Mobile developer (it wasn’t a fancy title back then – we were just forced to do everything!) so I went along mainly interested in mobile and web development.

What a mind-blowing experience it was when I saw Umbraco for the first time , especially as I hadn’t been keen on CMS and web development before then. It was like a scene in the movies - love at first sight! 

One click after another, document type by document type - XSLT, templates, queries, membership…I fell more and more in love. It was introduced to us as a simple CMS, tailored for developers and clients needs and easy to extend (and still is to this day). This then, combined with the new Umbraco identity really changed my point of view of web development. 

Before this, anyone working on a custom agency CMS system would understand the struggle. We’d constantly be telling clients ‘we will do better’ or ‘we’ll handcraft it to suit you better’ but it was not easy. After the training I came back, fired up a WebMatrix project, built a site for my friend using Umbraco and showed it to my co-workers. They were amazed! 

So, I chose Umbraco and HTML5 as my weapons of choice and successfully transferred my knowledge to hundreds of young and ambitious students across the country. Meanwhile, I saved a huge numbers of hours on projects by using Umbraco and extending it for a wide range of projects. 

After a year, together with my future co-founder, we decided to start our own company and focus solely on offering Umbraco and mobile development services.

We decided to focus on the mobile market, as, at the time it was ‘the year of the mobile.’ We believed cross-platform HTML5 mobile applications would become the future of app development and so we started an internal project – a cross-platform conference app for conference centres. 

We also carried on  creating multiple projects, using Umbraco as the base for a range of situations.

However, right before we finished our conference product one of the biggest IT companies in Poland started their own cross-platform department and used most of our ideas - but with a budget several times bigger. It was then we decided to focus 100 per cent on Umbraco development and move away from the cross platform HTML5 world.

I had a friend who was looking for a company able to deliver Umbraco projects for their customers - they were a ‘big fish’ in the market and always up for a challenge, we started on our largest - and worst - Umbraco project ever! 

Picture as many bad Umbraco practices as you can think of and you will be somewhere near the solution we provided! We worked for a year chasing deadlines but we somehow delivered,   and it is still working to this day. It was the best lesson, as much as we’re ashamed of the less than clean code, we are still proud we delivered something that no one was able to deliver back then. And with an army of two!

We then became connected with a PM in a UK Umbraco agency and began working together on projects. The local Polish Umbraco market was still non-existent, despite customers looking directly for Umbraco developers. This became our main business model. Find an agency outside of Poland with customers wishing to use Umbraco. This allowed us to work with agencies across the globe, extending our skillset and knowledge of Umbraco and how to run our own business.

Which brings me to the final part of the story - when my Umbraco path crossed with The Cogworks. Prior to The Cogworks opening an office in Cracow, I had began running local Polish Meetup groups focusing on Umbraco. I was trying to find like-minded people whilst measuring if our evangelist activity in Microsoft’s programme had brought any results - e.g. if there was now a substantial number of Umbraco developers across the country. As it happens - it didn’t! There were multiple .NET groups in the area, but even in the largest group only one or two developers had heard about Umbraco.

I’ve always believed in the power of communities and people. For me, it’s not a mask or an opportunity to promote myself or the system I use. I decided the only way forward was to change my approach and focus on building the Umbraco community here in Poland. So when Adam Shallcross (Joint CEO of The Cogworks) announced the First Poland Umbraco Meetup in Cracow in April 2015 a new opportunity unfolded. I attended the Meetup and just like that the circle closed.

A year and a half later, after participating in the Umbraco UK Festival 2015 and Codegarden 2016, I joined The Cogworks and am now working with Adam to continue my mission to make Umbraco more popular in Poland and offer new opportunities for all. 

So, why I am sharing this personal story with you all? I want to encourage you to believe in your visions and dreams. The power is in the Umbraco community and anyone who feels it will confirm it to be true. For those who attended last week's Umbraco UK Festival and saw my ‘Community Driven Self-Development’ talk you will know exactly what I mean (and for those who missed it, keep your eyes peeled for the video). 

Even the chief Umbraco Unicorn, Niels Hartvig (Umbraco founder) mentioned in his keynote speech: ”it’s about people, not technology!”. This sentiment even carries through to the first sentence in ‘The Rational Guide to Building Technical User Communities’ by Dr. Greg Low,  a book that I decided to give away during my talk.

So, if you want to learn more ways to be happier in your own life and are based in Poland, why not come along to the next Umbraco Poland Group Meetup in Warsaw this Saturday 12th November and join the Umbraco movement. I promise you, from the moment I began to believe in the power of the Umbraco community right  up until I lose my mind and switch to programming in Java, I will be using and evangelising Umbraco now and forever, wherever that may be.

See you at Umbraco Poland Group meeting this Saturday! 

Time: 6:30 PM
Address: Hacklag Warsaw, al. Jerozolimskie 81 (Central Tower, 20th floor)

To find out more or RSVP: Please see our Facebook event or Meetup group.

The Zen of the Grid

By Huan Song

My life changed after reading Marie Kondo’s bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever. On a scale of Japanese zen to TV show hoarder, I aspire to lean towards the minimalist end. Just as the book changed the way that I look at our physical space and our relationship with the objects around us, the Content Grid in the Umbraco CMS has altered the way that I approach digital content and the way we communicate online as part of The Cogworks Content Team.

From a design perspective, using columns and rows to organise content is an intuitive idea as we regularly see people organising (or attempting to organise) their physical spaces like this:

Photo credit: Daniel Farmer (Ikea.com)

Photo credit: Daniel Farmer (Ikea.com)

If we reach a little bit further back in history, we can see pervasive examples of how the grid fundamentally framed how we interact with people and places. Here is the layout of my beloved hometown of Washington D.C. designed by Pierre L’Enfant in 1792.

Photo credit: L’Enfant Plan reproduction from the Library of Congress website

Photo credit: L’Enfant Plan reproduction from the Library of Congress website

Transferring our love of the grid from the physical environment to a virtual space seems like a natural progression. The Umbraco CMS has undergone several iterations of the grid concept.

When I first started working at The Cogworks, I worked with Umbraco Version 6.1.6 where we added a range of fields and tabs in the CMS in order to define different content within a page. This was a long and tedious process; not only was it difficult for new content editors to navigate, it also left a lot of room for errors during content population.

Luckily, the Content Grid data type was added to Umbraco Version 7.2 in 2014 and showcased at our annual meetings of the minds, The Umbraco UK Festival. Umbraco HQ champions Per Ploug and Rune Hem Strand gave this convincing talk on why we should use a grid layout.

As a Content Project Manager here at The Cogworks, overseeing multi-language rollouts, I can attest to the grid’s selling points. The grid enables my team to rapidly duplicate the design vision by setting up the foundational structure of how the content is organised on each page, but gives enough flexibility for us to customize the specific content to each country’s copy and imagery. At the end of the day, the grid is a visual tool that is intuitive for non-technical users.

Below, you can see examples of how we used the Content Grid to build a campaign for on of our clients - Scholl. While the actual content differs between the German and the French campaign pages, the layout and the brand narrative easily carries across markets - ensuring brand consistency.

Within the CMS, the content convention set up by creating the first grid page (what we call the Master) enables our editors to conveniently customise each subsequent campaign even as non-speakers of these languages.

The shift from desktop to mobile viewings has also spurred an emphasis on responsive pages. The grid enables non-technical users to easily add in CSS classes to help with mobile responsiveness. In this example page below, we can see that the image alternates from left to right in desktop view. A CSS class has been added to alternating grids in the CMS so that the image always appears on top of the rich text in mobile view. Using dynamic fields allows the user to better engage with page content.

Had it not been for working in the content grid at The Cogworks in conjunction with reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you would have been hard pressed to find me shopping for storage solutions after work. But here I am now - a living, breathing, disciple of the grid.

Counterintuitively, I believe that constraints can actually drive creativity. At work, there are endless opportunities to explore and push the functionalities of the grid. If the grid serves as a canon for design, then these day to day explorations pave the way to content enlightenment.