Two Sky Sports programmers catching up

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Take a peek behind the scenes at Sky in Leeds to see what drives them…

How can failure be a success? What makes people more important than products? And why is autonomy key to innovation? We caught up with the team at Sky’s Leeds hub, where they build the web and mobile apps used by millions of people worldwide, to get the answers to these questions and more. So join us as we take a deep dive into their work and the lessons it reveals.

Product development should be driven by consumers not brands

Software engineers meeting at Sky Sports

Everyone at Sky is driven by a shared vision, an ongoing mission to improve the customer experience by adding value at every stage and in every iteration. But in order to do that, they have to give their teams the freedom to react and respond to changing customer behaviour, to turn data into insight and insight into innovation. That’s the beauty of digital – you can see how people interact with products and turn their actions into improvements.

“We want to get things into people’s hands as fast as possible to get the learnings that will guide our path,” Spencer Hudson, Head of Product for Sports Experience at Sky, explained. “We have a vision for where we want to be in 18 months, even in five years, but we want to give our teams the freedom to inform that. We’ve got goals and we’ve got guardrails, but you can innovate, you can learn and understand how to drive value, and ultimately you can shape the product.”

If you want great products, you need great people

The tech team in a meeting at Sky Sports

The new Sky Sports app was launched in Italy last year. It was built from scratch, with a continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) approach from the off, which meant they had to adopt a whole different mindset. Suddenly, they needed cross-functional teams that put mixed-skill developers, QAs and UX/UI specialists together, collaborating right from the start. Now they can push changes live faster than ever before, and watching their team transform and adapt was a real point of pride.

“The delivery was a big achievement,” Amy Bamber, Senior Engineering Manager at Sky, told us. “But the best part for me was breaking down the imaginary walls within teams. Now developers and QAs are pairing – when I hear the devs explaining testing, it’s just music to my ears. We’re all working towards the same goal, which for me is the biggest success of the project.”

Even failure is positive if you learn from your mistakes

Group of employees at Sky talking

Innovation doesn’t come with a guarantee. It requires experimentation, so if you want to develop new features and find new ways of doing things, you have to take risks – and that means you’re going to fail sometimes. But at Sky, failure is treated as an opportunity to learn. Even if you can’t make improvements, even if you can’t salvage a feature and you just have to throw it out, you can still ask ‘why?’ And the answer will make you a better developer.

“It’s part of our iterative way of working,” Chris Vernon, Software Engineering Manager at Sky, told us. “If you’re going to try things, you’re going to make mistakes. And if you start pointing fingers, people are going to stop trying, so we try to make you feel safe to experiment and show you it’s okay to fail. We expect to have ups and downs, it’s how you handle them and how you learn from them that counts. That’s the really important thing.”

Automation powers accessibility, but real people transform it

Automation is key to accessibility at Sky. Repetitive jobs that once required manual intervention to spot unexpected change can now be done in minutes, which means they can build with confidence, but nothing beats the human factor, so they also test their products on a team of people with all kinds of different accessibility needs. Only by seeing the challenges these customers face can they build solutions that transform their experience.

They have a Product Inclusion & Equity Team, but actually, this is on everyone. “It’s about awareness and visibility. You need to see all types of users, you need to think about how the product does and doesn’t work for them and what we need to do to make it better,” Helen Baron, Head of Technology at Sky, explained. “Accessibility is so ingrained in our people now, it’s more than a buzzword, it’s a cultural change – now it’s just part of what we do. And we’re putting it in early, thinking about it at design stage, rather than just retrofitting it.”