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Greenfield Development with a Global Team

At Scoville, Ellen works with a global team to develop a new management product for Japan’s visiting nursing industry. She talks about what drew her to Scoville, and the highlights and challenges of her work.

Photo of Ellen Skipper
Ellen Skipper

Ellen wasn’t originally planning on working abroad, but a post-graduation exchange trip to Japan had her captivated and inspired her to plan the move. She said, “I went on an exchange program and studied in Japan for six months and found it a really amazing place to live. I also met my current partner, who’s Japanese, while I was studying there. I was looking to move back to Japan to continue living in a really interesting place and have that cultural exchange and also be able to live with my partner.”

It was Scoville’s culture that really impressed Ellen. She’d spent a couple of years working as a software developer before looking for jobs in Japan, and said, “the biggest thing I’d valued at my company in the UK was the friendly, open culture and the feeling of trust. I interviewed with a lot of companies in Japan. Scoville really stood out as promoting those as their values, and making it clear cultural-fit was one of the biggest hiring criteria for them.”

Working somewhere which has an open, flexible culture and really prioritises the well-being of its employees was really important to me.

Ellen joined Scoville as a senior full stack web developer, and currently works with a small, global team that is building a new management product for Japan’s visiting nursing industry. “We have a designer/UX researcher who is also the team lead, a product manager and one other developer. When I joined the CTO was doing a fair bit of dev time on the project, but now he’s more of a consultant role for our team. There are more people associated with the product, like the business team, but we don’t speak with them every day and even then in a week it would still only be six or seven people.”

While the product manager and designer gather feedback and conduct user research, it’s the two developers who are responsible for the technical side of the solution. Ellen said, “We get the product requirements and it’s for me and the other developer on my team to completely decide the technical approach. There’s the opportunity to solve a lot of technical challenges in an innovative way. I’ve always enjoyed having an overview of the business needs and user needs, rather than a culture where the developer just picks up a ticket that has all the details and does what’s on the ticket without knowing the why.”

Working on a greenfield project, we’re able to take a feature from initial conception all the way through delivery, and because we’re working in a small team even as a developer you have a lot of input on how that feature is shaped.

Ellen started unfamiliar with the techstack the project used (Ruby on Rails, with Stimulus and Turbo on the front end). She said, “It was a challenge for me to feel like I was contributing on a high level to the project without knowledge of the tech stack. In the past I’d been mentoring junior developers in a stack I was very familiar with, and I was used to knowing how I wanted to do things. Luckily for me, the other developer on my team is really great, and we quickly established this two-way dynamic where we’re both helping each other out with our areas of less expertise.”

Scoville’s friendly knowledge sharing culture also helped, as Ellen elaborated, “if there’s more expertise required than you’ve got within your team, then you look for it elsewhere and everyone in the company is really happy to lend time or consult.”

With the team spread across the globe and across time zones, it can present some scheduling challenges. Ellen explained, “One team member has been in Brazil this whole time, one recently moved back to France, and now I’m in the UK for a couple of weeks. We have a 12-hour gap between Brazil and Japan with France in the middle. It’s very flexible but that means that sometimes we don’t have all members at our meetings. We just try to be mindful, and be organised in our communication. So like, if something is directly relevant to one ticket, we make sure it’s referenced on that ticket instead of letting the conversation be buried on Slack. You have to be managing your workflow so that you’ve got other things to do while you’re waiting on responses.”

While Scoville supports fully remote work, their office in Tokyo is regularly filled with people. Ellen said, “I quite like going to the office and I don’t really like being in my house all the time, so I go in maybe three times a week. The business team, who are in charge of sales, marketing, and client relations, are usually in everyday. And we share an office with our Japanese sister company, RECCOO, so they’re always there as well.”

Both English and Japanese are used regularly at Scoville. It’s typically dependent on the people in the conversation, with Ellen’s team mainly speaking in English (due to team members being more proficient in it). She said, “Everyone on my team speaks great English, but our domain is all in Japanese by definition. We have the business team, and most of them have some level of English, but not all of them feel comfortable conversing or explaining business domain knowledge in English. So we always have Japanese looped into whole team communications, or the product manager doing translation of domain context from Japanese to English.”

The other thing worth mentioning is that everybody is offered either Japanese or English lessons depending on their language. So I’m taking Japanese lessons once a week.

Scoville also supports its developers with half a day of self-directed study time every week or sprint. While Ellen generally focuses on technologies related to her work, she said it’s used “for self study or development of whatever you want, that could be studying a technical solution to an issue you’re facing on your project, or studying a technology you don’t actually use on your project at all. I know there was someone who was interested in Elixir and decided to use their study time to write a hobby project in it.”

It’s not just upskilling that Scoville is invested in, employees are also able to apply for funding for their hobbies via company clubs. Ellen said, “We have a lot of self-organised events. That can be something casual, or you can make an official company club and get funding from the company to do your activity. It makes it clear that anyone is welcome to join. We’ve got a fishing club, lots of sports clubs like table tennis, baseball, we started bouldering, we have a werewolf club - you know, the party game - so yeah, you can really do almost any kind of activity.”

In summarising what makes Scoville unique and why developers should consider joining, Ellen highlighted the positive culture, technical challenges and the learning opportunities. She emphasised, “If the important thing to you is culture and trust, and a friendly atmosphere that doesn’t stand on formalities, but you’re not looking to compromise on the technical side, I think it’s a great chance to have both of those things. There’s loads of great knowledge and experiences within the company, and you’ll get the most out of it if you’re willing to seek people out and ask for their input or advice.”

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