Advice From The Onion’s Tech Team

Hey editors, listen to your developers!

     The Onion’s tech team doesn’t like Willy Wonka’s model.

     Too many publications approach their developers as though they were little more than Oompa Loompas, interchangeable drones that do their master’s bidding without providing any input of their own. And that makes for bad candy, says Jeff Weston, The Onion’s lead developer.

     “It looks like Willy Wonka is producing magic,” Weston tells Adweek. “But really there’s a huge team of laborers working behind the scenes. They’d have constructive input but aren’t being asked.”

     It’s a matter of trust, Weston complains. Editorial teams don’t have enough faith in their Oompa Loompas—sorry, tech developers—to make the important decisions. As a result, you get writers and editors calling the shots on such tech matters as which content management system is best, how much content to cache, server strategies, and app development.

     The Onion’s lean, three-person tech team, by contrast, was able to create the publication’s iPad app in just two months, and cheaply, thanks in part to trust from the edit side, says Weston. The app is more than a glorified RSS feed: The team built it with HTML 5, made it scalable across platforms, and used “as little Apple as possible,” because Apple’s development and approval cycle is too cumbersome and arduous, says Weston. When it comes to tech, The Onion team prefers to do more with less, and they’d like to do it themselves, thank you very much.

     In Monday’s panel at the Internet Week headquarters, Weston—alongside front-end developer Michael Wnuk, engineering head John Henry, and CTO Michael Greer—will share tips on gaining editorial trust with a small and powerful tech team, and how to build software in-house.

     And they’ll leave the jokes to the writers.


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