The Importance of a Dedicated Production Support Team in Maintaining Your Sitecore Solution
Chris Sulham, Technical Director at Velir, sat down with Erica Stockwell-Alpert, a developer on the Production Support team at Velir, and Sitecore MVP, to discuss what makes production support different from development. Erica also shared the advantages of having a production support team with a long-term view of clients’ web solutions.
In this episode, you will learn:
- What a P1 issue is, and what we do to address it quickly and efficiently. (0:57)
- What makes the production support phase different from the development phase. (2:26)
- Why it is valuable to have an experienced Sitecore developer maintaining your solution. (4:08)
"You should always assume that bugs are going to pop up at some point. It’s really important to have a dedicated team that’s familiar with the codebase and has the expertise to know how to fix it."
Video Transcript (Edited for Clarity)
Chris Sulham: Hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of Public Interface at Velir. I’m joined today by Erica Stockwell-Alpert, a Production Support Engineer at Velir, and we’re going to talk about what makes production support different from development. Erica is a newly minted Sitecore MVP and the author of the Sitecore Content Export Tool. Before we dive in, I’d like to invite you to like and subscribe to this video if you want to hear more content like this about what we do at Velir.
[Public Interface Intro]
Chris: Hi Erica, thanks for joining us.
Erica Stockwell-Alpert: Thanks, Chris.
Chris: So when we have company events and the Production Support team is all joining us—everyone is having a good time, chatting, laughing it up, maybe having a beer or two—then suddenly somebody whips out their phone and they get a really serious look at something called a P1—what is a P1?
Erica: A P1 is a drop whatever you’re doing issue. Typically, it’s when a site is completely down, or a crucial page or feature of the site is down or unavailable. And this is something that has a major and immediate business impact for the client, so we have to address it immediately, which is part of our responsibility as a maintenance and support partner.
Chris: Sounds pretty serious. Not every issue that comes in can be a P1, though…
Erica: No, not every issue is a P1. There are plenty of bugs that need to be fixed but aren’t so urgent that they can’t wait until the next scheduled deployment. There are also new features, which don’t have an immediate urgency as well.
Chris: Why should a Sitecore customer enter a Production Support engagement?
Erica: Just because the website has launched, does not mean the work is done. First of all, you should always assume that bugs are going to pop up at some point. It’s really important to have dedicated teams familiar with the codebase that has the expertise to fix it. Also, there’s always room for improvement in any website like new technologies that are made available after the site launch. In Production Support, we have the ability to do ongoing development work and add new features to just constantly make the website better.
Chris: So there’s a lot that goes into the care and maintenance of a Sitecore site after you do that initial buildout. What makes the Production Support phase different from the Development phase?
Erica: In Development, the developers are building a brand-new website from scratch. So they’re starting with a clean codebase, they’re able to implement best practices, and build everything from the ground up. And they have full control over the code that’s being written. In Support, we’re inheriting a complete, fully developed website that was made by somebody else. Some of these websites are many years old, so a lot of the code is legacy or near obsolete, and we have to figure out how to build on top of that code, creating new features or fixing bugs, while still maintaining the old code and not breaking anything.
Chris: Every developer thinks that they could have done it better, right?
Chris: But you do bring up an interesting challenge—that sometimes, the solution you’re inheriting did not come from people you know, so you’re going into it completely blind, and you’re tasked with being productive almost immediately. That sounds like a huge challenge, how do you approach it?
Erica: My work is a lot of detective work. If I’m trying to find where something lives in the codebase, I’ll look on the website for unique class names or IDs in the HTML. Then I’ll search for those in the codebase to find what’s generating that page. And I can also tap the debugger to walk through the code step by step and see what’s happening at each line of code. I’ll also add in logging or change the output at various steps to see what’s happening.
Chris: Sounds like this is intense work and this is where your experience really comes into play. How valuable is it to have an experienced Sitecore developer maintaining your solution?
Erica: Sitecore is a very complex system and knowing the ins and outs of Sitecore is crucial to being able to address bugs or add features in a timely and efficient manner. In addition to that, in the Support department, each of our developers develops an intimate knowledge of the codebase that they’re working in, as well as a personal relationship with clients.
Chris: It sounds like when you build up that relationship with the client, you’re sort of anticipating their needs at times and you’re able to address them maybe before they even have to open a ticket.
Erica: Absolutely, we really get to know our clients on a personal level, as well as their preferences for website practices and strategies. And they really trust us because of the history of the work that we have with them.
Chris: So what got you into web development in the first place?
Erica: In college, I took a course in Computer Science, and I just fell in love with programming because I felt like it was all just basically solving logic puzzles, and I really enjoy puzzles…
Chris: Sounds like you’re having a lot of fun. Well, thanks for joining us today, Erica, and we can follow you where?
Erica: At ericastockwellalpert.wordpress.com.
Chris: And you have a Twitter handle? I hear people use Twitter sometimes.
Erica: You can follow me on Twitter as @boneladyarts.
Chris: That wraps up another episode of Public Interface. Thanks for joining us! And remember to follow us here on YouTube, or on Twitter (@Velir). And you can check us out at our website velir.com. Thanks for watching and see you next time!
[Outro Music and Closing Credits]
Special Guest: Erica Stockwell-Alpert
Hosted By: Chris Sulham
Produced By: Velir
Directed By: Mark Stiles
Connected Digital Experiences