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The developer and the devil's advocate

Have you ever wondered who actually makes itslearning? Meet Larisa Romanova and Mikael Karlsson – two of the 40 employees comprising itslearning’s engineering department – and get a glimpse of how they work.

A native of Russia, Larisa holds a Master’s Degree in Economics and Mathematics from Perm State University, in Russia, and works as a test engineer. Mikael earned his Master’s Degree in software engineering from the Swinburne University of Technology, in Melbourne, Australia. Born to Swedish parents, he has lived in Bergen, Norway for most of his life.

Make and break

itslearning’s engineering department
has 24 developers and 12 testers from eight different countries. Larisa and Mikael work at the itslearning headquarters in Bergen, Norway, but the team members are spread across itslearning’s offices in the UK, the Netherlands and Russia. The developers are organised into five teams of five developers and two testers – each responsible for a specific part of itslearning. They have daily meetings and use Skype as a means of communication.
While Mikael is responsible for writing the code that eventually becomes itslearning, Larisa plays the devil’s advocate and does her best to break and find errors in everything Mikael produces.

“A good day is a day when I don’t see Larisa, because that means I haven’t done anything wrong,” Mikael says with a smile.

The developers are the assembly line of itslearning. Think of them as carpenters who receive drawings from an architect to build a house. They receive specifications from a group of designers who create new functionality and features based on ideas from users, national guidelines and education trends. After receiving the design, the developers start making the features that are then tested by the testers. When finished, the new functionality is handed over to the operations engineers who ensure the features are updated for the users, as well ensuring itslearning runs smoothly 24 hours a day.

Constant focus on quality

Features are never released to the users without first undergoing rigorous testing. Assuming the role of teachers and students, Larisa tries her best to find errors in itslearning. Every possible scenario is tested and nothing is considered finished before being accepted.

“Although I do my best during testing and I know it’s impossible to find all errors, I feel slightly guilty if a bug escapes out to the users,” Larisa says.

Mikael is quick to admit that both engineers and testers are responsible for the quality of the finished product. However, even if the test results are good, poor coding can cause future problems.

Feels the responsibility

As well as developing and searching for technical errors, both testers and developers approach the designers with ideas for improving the functional areas of itslearning – such as menus or buttons that work well, but could work better if designed differently.

itslearning currently has about two million active users, and last month close to 10 per cent of the Norwegian population logged on to itslearning. But do the developers keep the huge amount of users in mind when developing?

“To a certain degree we do, but such an immense number is difficult to grasp,” Mikael says. “You can get nervous by thinking that one mistake will affect all those people, but at the same time it keeps you on the lookout.”

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