Interview with Liwen Knight-Zhang, Head of Engineering at News UK Tech
The recent release of the brand-new Virgin Radio website was a very important event for the entire News UK Tech division, as it is a result of a great collaboration between several development teams. What’s more, this website is the first one built from the ground using the NewsKit – an entire ecosystem of tools and solutions which has been designed to deliver products at pace, improve performance and drive SEO.
To find out more about NewsKit and how it powered the new Virgin Radio website, we talked to Liwen Knight-Zhang, Head of Engineering at the Product Platforms team. Read on to find out what he shared.
We’re really excited about the launch of the new Virgin Radio website and curious to find out more about it. Can you tell us why this project is so important and give a high-level technical overview of it?
The new Virgin Radio is the first website that is entirely powered by the NewsKit ecosystem, a multi-themed design system to create modern, well-thought-out and accessible front-end user journeys. We, Product Platforms, have been working on it for the last two years. And now, the new website is the first glimpse of what we can do with NewsKit and an incredible learning experience for us to make the development experience even better for our clients. The website data is powered by NewsKit API, an Apollo Federation based GraphQL service. Everything is then put together by NewsKit Render - a Next.js powered rendering engine that takes care of the heavy lifting behind the scenes, e.g. production-ready infrastructure setup with Terraform, built-in security features and out of the box telemetry from EKS to New Relic.
This website is a result of an incredible collaboration between different teams in the News UK Tech division. Can you share more about the process and the input of the Product Platforms team?
It was indeed an incredible collaboration between many teams, and we are so proud of it. It wasn’t without challenges at times, but we always found a way to work together and came out stronger. It is a testimony to the collaborative culture that is the heart of News UK technology.
From design review to sitting in each other’s Tech Analysis sessions, from pairing programming to drop-in clinic sessions, suddenly we have this big team full of experts in all different areas. It wasn’t only the technical aspects, people learned a lot from each other as well. It was also the way we do Agile, how we communicate effectively across multiple disciplines, how we align our priorities and timeframes, and how we help each other when there are unforeseen difficulties in a particular team. I am glad that Product Platforms was part of it and looking forward to more cross-team collaborations in the future.
How many people were involved in this project, and what was the contribution of the people in Sofia?
It must be 30 or even more - from product, delivery, UX/D and engineering. The majority of our engineers in Product Platforms are Sofia based - they are the heroes behind the excellent products we have built. They played key roles in supporting the Virgin Radio team to make the most out of NewsKit and have really fostered the collaboration culture. At the end of the day, we are just one team with a shared vision and passion for excellent customer experience and great products, no matter where we are.
From a technical perspective, what was the most challenging part?
I don’t think there was an area that was insurmountably challenging. We had great teams collaborating with each other, and we always had а helping pair of hands and expertise when we needed them. For example, in the beginning, the Virgin Radio front-end team were not well-versed in infrastructure setup, especially with EKS, Terraform and Helm. Our NewsKit Render team helped set up everything with them together, including PR environments and release pipelines. In turn, it helped us to improve our documentation and made the process smoother.
What’s coming up next? Are you planning to launch another website using the NewsKit ecosystem?
Definitely! As mentioned, it was only a taste of what is to come. The Virgin Radio team is currently looking to further improve the site in various areas, including web performance and user experiences. At the same time, we are making NewsKit more feature rich to support further requirements. Very soon we’ll be creating another website based on what we have built and learnt from the Virgin Radio project. I am really excited about it, but I am not going to spoil the surprise here. Stay tuned!
Make sure to also browse the vacancies in the News UK Tech team in Sofia and be part of the next great project.