Reflections on 17 Years at Rightmove

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If they say a week is a long time in politics, 17 years in tech must be an eternity (or an epoch if you are in *nix land). After 17 years at Rightmove working with all the great teams here, I’m preparing to hang up my gloves/spurs/mouse. I’ve had a few moments to drift into a bit of reflection on how things have changed over that time.

Mid 2000s Web Site

17 years ago most of our traffic was still via modem (you are over a certain age if you are now remembering the connection tones). Possibly the biggest debate at the time was about page weight. We simply couldn’t afford to have fancy hi-res images on the site and certainly not for navigation elements.

I can remember more than one stand off between the engineers and the marketing team over the complexity of images.  The desire to put Flash animations on site nearly led to a strike by the engineers – I was so proud! We still care about page render time now, but there’s a little more margin to have rounded corners on boxes!

Adding a Mobile App

Beyond modems the three biggest tech impacts in my time have been mobile, cyber and the cloud. In 2006 we did have a mobile site, based on the short lived and unloved (in the UK) i-mode technology. The world changed with the introduction of the iPhone in 2009. That change has had a profound impact on the way sites look and function and it’s been a joy to watch.

In many ways Rightmove was fortunate, we had always believed in simplicity and focus so we didn’t have a cluttered desktop interface to begin with. This made it much easier to embrace the emerging small screen revolution which, I think, propelled Rightmove forward.

As with every other site mobile traffic makes up the majority of our usage now, consumption habits have changed, but simplicity and focus still win. The switch to mobile has put ever more focus on design and UX. I can remember recruiting the first full time Rightmove designer in 2006, it felt like a bold move for a small team at the time. The increase in sophistication in design and UX and design tooling has been incredible since that first designer. 

Facing into the Cyber Security Threat

If mobile is a positive tech change then cyber is sadly the opposite. Back in 2006 we never spoke about cyber security. We were (and are) a non transactional website with no financial functionality, who could be interested in “hacking” us? Security was rudimentary, but effective.

That hasn’t been our approach for many years. Across the internet cyber attacks have increased exponentially and security tech and organisations have had to increase in complexity to cope. Some of the solutions now in place are orders of magnitude more complex than our entire functionality in 2006.

Moving to the Cloud

Cloud is clearly a big change over the last 17 years. In many ways I have been amused as patterns from history have been repeating themselves. Some of those who rushed to reap the benefits of closing their “on-prem” solutions (often accountants) have not fully appreciated the longer term impacts on cyber, performance and budget.

As has been our way, I think we’ve trodden a slight calmer, yet no less innovative course to embrace the cloud and reap the benefits and avoid the bear traps. Perhaps we are lucky, that as a generally “low ego” and engineering based organisation we don’t feel a need to be first to everything, we want to do things right.

Becoming Agile

Beyond the tech, what strikes me most is how much the “how we do things” has changed. In 2006 we were a waterfall organisation, we weren’t alone.

I can remember meeting lots of others in other companies who proudly proclaimed they’d “gone agile”, which in many cases meant having a stand up to review progress on the waterfall plan and placing tasks on index cards!

Very quickly we moved to agile, it was lumpy to start with, I can remember having a blazing row about whether a monitor was a monitor or an “information radiator” (I think it’s a monitor or a tv if you prefer). I think we’ve got the hang of it now…

What’s even more noticeable is that we need all our various disciplines to work much more closely than ever before if we are going to deliver great design and UX with strong security and efficiently deployable to the cloud. The days of an engineer cutting code on their own for days on end are over. I think that’s exciting and those companies which promote great team relationships will always be the winners.

Our Response to the Covid Lockdown

Perhaps the best demonstration of our progress as an “agile organisation” was the onset of the Covid pandemic and lockdowns. We went from being a 100% in office team to a 100% remote team overnight.

I was astounded that we didn’t skip a beat over the transition. It was humbling to see teams find a new way of working and look out for each other in such strange, stressful and tragic circumstances.

What was really fantastic was how the roadmap was ripped up to focus on those things which were going to help our customers get through the lockdown. For example, I’m super proud that in six weeks, from a standing start, the team managed to design and build a video home viewing platform. Design and engineering had to work closely, but as we were using a new external partner, there was rapid participation from legal and security. To roll out at pace needed close work with customer experience and account managers. It was a real team effort – all done over video.

It’s All About Our People

A lot’s changed in the tech world in 17 years and there’s a lot more change coming and potentially coming faster, but in the end my view is that it’s the people that matter. Creating a great product starts with creating a great team and the fundamentals of that haven’t changed at all.

Peter Brooks-Johnson author photo

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Peter has substantial experience and understanding of the online media and property markets, developing Rightmove’s business plan and strategy over many years, with strong leadership and stakeholder management skills.

View all posts by Peter Brooks-Johnson
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