Scotland CSS

Edinburgh, June 1st 2016

Interview with Christoph Reinartz

Christoph Reinartz

Large Scale CSS Refactoring

Hello Christoph! Great to have you here. Let’s start with a short introduction. How would you describe yourself?

Christoph:   Okay. I am Christoph, 36 years old. I am coming from Mönchengladbach, which is a small, or maybe not that small, city next to Düsseldorf. I was born next to Mönchengladbach, I have studied IT in Duisburg, and after that I worked in several small agencies, got familiar with web development and got a lot of passion about frontend development stuff. In my free time I like to be with my friends outside as much as possible. I like to have fun with them, and it’s very important for me. By the end of a very stressful day I meet friends, and we have fun and relax. Friends and, of course, the family, mean a lot to me.

What are you going to talk about at ScotlandCSS?

Christoph:   I am in trivago for more than three and a half years. When I started here, I was first person responsible for frontend and UI development. And I always had a dream of creating a pattern library for trivago to make our frontend system more consistent, more modular.

In the beginning of last year, the frontend UI team, which I am leading, has grown a lot and we got the possibility of thinking how we can move forward to the next state of web development. We tried to create a frontend design system, something like Google Material Design but for us, for trivago. But when we completed this frontend system, we realised that the trivago hotel search application still had old codebase and a lot of old guidelines and old components. So we needed to decide what we are going to do. We had a new frontend system but also this historically grown project, and a lot of issues and vendor bugs. We got a bit scary but decided that we need somehow to do the refactoring and bring the new guidelines and new design system in. There was never a possibility to rebuild the whole application, because it costs a lot of money for us. So, at this point we had to decide how we go forward.

Our solution was that we build a project team and do the refactoring in four weeks. When I first proposed it, everybody was just laughing at me and saying “no, this is never possible, this takes 3 months” or “it takes six months”. But we, the team of frontend developers and designers, we sat down to discuss how we can estimate it and how we can communicate back to the management. Of course we had a very good technical foundation, good technical plan. But the most important thing about this project was that the whole team to decided “yeah, we want to do this”.

As a result, we finished this project is three weeks, and it was a huge success. I wrote a blog article about this project. I had never realised how fancy and cool this project is, but after I wrote a small blog article, it was suddenly retweeted by Christian Heilmann, the next days also by Smashing Magazine, Zurb Foundation and a few others. Then a colleague came to me saying “Christoph, you know, what we are doing, it’s very interesting, people like it, they retweeted and comment it. The good thing people say in their feedback was that is something related to a real life project. There are sometimes these talks about how you should do things but it is never so much related to a real life project, and this is what made our experience so interesting for many people.

Then I did a first small talk in a user group directly after the project. I’ve just explained how this was worked out and there was a lot of good feedback because people really liked this real life relation.

I also had to explain this to the management. This was basically the most challenging part of this refactoring project. Because when I brought it to the management and said “Yeah, we need 4 weeks to revise the codebase”, they reacted like “Oh, no!”. But it’s all about how to make the stuff visible for the people. If non-technical people understand why it’s important to revise the CSS foundation, for example. So, I’ve learned a lot about how to visualise and to do marketing for those topics. How to sell it to non-technical people, to show them the benefits of the refactoring project. It was in general a very interesting lesson for me.

Do you think that some of the audience will be able to repeat your success in their companies after they will have listened to your talk?

Christoph:   I hope, I hope so. I proposed this talk because I would like to encourage people to do the same. For example, how to convince management, especially in the large companies like trivago. It’s always important to really convincing management, to get those things running.

Also how to motivate your team mates, get everybody convinced about the project. And also about to do the process. People nowadays work with Scrum, but this does not work to use Scrum for such a refactoring project. Something else like Kanban or Lean suits here. Also how to fit it into a team structure and existing environment, also how to handle a historically grown project. Because a lot of people have experienced, that they have huge application and they don’t know how to begin. I can share how to find the starting point.

The thing that I also realised is that those things are possible in an iterative way. Sometimes people think “Oh no, I need to rewrite everything”. No. If you have a good process, you can also do it stepwise. What we did, we refactored only the base and then we continued rebuilding of the stuff. But I think it’s very difficult to find the wise entry point for that.

Sound great. I believe you will meet your audience at ScotlandCSS. Yeah, I personally believe it’s very relevant for the conference. BTW, how did you learn about the conference?

Christoph:   The conference was searching for a speaker in Twitter, I applied and wrote my story. I wanted to share because it’s a very individual thing but also a thing which can be applied to other people, because it has this real life relation. And when I was getting the feedback after showing people what code we had before and what we have now, people told that I should really speak about it at a bigger conference.

Will this be your first time at ScotlandCSS and ScotlandJS conferences?

Christoph:   This is my first time, yes. First time being to Scotland, and I looked at the venue, and oh my god, it’s so beautiful. I’m really looking forward, I’ve already booked my flight and the hotel. I am so happy! Edinburgh looks like a beautiful city. A colleague of mine, as we are an international company, we have a lot of international people, who is sitting next to me, he is coming from Ireland and he told me “This is just an amazing city, and it’s so beautiful”.

Do you know anything about the conference or it’s a big surprise for you?

Christoph:   I’ve checked the website. And I think it’s a first time when the CSS conference takes place. But I’ve seen some videos of the JS conference, I looked at them on Youtube. I’ll stay for the JavaScript part as well but I really like having the CSS part. I know a lot of conferences which are really JS-focused and I really like that on Wednesday we will have the CSS part, because I think it’s about the whole frontend. So, I think it’s really cool thing.

Then, as an attender, and a listener, what are your hopes to learn at the conference. What are you looking forward to listening about?

Christoph:   I often visit different conferences. In the company we have conference budget, so we are allowed to go to a few conferences in a year. Normally what I really like to take away is inspiration. I like when people are talking about new ideas. It might be technical, it might be team building related, it might be architecture related. So, I’m always hoping to the impact. I usually get everything what I could receive and now I think that it’s time when I can give something back.

What’s your favourite conference.

Christoph:   Oh, it’s difficult. I would say it’s beyond tellerrand. I really like this conference. It takes part 2 times in Germany. One in Dusseldorf and one in Berlin. They normally have nice speakers. They also had Harry Roberts, and Jake Archibald, really famous speaker.

Cool. We can link it It’s a nice idea that at one conference people learn about another.

Christoph:   I think it was the first conference I’ve ever visited. It was cool that I listened for these famous speakers. I like that it’s not expensive and unlike the marketing & sales conferences it’s about the real things. I saw ScotlandJS video from the last year and it was really authentic and all the people talking to each other and learning. The whole atmosphere seems to be very warm. So when I receives the confirmation about my talk, I was so happy. And it’s important for me what are the nice people running the conference.

Thank you very much for this lovely chat. See you in person soon at ScotlandCSS!

Varya Stepanova

Interview by Varya Stepanova