Nahuel Sanchez

A place to write down what I discover and learn everyday at my workplace. Front-end may be the main topic, but who knows, probably I'll be publishing something else.

You're looking at all the posts published by Nahuel Sanchez.
← Go back to the front page

How a VTEX developer looks like from a technical point of view

If you happen to be on a similar position as I am where one of my task is to conduct interviews and vote on someone getting hire or not, you also have to be able to establish if that person can work with a specific platform.

It is not the same working on a VTEX store, an ORO implementation, or in a Magento project. For each platform you have to have a specific set of skills, and again, depending on the platform, more experience on some specific skills are necessary and the seniority on a specific ability vary when you change the CMS you are messing with.

VTEX requires a front end developer with a signed certification from his mother saying that he's great with those "Find the n differences" puzzles you get on the Sunday's newspaper, because the primary task he'll face is to transform a given design into "code", as pixel perfect as it can be.

So, how it looks like now?

Translated to actual skills, for a start it means we're looking for someone very good at xHTML, CSS (and/or any CSS preprocessor like SASS or LESS), that can also handle simple JavaScript logic or jQuery for basic UX interactions.

Bear with me if you not agree on that "simple JavaScript logic" statement, because there's a reason why I said "for a start". With this specific developer you are kicking off the team you need for a VTEX implementation but you are not finish yet.

Based on my experience, someone with the ability to handle the layout will cover a high percentage of what the project needs. Seriously, even on highly custom VTEX projects always the largest amount of workload falls on the person who handles the implementation of the designs and that's why is very important to have someone who nails this task.

The next step is to choose between two options: we either look harder for a person with the mentioned skills that can also handle the logical part of a development, or we get another team member for this job only.

If we go for the first option, now finding the developer became a little bit more complicating.

I think that considering a lot of front end developers, on one end we have the "developer who handles the layout and leaves the logic to back end" and in the other side the "kind of full stack developer hungry for programming but with no love for the look and feel".

Our first option requires us to find someone in between, and that's hard (talking, again, from my work experience). Personally I'll go for this option, because, personally, I feel more comfortable with those "in between" developers. But that's just me.

The second option is more suitable when looking at this from a company level where you have multiple VTEX implementations.

Imagine an scenario where you have three VTEX projects ongoing, each with a person assigned full time implementing the layout only, and a fourth developer jumping from VTEX 1, to VTEX 2 and VTEX 3 working on the customizations only, while leaving the "make this as the designs indicate" to the full time assigned coworker.

The person in this second option needs to know JavaScript for real, because all VTEX front end custom stuff always falls on the need of use of JavaScript.

The developer, sort of acting as a back end developer in this platform (in a manner of speaking) will be dealing with the logical part of the implementation like struggling with the APIs and integrating with VTEX's Master Data.

But how it will look like in the future?

The platform is evolving constantly and it is on its peak on what updating the technology stack refers. This means that what I just said above still applies, but we need to consider what is coming.

In the not so distant future the idea of VTEX IO as the VTEX's web application development platform is that custom (and useful) customization that takes places on a specific VTEX store become an App, in a sort of plug and play plugin for that specific store and others.

For example, let's say you have to development something to get the users' email using a form in order to subscribe them to the newsletter configured using MailChimp. Do it once, make it an App, and reuse it on the future or sell it to other existing stores seeking for the same functionality.

In this new world, besides the fact that you need a little bit of npm and the use of a Terminal to set up your workspace, you'll definitely need to know React and GraphQL in order to build the application.

So don't get sleepy.

Understanding the product's name front end logic in VTEX

Is VTEX showing the name from the Product in the Admin? Or is it showing the name we entered in the SKU? Or is it showing both?... or why sometimes it seems like VTEX is using the Product name and in other occasions it is using the SKU name?

In other words, what's the name I'm going to see in the front end of my VTEX store when creating a new product?

I'm writing this down because I found there's always a confusion about what is VTEX showing as a name for a product when looking at it in the front end (like in a category or product's page) considering there's a tricky logic there that involves the Product entity and the SKU.

Product entity name and SKU name?

To avoid any misunderstanding, let's discuss first what I mean by "Product entity name" and what I'm talking about when referring to the "SKU name".

When I say "product's name" we all think about a product as a whole, the item itself and the name that item has. But a product in VTEX is divided into two thing: The Product (or the Product entity) and the SKUs included on that Product.

I know I might sound philosophical and delusional but just take a look at this screenshot so I explain myself better.

understanding-the-products-name-front-end-logic-in-vtex-01-1

Is our site showing the name from the first column or from the second one?

Which one is going to appear on the front end of the VTEX store?

It just depends on this simple logic you need to consider.

If the Product entity name is exactly the same as the SKU name, then VTEX will show only one. Take a look at the screenshot above where the names in both columns are identical, meaning the front end will only show "iPhone X 64GB Silver".

On the other hand, if the name in the Product is different from the name in the SKU, then VTEX will show the two names separated by a dash (-).

For example, if for the Product we have "iPhone X 64GB" and for the SKU we have just "Silver", then the result on the front end it is going to be "iPhone X 64GB - Silver". That simple.

understanding-the-products-name-front-end-logic-in-vtex-02

Knowing that, if you're facing the "problem" in VTEX with the front end showing the names "duplicated" or if you didn't understand from where that final name is coming... now you know.

Keeping both the Product and SKU with the exacly same text (not even a difference in the capital letters) will show only one name, no dash.

Developer's work success being too much about personality rather than hard skills

When giving a performance's reviews, one idea I used to pitch to somebody with the potential to be an even better developer in the future is that we all have the same tools in the company to improve ourselves.

Everybody has access to the same documentation, to the same in-house training programs, to the same software, to everybody's code, to basically the same people to ask questions and to learn from... and what's set the difference between someone progressing in his or her line of work and someone stuck is the personality each developer has.

This is something that bothers me in the sense that it makes me feel I'm losing control of any recruiting process I might been part of, or any "technical coaching" I'm giving.

Because while it might sounds as a "motivational speech" during the performance's review, let's do not lose sight of the timeline here. If we get to that point saying is more about personality than hard skills, then it was also more about personality a few months ago during the interview process.

What if interviews are all about luck and not about us evaluating correctly the hard skills of a candidate?

Sometimes it feels like it doesn't matter if I really really prepare for an interview, or if I improve my tricks to get to really really know the candidate's hard skills, because it feels like it all goes down to about how lucky we are as a company when we take our chances with a candidate by saying "Yes, come work with us". Does it happens to you?

I remember joking about this issue by proposing something like open the company's door, let 20 candidates join us, and we'll see how they perform during a month... and by the end lets "fire all the personalities" that didn't succeed.

Let's not waste more time with interviews and technical exercises! Everybody is welcome for a month, and we'll decide later who can stay.

Yep, that would be a fun disaster to watch. But again, this is sometimes what I'm experiencing with the whole recruiting process, and also I stand corrected by saying it's not really a feeling but an actual fact because we truly accepted people with serious doubts about their hard skills that in a short time became great developers, and we also let in promising ninja developers that resulted in a total fiasco.

So, what's the next step?

I don't know.

I'm struggling with this problem and this is more of a sharing my concerns post than a post with an outstanding solution at the end. But let's do some brainstorming in order to get some action items to work on later.

Probably the first idea is that we suck at interviewing because we don't have the skills or the tools to really get to know the candidate's hard skills pass the personality and what that person is selling during the interview.

We should improve the exercises we're giving, enhance the questions we're asking, and have a clear understanding of which hard skills we are looking for and to what degree of knowledge we're aiming for those identified skills.

Before that face to face technical interview, it seems like it's necessary to improve the first informal interview to rule out the personalities we do not want. Because, don't get me wrong, we do want people objective-oriented and willing to learn everything... but that's not the only things we want to depend from.

So, it seems like this last thing is more mandatory not to solve our main problem here but to avoid a different one.

When the process fails again (meaning when we bet for a candidate and things goes wrong again) we should be doing an analysis of what happened and we should be having metrics about failing and succeeding process in order to identify what's working and what's not.

The goal here is not to all say "Oh, we fail again, let's try again one more time" but more about getting the reasons behind the process that didn't go as expected, and getting hints about how to make it better.

I still do not know for sure how to solve this, but I get myself some ideas to sleep on it and I hope you too.

About how hard it is to find a front end developer capable of work with Magento

Is it hard to find someone willing (and able?) to work with Magento. And I'm not talking about finding an already "senior" Magento front end developer with n years of experience with that eCommerce platform and/or working in that specific field.

No. What I mean is that it is difficult to find someone who is already a front end developer but never worked with Magento. Will he be able to? Will he understand and like the platform? Is he willing to despite what he says during the interview?

I already write a post about how to interview a front end developer, and I'm not sure if I strengthened enough the idea of it being a kind of a bet. In this scenario we're betting twice as we not only need to discover if the person being interviewed possesses the skills to be a good developer but also if he or she can perform with a specific platform.

That fuzzy line between back end and front end within Magento

I encountered a lot of different "profiles" while interviewing. While the spectrum is really broad let me summarize this into two groups (nevertheless, not sure about the names I'm giving to them, but bear with me):

  • Web designers, or people focused only on the HTML and CSS (maybe jQuery?) part of the coding process. People whose main task is to convert a given PSD file into "a web".
  • Developers using the "hard tools" for coding complex logical solutions with, and not limited to, JavaScript and all its modern flavours.

The first group is excellent in that PSD to xHTML conversion process but they sort of depend on somebody to add the functionality to their creations, and the later group fails when the QA team compares what they delivered with the original design files.

So, someone in between, right? Right. But why?, because of that fuzzy line between back end and front end within Magento. :)

It depends on how the company you work for is structurated, and how the roles for back end and front end are implemented there, but under my experience I can tell that none of these groups that represents the two extremes of the wide range of developers I interview can work with Magento, or at least they can't on their own as they will always lack what the other groups knows... and we need both on the front end side of a Magento project for it to go live.

Again, under my experience, while working with people that falls into this two categories I either faced the problem of things looking good but not working as expected, or things that do what they're are supposed to do but with so many differences when I open the designs (and if you are thinking "it's only colors", think responsive web design).

How we find that "in between"?

Spoiler alert: I don't know for sure, but I can tell you what I'm doing right now and hopefully it will help you achieve the same as I'm looking for if you're conduction interviews.

I recently had a meeting with somebody from the recruiting team at the company I work for in order to polish the "mechanism" to identify people too attached to the mentioned groups in order to dismiss them at the beginning of the process, and there are a lot of hints in the candidate's CV that you can use.

Exhibit A is this imaginary resume that includes skills such as HTML, CSS, SASS and jQuery, which is excellent because we need those skills. Following we find a lot of background experience building corporate websites only, but never using a CMS as there is no mention for WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, or similar.

Finally, the work experience is a mix of marketing and design, mostly a transition from the later to a developer. The court rules guilty for being too much of a member of the web designers group.

A second example is this also imaginary resume that includes all the fancy words I already used to, such as Angular, AngularJS, React, VUE, Node... you name it... and a background experience that mostly includes working on the back end side of some sites.

I don't have to tell you to which group this imaginary candidate belongs to.

So, again, someone in between. Find that resume that have a mix of the trending topic's keywords for the first and second group, and you got yourself a feasible Magento front end developer. Or work the other way around: burn the resumes that falls into the extremes and what lays in the middle is the people you should interview next.

No group is better than the other

Don't get me wrong... or let me clarify.

I do not think one group is better than the other one, and if you belong to the first one there's no obligation to learn what the other group knows, neither the other way around.

Let me put another short perspective into this: if the company you work for (or the company you applied for, or your company if you happens to have one) really separates this two groups into really two separates job positions, and if you only have to worry about the PSD to xHTML thing because somebody else is handling the functionality... good for you, and go for it, as again this depends on the scenario you're standing.

That's why I mentioned something about the way a company is structured before, because in some places you might not need to worry about the "in between" as it doesn't apply.

Happy hunting.

Check if a user has made a purchase on a VTEX store

There's no a simple built in functionality on VTEX that allows to check if the current user browsing the store has already made a purchase there, but there's a twisted workaround to get this information.

Before actually going through the guide, this is the idea: we need to create a new attribute in the CL Data Entity that retains this information and this attribute is going to be updated on the Order Placed page doing an HTTP request to the VTEX Master Data using JavaScript.

Sounds simple? Weeell...

Creating the new attribute

Thanks to the VTEX Master Data API we can get a lot of information about the clients, but if he or she has made a purchase is not there anywhere, that's why we need to create a new attribute that will hold this information.

The new attribute, let's name it buyer, needs to be Boolean, and we need to grant it permissions to be read it and edit it using the API.

Attribute configuration on the Client Data Entity

All existing registered users on our store will have it in null or false until we changed it to true after a user performs a full checkout process.

Updating the attribute

After the user performs a purchase he will end on the Order Placed page that says something like "Em breve você receberá um e-mail no endereço john doe@example.com com todos os detalhes do pedido". We need to get that email from the source code of the page and using jQuery AJAX performs a PATCH in order to set the buyer attribute in true.

The problem is that we can't directly insert any piece of JavaScript code in the VTEX Smart Checkout. If you're thinking on adding the JavaScript code into any of the orderplaced-* templates, it won't work, the code won't be displayed because of security reasons.

VTEX Portal section

Here's the fun part: we need to use Google Tag Manager to insert JavaScript on that page.

GTM as our Trojan Horse

Since the VTEX Smart Checkout, as any other checkout process from any other platform, is a sensible part of the site and that's the reason why we don't have, directly on VTEX, a way to insert JavaScript code.

If we have Google Tag Manager integrated into our VTEX store it's our lucky day because that tool can add JavaScript on the page, and the idea is to give to GTM our jQuery AJAX request code.

To accomplish this we need to create a new Custom HTML Tag where instead of HTML we are going to add our script. This script.

$(window).load(function() {
    if ($('.orderplaced-sending-email strong').text().trim()) {
        var urlProtocol = window.location.protocol;
        var apiUrl = urlProtocol + '//api.vtexcrm.com.br/storename/dataentities/CL/documents';

        $.ajax({
            "headers": {
                "Accept": "application/vnd.vtex.masterdata.v10+json",
                "Content-Type": "application/json"
            },
            "url": apiUrl,
            "async" : false,
            "crossDomain": true,
            "type": "PATCH",
            "data": JSON.stringify({
                "email" : $('.orderplaced-sending-email strong').text().trim(),
                "buyer" : true
            })
        });
    }
});

Next, on the Fire on step, click on More in order to create a new trigger. The new trigger needs to be a personalized event that will be fired on "orderPlaced".

GTM new Tag

Save the tag and publish the changes on Google Tag Manager. This is not affected by VTEX cache so we should see the changes immediately.

At this point every time a user hits that page, meaning every time an user finish a purchase, the buyer attribute will be set to true. So now in any other page of the store you can use the VTEX Master Data API to check if buyer is true. If so, then the user browsing the site already made a purchase and you can do whatever you want with that information.

Waaaait

This is a delicate move. You are inserting JavaScript into the checkout process so test it very well, you don't want to screw this part of the VTEX implementation.