When people ask me what I do, the conversation often goes like this:
Me: “I write content for a software company that makes add-ons for Atlassian. You heard of Atlassian?”
Me: “Oh okay, well they’re a software company like Microsoft, but they focus on work management tools for businesses, mainly for agile working. Their main platform, Jira, is used by teams to create and track tasks and manage projects. Think digital whiteboards and to-do lists. Their other main platform, Confluence, is for collaborating on documents. A bit like Google Docs, but better. And it acts as a digital filing system as well.”
People: “What the fuck’s agile working?”
I think in another decade’s time, these conversations might go a little differently. Traditionally, Jira was a tool used by agile software development teams. Although it’s now used by business teams such as marketing, HR, and operations as well, those teams are predominantly still working for software companies.
However, increasing numbers of non-software companies are using Jira now, too. Among our customers are German rail operator Deutsche Bahn, hotel brand Novotel, and NASA (don’t think I need to explain what they do).
This being the case, in another decade, I may not need to explain who Atlassian are. Because so many more companies will be using Jira and Confluence. And I won’t need to explain what agile is either, because with remote working here to stay, every organization has to become more agile in order to survive.
For now, though, let’s assume you’re as clueless as my colleagues and I were, and many of my friends still are, about Atlassian. And let’s dive on into me and my fellow Atlassian newbies’ first impressions of the ecosystem and its multifarious tools.
I’ll start us off…
The Atlassian Solution Partner Clearvision gave me my introduction to the Atlassian space. Jira at that point felt like this obscure tool used by service teams, particularly IT operations (I was only writing about Jira Service Desk and thought that Jira Software was an umbrella term for lots of Jira tools I didn’t really understand). When I started at Old Street, I still kinda saw Jira as this tool big companies with big teams used, not something that would ever be relevant to me and my own work.
Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself, because my real, hands-on initiation into the Atlassian ecosystem came through Confluence, not Jira. But then, I’m writing content, and Confluence is a document collaboration platform, so figures.
What were my first impressions of Confluence? Well, I was lucky. Confluence felt quite different to Microsoft Word, but not that different to WordPress, and I’d already created two WordPress websites. Unlike traditional text editors like Word, there’s a lot more automation involved in WordPress and Confluence. In particular, blogs in WordPress and pages in Confluence are pre-formatted, with no options for paragraphing, line spacing, or font type and size. You just get “normal text” or a list of different-sized headings. So, you have less control over what your document looks like, but do you need it? Not really. And in fact, creating an article in Confluence is a little quicker than in Word because you don’t have to think about that stuff.
Confluence also comes with “macros”. Now, being a non-techie, I wish they didn’t have such a jargon-y name (because I hadn’t a clue what they were for months, and finding out scared me). But, regardless, macros are just bits of other content you can add to your Confluence page, like a table of contents, a quote, an info panel, or a tickable list (great for to-do lists). All these things either aren’t possible or would require much more granular setup in Word.
But the main reason I ended up actually moving all of my content writing work from Word to Confluence was because of the collaborative element. Your documents are live on the system, with every change tracked, and everybody can see them, comment on them, change them, and @mention colleagues to nudge them to take a look. None of this was possible in the offline version of Word on my desktop; try and collaborate and you end up with this sort of ludicrous nonsense:
As for Jira? Well, I’m still very new to this myself. Our marketing team only started using a Scrum board in January, courtesy of Jira Software, which lo and behold is not an umbrella term but a specific platform! (I totally would’ve named it something else; Jira Service Management and Jira Work Management are also “software”, so you can see why people might assume Jira Software to be an umbrella term. Alas, this isn’t the time to discuss Atlassian’s silly nomenclature.)
What I can say is that I needed a tidier and more central place to keep my to-do lists, track tasks, and schedule blogs for our website, and so far, Jira is fitting the bill. I previously used tables and action lists in Confluence, but for multiple reasons they just didn’t work. Using Jira, I already feel better organized and like I have a firmer grip on what I need to do.
Jira? Is that an exotic dance? And what the fuck is Confluence?
These were my questions two years ago when I was fresh out of the US military and still had push-ups and ruck marches front of mind. I met the Old Street Solutions team, at that point consisting only of Chris, Tom, and Jacek, who introduced me to Atlassian (which I thought sounded like a lame superhero).
Now I’m thinking, shit. I’m working with a bunch of IT nerds who are way out of my league and I have no experience whatsoever to help bring them success.
After a bit of time, I realized, these are some cool fucking nerds and I’m in good hands. Wait, can you have “cool nerds”? At Old Street: fuck yeah.
When CEO Chris Cooke put together an onboarding package, my first impression as I’m scrolling down the list is, “What the hell did I just get myself into?” I thought it’d be damn near impossible to understand it all. During my first week, what helped massively was the free training that Atlassian University (AU) offers. You can tell that AU spent time and effort creating a usable introduction to the fundamentals and best practices of Jira and Confluence. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, they speak to you like you’re human. I relied heavily on these hands-on, step-by-step guides to get me started, and I’m never too ashamed to go back to them and retrain myself on how to do something.
More insights coming from other Atlassian newbies next week…
Christopher is a self-confessed nerd who’d probably take the cake on Mastermind if Star Trek: Voyager was his specialist subject. He writes fiction about time travel, conspiracies and aliens; loves roller coasters, hiking and Christmas; and hates carpet, rom-coms and anything with chilli in it. He’s written extensively for technology companies and Atlassian partners and specializes in translating complicated technical concepts, specs and jargon into readable, benefits-driven copy that casual readers will understand.