How Adzerk Teaches Non-Engineers to Code With a Programming Club

From the very earliest days of Adzerk, CEO James Avery has wanted everyone in the company to be a coder— not to push code to the product itself, but to be able to program as a skill. But why would a sales rep or HR manager need to understand how to write software? Well, why not? We actually have several good reasons:

The Adzerk platform is a highly technical product. While we have a web interface, our customers do much of the heavy lifting of their integrations through our APIs. Some Adzerk features, like custom targeting, make use of queries that require programming knowledge.

Selling or supporting Adzerk (and definitely understanding how it works) requires a basic understanding of how web developers build sites and apps.

The hacker mindset is part of our company culture. Being a hacker is even one of our core values. While being a hacker means something different for a software engineer versus an operations manager, both involve thinking creatively and making use of technology to solve problems.

With that in mind, we recently created a Programming Club open to all non-engineers. (And every non-engineer in the company signed up, which was awesome!) We meet at lunch on Wednesdays to discuss our progress in Codeacademy's JavaScript course and other programming topics. The Adzerk engineers are our mentors, both in the Wednesday meetings and in a dedicated Slack channel.

Every member of Programming Club approaches the course with a different level of technical expertise. For example, our support lead Jacob already diagnoses JavaScript issues as part of his role, and I've used JSON and curl to write our API documentation. But some of our team has never looked at a HTML page source before, let alone tried to write their own code.

The open format (self-driven coursework combined with discussions about general topics) allows everyone to learn new skills at their own pace. Club members become more technical, and club organizers get a chance to impart their knowledge in a structured environment. It's a win for the whole company.

Starting Your Own Company Programming Club

The first rule of Programming Club, according to our organizer Alan Dipert, is to pick an existing curriculum so you don't have to develop your own. It's unrealistic to create a course that can meet the needs of all your club members. The self-driven nature of Codeacademy was ideal for the diversity of tech experience at Adzerk.

Then, enlist all the engineers you can as mentors. The more self-driven your course is, the less time your mentors will need to commit. For us, the Club meetings are for general discussions and chances for one on one help rather than "teaching".

Finally, try to get the budget for free food. It works wonders for morale.

JSON Ads Are the Key to Fully Integrated Native Advertising

Let's be real— publishers want simple advertising solutions that let them spend more time on creating content and building their business. They want to be able to implement tags without a hassle, offer their inventory to buyers without jumping through hoops, and maximize their inventory's value.

But simple doesn't always translate to effective. In the real world, publishers have to pick two out of the three: maximum ease of set up, maximum value, or maximum availability.

JSON native ads offer the latter two.

The problem with "faux native"

Publishers can find plenty of options that allow them to integrate "native ads" into their site via JavaScript tags. These are usually widgets that offer top headlines or similar news from around the web. Much of the time, the content of the ads comes from the same clickbaity sources that clutter up display inventory.

Still, implementing these should build revenue in ways display ads can't, right?

Not exactly. There are two problems with these "faux native" units:

  1. Most of the time, their content isn't actually native. For example, the network will serve the same testosterone-boosting ads regardless of their audience or the vertical of their site. This is little better than tapping into the most generic of ad networks with the lowest CPMs.

  2. Not only is the content not native, but neither is the form of the ads. Web users aren't stupid. They are learning to recognize which part of the page is content and which is text-based advertising. Font changes and eye-popping images distract them from the experience of browsing the page, and in time these ads are as glossed over as any of the standard banner units.

The key to good native ads has always been the right fit between why a user is on a page, and what the ad is able to offer. But the central challenge to native advertising has been scalability, which is what the "faux native" units are trying to solve.

Scalability can only happen through JSON ads

JSON is a standard for data sent between web browsers and servers. While it was created for use with JavaScript, it can be used by almost any programming language in any application.

Unlike JavaScript tags, which render ads directly in a browser, JSON ads contain the metadata about the ad unit. When a browser makes an ad request, the ad server returns the unrendered ad. The raw ad contents can contain either all the elements needed to form an ad in a CMS, or it can contain a reference to an ad stored on the publisher's side.

That JSON doesn't render ads in a browser makes it the ideal format for native. A publisher's CMS can ingest the ads any way it sees fit, and more importantly, an advertiser can buy native inventory across hundreds of sites and let publishers style the ads in ways appropriate for their content.

This is the key to native scalability— ads that can be displayed across the web in a variety of contexts, all thanks to a versatile data format.

JSON ads are already here

OpenRTB responses are returned as JSON, which not only delivers the ad contents to a publisher in real-time but gives access to bid data and other metadata from the transaction. This happens for both display and native.

Some of our customers at Adzerk use JSON metadata to serve ads stored hosted on their local servers. They use the metadata from the ad response to determine which ad to serve, which keeps the ad rendering 100% local (and thus prevents it from being blocked by ad blockers).

Ad servers must support JSON ads

JSON support is already a requirement for publishers looking to use an ad server for native RTB or home-grown native ads, and it will become even more essential in the months to come. The ad industry is becoming more data-driven and more focused on native, and an ad server has to keep up with the industry's demands, preferably leading the charge.

Adzerk supports all the latest native standards from the IAB, and our publishers demand the best performance and analytics from their native ads. By developing an infrastructure-building platform for publishers and their developers, we are prepared for the future of native ads, whether it continues down the JSON route or takes a new direction.

Find out more about how the Adzerk ad platform works, and get in touch with us to start a free 30-day trial. Our support engineers will be happy to assist you with setting up JSON ads.