Softwire Blog

Lightning Talks – Juggling Theory

22 May 2015, by

In April 2015 we ran another Lightning Talks competition where eight employees each had five minutes to tell us something they find interesting – inside or outside the software development world. We had talks this year on topics from Node.js servers to learning to commit!

Once again we voted on our favourite talks and the top two won Amazon vouchers. This is Rupert McKay’s second place talk introducing the audience to the surprisingly deep, mathematical world of Juggling Theory

Writing good notes during meetings

19 May 2015, by

NotesHave you ever come away from a meeting with the feeling that you’ve missed or forgotten some important information? Below are some tips to help you write better notes: if you apply them (and practice) you will find that your notes are much more useful and you retain the ideas and information that come out of your meetings for longer. (more…)

Tips for managing technical people – Be nice to the customer

12 May 2015, by

The following is an excerpt from my new book, “Galvanizing the Geeks – Tips for Managing Technical People”. You can buy the full book on my website, here.Galvanizing the geeks

A good relationship with the customer is absolutely key to delivering a good service – and, as it’s the customer who is judging your outputs, you need them to be involved in setting the goals that define what success looks like.

To do this, you want to avoid your team developing a combative relationship with external decision-makers. If the customer agrees with every suggestion they make or is happy to be uncritical of technical decisions, there will be peace. But if the customer doesn’t effectively communicate the constraints they’re working to and passes on ultimatums as a result, they are likely to lose the team’s respect and any chance of a solution-focused discussion. Instead, it’s likely that the team will try to work out how to impose the plan that they already intended to implement.

The problem here is that your team are guardians of expertise that the customers don’t have. And because their focus isn’t on communication, they assume that if the customer wants something different they must just be stupid or pig-headed.

It’s therefore important to train your technical staff to think about helping the customer –to think “They’re so inexperienced they think putting it on one server is a good idea. They need our help to not make the wrong decision” – rather than reacting against a customer ultimatum. But without training them to think in this way, you can’t assume that your team will immediately understand good customer relations the way you do.

What’s keeping voting from moving online?

6 May 2015, by

With the general election now swiftly creeping up on us, conversation in the office this week turned to why we’re still unable to vote online and what might have to change in order to make voting online a possibility.

The first and probably most obvious argument against online voting is security of the system. In a year of particularly prominent news relating to online security failures and cyber-attacks, such as the Sony hacks, Superfish and the distribution of celebrities’ private images, it’s only too clear that the internet isn’t exactly the safest of places. Moving voting online opens it up to many potential problems, not least from external groups but even from the people who might take responsibility for building the systems by which we could vote online. Simply, it would be too difficult to find a totally impartial party to create a voting system. Regardless of whether a company had any political affiliations or motivations, it would be nigh on impossible to put together a team of developers who had no political leanings of their own.

And if it’s not possible to impartially build a voting system then, it’s difficult to expect the public to put their trust in the system and believe that their vote will be accurately counted and untampered with. Trials of electronic voting machines in the past have already flagged various problems, including demonstrations of the ability to alter the software they run on with just 60 seconds and a USB stick. Creating a voting system where anyone could simply vote from their desk at work or their smartphone would throw the net wide open to all manner of threats. There’s no simple way that the public could be shown that their votes had been counted and communicated accurately.

Convenience would be the most cited reason for allowing voting to take place over the internet, but one could argue that the fact that people have to make the effort to go and vote means that only those that have a real interest in the outcome of the election are likely to bother voting. Online voting would be open to manipulation on a large scale, but also due to convenience, it could be quite easy to persuade someone who wasn’t planning to vote to let someone else use their vote. By making voting so convenient, votes could end up being traded for something so minimal as a cup of coffee or a sandwich. Postal voting lessens the likelihood of such simple manipulation taking place.

It doesn’t seem that online voting is something that will happen anytime in the foreseeable future and with the majority of the kinks having been ironed out of the current paper voting system, other than convenience for both the voter and the people responsible for counting the votes, there’s no great argument that online voting would improve anything other than voter turnout. It would however be interesting to see online voting tested parallel to a paper vote to test the increase in turnout, but until an online vote is counted as relevant it wouldn’t be open to the genuine threats that online voting is so exposed to. Essentially, even testing an electronic system alongside the current system would simply be likened to an elaborate exit poll at best. So for now at least, it looks like we’ll be sticking to paper and pencil.