Softwire Blog


Softwire West CSR Report


29 December 2016, by

After another year of great work and fantastic contributions to our Corporate Social Responsibilities, the CSR Committee at Softwire West wanted to make a report that not only detailed our achievements for the year and highlighted the headline figures (such as raising a total of £2858.80 for various charities!), but also demonstrated all the great events and causes people had committed to, organised, prepared for and attended. Something that showed the hard work our staff had put in to help others whilst having lots of fun! Therefore, we created this video (with music!) to thank everyone and give them something to smile about as we approach the end of the year…

Work Experience with Social Mobility Foundation and Inspire!


22 December 2016, by

Whiteboard sessionThis summer we welcomed a number of work experience students to come and work at our office in Kentish Town. This year was our biggest intake yet: we worked with two separate charities (the Social Mobility Foundation, and Inspire!), to have a total of 20 students in our office over a 6 week period. Most of the students did a 2 week placement, and all of the placements overlapped with our summer interns (who’re mostly first and second year university students). All our placements were offered to students from underrepresented or underprivileged groups who might not otherwise have the opportunity to get work experience.

The SMF’s work experience programme is already well-established. They select really bright and enthusiastic young people from low-income backgrounds. We are one of the very first software development companies to participate in the programme.

Work experienceTo keep everyone interested, we taught some of the basics using Code Academy, and then got the students to pair up and write a simple implementation of Tic Tac Toe in HTML/CSS and JavaScript. We’ve found that Pair Programming is an effective technique for training, and use it frequently with our interns and new graduates. Each pair worked on their own implementation and practiced a standard development workflow that our commercial projects use, making changes locally and then pushing them up to GitHub to share. Once each implementation was finished, we collaborated as a group to use a shared database on Firebase. With the help of a whiteboard, pencils, and paper, the students created a shared data model so that each pair’s implementation could load the games from the other pair! All the code came together at the end of the two weeks, and the final result was excellent.

It wasn’t all diagrams and marker pens; Softwire has a strong culture combining work with fun, and we wanted the students to experience this as well. We took them out for ice cream at Ruby Violet, played pool, used the office HTC Vive to play some (occasionally jumpy!) VR games, and made sure everyone had the option of a free lunch every day.

Two of the work experience students particularly impressed us; Tobi and Fuad from Inspire! were both smart, enthusiastic, and had a great working knowledge of programming. We felt that two weeks wasn’t enough for these two, so we invited them to join our 4 week training internship program. After gaining approval from their school, they worked alongside first and second year undergraduates on a harder range of problems, including computer vision and algorithmic problems. We made sure to pair them with undergraduates, both as a learning experience and to help them get some idea of what university life is like. Both Tobi and Fuad really enjoyed the experience, and are hopefully considering applying to Computer Science courses at respected UK universities.

We wish all of the students taking part in our work experience program the best of luck, and hope that we see some of them apply for full-time roles as they graduate university!

Photos courtesy of Charlotte King Photography.

Fundraising at Softwire


22 December 2016, by

Megaphone Kearns
Check out all the awesome fundraising events we’ve held in the last 2 months!

RockStock

We happen to have lots of amazingly talented musicians here at Softwire, and this year our top lead guitarist Harry organised our popular Charity RockStock in aid of mental health charity Mind, and WarChild, a charity based right next door to us in Kentish Town who are doing fantastic work protecting the rights of children caught up in war. We had a blast and raised nearly £600, which was doubled for a total of £1200 under Softwire’s generous charity matching scheme!

Quiz

As usual, our resident quizmaster and commercial director Tom wrote and hosted our annual quiz in aid of Médecins Sans Frontières. As a result of his reputation for setting really fun and interesting quizzes, his persistent marketing campaign in the weeks leading up to the event, and his glamorous assistant Lachlan’s raffle-ticket-selling skills, we raised a whopping £4,850 for MSF after Softwire’s doubling.

The Great Softwire Bake-Off

Phil & MikeOur kitchen team Helen, Dom and Massimo have been hosting regular Charity Breakfast Clubs for Refuge. This month they put on something extra special – to help us through Bake-Off withdrawal the week after the final, they hosted a lavish bake-off with plenty of cake, tea and cocktails for bakers and non-bakers alike. We had lots of stunning entries from various Softwirians an impressive chequerboard  cake, mille-feuille, and a gingerbread house beautifully decorated by our director Dan’s two children. Star Baker went to James with his delicious fruity sponge cake. With Softwire’s matching, we raised a total of £1,400.

Charity Saturday

We’ve been holding regular Charity Saturdays since our founding director Dan came up with the brilliant idea three years ago. It’s a day in which we all come into the office to do what we do best – a normal day’s work – and Softwire donates all the money earned by the company that day to charity. It’s incredibly efficient and is by far our most successful fundraising event each year. We raised nearly £11,000 in just one day! The money went to our usual favourites – SCI, Ashanti Development, Home-Start UK and Giving What We Can.

Christmas Jumper Day

To round off the year, we showed off our silliest Christmas jumpers for Save the Children during our annual Christmas pub lunch, and raised another £145.

We’ve raised over £18k in the last two months, for a year-end grand total of over £30k, and we’ve had lots of fun doing it too!

Focus on the future, not the present


6 December 2016, by

What follows are three examples of how focusing on the future improves efficiency over focusing on the present.

Running — don’t look down

I often like to run at the weekend. I’m not sure what I’m running from, but I feel significantly more happy for the rest of the weekend if I go for a run on Saturday morning.

I’ve got some tactics to make sure I actually go for my run, as I’m very good at putting it off. Giving myself some accountability and telling my fiancée the night before helps, as she then keeps reminding me until I go out. I also find removing barriers to starting very helpful, by which I mean make sure everything is ready for me to head out the night before. This usually involves putting my running shoes by the door, and sleeping in my running shorts.

I’m not running with any particular aim at the moment, other than my happiness and fitness (although given the advice I’m giving in this blog post, perhaps I should have a more tangible goal to be aiming for), but I do use run keeper to track my run. This keeps me focused on my pace and encourages me to try my hardest. This also means I can notice when I’m speeding up/slowing down, to try and keep a consistent pace.

The main factors that I find, which affect my run are:

  • hills
  • posture
  • focus

Hills are obvious. If it’s steep, I’m slower. Posture is perhaps less obvious, and I’m not going to focus on it here, but good posture aids breathing, and consequently speed.

Focus is the big thing here. I’m much faster if, rather than staring at my feet, I focus on where I’m running to. Unfortunately, the more exhausted I am, the more difficult this is, so I’m active in checking where I’m looking while I run. If I find my head drooping, and my vision staring at the floor, I revert it back to far away, and focus on getting myself there. This helps me reach that place, and means I get to pay more attention to my surroundings as I pass them by.

Projects — where is the project going?

I’ve spoken about this before in Don’t touch the patient, but I was mainly talking about tech leads in that post. This point applies more generally to everyone on a team.

You need to know where your project is heading, or your short term decisions will be in the wrong direction.

If you only focus on your current tasks, it’s easy to not spot things that will be an issue a week/month down the line. It’s important to spot these issues and resolve them early, as they are easiest to fix the earlier you address them.

To maintain this forward looking vision, it is important to know how your current tasks fit into the larger picture. What is the higher purpose of your work, and what can you do in the present to ensure that your work fits in with everything else going on. Working this out will involve communicating with other people to know what their aims are. Often other people will come to you first, but if they don’t, ensure you know who to talk to and make sure that the conversations are happening.

Work — where am I going?

At the highest level, this focus on the future applies to your whole career. If you only ever focus on what you are doing this day/week/month, then when you come to reflect on the past year, you’ll find that you missed the chance to take the opportunities provided to you to further your career and drive it in the direction that you wanted.

Zoe Cunningham has written an excellent series of blog posts about getting the career you want, which I would recommend to anyone who wants to know more:

What do you want

Make a plan

Do it

Summary

There are lots of situations in everything you do to ensure your focus is in the right place. Your life will be easier overall if you make sure that you focus on the future, as it will allow your present tasks to be progress you to your goals. Without this anticipation, you may find that you have not ended up where you expected, with lots of work required to get back on track.

This post first appeared on Chris Arnott’s blog.

2016 internship – the Do-It For Good mobile app


1 December 2016, by

The Do-it Trust promotes the use of social technologies to enable social action and volunteering. They are a digital social action charity behind Do It which is the UK’s digital home for volunteering.  The Do-it Trust have been doing a great job promoting charity events – in just over 18 months they have registered 200,000 new volunteers.

We approached the CEO of the company, Jamie Ward-Smith, to ask whether they would like us to build a mobile app for them free of charge as a part of our summer intern’s training. We grouped the summer interns together, assigned them a senior developer as a full time trainer and they got to work on a real project and experienced the full lifecycle of a software project.

Mobile App

The aim of the mobile app is to make it easy for volunteers to apply for charity events based on their interests and skills they would like to gain.

Do It App

One of the main features of the app is a built-in chat system which enables the event organiser to contact the participants to have a group chat about the event. We also made it simple for users to share the events they are interested in on various social media platforms to create more awareness about such events.

Do It app sharing

As a result of having a mobile app, Do-It will be able to reach more people and make participating in charity events more interactive via the built-in chat system and an option to share opportunities on various social media platforms.

Do It menu

Do It oppotunity

To be able to use the app on various devices, we used the open-source mobile development framework Cordova.

About the project

The Do-It project provided the perfect balance of a meaningful real world project which would have real benefits for the users, contribute to our corporate goal of doing more pro-bono work and had relaxed deadlines to enable us to provide quality training.

The Do-it team gave us a lot of flexibility and they were open for suggestions and our ideas. This meant that interns could actively be involved in the decision making process which made everyone feel like a valuable part of the app development. We believe that the interns working on the mobile app got a fun and rewarding internship during which they learnt skills and gained valuable experience that they can take with them.

Available on the App Store and on Google Play.

Do It For Good