Softwire Blog


What I did on my volunteering day – Jake


19 April 2017, by

Recently I went and volunteered at Cambridge City Food Bank, an organisation that helps provide emergency food to local people in crisis. They’re an entirely volunteer-run organisation that mostly relies on donations of food by the public. They work on a referrals basis, so not just anyone can turn up and ask for some food (which makes sense, but I hadn’t thought of it before), and they also sometimes provide other help, such as tokens/vouchers for top-up energy meters.

I was working at their office/warehouse and got shown around. This is their main sorting area, where all the donations they collect get weighed and categorized:

The boxes then get sent out to the various distribution points for pickup.

What I was actually doing was somewhat unrelated. The problem they had was that their accounting system for donations was set up slightly strangely – they were using what I think is double-entry accounting, where they were recording both an invoice and a payment for donations, which got slightly strange when they forgot to enter the invoice and the month rolled over, or something like that. So what I was tasked to do was to convert all the Invoice-Payment pairs into Sales Receipts in their Quickbooks accounting system. Sounds like something you could script, but there didn’t seem any easy way to do it, and there were quite a few edge-cases, so I ended up just doing a lot of copying and pasting.

Some interesting things I learned:

  • People are selective in what food they donate – e.g. they are often short of sugar because people think ‘that’s bad’, but people still need sugar!
  • Food bank usage is probably not growing as fast as the leftist media would suggest but is growing.

Payroll giving


3 April 2017, by

Payroll_Giving_2016_GOLD (004)One of the many perks we get at Softwire is access to a Payroll Giving scheme, which makes it easier than ever to support your favourite charities. Signing up to a payroll giving scheme has the following benefits:

  • The money comes out of your pay before you see it, which makes it tax-efficient and also psychologically easier to donate more and continue to donate for many years.
  • It’s charities’ preferred method of receiving donations, as it reduces the admin overhead of e.g. reclaiming Gift Aid.
  • It’s really easy to set up.

Last year, we took the time to publicise our payroll giving scheme more internally, and found a simple but effective way to reduce the barriers to entry still further: a number of my colleagues volunteered to go round to the desks of people interested in the scheme and take them through the sign-up process. And if it was after working hours, they would even bring a couple of beers along. This led to a doubling in uptake of the scheme, and we got 20% of our employees signed up in time for the Payroll Giving Awards 2016, which we think is fantastic! We are therefore proud to display our “PGA Gold Award”.

12 months on, we now still have over 20% of employees signed up to payroll giving, and we’re gunning for the Platinum Award this year.

If you were thinking of setting up payroll giving at your workplace, or joining your existing scheme, please do read the testimonials below for more inspiration, or feel free to contact us for practical help.

Rich C:

Payroll Giving CertificateI signed up with Tom after the company meeting. It was really simple to do, I think it took less than 10 minutes. I had some direct debits set up to some charities anyway and so I have simply transferred these into Payroll Giving so that the Gift Aid is taken care of and I can easily manage them online. The main problem I had was finally getting round to doing it – scheduling a time with Tom to sit down get it done really helped me, maybe I just need a lot of nagging to get stuff done though!

Tom E:

I started payroll giving fairly soon after joining Softwire, at the same time as I signed up for the Giving What We Can pledge. I find payroll giving a very easy way to give money both practically and psychologically – there’s no need to think about Gift Aid, and because the money never arrives in my account it doesn’t feel like I’m losing it. Sign-up is simple, and there’s no ongoing admin.

Zoe:

I’ve been doing payroll giving for quite a while now. I started when I realised that we were collecting large capital sums to support a village in Ashanti, and then incurring ongoing costs – for example the hardship fund. I liked the idea that if enough of us put in £10/month we could have an ongoing fund that would work a bit like taxes and provide ongoing support to the village. It was much easier to set up than I thought – I just filled in a form and now it goes out every month without my thinking about it.

What I did on my volunteering day – Jenny


20 March 2017, by

I had the privilege of being part of the Inspire! iDiscover week at Carlton Primary School in Gospel Oak.

Volunteering at a primary school with Inspire

Inspire! are an Education Business Partnership working in Hackney, Camden and Islington. They enable young people to learn about work and gain practical experience of the skills and attributes they need for employment, in particular working with young people from less advantaged backgrounds or who are at risk of being excluded from mainstream education or who are not in education, employment or training (NEET).

iDiscover is an initiative which introduces Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers to local primary school children. The week-long programme provides schools with work-related STEM activities with the aim of encouraging more girls and non-white students to consider a career in these industries.

I was part of an afternoon session with two Year 1 classes where they get to meet real-life people working in engineering careers. Aside from me, there were people from the Institute of Engineering and Technology, an energy engineering and consultancy firm, and an architect.

Volunteering at a primary school with InspireEach of the engineers ran short sessions with the children in small groups – things like building a torch or a Lego tower. I wanted to explain to the kids what a software engineer does in really simple terms (we give instructions to computers to make them do things) so I set up a very simple Scratch project. When the children pressed specific buttons on the keyboard they could make a cat sprite move around the screen, change colour or say hello to them, and I tried to get across the message that these were all instructions I had given to the computer to make it do these things.

Although some of them had never used a computer before they all got the hang of it pretty quickly and came up with ideas for other things we could make the cat do. They’ll learn more about Scratch in the later years of primary school but for now, I was just keen for them to learn that software engineering is another type of engineering, and understand that it has something to do with playing with computers!

In summary, I would like to think that I spent my volunteering day helping some kids take a small early step towards a STEM career.

Photos by Inspire! EBP

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!

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

 

What I did on my second volunteering day – Zoe


25 November 2016, by

Inspired by my first day volunteering with Barnardo’s in Marylebone, I decided to use my second volunteering day to pursue something else that I have been keen to do for a while – spending more time with older people. Now that I’m in my thirties I’m starting to realise what a different perspective can be gained with age and so I’m very keen to hear from people who have maybe four times as much experience as I do!

Once again I used the fabulous employee volunteering platform Benefacto. It was easy to find something that matched my desired area, and one click and I was booked to help run The Lunch Club with Finsbury & Clerkenwell Volunteers. FCV have been organising volunteers to help others in need since 1971 and one of their current responsibilities is to run a lunch club for local elderly residents every Monday and Thursday.

Like at Barnardo’s, a lot of the jobs that need doing are quite simple and just need manpower. So my first job was to lay the tables ready for people to arrive.

FCV-table

Second, myself and a fellow volunteer from Accenture were given the task of peeling a mountain of potatoes for the Shepherd’s Pie, followed by a large basket of cooking apples brought in by a volunteer. Luckily two regular volunteers were able to chef these into the main course and an apple strudel for dessert.

 

FCV-potatoes

At about 12pm guests started to arrive for lunch. Some are able to make their own way in, but most are brought in a minibus driven by another volunteer. We helped them in and to their seats, gave them a cup of tea or coffee and then served lunch.

 

FCV-guests1

FCV-guests2

The number of volunteers helping out through FCV is absolutely incredible. There is Andy, who seems to be the main person behind the day to day running of the lunch club. There are two chefs (there used to be three) and a driver. There is Jan, who helps with everything and Irenie, who runs the raffle. Then there is the board. This includes Felicity who started lunch club tens of years ago, Andrew the chair and Leslie the treasurer; all three dropped in to see how lunch was going on the day I was there. Judy, an ex-employee of the charity, dropped in (she brought the apples we peeled). While we were peeling, she explained how well the charity worked, not just for the clients, but also for the volunteers.

 

After lunch, Andy ran several games of bingo and I learnt some new bingo calls. Then the guests were driven home and we cleared up and washed up. There was a lot of washing up! Overall it was a great day and a fantastic experience to be part of this community of people doing good, even just for a day.

Launching the Minimum Viable Diversity Pledge


3 November 2016, by

Diversity in tech is a major problem, and tech isn’t alone in this. One of the places where this is most visible is in speaker lineups and panels at events. Across industry after industry, speakers at events are extremely rarely from marginalized groups, including women, people of colour, people with disabilities and members of the LGBT community. Not only are they underrepresented, in many cases events don’t feature any diversity at all.

This is bad. Encouraging diversity not only makes the world a happier, fairer place, it also has concrete benefits for productivity and problem solving. When you never see a lineup of role models who are anything like you, you don’t feel included, it’s hard to be inspired, and you end up being slowly pushed out of the industry.

Diversity matters at Softwire, and we want to do everything we can to improve this. Today with the help of the Women in Engineering Society and the 30% Club we’re launching a new initiative to take a concrete step forwards on event diversity: the Minimum Viable Diversity Pledge.

Minimum Viable Diversity Pledge logo

The goal of the Minimum Viable Diversity Pledge is to totally stop the worst offenders for speaker diversity. By pledging, you’re committing to never actively supporting a paid event or panel that includes zero diversity whatsoever. This is a minimum bar, and we’d encourage people to go further, but the low bar is key.

We can all agree that such events have clear problems, and that finding at least one underrepresented speaker for any given topic is achievable. A low bar focused on this makes it easy for as many speakers, attendees, events and companies to sign up. Once that reaches a critical mass, running a paid event and totally ignoring diversity becomes impossible.

The world we’re aiming for here is one where every event organiser gets at least 2 or 3 of their speakers accept their invite on the condition that there’s at least some diversity in their lineup, along with attendees checking there’ll be at least some diversity included before they buy tickets. Once that happens, you can’t run an event without thinking about diversity, and you can’t host a lineup filled with a range of identical voices without a few of them publically dropping out. This won’t solve diversity overnight, but does make life far more difficult for those who totally ignore it, and provides steady pressure on every event to actively put in at least a little effort towards this issue.

There are four pledges, for speakers, attendees, events themselves, and companies, so everybody can get involved:

  • Speaker: I will never speak at any paid conferences or panels as part of a homogeneous group of speakers.
  • Attendee: I will never attend any paid conferences or panels with a homogeneous group of speakers.
  • Event: We will never organise an event lineup or panel with a homogeneous group of speakers.
  • Company: We will never sponsor or organise paid conferences or panels with a homogeneous group of speakers, we will strongly encourage our employees not to attend or speak at such events, and we’ll support them in raising diversity concerns with events directly.

This is where we need your help. This only works if enough people sign up and get involved. Take a concrete step on diversity, help shut down the worst offenders, and make it impossible to run a paid event that ignores its responsibilities. Sign the pledge.

Sponsoring Diversity in Tech


5 October 2016, by

As a company, we have the opportunity to sponsor a number of worthy events. We have decided to formulate a policy to help us to decide which events to sponsor.

Overarching Cause: Diversity In Tech

We feel a good first step to filter out opportunities is to pick one cause that we as a company feel strongly about. We have chosen Diversity in Tech as our sponsored cause.

We know that many people care about this topic, and we feel that one of the ways for us to help is by championing events and initiatives that promote diversity in the tech industry as a whole. We’ve decided to ring-fence a budget of £6000 per year towards this cause, and our intention is to sponsor two or three events each year.

Prioritisation Criteria: Engagement and Promotion

When deciding which events in the field of Diversity in Tech we should sponsor, we use the following criteria:

  • Are Softwire employees likely to want to get involved in the event, or to otherwise get something valuable from it?
  • How much do we like the event’s stated aims and rate their chances of success?

Sponsored events in 2016

To inaugurate our new sponsorship policy, we have sponsored Rails Girls Summer of Code this summer! This program aims to foster diversity in Open Source. Selected teams of women from around the world receive a three-month scholarship to work on Open Source projects of their choice. They receive a stipend as well as access to close mentoring and coaching from professional developers. We’re hoping to extend our involvement to coaching and mentoring next summer.

We are currently also looking for other suitable programs to sponsor. If you know of any, please get in touch via the comments section, or drop us an email at [email protected].