Softwire Blog


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 internships


21 October 2016, by

As a second year Computer Science student at Cambridge without much free time, I had learnt a lot of theory but had done surprisingly little useful programming. I therefore applied for a summer internship at Softwire to change this. I wanted to gain experience working a proper project from beginning to end and Softwire did not disappoint. I did a four-week training internship starting at the end of July.

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Softwire does Swing Dance


6 June 2016, by

At Softwire the staff are introduced to a lot of interesting new activities, and Thursday 14th April was no exception as Softwire London’s Chillout was transformed into a swinging dance floor from the 1920’s!

Staff donned their glad rags, rock-stepped and shuffled to their first swing dance lesson, provided by the Mudflappers’ teacher Olly. The class was aimed at complete beginners and the hope was to provide people enough simple moves they can string together to make a number to any swing song. Some of the class were lucky enough to have done a fair amount of partner dancing before; like Suzanne who does West Coast Swing every week, and Dom who has been to the Bristol swing dance festival a couple of times!

After a funky warm up which had everyone groove stepping around the room and waggling their hands over their heads, the group partnered up and learnt about 6 and 8 beat steps. Swing, and in this case ‘lindy-hop’, is in 32 beat phrases; this means you need to select the right number of 6 and 8 beat moves to finish with the end of a phrase. Olly armed everyone with a 6 beat basic (twice), a tuck turn, a bring back and then a fancy finish called ‘Johnny’s Drop’ to which the group responded with great enthusiasm and abandon.

Swing dancing, like salsa and tango, is a ‘led dance’ which means the class split into leads and follows. Traditionally this is split along gender lines, in true Softwire fashion everyone got a go at both roles. This created the occasional interesting pairings like Dom 5’5” leading Alex 6’7” in some pretty spectacular twirls!

Everyone involved had a great time and have decided to head along to Olly’s normal lesson, in Dalston, in the coming weeks.

IMG_1878 (002)swing

Food Provenance at Softwire


23 March 2016, by

At Softwirlunch3e they’re very lucky to have freshly prepared lunches cooked for us every day by our amazing kitchen team, Helen, Dom and Massimo. Undoubtedly this is something that hugely contributes to what makes Softwire such an awesome place to work and helped us achieve 14th in this year’s Best Small Companies to work for.

Our kitchen team is committed to sourcing the best and most sustainable fresh ingredients for our lunches. When they are not cooking for us they are always looking for new ideas, suppliers and products to enhance and improve the lunches on offer.

Lunch2Apart from baking bread and making pasta (actually they do sometimes do this as well!) the kitchen team pretty much prepare and cook everything we eat in the Softwire kitchens. They use fresh herbs, seasonal ingredients and quality suppliers to deliver lunches that are a highlight of our day.

In order to consistently offer us such high quality, all food is sourced from local North London suppliers; eggs are always free range and from reputable producers (Clarence Court or Black Farmer), fresh chicken, pork, lamb and beef is always free range (supplied by Meat Naturally) and fresh vegetables delivered daily. Seasonal vegetables are used whenever possible to minimize food miles and to maximise flavour and value for money. Cheeses and dried goods are sourced from Carnevale (Italian supplier) and Ocado. Our kitchen team always select the products that offer the best quality and flavour and will use organic whenever possible to produce roughly eighty delicious lunches every working day.

 

Encouraging women in(to) technology


16 February 2016, by

IMG_7268Following on from our managing director Zoe Cunningham’s blog post on getting more women into technology, I thought I’d share some of my own recent experiences around encouraging women in, and into, technology.

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Softwire’s Charity Quiz Night for Schistosomiasis


21 December 2015, by

For the third time in its history, Softwire hosted a Charity Quiz in late November this year, with all proceeds donated to the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative.

As in previous years, the quiz was written and hosted by director Tom Steer, whose general knowledge is so great that he has probably been banned from all pubs in the area. He can now only use his quizpertise to selflessly write quizzes for other people, and he does that very well.

There were four ordinary rounds, one table round (where the teams had to identify films from cryptic descriptions, books from their first line and words from their chemical element names) and as is traditional for Softwire quizzes, a taste test. Tom lovingly prepared pick and mix bags full of jellybeans with 9 different flavours for each team, and this was probably the only time in history anyone ever ordered a 2kg bag of liquorice flavour – I can assure you they are disgusting.

In London, 13 teams competed for the crown, while our sister office in Bristol held a parallel event with 4 competing teams. It was a tight race with the three leading London teams, Flux Quizpacitor, The tall and the wise and Quiz Akabusi being within 5 points of each other after two rounds and the table round. However, an absolutely stellar performance with 25 out of 25 possible points in round 3 eventually secured Quiz Akabusi the victory. In Bristol, Quiztosomiosis Control InQuiztive was the winner.

sweets

richbradley

The best team name of the night should definitely be awarded to “Hopefully not last”; even though they did not try to come up with a clever quiz pun, they did manage to hit their goal exactly and end up in 12th, out of 13 possible places.

The quiz was also accompanied by a raffle, with half the money donated to SCI and the other half up for grabs by a lucky raffle winner, should they manage to answer a final question. Rich Bradley, part of the winning team Quiz Akabusi, had a very lucky day indeed with his ticket being the chosen one and he managed to answer correctly that the Dachshund was originally bred to hunt badgers (an easy question for any German speakers, as it literally translates to “badger dog”).

Overall it was a fantastic night in the office, with lovely food prepared by our fantastic kitchen staff, and with a really entertaining quiz that managed to attract enough interest to raise £1347.50 for SCI! Hopefully we can convince Tom to carry on writing quizzes so we can host similar events for many years to come.

Walking desks: the new standing desks?


28 October 2015, by

WalkingDeskThere have been a lot of stories about how there are many benefits to standing all day rather than sitting in an office. But how about a walking desk?

We’ve offered employees the opportunity to use standing desks for a while now, which we provide using some carefully selected IKEA parts (a coffee table and a shelf) and with a small amount of effort result in a great desk for this purpose.

However, recently we decided to take this a step further and set up a walking desk. There are lots of commercial options out there, but as they are quite expensive, we decided it would suit our needs better to build our own. Fortunately we have a very good handyman who helps out with minor tasks around the office, and so we tasked him with building us a desk that:

  • Fit over the existing treadmill in our gym
  • Had a large work area
  • Was adjustable, so that it would be practical for people of all heights

We’ve been using this desk for a while now, and personally, I find it great for maintaining focus, and particularly useful for finally getting round to that task you haven’t been looking forward to all week.

Walking and working helps brings clarity to my thoughts and although it makes my handwriting near illegible, my typing is barely affected. The walking quickly feels natural and it’s perfectly easy to do an hour or so walking along at a slow pace.

The disadvantage of the walking desk is that it can be quite noisy. We got around this by installing it in our gym to begin with and we’ve now moved it to a more permanent home in one of our meeting rooms.

Overall, we think that walking desks are a great idea, and although no employees have planned to switch to one on a permanent basis, it works very well as a hot desk. So if you have the time and skill (or money) to try one out. I’d definitely recommend it!

Tips for managing technical people – Rules for accepting feedback


18 September 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 geeksI’m a great fan of continuous improvement, and feedback is the lifeblood of continuous improvement. Whenever you undertake something, you should be thinking carefully about what could have been done better; this will provide you with some great improvements without any outside help.  But there will be a whole class of things that you could be doing better that you won’t be able to spot.  In order to become the best manager that you can be you need to find out this information, and act on it.

To get to the position that you’re in now, you will have already had to learn how to act on feedback.  At the bottom of an organisation, feedback is usually relatively easy to come by: if you do something wrong, you’ll find out about it; if you upset your boss, they’ll tell you. You’ll also be keen to ask for feedback, and your manager will be happy to give you it.

Things change a little when you are the one in charge. It’s no longer obvious to others that you want people to feedback to you frequently and honestly, even if you state as much in departmental presentations. It can also be easy when you are rushed and busy to respond to feedback curtly or peremptorily, even if you do find it useful and later go on to act on it. Or you may have an emotional reaction to feedback, especially if you do feel deep-down that you have done something badly. Add that to the fact that giving useful, honest feedback is actually really hard, and you might find that people fear giving you honest feedback in case they upset you.

I have previously blogged the following rules for accepting feedback.

  1. Whatever the feedback is, immediately say ‘thank you for the feedback’. This shows them that you appreciate their taking the time to help you, and will mean you get more feedback in the future.
  2. Before disagreeing (or agreeing!) with the feedback, take 15 minutes, or however long you need, to absorb the information… or calm down.
  3. Only then think about whether you agree with the feedback or not, and what you plan to do about it.
  4. Feed back to the feedback giver on how useful their feedback was! Remember, this is something that they probably didn’t find easy, so take the time to let them know how they did and provide any constructive comments you have to help them get better.

It’s not necessarily the case that all feedback you receive will be equally useful – if you let people know which bits were most helpful and which were less so, it will help them to practise continuous improvement on their feedback giving.

Tips for managing technical people – Is burnout a management problem?


24 July 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 geeksAs a rule, you should set goals and let people choose their own path towards hitting those goals.  This implies a certain level of trust that they will go about these in the way that they believe is best.

Looking at it this way, it seems that, if an individual chooses to overwork in order to hit their goals, then this is their choice. Most company reward systems means that working all hours of the day will earn you more money. So should an individual be allowed to choose this path?

I can understand the argument that says yes, they should be free to choose. Personally, however, I think that there’s a very good reason to cut off this particular choice. If your incentives are set out to reward people who work harder, it’s fair for people working to those incentives to assume that all-out, non-stop hard work is what you would most like from them.

But as a manager, that’s not what I want. I want productive, happy individuals who are hitting their short-term productivity goals and long-term career goals by doing a decent weeks’ work.

Some people will enjoy their job more if they work a few extra hours to hit their goals. No problem! In fact, I applaud this attitude. Some people will achieve their career goals sooner by taking an interest in technology and reading around the subject at the weekend. Again, I see this as a positive step that will make them happier as well as more productive.

But routinely working 14-hour days and weekends hardly ever makes people happier. And it doesn’t always make them more productive. It’s not what I personally want for my colleagues.

Telling people that you’d rather they didn’t do something while paying them more for doing it is not always a very effective message. So I intervene quite strongly if I feel that people are overworking. I’m not prepared to remove personal choice, but I can make it clear what we as an organisation consider to be a reasonable effort, and what we consider to be beyond the call of duty.

It sounds like a contradiction, but I believe in trying to curb people’s choice slightly in such cases. The unpalatable alternative is that they think you’d like them to be taking a certain course of action, when in fact that isn’t how you’ll be measuring them.

Softwire in 2015


20 July 2015, by

If you are interested in how we run as a company, you should watch the following video.