Speed Coding 2016 Intro
30 March 2016, by Chris Arnott
In case you didn’t hear through our twitter or facebook accounts, we recently held our 2016 speed coding competition. Questions were devised by the last competition’s runner-up Rupert Wood, with help from John Ginger.
The format of the evening was:
Question 1 – 20 minutes
Question 2 – 30 minutes
Question 3 – 40 minutes
Pizza – 30 minutes
Question 4 – 1 hour
In the upcoming series of posts, we’ll be releasing the questions, quickest answers as well as some hints and tips on interesting techniques that people took in their solutions.
Cloud Development is Painful (but necessary)
30 March 2016, by Chris Arnott
So you want to move your application to the cloud? Well is that really the right thing to be doing? There are lots of pros and cons for using cloud services rather than physical servers. In this blog post we’ll discuss some of the different aspects to consider before taking the leap.
Softwire Comedy Night 2016
24 March 2016, by Amy Wood
Last week Softwire held another of their amazing charity comedy nights, to raise money for Mind and it was a resounding success. We had five of our own Softwire employees trying their hands at comedy, which saw everyone having a laugh with plenty of terrible in jokes. This was followed by sketches and stand-up from four amazing comedians – Hari Sriskantha, Ian Smith, Amir Khoshsokhan and Nico Yearwood – who put on a hell of a show. Softwire resident comedian Hari Sriskantha also kindly compered the evening.
The rest of the night involved silly balloon popping games and a best joke competition, for which the prize was pieing one of our three beloved morale officers. Although our staff were given the option of two prior morale offices Jamie and Gergana and our current standing officer Laura, there was a surprise nomination and Gareth our old morale officer ended up taking a double pie to the face. All silliness aside we actually managed to raise £1011 for Mind, which was a great effort from everyone involved. You can see how happy Gareth was about being pied and watch all of the pieing action here.
Food Provenance at Softwire
23 March 2016, by Vikki Vile
At Softwire 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.
Apart 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.
Work Experience at Softwire
23 March 2016, by Ruby Kimber
Over the last two weeks, we have welcomed work experience student, 15 year-old Ruby Kimber from Stoke Newington School. She spent time with the Sales and Marketing team and the Admin team. Here she writes about her first steps into an office environment.
During my time at Softwire, I have met many new people, learnt a lot about the company and learnt about what it’s like to work in an office for the first time. Everyone was very nice and friendly when I first came and I became more and more comfortable each day with the people I was working with and the environment. Each day I had something new to do and I always had something to challenge myself with and people surrounding me were always willing to help.
Softwire is a really nice, fun and exciting company where everybody knows each other and gets along well. I got a lot of freedom and everybody wanted what was best for me and helped me to learn new things. Most days I was with the sales and marketing team, doing something at my desk, for example, turning a case study into shorter bullet points to be used in PowerPoint presentations. Both Thursdays I worked with the admin team, answering the phone and creating spreadsheets for new ideas – learning new and different skills.
I always had something interesting to be getting on with and you can always have fun whilst doing so. I had my own desk and laptop where I could get on with my tasks in the relaxed environment and it was easy to settle in with everybody around me being so helpful and friendly. Of course, another great thing about Softwire is all the food and the kitchen staff who make delicious lunches every day.
I also explored Softwire’s Discourse forum where employees can chat about various issues, some work related, some not so much. I also learnt new skills such as making spreadsheets, creating email layouts and I even tweeted on Softwire’s Twitter page! There are two sides to the company; the one where everybody works really hard and is very focused on their jobs and the other playing table tennis and having fun, and I think the balance is just right. Thanks to everyone here at Softwire for making my experience here such a good one!
Softwire Side Projects: Build Focus
16 March 2016, by Tim Perry
At Softwire we have lots of people with interesting side projects, for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes you want a playground to learn strange and wonderful new things, perhaps you’d like to try out some unusual tech we can’t easily use day to day, and often it just feels good to test yourself with fun new kinds of problems.
In this post, I want to look at a side project I’ve released recently: Build Focus, a productivity tool I’ve built to help you improve your focus and avoid all the distactions and demands for your attention that the internet creates.
The Internet is a Distraction
A lot of the internet is actively designed to steal your attention and time. Twitter, Facebook, most news sites, and every app you use are doing all they can to keep you engaged, so you habitually and instinctively spend your time and energy with them, instead of doing whatever you really want to be doing (like getting things done). There’s a whole range of techniques behind this, particularly drawing from the tricks that make slot machines so addictive to help make apps like Farmville as compelling as possible and to lead you towards habitually constantly checking Facebook.
All of this is a bit concerning, and the effects and problems it creates have been debated and discussed all over the place. I’d like to find a solution to this, and I’m particularly interested in whether it’s possible to use the same techniques that these sites use to distract you, but flip them around, to reward you for concentrating rather than getting distracted, and thereby addict you to focusing and getting things done.
Gamification for Good
Enter Build Focus. Build Focus is a city simulator (because building city simulators is fun), wrapped around a pomodoro timer. If you focus for 25 minutes then your city will expand or upgrade, but if you get distracted during that time (by opening Facebook, or any other distracting URL you’ve added) a random building is destroyed. It’s essentially gamified concentration.
It’s also remarkably effective; I’ve been using this myself for months, and found it impressively good at molding my day-to-day habits, and I’ve also got a few hundred early users, of whom 20 or so use Build Focus almost every single day.
This is a free Chrome extension (a strange and wonderful environment I’d never normally work in), it’s written in TypeScript (as a chance to build a whole project with a language a little outside the norm), and opens a huge range of interesting problems I haven’t looked at before: from simulating realistic traffic, to doing my own product marketing. It’s neatly ticking off everything I look for in a side project, and I’d highly recommend finding similar projects and challenges yourself.
For now Build Focus is still in private alpha, so if you want to give it a go you’ll need to sign up for early access at www.buildfocus.io. I’m iterating on user feedback to steadily improve the design though, and I’m aiming to have it publically available to the whole world in the next few months. Watch this space!
Are you interested in playing with different solutions to problems like this too? Do you have your own side projects? Send us yours on Twitter, or leave a comment below.
Pancakes for Mind Charity
10 March 2016, by Ellie Belcher
We decided to use Shrove Tuesday as a perfect excuse to both stuff our faces with delicious pancakes and raise money for the excellent mental health charity Mind. Every year one in four people will experience a mental health problem and Mind help by providing advice and support. They also campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding of mental illness. With the help of my glamorous assistants we were able to cook enough pancakes to feed the hungry hordes in the Bristol office and between the deep pockets of our colleagues and Softwire’s generous charity matching we raised over £200, all of which will go to supporting the invaluable work that Mind do. Thank you to all of you who came and ate and particular thanks for my wonderful helpers Emily, Olly and Thea without whom I would not have managed.
For more information on Mind you can visit www.mind.org.uk
Tips for managing technical people – There is never a substitute for using your brain.
9 March 2016, by Zoe Cunningham
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.
In most organisations, when there is a problem with quality or productivity, the answer is to introduce a new process. Too many faults in your widget output? Introduce a quality check or refine the widget-head-putting-on steps. Customers not buying enough? Give your checkout staff an upsell script.
I‘m not saying that there isn’t a place for process in software development. For any mechanical steps, such as those required to make a software release, process – or better still, automation – is essential. But process can’t help with the basic process of software creation.
The reason for this is very simple, and apparent to anyone who has ever done the job (if you’re not technical yourself, your team will find it bizarre that you don’t understand this). For all that we are working with logical, rational, calculating machines, the process of controlling those machines is a creative endeavour. Trying to do it by rote is like trying to paint a picture by rote. You’ll get an outcome, probably much more quickly than you otherwise would, but it quite simply won’t be very good.
The processes that do exist tend to be aimed at keeping arduous administration away from the developers, and allowing them to get ‘into the zone’ – a place where their creativity can be unleashed.
The problems that software developers have to solve are not mundane or routine. There are almost always dozens of different ways of approaching the same problem, and the subtleties of the situation will mean that a solution that may be the correct approach to take in one case could be disastrously wrong in another. So, while you should make sure your developers are aware of best-practice approaches such as dependency injection, you shouldn’t be trying to get them to apply them formulaically.
As a developer, some of the least constructive conversations that I’ve had have been those in which I’ve been trying to discuss what approach to take with someone who’s following a rulebook. One of my colleagues, working on a client site, was terrified of explaining the correct way to do something to the client’s tech lead – open debate wasn’t welcome, and if he didn’t give the answer that fitted with the tech lead’s learned architecture patterns he’d be accused of insubordination. The project that they were working on is now three years behind schedule, and still hasn’t been released.
Lightning Talks – A Recipe for Disaster
2 March 2016, by David Simons
In October 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 SignalR to RSI!
Once again we voted on our favourite talks and the top two won Amazon vouchers. This is Ben Below’s winning talk about the interesting and humorous world of test data!