Softwire Blog

Softwire Comedy Night 2016

24 March 2016, by

pieLast 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.

We’re 14th Best Small Company to work for!

25 February 2016, by

Softwire are pleased to announce that for the 6th year running we’ve placed in the top 25 on the Sunday Times’ Best Small Companies to Work for list. Having surveyed all of our wonderful staff about what it’s like to work at Softwire we came in the 14th this year, placing even higher than last year.

Softwire have always aimed to create a great place to work, this is all part of showing our staff that they are valued and giving them the room to grow and flourish in their careers. We’re very proud of this, so we thought we’d share just some of the reasons why it’s so great working here;

‘I like working at Softwire because of the culture. Being surrounded by motivated people who are keen to write good code, deliver good results, help each other out and have fun doing so makes Softwire a fantastic place to work.’
Rob P – Developer

‘I like the fact that I can count my colleagues as friends, that I’m trusted to do my work without someone peering over my shoulder constantly and that my boss actually cares about my wellbeing.’
Ellie – Office Manager

‘I like being pushed to be the best that I can. There are lots of opportunities to try new and challenging things but with people who will support you if you get out of your depth. I get lots of head-hunters approach me through LinkedIn and they can never seem to understand that I value the company atmosphere more than a 6 figure salary. I really like it here, and I’m paid well, so why would I leave?’ 
Chris A – Developer

‘I love the opportunity to work on interesting, challenging problems that I haven’t already solved many times before. I like working with people who are real experts. I like the trust that lets me accomplish things in a way that works for me, including the lack of clock-watching.’ 
Alex W – Head of Project Delivery

‘I think primarily because my contribution is respected – I’m rewarded for good work and given help to do better when I’m finding things tricky. Managers here both listen and take action to change things when they need changing.’ 
Jenny – Tester

So as you can see there are plenty of reasons why we’ve placed 14th and we’re very chuffed, but that’s not the most important thing here we’re most happy that our staff are happy. The happier they are, the longer we get to keep them and see them flourish!


Software Development. Where do you even start?

21 January 2016, by

Kicking off a new project can be challenging. There are lots of options to consider and often many obstacles to overcome. With years of experience delivering successful projects under our belts, we asked our developers what steps they believe people should be taking before they start a project. They had all sorts of ideas to share but the three main points which came up were; think hard about what you want, plan ahead and work with your developers. So what did they mean?

Think hard about what you want!
Getting your requirements together is a hugely important step towards starting a successful project, so it’s important to get this early step right;

  • Try and define requirements primarily in terms of business needs.
    o  The fine details of implementation are best fleshed out later in the process, in collaboration with your designers and developers.
  • Try not to make your requirements list too generic, unless it’s strictly necessary. Often very simple sounding requirements like ‘users can define their own reports’ can be very complex to implement and may not be needed.
  • Don’t be constrained by any existing solution! Now is the time to think differently and perhaps the best solution involves a whole new approach. By focussing primarily on your business goals you give the developers room to translate them into the concrete implementation ideas which will suit you best.
  • Prioritise ruthlessly – for each feature ask “if the whole system was ready to launch tomorrow but this wasn’t there, would I delay launching to add this in?”
  • Make sure you understand what your users really want – particularly if your users are customers outside your organisation.
    o Note that what they actually want might not be the same as what they say they want – if possible get some hard data from tracking usage or watching how they work.
    o And try to avoid “design by committee” – understanding a variety of viewpoints is valuable, but ultimately just one or two people should be responsible for pulling things together in a coherent way.

Plan ahead!
It would be nice to live in a world where all projects could be approached footloose and fancy free, but sometimes it pays to be cautious to give your project the best chance of being a success;

  • Allow some slack in your timelines and budgets. Things often change over the course of the project and giving yourself some extra room for these changes gives your project a greater chance of success.
  • Try and favour incremental approaches wherever you can. Releasing partial solutions early so that users have a chance to test them and give feedback, gives you a chance to creat the best solution possible.
  • If you’re replacing a system it can also be useful to have a period during which the old and the new system are running at the same time. This can help flag up any tiny details you may have missed and it also give people a chance to transition.
  • If you’re doing a big marketing launch, plan to run the system for a short while before making any announcements so that it’s been tested by real users.

Work with your developers.
When it comes down to it, it’s your developers who are going to be responsible for the delivery of a successful project. Involving your developers from the early stages is important;

  • Whether it’s in-house or third party you should consider getting some expert help define your requirements. Your developers will be able to help you identify the things which really matter and eliminate risks early on in the process.
  • Get some help with design and UX and don’t leave it until last. The quality of the visual design and ease of use can have a massive impact on user engagement when you launch. You might want to consider commissioning user workshops with a UX professional to map out the most engaging journey.
  • If you’re inviting proposals you’ll get much more satisfying results if you help the developers to do a good job. Give them as much relevant information to work with as possible and tell then what matters to you most, so that they can focus on it when responding.
  • Stay engaged once your project starts. The best results come from projects where there’s a contant flow of ideas and discussion over the course of the project between developers and customers/product owners.

Design & Deliver – Our Most Recent Event

20 November 2015, by

Event1 (2)Last week we held our third tech workshop of the year at Shoreditch House. Our most recent area of exploration was the concept of design as part of the software delivery process. During the afternoon event our speakers and guests delved into what it means to design great software and looked at the risks of not designing software properly.

It was our busiest event yet and all of our speakers were well received. We were joined – as is now tradition- by the wonderful Bill Thompson as well as George and Liam from Maido and Jim and Luke from Sketch, both very talented design agencies. Sketch offered the audience a lot of practical design advice whilst Maido spoke about what makes a design good. Tim, Head of Design and UX at Softwire spoke about the cost of bad design and why it’s so important to get user experience just right from the start of every project.

We followed our talks with an open and engaging panel discussion, in which the audience were able to share their views and ask questions. In true Softwire style we welcomed our guests to join us for a drink and more conversation on the topic once the panel discussion was over. The room was a buzz with ideas about design and how we can improve software processes. We’re now looking forward to our next event in March 2016.

A Morale Update!

18 November 2015, by

RockstockThe festive season is fast approaching, but it’s business as usual here at Softwire which means we’ve been up to plenty of fun shenanigans. We thought it was time for a bit of an update on our recent morale activities.
There really has been something for everyone in the last couple of months. From our regular pampering slots with massages and manicures through to the slightly more unorthodox bubble football trip we had down to Camden.
It’s not all fun and games though, sometimes we do fun and games for a good cause and we did just that at our charity RockStock evening where a number of bands played and sang classic hits in aid of Broken Rainbow and SCI Schisto Control. The performances went down a storm and we raised over £1843 for our charities, which was a great achievement.softktober

We’ve also enjoyed some exciting culinary treats in the form of sausage salad and obatzda (apparently it’s a Bavarian cheese delicacy) at our somewhat tongue-twistingly named Sofctoberfest, where we also enjoyed a range of German beers and learnt a lot about German music. One could have been forgiven for believing you had stumbled through a portal to Munich. It isn’t just German beverages we’ve been exploring recently either. Our whisky club had yet another successful evening of whisky tasting, but this time we paired it with artisanal chocolate from around the world. A delicious and slightly intoxicating evening!bubblefootball

We celebrated Back to The Future day in style with an impeccably planned and timed screening of all three films in the brand new projector room. You can’t beat the classics shown in HD with surround sound and pizza! If all of that excitement wasn’t enough for you we also celebrated Halloween in style, with lots of great activities like haunted gingerbread house decorating and apple bobbing, and the bar was certainly raised by this year’s fancy dressers.
So all in all we’ve been having a great time and we still have plenty to look forward to before the year is out, like our charity pub quiz our Romanian festival and all of the usual festive activities. It’s not a bad time to be working at Softwire.

Softwire’s Tech Workshops

9 July 2015, by

This year Softwire have started hosting events focussed on achieving success in the software industry. Our first event held in March focussed on getting the right talent into your tech team, particularly how to attract younger developers who are keen to expand their knowledge. Our most recent event looked at successful project delivery and how to achieve this on every project.
We had three great speakers come along to present their ideas on the topic.

Kicking off the afternoon, Johnathan Rigby from Fourth sditchpresented his ideas on motivating technical people. He was followed by Rachel Davies from Unruly, who shared some of the ideas her teams use to handle continuous delivery of their products. She presented all the aspects of extreme agile development that they use to keep their products up to date in a rapidly changing tech environment, including pairing and mob development. Finally Alex Wolff from Softwire who talked about making sure you take your projects in the right direction and the need for flexibility when handling an agile project.

Our special guest Bill Thompson hosted the afternoon, also chairing a panel discussion during which the audience were able to present their ideas about successful project delivery as well as getting more specific input from our speakers.

The event was packed out, with attendees coming from the IT departments of many companies across London. Having enjoyed the talks and time for discussion, we ended the afternoon with informal networking and a chance to enjoy the scenery at Shoreditch House. We’re looking forward to hosting more similar events later in the year.

Millennials in IT – Softwire’s first event of the year!

27 April 2015, by

Last week Softwire held their first external event of the year at Shoreditch House, focusing on how to attract and retain the best developers. During our 15 years as a company, Softwire have always placed a great emphasis on attracting the most talented developers to the company and we’ve learnt a lot about how to do this. So we decided that it was time to share some of our knowledge with other tech leaders in the industry.

Zoe our talented MD joined our expert panel with Bill Thompson from BBC Radio’s Click and Daria Taylor co-founder of Talented Heads, to offer some input and advice on how to get the attention of the best developers from the Millennial generation. Softwire are fortunate enough to enjoy a 95% year on year staff retention rate so Zoe was well equipped to offer advice on keeping developers engaged. Daria, who heads up Talented Heads offered input on how to attract newer graduate developers in an increasingly competitive recruitment market, whilst Bill Thompson spoke about what the BBC are currently doing around encouraging younger people to take an interest in careers in technology.

The first of four software development related events this year, the afternoon went well with IT Managers from a great variety of sectors offering their input on the topic. The next event will focus on Project Management and how to create efficient teams of those developers everyone works so hard to attract in the first place. 

We’re in the top 20! – Sunday Times Best Small Companies to work for

10 April 2015, by

2015 Best Companies LogoFebruary was a good month for Softwire. Not only did we celebrate our 15th birthday, but we also found out – for the fifth time running – that we’d been named one of the Sunday Times’ top 100 small companies to work for! This year Softwire jumped up three places to claim to 20th spot on the list, which we’re very proud of.

Softwire’s three founders set out in 2000 to build a company where developers would be happy to come to work, with a learning culture which allowed employees to grow and thrive. Fifteen years we still strive to have that ethos shine through in everything the company does.

Some of our developers have been with us from the very beginning and some are just getting started! So we asked everyone what the best thing is about working at Softwire:

Matthew (At Softwire since 2001)

‘Every project I’ve delivered. It’s a great feeling successfully delivering software that solves real problems for real people’

Antonia (Here since 2013)

‘I have tried more new things since starting work here a year ago than I did in the previous decade!’

Clinton (Joined in 2014)

‘Softwire cares about employee development, so you keep growing rather than stagnating.’

Dan (One of our Founders)

‘Multiplayer video games every lunchtime – with shouting.’

Zoe (Our managing Director)

‘Learning how to set my own career plan and following it to become MD.’

Our work for Yudu – A Retrospective

14 March 2015, by

Softwire built a next-generation digital publishing platform for YUDU media, which powers more than 1,000 new publications and 1,000,000 page views every day.

The Challenge

Build a bespoke, highly scalable digital self-publishing platform allowing publishers of all sizes to create feature rich, interactive publications at the click of a button.

YUDU Media asked us to build an online digital publishing platform. The system had to provide a cost effective way for publishers to take their content online, without making a major technology investment. They required a sophisticated web-based publishing interface, which could turn raw PDF, Word, Excel or PowerPoint files into an interactive experience for the reader. Publishers could enhance their publications by adding rich media elements, from videos to order forms, graphs and HTML5 interactivity, without any need for technical knowledge.

The end product had to be simple to use for all end users, both the publishers themselves and the readers. The system also needed to be able to cope with high usage volumes, with 1000’s of readers using the application at any one time.

The Solution

Softwire paid close attention to detail in the scoping phase and took an agile approach to the development phase allowing us to create a highly adaptable, highly useable end product.

Softwire’s customer-centric and agile approach to development helped us to create a product which met the rapidly evolving needs of our client. Our autonomous team kept in regular contact with YUDU’s project manager regarding requirements and carried out speculative development phases to determine fiscally viable product features where requirements were not fixed. This helped Yudu to grow their product offering to the needs of their business and their market.

The core platform was developed using Java Enterprise technologies, including JBoss application server, Spring MVCX and Java EE, and uses Oracle databases. Dedicated PDF processing servers carried out the heavy-lifting of converting PDF files to a flash compatible format. The product also included an Epublishing marketplace implemented in Ruby to allow users to organise, promote and sell their publications. It also included a statistics server with a reporting web interface to monitor reader behaviour. Publications were rendered via a browser-based flash based page turning application.


The Outcome

Successful delivery of the system has allowed publishers across the world to digitalise their titles and YUDU have grown into a multinational award winning company.

Softwire have continued to work with YUDU to steadily build upon the original project. YUDU’s product is now used by just under 1000 publishers globally including TimeOut, Readers Digest and the Beano. More than 1000 YUDU publications are published and over 1,000,000 YUDU pages are viewed daily across the world.

Softwire’s expertise and attention to detail allowed YUDU to take a high quality product into the rapidly evolving market place of digital publishing. We have worked with YUDU as they have grown from a start-up company, to continually offer high levels of code, design and customer service.

Time Out on Yudu

Meet the Team; Eli – Business Development Manager

5 March 2015, by

Eli works in our sales team as a Business Development Manager. She’s responsible for handling customer accounts and finding us interesting new projects to keep our developers busy.

How long have you been working at Softwire?eli

I’ve been working at Softwire for 1 year and 5 months in sales.  I currently work as a Business Development Manager, which involves meeting with new and existing clients and discussing how Softwire might be able to help them achieve their technical needs. As a BDM (business development manager) you also manage accounts and manage campaigns. A campaign is where the BDE (Business Development Executive) generates leads through the calling data in that sector, for example my current campaigns include Pharmaceuticals & Health, Leisure & Travel and Property.

What’s it like to work at Softwire?

When I first started working at Softwire it was like I hit gold. I’ve never worked for a company that is so much fun to work for, I actually enjoy coming to work. Not only do they invest a lot of time into the staff with morale events but they care a lot about your personal development too. One of the great things about Softwire is the perks you get with the job, a chef that comes in everyday, food order twice a week, morale days, company picnic, company birthday…. I could go on and on. Something that really sticks out for me is the fact that everyone is really friendly and there isn’t any divides in the company. This is also true with the directors, I regularly have conversations with them in the chill out.

How have you found working at a software development company?

I’m not a technical person but as a sales person I’ve grown a lot just learning about all the different technologies. What I’ve learnt I use a lot in conversations I have with clients and prospects, which means I’m able to provide more value to them and answer the occasional techy question!. I’ve learnt about the different technologies in many ways, but a way that really stands out is the Lunch and Learns we have, which is where you get a free lunch and you learn about something new. The topics can be quite varied but I often find that I learn a lot of technical things.

What do your friends think about Softwire?

When I tell my friends about Softwire, they are really jealous. A couple of my friends have even asked if they can join. I think it must be a combination of enjoying my job and having a lot of perks but either way my friends always comment on how lucky I am. I’ve also been fortunate that I can invite them to most of the events that we do, so not only do they get to hear how awesome Softwire is but they get to experience it too.

If you could install any extra feature to our offices what would it be?

A roof garden! Oh and I’d love it if we could get an office pet, preferably a puppy or a kitten. On a serious note I don’t think there is anything that we could install as an extra feature. We are really lucky that the directors invest a lot of time into our happiness and if we suggest something which is reasonable, then we can usually get it. A great example of this is that the developers were getting tired of sitting in the same position for long periods of time and so somebody put forward a running desk. Now if the developers feel like it they can code whilst walking on a tread mill.