Softwire Blog


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.

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!

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].

What we did on our volunteering day – Andrew and Ying


15 August 2016, by

Ying and Andrew Bike FixingAndrew and I volunteered at The Bike Project for an afternoon.

They give bikes to refugees and asylum seekers who can’t afford public transport. Did you know asylum seekers only get £36 / week in benefits? They also teach female refugees to cycle.

We kind of expected to be fixing bikes and giving them to refugees, but what they needed was someone to clean and fix second hand bikes to sell, to earn some money to keep the rest of their operations going. A step further removed from the beneficiary, but equally crucial!

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CSR at Softwire in 2015


11 February 2016, by

Last year, we wrote a blog post listing our CSR goals for 2015. Here’s how we did against them:

Educational outreach

  • We worked with lots of young people last year through events that we’ve already blogged about, such as Code Club, Code Club Pro, Young Rewired State and Tech City Stars.
  • In the summer we also hosted 5 work experience students from the Social Mobility Foundation. This is the second time we’ve done this, and we hope to continue with it!
  • Through Stemettes, a group of 20 schoolgirls enjoyed a day trip to our offices where they learned to make a simple app. We introduced them specially to some of our female developers and project managers, and of course our MD Zoe. We hope some of them will be inspired to go into STEM careers!

Raising money

  • Our sponsorship of the village of Bonkron, through Ashanti Development, has been a great success. They’re now relatively well off and can continue to develop on their own, so we plan to find another village in the same region to support.
  • We raised £24,500 through Charity Saturday, just short of our goal of £25,000 but still a figure we are very proud of.
  • Over 10% of our employees have signed up to payroll giving and we’re on track for the Payroll Giving Gold award.
  • In total, we raised £30,800 for charity in 2015, and Softwire donated a further £4,000 through our matching scheme. The money went to charities including Ashanti Development, MIND, Broken Rainbow, Giving What We Can, Home-Start, Shelter and Schistosomiasis Control Initiative.

Using our skills

  • Zoe became a trustee of Ashanti Development this year. She’s helping to ensure the charity is fulfilling its objectives and making the best decisions, using skills she’s developed in her role leading Softwire as Managing Director.
  • Our contribution to 24 Pull Requests was an unprecedented success this Christmas – we came in 4th place overall!
  • In Bristol, we’ve been supporting Baby Bank Network with a day a month of technical assistance.

Volunteering with Code Club Pro


21 October 2015, by

At Softwire, we’re committed to educational outreach because it’s important to give children from all backgrounds the same opportunities, particularly in the tech sector. So we’ve been pretty excited by Code Club Pro, a new opportunity to contribute really efficiently to how coding is taught in every UK school.

A new primary school curriculum introduced last year requires children to learn coding from the age of 5. But most teachers don’t know how to code, so Code Club (a non-profit organisation running coding clubs in schools) set up Code Club Pro to help fill that gap. Code Club Pro recruits volunteers with computing skills (that’s us!) and gives them the training and materials they need to deliver training sessions to teachers. Essentially they teach us how to teach teachers to teach computing. The volunteers then organise sessions with schools through Code Club Pro.

Our own Jamie Humphries championed the cause internally and encouraged people to get involved, successfully persuading a large number of the company to sign up as Code Club Pro trainers, starting them off on the process.

Our first session was in April at a primary school in Manor House. This was slightly intimidating; we were trying to teach a class full of experienced teachers, and teaching is after all what they do all day! A guy from the local authority showed up to see how it went, which didn’t help with the nerves either. But we shouldn’t have worried – everyone was really nice and seemed very engaged with the session, and we got lots of encouraging feedback.

One lady in particular said she’d been worried by how difficult and tiring this session might be, especially after a long day at work. She wasn’t very comfortable with technical ideas, but during the session was clearly taking things on board. Afterwards she came up to us and thanked us for making the topic less scary to her.

We realised that despite not being teachers ourselves, we could genuinely reach out to children by sharing with these teachers our expertise and, just as importantly, our enthusiasm for coding. We hope that some of that passion will be passed on to lots of children, many of whom would otherwise never have learned to code!

Sponsoring Bonkron, a Ghanaian village


14 July 2015, by

We sponsor a village called Bonkron, in the Ashanti region of Ghana.  This is done through a charity called Ashanti Development, which our MD Zoe has been volunteering with since 2009 and is now a trustee of. We’ve raised money for our village predominantly through regular Charity Saturdays, but also other exciting events such as our annual stand-up Comedy Night and our birthday party.Kindergarten

Last April, with an initial donation of £19,000, we provided latrines, sponsored hygiene training and started a £300 hardship fund to take care of the elderly and disabled.

With water and sanitation taken care of, this year we faced a choice: what to build next?  We were quite keen on getting internet installed, to enable all kinds of support and improvements over Skype – healthcare, teaching English, even perhaps teaching coding?  However this turned out to not be super easy and was held up while Ashanti Development talked to Vodafone.

We decided to start exploring other options.  The village had been asking for a kindergarten ever since we first sponsored them.  As our contact Penny at Ashanti Development explained,

“In Ashanti, the parents often work on their farms all day. There’s nowhere for the pre-school children to go – probably no building large enough to house them – and they are left to their own devices. They play outside and you often see very young children who are badly injured in consequence […] So all the villages want kindergartens and are happy to employ village women to look after them, and since the little children have the worst time (they are the last in line for food, clothes, anything) I think kindergartens are a good idea.”

So in early April we gave them the go-ahead to spend another £12k on building a kindergarten!  They were really excited about this, and very quickly started work on it – they hoped to get sand, blocks and roofing done before the rainy season starts.  We got running updates about the work, and the building isn’t looking too bad as you can see.

BeesWe also spent £250 on sending two people from the village to a bee-keeping course.  They’ve built two hives, and were each given a hat and veil, a boiler suit and bee gloves, and a smoker.

We’re really excited by this opportunity to help a whole community.  Penny from Ashanti Development recently remarked: “I’m told that Bonkron is changing in leaps and bounds and is even beginning to look a bit prosperous. It’s amazing the effect that sanitation has on health and energy supplies.”

Where in the UK £25,000 probably wouldn’t get you a Central London parking space for the year, out in Bonkron it has gone so far towards helping the prosperity of an entire community. It’s been great to watch the changes in Bonkron take place and we can’t wait to see how they progress, as we push towards introducing the internet and bringing more positive changes to their lives.

Battleships


18 February 2015, by

5572931456_16557895a5_zLast summer, our training interns built a website for running Battleships tournaments. It allows players to upload a bot, which the website then runs against all the other uploaded bots to generate a league table.

The idea was inspired by a tournament we ran a couple years ago. Since then, we’ve asked new starters to write a Battleships bot as a training exercise, but this year, we decided to take the idea a step further and also write a website we could use to run the tournament! The first group of 6 training interns – most of whom had very little experience of programming before they got here – started with just one week of introductory exercises, and over the next couple of weeks wrote the website from scratch. By their final week they had completed enough functionality to run their own tournament, and even had time to add some creative touches – such as an animated gif of a battleship firing cannons as the “loading spinner” image while the match was running. The intern whose ship emerged the victor and took home the coveted prize of … a little T-Rex plushie!

The next group of five interns was faced with the perhaps even more daunting task of picking up where the others left off. They fixed some bugs, improved the efficiency of the league runner, and polished the user interface. The finished product is still being used to run bots written by new starters!

Work experience students from the Social Mobility Foundation


26 November 2014, by

At Softwire, we’ve been trying to get more young people from different backgrounds interested in technology, through initiatives such as Code Club and TeenTech City.

Last month, we were really excited to welcome two work experience students sent to us from the Social Mobility Foundation.

The SMF’s work experience programme is already well-established. They select really bright and enthusiastic young people from low-income backgrounds, who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to get work experience placements. We are one of the very first software development companies to participate in the programme.

Alex and Jeffrey gave up their week-long half-term to arrive bright and early on Monday morning – before some of us had even got out of bed! Instead of putting them on a regular project, which would be hard to pick up in just one week, we put them through a customized version of our usual training week for new starters and interns.  We set them some problems to solve using JavaScript, including some of the challenges we used in our internal Speed Coding competitions.  They didn’t have much previous experience in programming, and certainly didn’t know any JavaScript, but they soon got the hang of it, with help from colleagues at Softwire who volunteered their time.  They were confident and friendly, and fit right in to our office environment.

Afterwards, the SMF delivered some feedback from the students – we were really pleased to hear that they had a great time, and that their experience had increased their enthusiasm for the technology sector. One of our students commented,

“It was absolutely the best work experience I could have wished for. Not only was I doing things that I enjoy doing, but also the working environment was fantastic, not to mention the co-workers. It was a really great week, and I hope that wherever my career takes me, it will be as good as this.”

Thanks to the SMF, we are privileged to have made a real difference to these two young people. There are various ways that professionals and employers can support the SMF’s work, so if you’d like to make a difference too, get involved!

Internship profile: Yingxin Jiang


2 July 2012, by

I applied for an internship at Softwire because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after my maths degree at Cambridge.   My only previous experience of programming was writing basic console applications for my maths coursework.  I had fun with this, so I wanted to get a better idea of what programming was like.

I enjoyed the workplace environment right away: I went to the pub with my new colleagues, signed up for drum lessons in the office, and learned to play Postman Pat on the guitar at lunchtime.  But I wasn’t initially convinced that software development was for me.  It wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped, and in the first few weeks I often found it quite frustrating.

Since then however, Softwire has managed to change my mind completely, though I can’t pinpoint exactly how.  It’s not just that my latest project is more interesting and consists of more substantial tasks; I’ve become genuinely excited about learning and improving, and eager to do more.  I think it’s because the whole atmosphere of caring about programming has gradually rubbed off on me.  There’s a strong focus on personal development at Softwire: every developer in the office is constantly trying out new technologies and sharing their discoveries over blog posts and emails.  There’s a drive to pursue technical excellence for its own sake, and I’m inspired by that.  I wouldn’t want to leave software development now – not while there is so much left to learn!

There’s no doubt that Softwire is an amazing company to work for, and the management continuously puts a lot of thought and effort into making it even better.  Other people have written about this more eloquently than I can, and their descriptions of the enviable social life here are no exaggeration.  But in reality, I don’t need much extra motivation to socialise.  Softwire has motivated me to work at becoming a better developer, and that has been much more valuable.