20 June 2017, by Suzanne Hamilton
Codebar are an organisation that run weekly events to help get people from groups who are underrepresented in tech into coding. And for the past two years they and Ladies of Code have jointly run a day-long workshop in December as part of 24 Pull Requests, where more experienced devs volunteer to help people to make their first open source contribution.
I coached at the 2015 event, which was a lot of fun. For 2016, Softwire also sponsored the event as part of our drive to support diversity in tech, so as well as coaching, I got to tell a diverse audience of people about why they should apply to Softwire!
I paired with Anna and Bybreen, who were just starting out with learning HTML and CSS. Git was the steepest learning curve, because neither of them had used it before, so we started out using the GitHub desktop client to make things a bit less intimidating.
It was quite tricky to find issues to work on (which is one of the hardest things about 24 Pull Requests in general), but someone suggested taking a few open issues on Prepare to Code, a website which provides beginners’ guides for setting up different kinds of dev environments. The issues were just typos and broken links, but it was perfect for us because there was no dev environment to set up. Once they’d got into the swing of things, I hunted around for more things that they could fix on the same site. Hooray for buggy code!Between them, they made six pull requests, which is pretty impressive for people who were completely new to git. And we hit the 24 pull requests goal as a group.The day wound down with some drinks and a group chat about the things we’d been working on and what we’d learned.It was a really good day. Everyone there was so enthusiastic about learning or teaching (or both), and it was great to be able to help people see open source (and coding in general) as more approachable.
13 June 2017, by Michael Kearns
Full Fact are a British independent factchecking charity who check claims made in the press, in parliament and in televised debates (e.g. Question Time). They’re currently in the process of implementing tools to enable automated factchecking (note that they’re not looking to do this in a machine-learning sense of “automated”, but mainly building tools to enable humans to check facts significantly faster).
They recently ran a hackday for the first time, which I volunteered at. They had a few problems which they wanted to tackle via the hackday:
- Wrapping a reverse-search library in a service, so that they can integrate it with their systems (and use it without learning Java, they mainly use Python)
- Implementing a way of finding claims of the form “X is rising” (e.g. “GDP increased by 5%”)
- Implementing a way of canonicalising numerical parts of speech (e.g. “three thousand and fifty” goes to “3050”; also needs to handle things like “few thousand”) so that claims made e.g. in Parliament are in a suitable format to potentially be automatically checked against an appropriate source.
I ended up volunteering for the first task, which in retrospect was definitely the least challenging (so I didn’t learn much) but was probably where I was most useful for Full Fact.
The hackday had quite a wide range of participants, from committers to apache-solr to developers inexperienced with the Solr, along with a special guest representative from the Argentinian fact-checking organisation Chequeado. Good progress was made on all three tasks, although I definitely feel there was a case of too many cooks on our task, along with some various set-up issues which caused the day to be quite inefficient for some volunteers (Java versions, IDE issues etc.)
I gave them feedback on these issues – this was the first hackday Full Fact have run, and they’re now looking to make use of everything that’s come out of it before coming up with lots more problems they need help solving for (potentially) a next one!
6 June 2017, by Laura Bethke
In March, we held a new big fundraising event at Softwire: our first ever charity auction.
The idea was born in a CSR meeting where we were brainstorming ideas for fundraising, and our director Phil and I (a developer) were both very keen to organise this.
We wanted to get donations from lots of different sources: clients, local businesses and employees. As we are a Software company, few of our clients have products that are suitable to be auctioned off, but we managed to get a very generous donation from David Lloyd and also a lot of tasty donations from our various kitchen suppliers.
To get local businesses involved, we sent small teams out to various streets around Highgate Studios, to speak to business owners and see whether they’d like to contribute. I was overwhelmed by the response – we got donations from nearly 40 separate businesses, ranging from vouchers to meals to Escape Room tickets.
Finally our employees offered various promise based items. Examples include delicious cakes, a gig by our director’s cover band in your own home, our chef offering to help you prepare a gourmet dinner party and many more…
On the day of the auction, we made sure to thank all of the businesses who had contributed on our social media, and we also sent them letters after the night telling about how much we’d raised. Hopefully they’ll remember us if we decide to host a similar event in future, as the varied items they donated contributed so strongly to the success of the evening.
The night was held in our offices, for employees and friends. We had delicious food from local restaurants (who kindly gave it to us at a reduced rate as we told them about the charitable aspect) and Phil as compere. There were nearly 60 items to be auctioned off, with some smaller value ones being part of a raffle. What I had hoped to be a pleasant evening that would raise between one and two thousand pounds, turned into an extremely entertaining night which raised a staggering £5500. It turns out that the excitement and fun of bidding (a lot of it down to Phil’s excellent hosting), and the fact all the money went to a good cause, motivated people to be very generous with their bids. A highlight of the night was an item offered by Softwire itself – the right to name a new meeting room. There was a fierce battle between the football and Smash factions, that was ultimately won by the latter – who paid a mind-boggling £1,300 pounds to be proud room parents.
Because of Softwire’s generous policy of matching certain fundraising events, the total amount donates was actually doubled to more than £11,000 in total. The money was split between Ashanti Development and Home-Start Camden, two charities we at Softwire feel very passionately about.
The night was a tremendous success and also a lot of fun, but also a big organisational challenge. I do hope we can repeat it at some point in future though – and who knows, we might raise even more.
19 April 2017, by Jake McKenna
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:
After this, the volunteers create boxes containing set amounts of various things for a set amount of people – this is a box for 3/4 people for a few days of food:
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.
3 April 2017, by Jiang Yingxin
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.
I 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!
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.
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.
20 March 2017, by Jenny Mulholland
I had the privilege of being part of the Inspire! iDiscover week at Carlton Primary School in Gospel Oak.
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.
Each 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
29 December 2016, by Fraser Powell
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…
22 December 2016, by Andy Patterson
This 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.
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.
22 December 2016, by Jiang Yingxin
Check out all the awesome fundraising events we’ve held in the last 2 months!
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!
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
Our 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.
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!
1 December 2016, by Paulina Babol
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.