Softwire Blog


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.

Writing good notes during meetings


19 May 2015, by

NotesHave you ever come away from a meeting with the feeling that you’ve missed or forgotten some important information? Below are some tips to help you write better notes: if you apply them (and practice) you will find that your notes are much more useful and you retain the ideas and information that come out of your meetings for longer. (more…)

The best way to manage your task list


23 March 2015, by

Check ListI’m not about to give you the perfect task list. If I could, I would, but different people have different requirements for how their task list works, where it is, and how it reminds them of upcoming actions/events. At Softwire each employee chooses how to manage the tasks they need to do. In this blog post, we take a look at 6 different options that are used within our company. It’s up to you to decide if they’re the right option for you or not!

(more…)

Training Internship Profile; Bingqian Liu


10 December 2014, by

BingThe 4-week training internship at Softwire was my first ever internship. It was a most unforgettable experience for the invaluable knowledge gained in software development through systematic training projects provided by the company.

The programme began with three coding challenges to get us familiar with C#, a programming language that is widely used in website development. Features of the tools to be used were introduced in mini-lectures by experienced software engineers and then practiced in the challenges and the subsequent web application project. We started developing the web application from the second week. Other elements of a .Net web app such as MVC, HTML, JavaScript and CSS also played important roles in the development, which required a lot of reading, practicing, trial-and-error along with help from our project managers. We were all also sent regular emails delivering more general information about software development.

All the interns divided into pairs to work on different but related tasks in the project. We swapped pairs regularly so that everyone got a chance to work with different people and share in their different backgrounds and experience. Our managers regularly reviewed our work allowing us to improve our code on as we progressed through the project. We also periodically tested the
features implemented by others in turn and gave feedback.

What impressed me most about Softwire was that all the people around us were ready to help with any problems, which made me feel less and less nervous day by day. At the end of the fourth week, the website was ready, and we launched it internally for the staff to use. After working on the project for the last month, I and the rest of the interns were also keen to use the product we had created.
It was great to finally see it in use, and it was lovely to be part of a group of such enthusiastic and innovative people from day one.

Meet #Gareth – Star of the Softwire Office.


24 September 2014, by

GarethandEd
Softwire has a star in our midst… #Gareth, who became an internet sensation after being name-dropped repeatedly by Ed Miliband during his conference speech yesterday. Trending above Syria on Twitter, Gareth found himself at the centre of a media storm, culminating in a live interview from BBC’s Newsnight studio.

This whole story started a few weeks ago at the Softwire summer picnic, which just happened to be right next to a park bench on which Ed Miliband was sitting; writing a speech, he claims.  Gareth struck up a conversation and, among other things, voiced concerns about the unaffordability of London homes and how all but the richest are priced out of the market.

It turns out that Gareth must have made quite an impression.  During his speech to the labour party conference Ed repeatedly referenced Gareth’s comments to the point that, for many, Gareth was the only part of the speech that stuck in the mind.  Twitter and social media were flooded with speculation over Gareth’s whereabouts and it wasn’t too long before Gareth was identified as a Softwire employee, and tracked down by the media.

Talking to Gareth today he was keen to make his moment in the spotlight have a positive impact.  After discussing how best to do this, we settled on the idea of raising money for Shelter, the housing charity.  Shelter helps people with all sorts of issues relating to homelessness and its causes. Softwire has a long-standing policy of matching charitable donations made by employees and we have decided on this occasion to extend this to the general public. We will match any donations made up to a total of £5,000, which could see us sending £10,000 or more to this great cause.

You can make a donation here https://www.justgiving.com/Softwire-Ltd/.  Please help us make a real difference today!

Meet the team: Dani, Software Developer


19 September 2014, by

How long have you been working at Softwire?

I’ve been a developer at Softwire since last September, which I joined after graduating university in the summer.

What made you want to work at Softwire?

Doing my research at the end of university for a place to work, Softwire stood out for a number of reasons. I had a huge list of criteria, and Softwire was the only company that even came close! These included:

  • Small/ Medium company. I didn’t want to be a cog in a huge machine, and at Softwire your input is not only valued but also really visible from the very beginning.
  • Lots of different technologies. We learn new languages and technologies all the time here, varying from database work to service layer and even some front end web development meaning you’ll never get bored!
  • Lots of different projects. Our projects here tend to average at about 3 months. This gives you a great chance to get stuck into what you are doing, work with different people and see the whole lifecycle of the project
  • Company culture. It’s hard to describe our culture, but it’s by far the best thing about working at Softwire- something I hadn’t even anticipated when I applied. Everyone here is incredibly smart, really lovely and most of all, a good laugh.
  • Bristol! Bristol is a really great place to live, and our office is right in the centre.

How has Softwire helped you to grow as a developer?

I joined Softwire with minimal experience, but now I can confidently tackle any problems thrown at me. Being on real projects from day one means you get to learn pretty quickly the kind of code we expect here. I’m supported greatly by my colleagues and managers meaning if there is anything new I want to learn I only have to ask. Another vital part of my “growth” as a developer is that all of your work is reviewed thoroughly so you get almost continuous feedback to help you improve.  We’re also encouraged and helped to work on our own personal projects – whether it’s some software we think would make our lives better, or just an excuse to learn some new tech.

What do your friends think about Softwire?

I think most of my friend think that they would like to work at Softwire! I have a lot of friends in more corporate environments who are amazed by some of the things we get up to – whether it’s the copious amount of snacks in the kitchen or the fun events we do (we’re going to laser quest next week!). A lot of my friends are also really impressed by the charity support we get here too. I help at the Code Club the Bristol office runs, and we also have any holiday we take for volunteering matched, meaning I can take the Guide unit I run to camp!

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

A zip line/ pulley system between our office and the brilliant sandwich shop down the hill!