Softwire Blog


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.

Getting more Women into Technology


9 December 2015, by

9378548_origAs a successful woman working in technology, I often get asked how to attract more women into tech roles. I get asked by diversity officers of large corporates like BT and I get asked to share my experiences as a women with young people through organisations like STEMNet and TeenTech. “Where are the women?” has become a topic across many areas of modern life, such as business, academia and politics, as well as technology. My favourite question on the topic was from a young founder of a tech company: “There are only four of us in the startup and we’re all white males – what do we do?”.

Step one: Don’t panic It’s not your job to fix the whole tech industry. There are fewer women than men in tech right now, and you’re not going to change that by redesigning your marketing materials or having more female-friendly office perks. If there are only four of you and you care enough to accost a speaker to ask what you can do differently, your company make up likely reflects the industry and you will be OK.

Step two: Realise that there is no magic “women thing” that you can do One mistake that crops up time and time again and will alienate rather than attract women is the tendency to think of them as a homogenous group. I’m a mid-thirties woman without children so painstakingly outlining your maternity policy will not make me feel more welcome, whereas for some women this will be a key factor in considering where to work. Similarly booking in “girly” events or perks without finding out what your female employees like can seriously backfire. As one of our developers said recently “women in tech don’t tend to want manicures”. (Of course I’m not saying that generalisation is true either – just remember that different women like different things.)

Step three: Find information specific to your business What do the women who work for you already think you do well, or not so well? Perhaps even more tellingly, why do women leave your business? Make sure you hold exit interviews and when you do try to ascertain whether you are finding out what people really think. Consider using a member of the HR team or someone who hasn’t been involved in the day to day work of the exiting team member, to make sure that they are not holding back from criticising the person who is holding the interview.

Step four: And if all that fails… If you are really have problems recruiting and retaining women, here are some suggestions.
• Train all of your staff in relationship building and personal interaction. Soft skills are classically considered female territory, but even more importantly these skills will help you to uncover what people really think and help them to feel welcomed.

• Value diversity. The best way to think of diversity is not whether an employee is a woman, or of a different race or sexual orientation, but whether they actually think differently from you. Hunt out different opinions. Think through the “obviously stupid” ideas for a bit longer – maybe you are missing something. Be suspicious when everyone you hire agrees with you.

• Finally, quotas for hiring are risky for all kinds of reasons, but quotas for shortlists are not. Force yourself to find diverse candidates, especially for senior roles in the company (note that you may find this very hard – don’t give up!) and you may well find yourself surprised to end up hiring a woman.

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.

Internships at Softwire


3 November 2015, by

With recruitment fair season is full flow, we thought it would be interesting to share some of the experiences of our freshly departed Summer interns to give you an idea of what may be in store. Here is what Emily and Stephen thought about their time at Softwire:

b0f31c91ef_500x500Emily: I have wanted to work in software development for a good few years now and coming to Softwire was a big step in that for me. Having done quite a fair amount of research about the company I had come to the conclusion that what with the style of work, the flexibility, the social aspects and the general attitudes of the company (of course I won’t lie, having music lessons and music rooms in the office certainly didn’t hurt!), if I was going to work anywhere in software, then Softwire seemed like the perfect place for me.

At the beginning we had two weeks of training, getting up to speed with C#, Javascript, JQuery, ASP.Net, Bootstrap and AngularJS, amongst other things. Coming from a background of studying computer science at university, I had done a fair amount of Java so C# was a fairly smooth transition, but had no experience with any of the web technologies. We learned quickly though and there was no shortage of support on hand here if you had questions, needed help with something or just wanted some advice from an expert, so it was very satisfying to be looking at so many new things in such a short time.

We then launched our project which I worked on for the remainder of my internship. There were eight of us interns in the team and we were divided into three sub-teams: front-end, back-end and dev-ops. I chose to be in the front-end team in order to put my new found web skills to use and to be able to learn them in a lot greater depth. What I like about working in a team like this is the amount that can get done when you have eight times the mental capacity and coding time of a single person; when everyone pushes their code to the repository at once your program can grow in large amounts very quickly. It’s really exciting to see it coming together with the bits you created working alongside other people’s code.

I think hands down, the things I have enjoyed most about working at Softwire was the friendly, flexible and relaxed environment in the office and the fact that everyone really enjoys what they are doing. They trust you to work smartly and effectively so there’s no chasing you up if you are not in at nine on the dot. I think the general attitude of trust towards employees to just get on with everything as they see fit is a good contributor to the success of the company. Everyone is very happy to be at work, feels relaxed enough to work to their best ability and really cares about the success of their projects without it being forced or artificial in any way.

There’s something to be said about working somewhere that simply doesn’t feel like work because you’re just getting paid for doing what you love. I definitely think I’ve been spoilt coming to Softwire, any future companies I come across are going to have a lot to live up to!

6568888e06_438x500Stephen: I did a 12 week working internship at Softwire after my third year of Mathematics and Computer Science at Oxford. Most of my programming experience had been work I’d done at university, so this was my first proper experience with commercial software development. I always knew it was what I wanted to do, and this summer has definitely confirmed that!

The project I worked on involved extending Umbraco, a content management system used for creating websites in a simple, easy to understand way. We wanted it to be able to create specialised challenges where people could upload scores for various events and be compared against other people on leader boards, in the process, winning awards and trophies for their teams. We added integrated it with other sites such as Twitter, Instagram and Flickr. I started by working on designing a database and implementing an API for it. I really enjoyed doing this from scratch and working out how everything tied together, and I also learned a lot about writing clear, easy to understand code.

Later in the project, I moved on to being the team’s AWS expert. AWS (Amazon Web Services) is Amazon’s cloud storage platform. I spent a lot of my time here understanding how cloud services work, so I could automatically deploy our sites. This was very new to me, as I had done nothing like this before, but it was really rewarding when things started to click into place, and I always had somebody to ask for advice if I needed it.

Softwire really help you improve as you work here, too. We had two weeks of training before we started the main project and over the weeks, our tech lead gave us talks on many parts of software development, including how to use source control and design patterns, which really helped us improve the quality of our code.

Outside of work, it’s been great too. There have been loads of social events while I’ve been here, some of the highlights being trampolining and the company picnic, which have all been a lot of fun.

I’ve really enjoyed my time here, everyone is very nice, and they are keen to help with any problems. It’s also been a great learning opportunity, and the things I’ve learned will definitely have an impact on any programming job I have in the future.

Mentoring the start-up talent of the future, at #Festival of Code 2015


21 August 2015, by

What is Young Rewired State and the Festival of Code?

FestivalOfCode2015YRS is a worldwide community of digital makers aged 18 and under. YRS started running the Festival of Code seven years ago, and it has grown hugely since then. It is free for all young people.

The Festival runs for a week early in the summer holidays. Young digital pioneers, working with the support of volunteer mentors, collaborate to build apps, websites, games and problem solving algorithms aimed to help improve their communities. The only rule is that their projects have to use at least one piece of Open Data – anything from Twitter feeds and weather data, to research data from CERN, so long as it’s free and publicly accessible.

At the end of the week, the coders converge to showcase their projects and compete in the finals. This year, they presented their projects to expert judges, mentors and the press at the Birmingham International Convention Centre on 1st and 2nd August.

What do the youngsters and mentors get out of it?

Who better to hear from than a youngster who got involved?! See what George says.

The mentors also have a great time! As Will said, ‘Everyone worked really hard and had a great time; people’s enthusiasm reminded me of why I learnt to program’.

What did the coders at the Bristol centre build?

  • A spoiler alert browser extension hiding content from TV shows from web pages across the internet.
  • A Top Trumps-like game about local places.
  • A weather and accident map visualisation to explore the correlation between the two.
  • A game where you bet points on whether search terms become more or less popular on google.
  • A map of airports and their associated live data.

Who won the nationwide competition?!

Here’s TechCrunch Mike Butcher’s post on this year’s Festival, with a run down of the winners.

Some noteworthy facts:

  • In seven festivals, the numbers of girls involved has grown from 2% to 30%. You can see more about this in Emma Mulqueeny’s post – she founded the Festival of Code.
  • This year, there were 66 regional centres in the UK with over 1200 coders participating at the weekend showcase.

A huge thank you to our Bristol intern Will Price and developer Jake McKenna for giving up their week to support the participants.