Rants & Raves

Musings on software, programming, design, and business.

Agile is everywhere. In the 13 years since the publication of the Agile Manifesto, the term has slowly become a common part of the tech vernacular – and that’s a good thing. For years, the majority of us in the development community have pretended that if we just sat still long enough, thought hard enough, made swank models, had a lot of meetings to collect requirements, and incorporated feedback from peer reviews on our designs and specifications that we would create the best product possible. I have a lot of swank diagrams, data models, and technical specifications that I’m pretty proud of, but when the rubber meets the road, ‘stuff happens’ and there is always the regret that we did not have more time for development or find that super key thing that was missed.

Collectively speaking, we have always made up for those mishaps with a lot of coffee, all nighters, a few stressed out PMs and a lot of refactoring. Riding down the waterfall in the best constructed barrel has certainly served us well, but I have always felt like something was fundamentally wrong. Agile taught me that I was not crazy for thinking there was a better way, or that our efforts were misplaced.

Agile Process

Helping lead the way in the Agilification of Bootsoft has been one of the more rewarding professional experiences I have had. There is a greater sense of ownership across the board and quite frankly it just makes sense. Working with clients to shape a product from start to finish is very satisfying. When involved in these type of projects, most team members feel like they have a say in the direction of the product as it develops. They’re not just handed a massive tech spec and told “Go.” At the same time clients can see, touch, and feel the product as it goes through development, which obviously helps build our mutual understand and confidence along the way.

That’s not to say Agile is always the right choice. Tackling an Agile project requires a close-knit team of highly motivated individuals. It requires discipline; albeit a more creative kind of discipline, but discipline none the less. It requires more training. The Agile methodology has only recently hit universities and most of us have waterfalling ingrained in our DNA. Unraveling traditional methods and educating clients and colleagues is no small task.

You’ve also got to take the time upfront to reap the rewards. People are resistant to to long retrospectives, planning, and estimation sessions because most of us are simply so scared from a seemingly relentless line of unproductive meetings. We all have a tendency to  fall back on old habits and comfortable ways of working. You need a few ah-ha moments to keep the shift in style and tactics in place. It is not as easy as enacting a new policy and insisting everyone follow. It requires coaching and determination. I guess this is why they invented the scrum master – to keep everyone honest about the process and priorities.

Despite this, I am a convert. There is a better way, and Agile is it. Agile will lead you to a better product faster. In other words – you can believe the hype.

The last time I wrote about Responsive Design was about a year and a half ago, and there have been so many updates and advancements. I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about how I’ve been using responsive design lately and what I’ve learned by doing so.

In my role as a User Experience Designer at Bootsoft, I get the privilege of seeing new projects move from inception, to design, to development. A big part of designing a site or application, is planning out the architecture. After meeting with the client and hashing out the product’s needs and functions, I do some sketches and conceptual wireframes. Through the wireframes, I am able to annotate and map out on a more general level how things are going to interact. After going through some iterations with the conceptual wire frames, we begin making a clickable prototype. The clickable prototype can be very helpful for showing the client how their product is going to work. Without having to worry about any of the back-end, we are able to show them a prototype that looks, feels and functions like they expect a website or an application to work.

For these prototypes, I have been using the responsive front-end framework, Foundation (http://foundation.zurb.com). I am a big fan of this tool, because it is easy to implement, it has a bunch of great add-ons for prototyping that make mocking up a website quick and easy (like modals, image sliders, etc).  It is also based on a grid, like the majority of responsive frameworks. The grid creates a layout that is controlled by percentages, so when changing the browser size, the content is flexible and logically rearranges itself.

One of the nice things about Foundation is that you can style it as much or as little as you like. Their core look and feel is actually very attractive – especially the buttons, forms and other added components. It’s clean and unobtrusive, which helps the client hone in on the core functionality of the user interface & experience instead of getting hung up on graphic elements.

We have used this framework for quite a few new projects, and so far it has been very successful both from my perspective and the clients. It is very intuitive and definitely makes my life easier when making clickable prototypes. What is nice about it is that when I need to make updates or changes, it’s incredibly easy and flexible to do so. As we move more into the Agile process, it is very important to work with technologies that are fluid and easy to work with, so for the wire framing and prototyping part of our project, Foundation has proved to be one of the best ways to keep with the rapid process.

I am really enjoying this method we’ve adopted for the discovery process, and I’m excited to keep moving forward with new and advancing technologies. It is so important to keep up-to-date with the direction of development and technology, and I am glad we’re are doing so, especially in this early part of a project. If you are trying to figure out a way to express specific functionality to a client, and flat wireframes just aren’t cutting it, I highly suggest using a rapid prototyping tool like Foundation!

Jill is an anchor in the Bootsoft team. She holds the ship steady even in the roughest seas. Her success can be attributed to her no-nonsense-get-it-done attitude and her extraordinary work ethic. Clients trust her, developers look to her for direction and Project Managers want to be like her.

Jill came to Bootsoft originally as a QA Analyst – a role that injected an attention to detail that as a Project Manager allows her to get to the bottom of the issue faster than a 5GHz 8 core processor. She recently transitioned from a Production Support Coordinator role into a Project Management role for new development projects. The transition was smooth and Jill has already managed and launched several successful projects.

But don’t be fooled by Jill’s cool and calm demeanor. When she is not busy triaging tickets and writing functional specification documents, Jill can be found competing in the muddy Warrior Dash, mountain biking in torrential downpour in the Philippines or showing off her sweet jump shot on the b-ball court.

Congratulations Jill, you nailed it!

Kate Baldwin IS the graphic design arm of Bootsoft. She came directly from University to us and has blazed forth into the professional world leaving a wake of beauty and UX excellence in her wake. Her 3rd Bootiversary just recently passed and she has not lost a drop of the design-force essence that landed her squarely in our midst.

In between juggling umpteen project requests she also manages to push forward our Events and Marketing Committee (EMC) while grooming cats and design interns alike. If that wasn’t enough to quell this constant creative conjuror, a recent volunteer initiative – still to be named – has taken form which aims to provide an out-of-the-box site for a select nonprofit in a weekend session. The first go brought The Autism Program at Boston Medical Center from a back page mention to a full branded site complete with Calendar, Blog, and all the trimmings that go along. For orchestrating the event, curating the “client”, wireframing and designing the site – Kate has been bestowed the coveted “Nailed It” award.

There is no doubt that as the ever constant march of time pushes on Ms. Baldwin will be a central, if not critical piece in the Bootsoft ecosystem. Her presence makes us all better at our job – and that’s just before lunch.

A Create-a-thon is where designers, developers and marketing wizards rally and work to build a beautiful website for a well-deserving non-profit in a set period of time. In this case, it is 12 hours, and we will be spending Saturday, April 20th, giving back to the community.

For the time being, it is a private event, with participants being from Bootsoft only. Although, the end goal is to take our experiences from this event, and grow and evolve to become a larger, possibly weekend-long event where we can invite designers, developers, and the like from the rest of the web design community. As most know, there are a ton of non-profits that are always deserving of a helping hand, so we want to continue giving back to these great organizations.

The non-profit we will be working with is The Autism Program at Boston Medical Center. They do not have a web presence currently, and we are so excited to build them a great looking, functional site to help them out. We are also excited about the fact that April is Autism Awareness Month, and we feel privileged to be a part of it, and are happy to contribute to the cause.

If you are part of a non-profit, or know of a non-profit, and are interested in applying to be sponsored for future Create-A-Thon’s, please email kate@bootsoft.com . If you are chosen, you will have a whole website created just for you, pro-bono, by the professionals at Bootsoft.

We are anxiously anticipating the 20th, and hope you follow along with us while it happens at either (or both!) of these internet places: https://twitter.com/createathonnychttps://www.facebook.com/createathonnyc

Check out: www.createathonnyc.com

 

Two of the things that make working at Bootsoft special are the amazing people and the casual work environment. Last Thursday, the staff of New York and Buenos Aires offices leveraged these to to pull a prank on Jay. Through some covert ops, we arrived for work as usual on February 7th; however, we were dressed in our finest business wear. In an office where hoodies and jeans are commonplace, it was quite a shock to see people wearing suits and ties.

Jay was quick to notice that something was up, and everyone quietly enjoyed watching his head spin as he tried to figure out why we were all dressed up. Not wanting to be left out, Jay even put on a tie during his lunch break.

When asked why he was so dressed up, Jay mentioned that he was honoring the birthday of American Author, Gay Talese, and also celebrating the 345th anniversary of  Dutch Prince William III dancing in premiere of “Ballet of Peace”. After his convincing arguments, we finally, let him know that the real reason we were all dressed up was simply to pull a prank on him. Jay took the joke in stride, and was the epitome of a good sport. Special thanks to all who participated, for Daniel Engelman for capturing the day and especially to Jay for being gracious!

Companies are constantly striving to differentiate themselves from the competition and part of our job as a software consultant is to create a product that helps them achieve this goal. Whether it’s increasing efficiency by simplifying their process or purely taking an idea and bringing it to life, Bootsoft takes on many roles (pun intended) when it comes to client satisfaction. When we were approached by one of our long-standing clients, The Leading Hotels of the World, with a marketing campaign idea combining film and travel, we could not have been more excited.

The main premise was to detail iconic movies that have been filmed on location at LHW member hotels or simply put, #LHWInTheMovies. With 85 featured films and the associated 85 hotels, there was no shortage of brilliant images and back-stories. After the initial discovery meetings, our team was feeding off the energy of enthusiastic project stakeholders excited to celebrate both LHW and the Academy Award’s 85th anniversaries. As one would expect, we incorporated the “must have” social media hooks for Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest to allow a smooth flow across those sites. Custom verbiage and URL’s were crafted by the client to ensure the messaging was in-line with the rest of their campaign.

To implement the immense amount of static content (in 5 languages nonetheless), we attacked this microsite exclusively on the front end. Breaking from the “traditional way” of including multiple script tags on each page in a specific order, our front end team used Require.js to organize and handle dependencies for the assigned JavaScript files. By doing this, we can call one base file for the page and it will load any module and those modules’ dependencies easily. This boosts performance, as these files are not called asynchronously post page load, i.e. no more JS blocking.

Backbone and Underscore were used to build the dynamic templates for the pages, as well as create a convention for organizing high level JS classes. Finally we marked up the pages using HTML5 and CSS3.With all these factors in place, the code is far more reusable and maintainable.

With a wide range of properties across the globe and movies filmed in every decade dating back to 1925, everyone was eager to share the new site with the world. Check out the final product here and be sure to share with your friends and family. Big thanks to everyone involved on the project!

JavaScript seems to be an odd candidate for a language on the rise. After all it’s not new, and in fact is by most accounts a flawed language. Many would argue that it fails to deliver on the 3 pillars of Object Oriented programming; encapsulation, specialization, and polymorphism. Javascript is very loose in it’s typing, and the apparent lack of those types may drive a “classic” programmer out the window. We have functions as first class citizens and can pass them about without a care in the world. The endless flow of callbacks and a-synchronous patterns can quickly turn any well crafted script into an unwieldy goulash. Within the function body of an event handler we suddenly loose scope and find ourselves hanging from the window, looking in on our locally scoped friends we so desperately need. Yet somehow, someway all the “newness” and “hotness” and “hipster meta tech framework jargon ipsum” is leaning on the back of this once berated language.

With the death of Flash there is one way to script that all the browsers you care about can handle, and that is JS. It’s like our “too big to fail” banks and insurance companies. What happens if a browser decides “nah, I don’t like JS, we are going to introduce a new sexy, semantic language that is going to blow the doors of that antiquated piece of junk”, and stops supporting it? People stop supporting that browser. We have parity; Chrome, FF, IE, Safari, Opera etc … IE is no longer the hegemony it once was, and cannot push us around. In fact IE has to play catch up and support the magnificent modern feature set that webkit and Mozilla dream up.

With that, and the increasing efficiency of the JS interpreters we are driven to code the way of the JS Ninja. The FE days of sad code monkeys pushing pixels has given way to some seriously kick-ass client side devs who are moving this wave further and faster. JQuery is almost a forgone conclusion at this point – some of use are running multiple versions *gasp*. It has made selecting, parsing, and manipulating the DOM dead simple, normalized events and AJAX across browsers, gave us simple animations, and brought IMHO brought the first glimpse of sanity to Client Side Programming. WOW, the term “Client Side Programming” was an oxymoron at one point, wasn’t it? Now there is a sea of emerging frameworks, libraries, tool-belts(?) all calling for our attention and loyalty.

We recently built a prototype for client that was purely on the front end. With the help of local storage, an app experience was born that could be stateful for the user and provide an excellent preiview of a potentional product. After much researching and second guessing I arrived a set of libraries and frameworks to use in our venture. They were Require.js, Underscore.js(required by backbone), Backbone.js, and jQuery. Backbone has a hard dependency on Underscore, and looks for either jQuery or Zepto for DOM work. I was fimiliary with jQuery so that was an easy choice. The decision to use Require was inteded to provide structure and convention for JS dependancy management. Node has it’s own built in “require” and as someone who does not do a whole lot with Node – I was envious.


Backbone.js

Backbone claims to be a client side MVC. Model – View – Collection … I hear you, what’s a collection? Where’s the Controller? Backbone had a controller, once, but that is gone now and all that remains is the view – which is actually more like a controller, and where you might think view code should be exists JS templates. JS templates, oh right – and which templating library should I use; mustache, handlebars, underscore/lodash, srender? I’ll say underscore for the sake of simplicity as it’s a hard dependency of Backbone – but I hear people like the handlebars and mustache because they have opinions on logic in your templates. I digress – Backbone, right, so What’s so awesome about it?

  • Nice “extend” synatx for dealing with JS prototype inheritence – very common these days
  • Event Delegation – clean usage of jQuery.delegate, handles the “this” gotcha of the scope bounce with event handlers
  • Patterns for binding views to data models – this is really where the juice is.
  • Native underscore methods of collections (Array of JSON Objects)
  • Reusable code patterns

Underscore.js

Underscore is the only dependancy of Backbone, but shouldn’t be needlesly tied to it. If there is one thing that you take away from this post, it’s that you should go get Underscore/lodash right now. Underscore gives MUCH needed functional tools to JS objects, arrarys, arrays of objects(collecionts) and has some other bonus love as well. There is NO reason why you should not be using underscore, unless your in some larger framework i.e. Sencha. Another glorius takeaway from underscore is that you can now reuse your BackBone data models and collections from Node in the browser, as it has brought all those functional compemenets up. Brilliant!

Require.js

You should be using AMD patterns for your JS, just like you should never use == and always use ===. Require isn’t perfect and can be ugly, but it’s better than nothing and comes with a handy dandy optimizer (r.js) – which runs on Node of course. The learning curve for me was steepest with Require. Not using a singleton global APP object pulls the rug to be sure – it takes some getting used to. In the end it results in better more re-usable JS code IMO.


There are many JS frameworks and plugins and helpers and tools, and it’s moving super fast. Being able to use one of these tools is the only way to learn, and decide if it’s right for you. There is no right way to use them, though certainly there are wrong ways but the most important thing is keep opening them up, diving head on, and hoping for the best. This is NOT an industry where you can sit still – and I like that way. JavaScript may give way to CoffeeScript of ECMA 6 or Dart, or who knows what – but right now you should know it and love it.

Byron joined Bootsoft a year and a half ago and has consistently nailed it.  With increased responsibilities in recent months he has continued to put hammer to nail -making him an obvious choice as the recipient of the January 2013 Nailed It! award.

As a front-end developer and tech lead, Byron’s skills are top notch. More than anything, what sets Byron apart is his ability to combine his strong work ethic, excellent teamwork and thoughtful leadership. Despite moving his base of operations to Portsmouth, NH, Byron has maintained a strong presence within the team and has proven an effective manager as Director of User Interface.

Byron is leading us on the cutting edge of front-end technologies having successfully implemented the following tools as part of a highly interactive responsive design tablet project for Pearson:

I am proud to count Byron as a colleague, and I know that he will always deliver work that is on-time  and of the highest quality while simultaneously bringing a humorous, uplifting and creative voice to the table.

 

 

It’s hard to imagine the current state of business, entertainment or media without the remarkable impact and contribution of websites in the modern world.

It has to be noted the influence of a website is derived from a combination of its well organized content and the presentation. Content needs to be managed and updated. One of the key technologies in managing content is a Content Management System; a stand-alone application framework responsible to create, manage and deploy web page content. Much to the relief of non-technical website owners and clients, web CMS systems provides users with the ability to edit, publish, administer and even go back-and-forth between versions of their website contents that is instantly reflected to the other side of the world.

I’d like to quickly dive into a particular web CMS framework called Concrete5 and give some of my insights regarding its unique features and functionalities.

Concrete5 is an open source web CMS written in PHP and MySQL. C5 comes with a set of powerful tools and features that are written using object-oriented concepts and the model-view-controller (MVC) architecture. C5 has become being best known for its sleek interface, ease of use, and fast response as well as a resourceful community. Let’s examine some of the interesting aspects that make C5 special.

In-Context Editing

One of the unique features in C5 is its easy and intuitive ability to edit pages on-the-fly: In-Context editing. With a single click of the edit button from the C5 editing toolbar, page is put under edit mode – highlighting the editable page areas on mouse rollover. Users can make all sorts of changes on the editable areas, preview their changes privately, discard them or, if its ready to go live, they can type a description for their current edit version and then publish it. Changes would instantly go live.

One feature many would find useful during an in-context editing is the Scrapbook. Scrapbook is the “clipboard” version of Concrete5, where editors can simply copy one or many already configured and content managed page areas and paste them into other pages without going through the processes they went through the copied areas.

Themes & Templates


Themes define the look and feel of our entire C5 site. A theme is basically a directory of HTML, PHP, image, CSS and javascript files collaborating to render pages. Ideally, developers are responsible to “concretize” their site designs into a C5 friendly theme directory. By concretizing we mean organising the directory structure as per the C5 convention, define common site elements (headers and footers), define templates (page types in C5), define single pages (pages like login and contact-us) and then insert snippets of PHP codes in order to make page areas editable.

C5 allows one active theme at a time but we may have a number of them ready on our themes dashboard section. This list of themes could be a collection of themes from the fresh C5 install, custom made or downloaded/installed from the concrete5.org Marketplace.

Blocks & Block Areas


Blocks are the smallest display units in Concrete5. As the name implies, they are the building blocks of a page and its these entities users manipulate when a page is put under edit mode. Display units like carousel sliders, page navigators and image galleries make a good candidate for a block. When editing a carousel slider a block, for instance, users can specify the number of slides, its speed and the images and once the page gets published, the block’s controller is smart enough to process these inputs (or configurations) and send the processed data to its view.

One thing that always goes together with a block is a block area. A block area is simply the hole a block lives in. These areas has to be predefined on a page so users can manipulate them to add blocks, layouts or even alter their design on-the-fly (i.e. play with fonts, background colors, spacing, borders and even add an inline CSS code).

The fresh C5 install comes with several basic blocks like video player, Google maps, HTML editor, forms and so on.

Page Types


One of the signatures of a well crafted website is its consistent design and layout between pages grouped within the same type of category. C5 has a great way of predefining these types of pages as templates where their common components, layouts and design comes incorporated with their blank page instance. From C5 editing toolbar, users are given an easy task of adding a page, select its type and then fill out their desired content within the block areas defined.

This is very helpful for websites heavy-laden with articles, news and the likes that persistently get created every now and then. Moreover, the desire to improve designs and layouts can easily be achieved on the templates which automatically gets propagated to all other instances of the page type as well as to the newly created ones.

Single Pages


On the contrary to page types, single pages in Concrete5 represent pages that are one-off with unique design and layouts. Pages like Login, Contact and About often are presented with their unique design and layout and C5 does not require these to fall under any of the page types defined; for the simple fact that no more than one of these pages would exist throughout the site. Similar to page type templates, however, single pages could still be set up with block areas as desired so that the actual content can be managed by the end user.

The Dashboard


The C5 dashboard is a hub hosting several admin based tools and global settings like the File Manager – a centralized area to manage site assets like images and docs that could be used by page contents, Users and Groups – permissions and access rights, Reports – system logs, and page errors. The dashboard hosts tools where our custom made blocks, themes, page types and so on are activated before they’re ready for use on the main site section.

Besides these visible features, C5 also comes incorporated with different Zend libraries for its internationalization and powerful caching features geared towards optimizing pages for speed and lightness.

Conclusion

All in all, Concrete5 is an inexpensive, well thought and crafted extensible framework that makes content management a friendly task for regular end users. The number of addons and themes available through the C5 marketplace is an important part of its flexibility and success.

Feel like reading more about Concrete5?
http://www.concrete5.org/documentation/using-concrete5/
http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2012/08/an-introduction-to-concrete5/
http://www.noupe.com/tools/is-concrete5-the-right-cms-for-your-website-73213.html