Rants & Raves

Musings on software, programming, design, and business.

I first met Becky in April of last year when she was interviewing for a Quality & Business Analyst position. From the moment we spoke, I knew she was going to be a tremendous asset to Bootsoft. Becky’s solid QA background, strong communication skills and cool as a cucumber demeanor made her a perfect fit for Bootsoft (I was also unabashedly giddy that she had dabbled in Hyperbolic Geometry and Abstract Algebra). Unfortunately, Becky was living in Madison at the time and we would have to wait nearly three months for her to join our team. As expected, she was worth the wait.

Becky hit the ground running and started to contribute immediately. Rather than read all the training materials we have built over the years, she migrated everything to our internal wiki. After that, she went after our auto-test development materials and started critically evaluating our processes looking for inconsistencies with a serious eye for detail. Once she got our existing materials in order, she worked with other Quality Assurance resources in New York, namely Smadar Mavor and Kate Diago, to draft a methodology for creating Agile Use Cases. In summary, she quickly tackled unglamorous tasks that were overdue and badly needed and for that she gets a big fat gold star.

Becky did not stop there; instead she put on a Product Owner cap and collaborated on several Agile projects. In this capacity, her attention to detail was instrumental. She drove story development, corralled clients, managed priorities, and extracted and translated requirements. She has worked on an educational product for a start up, a financial research oriented mobile iPad app, and a SalesForce VIOP integration where her QA and technical skills have certainly been challenged, but she continues to shine.

As noted above, Becky is nailing it and has done so from day one. She has been a tremendous help to me, and I cannot wait to see what else she can do as her career evolves at Bootsoft.

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.

In November 2013, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), struck the Visayas region of the Philippines. It was the strongest storm ever recorded (category 5),  and as a result it destroyed many homes and historical facilities, tore families apart and claimed many lives. In the wake of the storm, the International community came together to extended their donations, relief and rescue mission to all affected areas.

Bootsoft’s Manila office also wanted to do their part in the relief efforts and did not think twice about setting aside the employee Christmas party to host a gift giving party to the children of Tacloban, and providing a Noche Buena to the families that were taking refuge at Hospicio de San Jose.

Bootsoft Manila Team who had a great time hosting a party and wishing them a better tomorrow after the tragedy.

Nothing compares to the fun and fulfillment seeing them enjoying and smiling like nothing happened.

Food for their Christmas Eve Celebration

The smile on the kids faces were priceless!

Overall, the event was in the true Christmas spirit of giving back. The team enjoyed seeing smiles on the faces of children you would normally see on TV crying and asking for help. In fact, the event was so popular with the team that it’s highly likely there will be future events where Manila Gives Back!

Early last year, Bootsoft introduced the Bootsoft Learns Together program (BLT). The big goal being to continue to grow and learn new and interesting things. One cool thing about the program is that the topic is not limited in scope to what we do here at Bootsoft — or maybe it is, since we’ve been known to dabble in everything from music, to puzzling, to art, and of course software! Another cool benefit is that Bootsoft donates BLT hours for all employees, so you can actually do this while at work!

The development group decided that we would learn Scala. A small group of us signed up for a functional programming course via the popular learning site, Coursera and chugged on for several weeks. The class itself was comprised of lectures, quizzes, and homework. The lectures were about 5 to 15 minutes long per session, with an embedded quiz. Homework assignments were due weekly and got fairly involved, especially towards the end. All in all, it was a great learning experience. The group got together once a week to talk about the class and share ideas on the material itself, including applying our new-found knowledge to future project work.

Riding our Scala-high, we immediately got together to talk about our next learning adventure. That talk resulted in us deciding to attend and iOS class. The class we signed up for was an ongoing series offered by Stanford University. These were real full classroom lectures that were recorded and published. The format was therefore very different than what we were used to from the Scala class. In fact, most of us agreed that we were bored with the delivery of the material (mostly due to the length of each lecture). As a result, we decided to try using the class material as reference to aid in building some real iOS projects in-house. This effort resulted in three projects, two of which were dropped. The final of the three is still on-going and will be released to the public later this year.

We learned from the iOS class that it was next to impossible to keep up with Apple’s lightening pace of iOS version releases without sacrificing real project work and deadlines. We also learned that it was much easier to stick with the class to the end if the format was more suited to a heavy multi-tasking environment. That is, bite-sized chunks over long drawn-out sessions.

Generally, though we got something started and now it is once again in full effect, as a couple of team members have picked up Mongo DB for developers, another online course that is formatted very much like the Scala course and shows great promise for usage in future projects at Bootsoft.

On Thursday, January 16th, employees, clients and guests gathered at Pioneers Bar for Bootsoft’s Annual (post) Holiday Party.

This year’s party included lots of dancing to soul music courtesy of DJ Guyanna Ross:

A photoboooth:

And over-sized Jenga:

The 3rd Annual Bootie Awards were also handed out during the event. Below is a list of the winners:

Rick and Jay gave a heartwarming speech
Bootsoft’s MVP – Kristina Vogel-An
Most Dedicated Puzzler – David Bebawy
Karaoke King & Queen – Jay Erickson & Kate Baldwin
Most Stylish – Olivier Auber
Early Bird – Sally Dankas
Night Owl – Jill Hennelly
Most Impressive Dance Moves – Martin Constantine
Best Sense of Humor – Mark Udit
Most Likely To Brighten Your Day – Dave Gould & Tyler Joseph
Most Fit and/or Athletic – Kate Parker

Overall, it was a fanastic time. Cheers to all who helped make the evening great!

Visit us on Facebook to view all the photos from the night!

On a regular basis, Bootsoft developers face complex and mind boggling software development challenges. The kind of problems that were solved in high school by the Mathletes because they were too bold and too dangerous for the classroom. Sometimes a single developer can find the solution right away. Sometimes it takes a whole team. Sometimes the team get stumped. Befuddled. Fatigued. When that happens, we bring in Mark. Mark is our clincher. Our relief pitcher. The Resolver.

What makes Mark such an ideal clincher? Experience, for one. Mark has been with Bootsoft for over a decade and has worked on multiple projects across multiple technology stacks and with multiple clients. Second, consistency. A project manager’s dream. I can even tell you what Mark is going to have for lunch tomorrow. Third, his cool and calm demeanor. It is exactly what is needed in an emergency situation and is the trait of a true leader.

In addition to Mark’s keen ability to hone directly in on the problem at hand, he is also a talented software architect and tech lead who is able to see the big picture.

Congrats Mark, you nailed it!

Bootsoft is always trying to find ways to contribute to the community, and one of our favorite ways is using our skills to give back! Over the weekend of November 1st-3rd, we had another GiveBack NY event (formerly named Create-a-thon). Since our last event in April 2013, we’ve partnered up with GiveBack DC, rebranded, and made another website for another well-deserving non-profit.

The group we worked with this time was Sports2Success. They use sports as a platform to empower today’s youth to help them pursue employment and become contributing members to the workforce. Through Sports Leadership Training and Apprenticeship programs, they build up kids with the confidence to excel in life, and through a career.

Working with Jamaal King, the Founder of Sports2Success, we were able to gather all the information and content for the website to get going. By creating wireframes prior to the event, it helps us plan a swift course of action for designing, coding and testing over the weekend. One of the challenges we faced, was the fact that there weren’t any photos of the group yet, so, Jamaal had an idea of creating a dynamic animation for the home page to help show what the organization is about. He sent us an idea for what it could be based on, and our designer Seung-Yun took it and ran with it! She was able to create the impressive animation that is on the home page using solely CSS and HTML. (You can view the site >>here<<)

The look-n-feel was created by myself, Kate B (the event coordinator for GBNY). I was inspired by S2S’s original logo, which was updated and simplified on the new site, and a theme of orange and dark grey/black used on their previous site. I wanted to add another accent color to the layout that wasn’t as bright as the orange color, and I felt that a pleasant teal-blue color complimented the orange and blended with the black and greys. I wanted the site to be engaging but simple, so a user could go to the site and quickly know where to go depending on what they wanted to do. I also wanted the site to have a fun and youthful look to it, seeing that it is a program for kids, but because the target audience is volunteers and supporters, I still wanted it to have a professional and organized feeling, as well.

Once I had the overall design ready to go, the developers were ready to jump in! We worked away all day on Saturday and got a ton of work done, to come in on Sunday to finish off the project and do some testing. For this project we used WordPress as a framework with Foundation and SASS. Everything went pretty smoothly, and we are so happy with the finished product!

Thank you to everyone who participated in this incredibly successful weekend, and can’t wait to begin planning our next event. If you or someone you know are involved with a non-profit in need of a website revamp – please apply at www.givebackny.org

Last night, Bootsoft enjoyed some friendly competition at a trivia night hosted by the Big Quiz Thing ( http://bigquizthing.com/ ). Teams were assigned in advanced and in true Bootsoft fashion, they came up with clever team names and costumes:

#BlurredMinds were labeled "Most Gifted" after they won the Trivia Portion

The Nerdsenbergs was another team that styled itself after a recent pop culture phenomenon.

The Team With the Most Kates were the liveliest team and as a result they won the Most Team Spirit Award

The Quizzards also had amazing spirit and costumes!

Team United Nations didn't fare well in the competition, but they definitely gave it their best shot!

For more photos, visit our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bootsoft?ref=hl

It’s not every day when one of our longtime clients comes to us and says “We want you to build something cool.” Of course all of our projects are cool, but this was slightly different. Coldwell Banker wanted us to build a piece of software to wow their prospective franchisees. After some discussion about what this might look like, the video wall project was born.

Video Wall – Main Screen

The Video Wall is basically a giant interactive map of the United States displayed on a television screen. All over the map are tweets from real estate agents in different cities and states capable of being filtered by specific hashtags. Users control the map using their hands via the Microsoft Kinect, a motion sensor unit we attached to the television.

Coldwell Banker gave us a lot of flexibility on this project. We had an overarching goal for the project, but we knew some of the finer details would be discovered over time. This made it a perfect Agile project. Agile is a method that  involves incremental development broken down into phases called sprints. Instead of all of the functionality being defined at the beginning of the project, functionality is discovered over time with input from the client. At the end of each sprint, a functioning piece of software is delivered to the client for feedback and the goals of the next sprint are laid out. In this way we were free to try a bunch of new things and find the perfect solution for our client.

Getting Started with Kinect: Microsoft vs the Rest

My role in the project was development using the Kinect. The first challenge was selecting what technology to use. Microsoft provides a software development kit (SDK) for the Kinect using Microsoft Visual Studio and C#, which has several built in functions to recognize gestures and movements. There are also several third party SDKs, which I tried over the course of a month in addition to Microsoft’s Kinect SDK. In the end I decided on Microsoft’s.

The third party options are mostly low-level C++ implementations that largely come out of research projects and minor experimentation by various entities. Although some seem very useful (and certainly flexible), the revisiting of writing C++ code would be a big contributor towards avoiding these APIs. Additionally, the availability of support wildly varied by project and relied mostly on how active (in the project) and responsive the developers are. The issue of course is always time.

Windowed App or Not?

Having decided on using Microsoft’s SDK, we came to another intersection that required choosing between creating a GUI Windowed application vs a console-driven application. The goal was to show a web page in a window and we know that web browsers specialize at this. On the other hand, the Kinect SDK has tons of goodies that make developing a Windowed application much easier than the alternative. After a bit of playing around, it was clear that using the web browser to deliver the “wall” was the way to go due to the flexibility and freedom offered in creating Javascript-rich applications and the ease at which updates could be made available.

Kinect Console Lessons

One of the biggest challenges was implementing gestures. Some gestures the Microsoft SDK provided functions for, such as dragging the map by closing your hand. More complicated functions like zooming in or zooming out I had to code from scratch.

To zoom in or out on the map, the user first has to hold both hands up in front of the screen. Then, the user has to close their hands and either pull their firsts apart to zoom in or push their fists together to zoom out. These functions were not provided in the SDK. That meant I had to write a lot of low level code to recognize these gestures. This turned out to be a little more tedious than I anticipated.

Overall it was a quite a fun project. The Kinect also has the capability for facial gesture recognition and voice recognition, so we only really scratched the surface of the full range of functionality. It was great to get to learn some new technology. Thanks CB!

This month Ian Ainley nailed it.

Working with someone is a huge commitment.  You spend hundreds of hours collaborating, debating, struggling, and eventually succeeding alongside your peers.  Trust is an inherent part of any relationship, and getting into the virtual trenches with someone requires a great deal of it.  My working relationship with Ian has spanned multiple companies and countless projects.  There is no developer I would rather have at the keys than Ian Ainley.  He is a superb programmer, but more importantly is dependable, and trustworthy.  There is calmness to his swagger that helps to right the boat when things get rough, and I have never seen a task or impasse get the best of him.

Ian’s work is uniformly accurate and timely.  On a project that was particularly complex – Ian built the front end for something called “Blue Wall”.  This ‘wall’ integrated a live twitter stream using web sockets to display tweets on a full screen map.  The user then interacted with the map using motion captured by an X-Box Connect.  Ian hand rolled a custom event dispatch system in CoffeeScript to handle the incoming tweets and motion events into what is truly fun and exciting user experience.

Most recently we have been working on a mobile app using the Sencha Touch framework, and Phonegap(Cordova).  This is an area of JavaScript development that has become an increasingly popular option for clients who wish to have their “app” deployed to multiple platforms’ App Stores but don’t want the overhead of developing and maintaining a codebase for each platform.  There are many benefits to going the way of the HTML5/JS/CSS3 to native deployment.  In this solution there are of course hurdles and roadblocks that developers must face to achieve the same level of immersion and integration that a native app can provide.  In my experience as a Web Developer this has been one of the more challenging problems faced.  Thankfully Bootsoft is lucky enough to have Ian Ainley tackling these issues and managing the find the right balance between art and code.

These are only a couple of the projects Mr Ainley has been working on, and there is no question that he has Nailed It.