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:
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
These are only a couple of the projects Mr Ainley has been working on, and there is no question that he has Nailed It.
As you may know, our COO and Co-founder, Jay Erickson, was recently diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer. As a result, Jay has been out of the office as he undergoes a 12-week regime of chemotherapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering.
As a show of support, a team of more than 20 Bootsoft employees and friends participated in the Light the Night walk to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on September 25th. Our team raised over $7,500 in a little over a week, which put Bootsoft in the top 5% of fundraisers for the event. More importantly, the money raised will benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma’s mission to find an cure for cancers, and to improve the quality of life of patients and their families. If you would like to donate to the Bootsoft page, you may do so here: http://pages.lightthenight.org/nyc/Manhattn13/Bootsoft
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!