Nailed It! – Becky Frost – February 2014


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.

An Agile Retrospective

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.

Nailed It! – Mark Udit – December 2013

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!

Redesigning BootsoftSoftware.com

Over the seven years I spent with Bootsoft, I’ve seen the company grow from a development company, to a fully evolved team that provides everything from well-defined discovery, smart development, and a refined maintenance/support process. During that time, I was able to add usability and information architecture to the many services that Bootsoft provides today. However, one of the bigger milestones for both Bootsoft as well as my career was the birth of the Creative team last year.

As with any client’s redesign (or initial design for that matter), it’s important to understand the business goals, objectives, identity, and overall brand. Our creative process includes many steps and deliverables in order to identify these points, as well as a game plan on how to achieve the client’s needs. We deemed Bootsoft as a client, and treated ourselves no differently.

The User Experience

As part of our research, we studied the competition as well as applying what we know about our previous site visitors. We identified the target user personas, then began to structure how we want to deliver our message using UX design and information architecture techniques.

In parallel to this, we generated and explored various mood boards to get a better idea of the look and feel we wanted to achieve.

Based on feedback and several iterations, we were able to determine the general feeling we wish to convey to our visitors, as well as how our visitors can find the information they need quickly. This brought us to two different design directions; circle and square.

As with any design process, iterations can conceivably go on forever. We tasked ourselves with defining the pros and cons of each direction, then ultimately deciding on one. From there, we took the things we liked from the other and applied more detailed iterations. The end result is the site that you see today.

Interaction Design
The look and feel is only half the battle when it comes to design. What the user sees has been established, now how about when the user starts clicking around? One of the continuing mantras said throughout the discovery process was “no flash”. The whole Internet industry is abuzz with “HTML5”, and we wanted to flex our muscles as a company to show some of the latest and greatest your browser has to offer.

It’s easy for a designer to get carried away with how a site should behave in their mind. This is when it’s important to sync with a front-end tech lead on what we can and cannot do, according to the browser scope of the project. Storyboarding the site interactions is important to convey these ideas, either by conceptual or detailed wireframes.

In the past, we were accustomed to developing the “pixel-perfectness” from browser to browser. However, the industry is gradually seeing the importance of delivering speed and good UX over visual or functional consistency. This is why progressive enhancement is Bootsoft’s approach today over yesterday’s idea of graceful degradation.

Progressive Enhancement
As a front-end developer, I was no stranger to browser sniffing and conditional behaviors. I still cringe when I think about how much Netscape 4’s DOM differed from Internet Explorer. As part of progressive enhancement, the idea instead is to set a baseline that all browsers can understand, then go from there. We use a couple of tools in order to achieve that “reset”, then feature detection:

Because we want to develop our site using HTML5 semantics, it’s great that Modernizr includes an HTML5 shiv that will allow “oldie” browsers like IE6/7/8 to interpret tags like HEADER, NAV, SECTION, etc. For anything more complex, we use Modernizr’s feature detection to determine if the user’s browser can handle certain code. Because our site is almost completely based on CSS3 transitions, here’s one we used multiple times:

if (Modernizr.csstransitions){
// do some awesome stuff
}

CSS3
Everyone talks about HTML5. In layman’s terms, when a user sees something that is accomplished without flash, it’s easy to say “oh, that’s HTML5”. Well, that’s partially right. By definition:

HTML5:
(n) 1. The next version of HTML. Its core aims have been to improve the language with support for the latest multimedia while keeping it easily readable by humans and consistently understood by computers and devices

In general, HTML5 is the combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. A good chunk of the “magic” in Bootsoft’s new site is in CSS3, both rendering and animations. Because we chose the “circle” route, the site heavily uses rounded corners on elements. If you look at the http requests on our site, the only images that are loaded are the employee images, carousel images, and logos.

Another added benefit of CSS3 transitions is that animations are hardware accelerated. If we tried to achieve the same kind of animation on the “Who We Are” page using JavaScript, the page would get choppy. We made use of the “translate3d” attribute for transitions especially so webkit browsers will take advantage of the acceleration. Try using one of the dropdowns, then repeatedly clicking one of the options.

Google Chrome Frame / IE[x]
The benefit of progressive enhancement is that the site will still generally look fine even on the most stubborn of browsers (i.e. IE). Short of forcing the user to switch to a different browser entirely, another option we give our users (for those viewing our site in IE7 or below) is to install a plug-in called “Google Chrome Frame”. This was developed by Google, and is a plug-in for Internet Explorer that generally makes it behave like Chrome. The added bonus is that it automatically updates, just like Chrome. It installs in seconds, and the user can see all of the new and fancy things that Chrome has to offer, while still browsing comfortably in a browser they have grown used to using.

Although realistically we still need to support the browsers our clients task us to develop for, we hope that this “solution” catches on. As we’ve developed more HTML5-friendly sites, the more we’ve realized that IE[x] is the new IE6. Paul Irish, one of the developers on the Google Chrome team and leading front-end developers of the industry, has a great write-up on this.

Responsible Web Development
Whether if we’re developing a generally small site like ours, or an enterprise level web application, we always hold ourselves to the best practices of web development. The front-end in particular is rapidly becoming more robust, and can become unwieldy and harder to maintain when losing focus on how it is built. And with this great power, it means that much more responsibility that falls on the developer.

Wrap-up
Any project can easily stray off the path, especially in our own site redesign considering this project has a very close emotional attachment to all members involved. That is why our process played a crucial role in moving forward with our milestones and eventual site release. It also doesn’t hurt to have a stellar team working beside you every step of the way.

Jeffrey Chew
Director of UI Design & Development