One Year On…

April 8, 2008

Phew!  It’s been one year on since a couple of colleagues and I set up YouDo.

Here’s some thoughts:

  • I’ve never enjoyed work so much in my life
  • I’ve never worked as hard in my life
  • I’ve never found balancing work and life harder in my life
  • Everything you do in your first year of business matters.  You cannot afford to have a bad day
  • You never realise how safe you are as an “employee” until you take a peek from the outside
  • Running a business takes time and effort.  It’s not just all about “doing work for customers”
  • It’s hard to balance product development vs chargeable time.  Be realistic about your goals.
  • SaaS apps are your friend: Basecamp, Campfire, PlanHQ, Xero are but a few…

We must be doing something right!  Our customer base is growing, our profits are healthy, we’ve almost secured some awesome premises, and we’re even hiring!!

Here’s to another successful year!

After Webstock 2008

February 16, 2008

WebStock


Webstock 2008 is now over.   The brainwaves have subsided and the hangover ended.   A massive thanks should go to the Webstock team for organising what can only be described as world class event.
 
Whilst many would have seen some of these talks or content before (especially the podcast nuts) – there’s simply no substitute for taking two days out to talk face-to-face with some of the most respected dudes in the business.  You get two days to let it all soak in – and you get to see many angles over the course of the conference.   It was a great investment of my time.
 
Here’s some of the stuff I got out of Webstock 2008.
  • Tags and Taxonomy.   Free tags are like leaves.  A gazillion of them, but eventually they all fall off the tree, rot, and end up feeding the tree’s structure (the taxonomy).   Tags are for quick learning.  Taxonomy is long term.    A great session from Peter Morville.
  • Continuous Integration, Release and Ops Management at Flickr.   It was great to hear from Cal about how the Flickr team run their shop.   Talking to him post conference, I found out Flickr has about 2,500 servers!!  Yikes!  In short, they do everything to make their lives easier, make them more agile, and to reduce risk.  You know, things like continuous integration, continuous deployment to “pre-production” servers, release flags (i.e. flags in the app to turn functionality on/off – to reduce branching), running tests on their software every hour, and building a whole plethora of “one-click” tools to manage all this stuff.
  • Achieving Flow.   There was one diagram that Kelly Goto put up, which really hit the nail on the head as to why people get in the flow.  See my (keynote) scribbling below:
          Flow
  • Primal Software Development and Managing Design.   I really enjoyed Michael Lopp’s presentations. Fascinating to hear that at Apple, they start their product process with 10 pixel perfect mockups, which they then reduce to 3, then to 1.   Also – a key take away I got from his sessions was that you can build software many times, but you only build culture once.  Go check out his blog, particularly this post – which captures nicely his first presentation.   
  • How good design helps tell the story.    Jason Santa Maria showed a great example as to how design helps to augment the story, and how the transition from print to web often loses this.  In short, give your site some “context” sensitive design.  If that kinda makes sense?
  • Blending the real world with network data.  Tom Coates gave a great presentation which really opened up my thought processes.  In short, the web is not so much of a collection of web pages, but more a massive collection of data that manifests themselves as web pages (of which is only one form)!   Your product is not your site! (it’s the platform).  And once your size of data gets too large, forget hierarchies – they will collapse under the weight.
  • Eloi vs Morlocks.   Remember that our users are Morlocks and that we, the Eloi, must make their lives as miserable as possible.   Seriously, though, this was a great presentation by Damian Conway, who rightly advocates that we must remember that most internet users are just like Grandma.  So design for them, not us.
  • Feel their Pain.   The brilliant Kathy Sierra says that we need to actually experience the pain our users feel so that we can “mind read” them.   Seriously.  There’s  theory that it will more effectively trigger our “mirror neurons”.   When you’re usability testing, look at peoples faces.  It’s the feelings that you’re after!  Another great tip when building your help.  Document exactly the questions your users ask in the usability sessions. Exactly how they ask them.
All in all, a brilliant conference.   
 
Thanks Webstock Dudes! 

At Webstock 2008

February 14, 2008

Nat at Webstock08


Cool.  Here at Webstock 2008 – the premier get together of NZ web dudes and dudesses.
 
Great session this morning from Mr Torkington about future trends – and fantastic ad libbing because the laptop he was using “didn’t have the right font”.
 
Good sessions from Peter Morville (Ambient Findability!) and Cal Henderson about how they look after Flickr (build stuff to make your life easier – less risk, more ease, more agile)
 
More to come later. 

Busy Boy…

February 9, 2008

Hello All.I am, indeed, still alive.  But have been a very busy boy lately.  But a happy busy boy.We’re working on a large-scale project, built on Rails, due for a bug kahuna release some time this side of winter.It’s been a fantastic eye-opening experience for me, as we’re truly doing the continuous integration thing, and reaping the “long term” benefits – even at this relatively early stage.  I’d heard all the theories from a multitude of people before, but never really seen it executed well in practice.  Until now (big kudos to the guys, especially Will).So what’s this continuous integration all about?:

  • Every time some one checks code into the source code “trunk”, all (automated) tests are executed to validate the build – in other words, the build is “validated”
  • Everyone gets visibility of the (mostly) successful builds.  Good build = kudos.   We’re doing about 5-10 check-ins per day.
  • If a build fails, the project team is notified!!   Bad kudos for the developer.  Bad Kudos = Incentive to improve
  • Quality of code is maintained.  Bugs are reduced
  • More test coverage = more confidence = faster release cycles = agile business = keep ahead of others
  • Eventually leads to a test driven development (TDD) mentality
What it really means is that you are able to change with confidence, and change fast.  If you hadn’t already noticed – this is kinda a key factor for success, if not survival.
 
I’m really chuffed to work with a crew that are committed to this philosophy, and know that what we’re delivering to our client is top drawer stuff.
 
It’s the way to go. 

YouDo 

Now that we have our corporate blog (I wouldn’t call ourselves corporate), I’m constantly faced with the dilemma as to where to post.

This blog is about technology, YouDo is about technology.

Hmmm.I’m sure many others face this issue, but here’s how I’m gonna divvy up and differentiate where to post:

  • Topics very specific to YouDo will be posted on the YouDo blog. i.e. Rails, Ruby, Oracle, Agile, Life as a Startup. But we’re keen to avoid the corporate cheese element.
  • More personal things such as opinions, tech observations, commentary, bad taste jokes, postings from the bus, etc, will be posted here. I might post up the odd non tech thing as well (i.e recommendations from my bad taste in music).  

Because my work is so entwined with my day to day life (is it ever anything other for us entrepreneurs) I’m sure there’ll be some crossover or semi-duplication, but if this blog just changes tack slightly then that’s the reason why.

BTW – Barcamp Agile today. Looking forward to it.

Feeling Phoney

September 7, 2007

PSPMy iPod earphones gave up the ghost the other day, and I could stand the crap sound no more.

So imagine my surprise when I plugged in my Sony PSP earphones and was treated to a super rich sound that I’d never experienced with the Apple earphones.  I wonder who makes the PSP earphones.

The only issue is that the length of the PSP earphones doesn’t even stretch to the iPod in the pocket scenario.  I’m not that tall!

Can anyone out there recommend a good pair of in-the-ear earphones that won’t cost me an arm and a leg?  I’ve heard that the Phitek stuff is pretty spectacular, but needs a triple armoured credit card!!

Crap TV No More!

August 27, 2007

One of the downsides to living in New Zealand is the crap television.  Utterly abysmal.

Well, suffer ye no more.  A colleague (thanks Joe) recently hooked me up with UKNova.com.  This is a great little site for pointing you to a wicked source of recent UK programmes.  It has some real goodies on there, including:

  • Match of the Day
  • The Championship (where my beloved Burnley reside)
  • Wild Water
  • The X Factor
  • Wainwrights Walks
  • Newsnight
  • Britain’s Favourite View (geez, even I didn’t realise Britain looked this good!)

Lakes henge

viaduct coast

And you can even download whole series of shows from the excellent CBeebies channel.

Brilliant!  Decent TV!  Thanks internet!  Thanks UKNova!

CurryThe picture of me on the right is me eating my first UK curry for over three and a half years.

My usual order in Wellington is a chicken vindaloo, which I can quite easily handle.  So I thought I’d play it safe and go for a chicken madras, as I knew that UK curries (the national dish!) are a bit hotter.

The moral of the story – don’t get too comfortable with your surroundings – or you may get left behind.

Yes, the curries are hotter than I remembered.  But the UK has changed a bit since I was last here.

  • The UK banks are now all Chip and Pin, and my NZ credit card seems archaeic.
  • UK houses have to recycle things into five different bins, and if they don’t do it properly they get fined eighty quid!  Yes, eighty quid.
  • Broadband is in your face, everywhere.   The range of mobile phones and plans is incredible.  Competition is good.  And it makes the prices far more attractive.
  • The SatNav/TomTom things are everywhere – but then again you need them here.
  • Speed cameras.  Like an infectious disease (erm.. foot and mouth, anyone!!).  They are EVERYWHERE.  And they have the differential ones that you simply can not cheat. 😦
  • The trains have finally all been upgraded – and they’re pretty sexy – as long as you’re travelling off-peak.

Only three more days here before I head off “home”.

I’m gagging for a decent coffee.

🙂

When you fly back to the UK from NZ via San Francisco, the second leg from Frisco to Heathrow is a codeshare flight using Virgin Atlantic.

I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my first Virgin flight. Right from the off, it was clear that Virgin had set out to offer the customer a different flight experience:

  • The boarding call was not your bog-standard – going as far as welcoming children to begin their “flight experience”.
  • The preflight video was actually a cartoon, narrated by the hilarious Vic Reeves. It actually made you sit up and watch it.  The seat pocket safety cards were adorned with the same cartoonage.  Clever.
  • The cabin staff were decked out in what could only be described as very “smart”, “modern”, and almost “tongue-in-cheek” outfits. It really did make a difference!
  • Humourous banter from the flight-deck, tinged with the inimitable British wit.
  • The inflight video screen/entertainment was the most modern I had seen – way better and faster than Air New Zealand. The handset could have passed as a PS3 controller!
  • Just very good, friendly, down to earth service. The cabin crew clearly had a laugh, but knew when to be serious.

In a cut-throat industry like the airline industry, particularly on the transatlantic routes, differentiators like these can make big effects.
Air New Zealand is still my favourite long-haul airline, quite simply because the seat pitch and recline is streets ahead of any other airline on the route.  On Virgin, you were packed in like sardines. But the overall Virgin experience went some way towards relieving that economy class claustrophobia.  A real refreshing change from the usual staid airline service (of which Air New Zealand belong to, but are near the top of the class).

And whilst I’m on the subject of Virgin, but related to something totally different, I thought I’d post a quick ad I saw in the Sunday Times. I find it very refreshing to see no-nonsense advertising like this. Clearly it’s a Branson thing.

I like no nonsense.

Virgin Broadband

Hooray. LAX no more.

July 15, 2007

Thank God Air New Zealand now offer routes back to the UK other than via Los Angeles.  I don’t know of one single traveller who does not hate going though LA.  I’ve been doing it for the last 10 years, and it just gets worse and worse.

When my travel agent suggested I could go to London via San Francisco, and come back via Hong Kong (all Air New Zealand) I jumped at the chance.  I was still uncertain about how passing through the US would be though.   Travelling with two little ones I was hoping that it’d be a “nicer” experience than LA.

I couldn’t have asked for more.  The ground staff at San Francisco were really friendly, and fast-tracked us through the immigration queues.  And we even got a smile and a joke out of the immigration officer.

Two nights in San Fran, and a bike ride over the Golden Gate Bridge, later we headed off back to the airport for the leg to London.

San Fran

Again, really friendly service all round, from check-in, through security (with no queues!), all the way to the plane.

10 hours later we’re in London, and although a bit tired, the body clocks pretty much set to UK time.

So if you’re doing the big trip to the UK, I’d strongly recommend bypassing LA, and spending a couple of nights in Frisco.