Working in Tech with an Art History Degree

By | Ideas For Your Business

Never in a million years did I think I would be working in tech. I saw myself as the antithesis of technology– devoting my education and early career to preserving the art and art-making techniques of the past. However, through a series of seemingly random events and a lot of hard work I find myself a User Experience and Interface Designer at a mobile development and consulting company. Six months in and loving it, I’m taking inventory of how I got here and what I’ve learned so far.

My first job out of school was working for one of the foremost book-binding supply shops in the nation (you probably didn’t even know that was a thing, did you?) Eventually I landed my first “big girl job” in Museum Education, feeling like I had “arrived.”  Have you ever heard of that woman who became a curator with just a Bachelor’s degree? You haven’t? Duh, because I made her up. Without an advanced degree or a desire to pursue one, I quickly realized I was stuck. Thankfully, I had been cultivating design and letterpress printing skills on the side and decided to dive headfirst into the freelance life, working as a wedding stationery designer. Three years, approximately five bridezillas and few dozen invitation suites later I was struggling to stay inspired. I had learned so much about myself and about running a business, but it was now time for a new adventure.

enterprise mobile app devThis is where my foray into tech began. Mostly out of curiosity, I began to take classes in User Experience, Sketch, basic web design, wireframing, and designing for the screen. I was hooked. I watched hundreds of YouTube videos on how to mask this or animate that, scanning forums for answers and googling like it was my job. I dogeared outdated books about “mobile first” and read articles about fighting for the user — anything I could get my hands on. Then, one wonderful summer day, I interviewed for a design position at BlueFletch and the rest is history.

At my new job I had to learn to swim by being thrown into the deep end. During the first couple of months I would make daily lists of all of the words and acronyms that I hadn’t understood that day to look up later, in secret. It took some time, but to my relief and surprise I didn’t drown. I began picking up more jargon everyday, building my understanding of this brave new world, piece by piece. This is the ever-progressing land of Marshmallow, Kit Kat, Lollipop, and Jelly Bean, of cookies, toasts, breadcrumbs, chips, wizards, trolls, portals, clouds, easter eggs, and bugs — it’s quite the place.

The constraints inherent to designing and developing apps drive creativity with a speed and ferocity that I have never before encountered. This kind of work has redefined my understanding of what it truly means to be creative. It is narrow-minded to suggest that creativity only courses through the veins of musicians, painters and photographers. Being creative is the posture of approaching a problem and endeavoring to solve it in a beautiful way, a goal shared by the right and left-brained alike.

The tech industry isn’t for everyone. If you are looking for a career to coast you into retirement, it’s probably not for you. The techsphere and the people who inhabit it will advance and swallow you up as they pass, leaving you and your skillset irrelevant. The tech industry is however, for the forever-learners, the self taught and the classically trained. It is for the computer scientists and the engineers and also for the lawyers, actors, musicians, teachers, and artists. It is for the people who planned on being here all along and the people who arrived here by happy accident. This industry is a melting pot of talent, enriched by the diverse collage of backgrounds brought to the table. Here my non-tech past experience isn’t a handicap, it’s an asset.

The Best Man Bosses for STEM Fems

By | Ideas For Your Business
Bosses are important. They have major influence on how employees learn and grow and perform. But as the ladies know, some bosses can be nicer to work for than others. In STEM fields particularly, Man Bosses are more common than not, and some Man Bosses can be better than others at helping STEM Fems learn and grow and perform.
Now I’ve had great success running into multiple brilliant Man Bosses in my life, and I’ve come up with five key ways to tell if a Man Boss can be the Best Boss. Men, listen and learn! STEM Fems, read and reflect if the men for whom you work exhibit these qualities!

#1 - He starts sentences with, "Back when I was in your position..."

I know what you’re thinking. Must all great Man Bosses be self-centered and perhaps narcissistic? But no… You see, if a Man Boss takes the time to tell you how his early career had similarities to yours, it means that he sees himself in you. That’s not something to be taken lightly! In fields where Man Bosses are generally more common than Lady Bosses, Fems are often left without compelling mentors – perhaps because people are naturally drawn to mentor little versions of themselves. So if the Man Boss tries to relate his experiences to yours, take it and run with it. He could be your biggest champion!

#2 - "She" is on his board of trustees

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Swiftly Exploring the Traveling Salesman Problem With Genetic Algorithms

By | Ideas For Your Business

Hello everybody! Today we are hear to talk a little about the power of genetic algorithms.

Traveling Salesman Problem

Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once and returns to the origin city?”

The traveling salesman problem is an NP-hard problem that does not have a general solution, meaning that in order to find the correct answer you would have to calculate each possible route. Let’s say for example you have just 3 cities, city1, city2, and city3. Let’s assume you are starting in city1. You would have to test the routes.

  • city1->city2->city3->city1
  • city1->city3->city2->city1

That’s not too bad, so let’s add 2 more cities, city4 and city5. Let’s list of the routes.

  • city1->city2->city3->city4->city5->city1
  • city1->city3->city2->city4->city5->city1
  • city1->city4->city3->city2->city5->city1
  • city1->city5->city2->city4->city2->city1
  • city1->city4->city2->city4->city5->city1
  • city1->city4->city2->city4->city5->city1

In the interest of time we are going to stop at 6. If we were to list all possible routes there would be 24. Why would it increase at such a fast rate? This is due to the fact that the number of possible paths is (n-1)! where n is the number of cities. Therefore we can calculate the number of routes as (5-1)!, or 4*3*2*1. So if we were to add in another city, city 6, we would have (6-1)! routes, which is 96. By the time we get to 11 cities, the number grows to 3,628,800. Calculating the distance on all those routes to find the best one is incredibly costly, so we are going to have to find another approach. Read More

Always On Home Security

By | Ideas For Your Business

With the impending arrival of Google Fiber in my neighborhood, I can’t contain how happy I am to finally have an alternative to Xfinity. I am not sure why I am forced to have a landline when I do not even own a phone, but that is a separate blog within itself. One service that Xfinity offers is their Xfinity Home service for security and remote home management features. Since a comparable service is not available with Google I see this as an opportunity to put together a solution leveraging a few technologies that I have been wanting to dive into.

  • Machine Learning
  • Big Data
  • Digital Fingerprinting / Identification

As most of you are aware by now, if I can tinker around and create something myself, I am going to try. While working on a couple of retail based POC’s for client projects at BlueFletch I got the idea for creating a home security system. The source of my inspiration were these two proof of concepts:

  1. Tracking and identifying customers in a retail location from the devices and/or applications they would have.
  2. A device that could manage other smaller beacons in a retail location.

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And Now, a Few Words from our Summer Intern!

By | Ideas For Your Business

Truman Capote once said, “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” I certainly had a mix of failures and successes at my internship. Never having had an office job before now, I didn’t really know what to expect when I came in on my first day. I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be anything like The Office with its complete lack of actual work, or 30 Rock seeing as I wasn’t working with crazy celebrities. I learned several things from working at BlueFletch and I probably would be more successful if I could do it a second time around.

The first few weeks were a flurry of trying to wrap my head around the very basics of different aspects and tools of coding. After getting settled in, I started to actually work on the project I had been given. One of the things I wish I knew was that I should’ve never hesitated to ask for help from anybody. Of course, it seems like that should’ve been obvious from the beginning, but I was trying to be as least bothersome to real workers as I could. I really didn’t want to interrupt their real work with questions about the most basic elements of computer science. When I eventually got over that, it was clear that everybody was willing and happy to help me with whatever problems I was encountering. I think I could’ve definitely tried to talk to people more. When I finally got over my shyness, I had some pretty interesting discussions about Game of Thrones. Read More

Wasted

By | Ideas For Your Business

“I keep setting the plastic blue bin on the curb so they’ll take it away. And I intentionally leave it empty so they should know that I don’t want it. But they just keep leaving it and expecting me to use it each week.” Unfortunately, these are the paraphrased but pretty accurate words that were recently stated by someone during a group conversation at a party. This individual was actually complaining about the inconvenience of having to decide whether or not something is recyclable when she’s placing it in a trash receptacle. But I feel, or hope, that she is in the minority with this feeling that recycling everyday household goods is a tedious and mind-taxing chore.

Recycling for many people is easy. Recycling bins are provided for homes, they’re on the streets and labeled or in different colors so you can easily differentiate between recycling and regular trash, and they’re in schools, parks, offices, and so many other physical locations where we spend our lives on a daily basis. For the most part, it’s fairly easy to recycle paper, plastic, and glass goods that we use on a daily basis. But what about recycling those other items that we use every single day and treat as trash every 18- to 24-months? You know, electronics like cell phones, tablets, and laptops or PCs.

Wasted

 

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Coming to Terms with Introspection

By | Ideas For Your Business

I have a confession. I am a convert to the employee evaluation. I wasn’t even open to the idea of them.

My initial (misguided) mindset was that I didn’t particularly look forward to sitting in a room with one or more people who took turns telling me about my shortcomings. I mean, don’t we have enough neuroses already?

I was at organizations that utilized poorly realized, infrequent, or the non-existent “real-time” evaluation.

At BlueFletch we have a working solution in place. I’m not saying we’re perfect. Far from it. But by becoming involved in regular, constructive reviews as both a participant and facilitator, my opinion has changed. With a proper structure in place reviews are a valuable asset to the company and its people.

The employee evaluation on its face solves simple needs. It allows both the employed and employer a chance to openly talk about their respective views, progress and goals.

It’s not rocket science, but that doesn’t mean it takes care of itself. Why can they be so hard for organizations to conduct them regularly and constructively, and how can that be fixed?

Prioritize

The first thing to get kicked to the curb in any business where people are billed out based on the time they spend on work product is the non-billable. Put 2 or 3 people in a room for 30 to 60 minutes and multiply that by the number of employees in an organization, and the time spent on evaluations can be enough to keep some from even attempting it.

But maybe you’re not thinking about it right. What if spending 30 to 60 minutes made your company more productive, insightful and a better place to work? Consider that versus trying to overcome 25% churn in your employees since the last quarter.

High costs are relative.

employee review, enterprise mobile app development atlanta

Guide

Providing a framework for people to self-evaluate allows for a much less daunting process. At the beginning of the year lay out themes by which everyone in the company can measure him/herself. The range can be broad (self improvement, business writing, attention to detail, etc), but it gives people a starting point.

You also get an opportunity to learn how your team members think. You’ll be pleasantly surprised when you ask a group of sharp folks to focus on specific intention for review.

Form(alize)

Much like the thematic guide, literally provide your team with a form to use. Just because we’re sitting in a room talking about ourselves doesn’t mean we can’t still be consultants and give people something concrete to complete.

Ask everyone to submit the form to their reviewers 24 hours before the meeting.  

employee evaluation, enterprise mobile app development atlanta

Measure

When reviewing employees regularly, give them goals against which to measure success. As an example – ask them to self-identify 3 to 5 items to work on until the next review.

This gives a natural segue into check-ins throughout the interim period between reviews and also allows employees to gauge their improvement velocity.

Push

Oftentime people don’t know they have the freedom to do things like attend training seminars or acquire new products without prodding from the company.

Make sure that they are aware of this and set it as an expectation to be discussed during the reviews.

These building blocks take initiative to put in place and maintain, but the immediate and long term effects will prove positive.



Technology and Smiles at Operation PEACE

By | Ideas For Your Business

The Team at BlueFletch was lucky enough to participate in an Operation P.E.A.C.E. after-school program “Fun Friday” recently and here’s what we learned.

Operation P.E.A.C.E.

Operation P.E.A.C.E was founded in January 2012 under the “Year of Boulevard” Initiative to revitalize the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood through crime prevention, job training, education reform, economic development and summer and after-school youth programs. The Operation P.E.A.C.E After-School Program provides safe out-of-school care that keeps children focused on academics and structured enrichment activities during peak hours when children are more likely to be involved in high-risk behavior. Operation P.E.A.C.E provides transportation from local feeder schools (Hope-Hill Elementary, Intown Academy and Inman Middle School) to the program site each day. Once the students arrive at the Center, they unwind with a nutritious snack and supervised physical activities before settling down to begin their homework. Staff and volunteers assist with mentoring and providing one-on-one tutoring and various skill-based activities. Students are offered yoga on Wednesdays and “Fun Fridays” are reserved for arts and crafts, games, movies and other enrichment activities.  

BlueFletch + STEM

As a mobile tech company, we’re passionate about technology. We spend our days building innovative solutions and products for our clients and in our down-time we tinker on side projects and build robots with our kids. Technology and STEM based experiences are at the core of who we are, personally and professionally. We believe STEM experiences are important in today’s world, where technology pervades every aspect of our lives. High quality STEM experiences develop critical thinking skills and enable the next generation of innovators. We want to encourage youth to be curious, ask questions, and make connections with the world around them; essential skills for success in life and in our global economy. To that end, for our afternoon at Operation P.E.A.C.E we set up four stations staffed by BlueFletch volunteers to teach the kids STEM concepts and learn through play.

operation peace

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Establishing Procedures for Using Git

By | Ideas For Your Business

If you’re moving from another source control management (SCM) system to Git, you will need to develop some operating procedures and make sure everyone on the team buys into those procedures.

Why?  Git is a different type of SCM tool and its concepts are somewhat different than most SCMs.  Git’s concept of “origin” repository with the use of “local” repository takes getting used to over a traditional SCM’s concept of the main repository.  And Git promotes using the Master / Branch relationship differently than most SCMs.

Example: In Subversion the main code tree is in Trunk.  I’ve seen companies do all their work within Trunk.  Multiple developers submitting changes to Trunk, and when release time comes, a freeze on check-ins is enforced.  Once the release is built and tagged, only then are developers permitted to continue working. What a waste of time!

Some companies will not do the tag, but copy release Trunk over to a branch. To see what is in production you have to locate the correct branch.

Other companies will work strictly out of branches. They create a branch off what they believe is the most recent release code base (trunk or a branch) and at some point “might” merge release work back into Trunk.

With Git, the direction is that all releases are out of Master (aka: Trunk). Branches are where the work happens. Branches get merged back into the Master for release builds. And Master is tagged for those release builds.

Keeping release code within Master and separating out current work into Branches helps to make logical breaks in features and dependencies. And you will not block your developers from checking in code.

With that in mind, here is a short list to get you started with your team’s Git procedures: Read More