By Nandita Menon on Thursday, May 16th, 2013
This Friday, GT kicked it up a notch and had an informal “BoF Friday” when we went down to Lucky Strike, a bowling alley that proudly sports sushi on its menu, with a dress code more strict than our own! It gave us a chance to brush up our skills, and finished up with a trivia session that may have revealed our competitive streak all too well.
GT folks indulged in equal parts banter, trash talk, and streaks of strikes and gutter balls alike. The camaraderie and friendship from the office carried over to the alley and beyond, and all had a good time, making this a most memorable night ever.
By Nandita Menon on Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
Guest post by Greg Kerzhner, Developer
5am, Saturday morning
The sun rises. I am 600 feet up a route called “the freerider” on El Capitan. There are 2700 feet to go (that’s 2 and half Empire State buildings or about 200 flight of stairs). I’m wearing a t-shirt and carrying a liter of water for the day, still jittery from the morning coffee.
The climb is paused at this point, but there is not much time to stop. We climb and climb and climb. Hours pass and soon it’s 5pm, 12 hours into the climb.
Throughout the climb, I have taken several falls, lost my biggest piece of gear and found and drank random water left by others, adding some iodine I brought with me.
During the last hours, we get very cold. The plan to go fast and light turns sour because we are way too exhausted to go fast, but we manage to keep it light.
I shiver so much, my side throbs in extreme pain. I wish, pray, and dream of being off this goddamn cliff.
At 6pm, we are on top, having climbed Yosemite’s most proud free climb in 13 hours, a feat that takes most people at least 3 days.
How is it relevant to coding? I think it teaches perseverance. To not give a fuck about results and small matters when bigger obstacles are at stake. To take a huge problem like El Capitan and break it into small pitches, methodically, until you reach the summit. To remember that a Netsuite fire is the greatest thing that a climber can wish for in the middle of a cold granite cliff voyaging for the top.
This is what inspires me about climbing.
In an attempt to bring different perspectives to the Blog, and to be inspired by our fellow colleagues, the Blog will often feature guest posts, written by GT team members
By Nandita Menon on Friday, March 29th, 2013
General Things had its first company-wide hackathon inspired by ShipIt Day at Atlassian this past Friday. The rules were similar to Atlassian’s, where every employee was encouraged to take 24 hours to work on any project they like, so long as it was in some way beneficial to the company and be ready to “ship” at the end of that day. Those who were not interested could go about the day just as usual, so there was no undue pressure. As usual, the team amazed each other during the customary demo hour that wraps the day up, and it was replete with awe-struck gasps!
The week started with some really creative ideas contributed by the many fast thinkers here at GT. Folks teamed up on the ideas they felt most passionate about, resulting in 12 inspired projects. The projects spanned a wide spectrum, ranging from a complete redo of our Redmine Scrum board to developing our own personalized Gecko board. 24 hours also netted the creation of a client proposal generator by two of our project managers who refused to be outdone by the technical expertise of the engineers and brushed off their coding skills.
Hipchaticular has quickly become a favorite project from GTD since it combines some great new functionality into our office messaging platform, HipChat. Hipchaticular features include a meme generator, an automated deployer, it can start test builds on Jenkins, and even can tell you where to get lunch, all from basic commands within HipChat via an @ mention. Of course, in typical GT fashion, the bot is named after our fearless mascot, Borby.
GTD was fun, productive, and got us a bunch of great new ideas we’re excited to implement and share with the world. It was a practice we hope to keep repeating!
By Nandita Menon on Friday, March 15th, 2013
General Things developer Paul Pettengill took off his developer cap and donned his neuroscientist lab coat for a recent BoF Friday presentation titled “A User Manual for the Brain.” Paul led the GT team on a tour of the human mind with a map sourced from Dr. John Medina’s 12 celebrated brain rules.
The GT team is always interested in boosting productivity. The team already knew that factors like stress and sleep deprivation negatively affect performance, but the negative consequences of multitasking came as a surprise to most. Needless to say, the multitaskers in the office (everyone) were crushed.
Paul recommended concentrating on one task at a time and getting a full eight hours of sleep a night. He also noted that mid-day naps (around 2 P.M.) enhance performance. Unfortunately, a designated naptime has yet to be established in the office.
The presentation also included a clip of Dr. Medina discussing the differences between the male and female brain with regard to emotional responses. As per Dr. Medina, the male brain remembers the gist of an emotional experience while the female brain remembers the details. A successful project relies on both these factors and proves that the yin and the yang are after all inter-related.
The team plans to try and implement as many of Paul’s performance-enhancing suggestions as possible. Multitasking is something that shouldn’t be too hard to give up, but getting a full night of sleep and mandatory mid-day naps are revolutionary ideas that are years ahead of their time.
The 12 Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina
By Nandita Menon on Tuesday, February 26th, 2013
General Things (GT) recently began using HipChat, a group chat service designed especially for business. Before the office became hooked on HipChat, Gmail and Gchat were the primary sources of communication.Chris Hein (of make_sandwich fame) was the driving force behind the team’s switch, as he wanted a more efficient way to keep the entire office in constant contact. He looked into Skype chat rooms and Campfire before his roommate suggested HipChat.
What we like:
HipChat is perfect for the GT team for a few reasons. One was its flexible price plan; at $2/mo per person, HipChat comes in at a much cheaper total cost than similar services.
Chris also knew that since HipChat runs in Adium and comes with a ton of plug-ins, it would appeal to the team.
However, it was clearly HipChat’s abundant supply of Emojis and especially the ability to create custom ones that sold Chris and the GT team on HipChat.
What we don’t like:
Like any chat service, it’s very easy to get distracted while using it. It can be incredibly tough to resist the siren song of a good cat image or a hilarious animated gif.
The GT team has found that the best way around this is to merely log off. Those who are offline can be summoned back via a quick mention of their @handle in the room (Offline or idle users mentioned this way get an email notification.)
The GT team has really taken to HipChat. Having specific rooms for each project and a general conversation room makes it really easy to keep everyone in the the loop. If you’re looking for an affordable and easy way to keep your office in constant communication, then check out HipChat.
Do it for the Emojis.
By Michael Hines on Friday, February 8th, 2013
General Things very own Scott Rowland, he of techie road trips fame, educated the office in the art of poker during a recent BoF Friday presentation. Scott’s presentation was designed to appeal to poker neophytes and high-rollers alike. The BoF began with a basic overview of the game; Scott taught the GT team some basic terminology, hands, and the most common types of games played around the world. Once everyone could tell a straight flush from a four of a kind, Scott moved onto strategy.
Despite what some people may think, poker isn’t all about luck. The team learned that winning involves equal parts luck of the draw and skill. For example, Scott told the team that successful players will only play 20 to 30 percent of their hands. Also, if you have a good hand, don’t be afraid to bet. “Don’t let people improve their hands for free.” Poker players all over the US assert the same idea that skill and strategy are a necessary prerequisite for sustainable success in the game and are demanding the sport be decriminalized in the country. A federal ruling by a Brooklyn judge stating the same has a lot of poker players and game operators hoping for favorable changes in the near future.
It would be a bit of a stretch to say that the GT team became poker pros after Scott’s BoF, but there are talks of hosting our very own tournament in the near future. It was nice to take a break from the tech world and learn a bit about ESPN’s most stationary sport.
Also, it was nice to learn of Scott’s retirement plans (kidding?).
By Nandita Menon on Friday, January 11th, 2013
Greg Kerzhner, our nimble, quick-footed developer has a penchant for climbing and scaling, both code and rocks. This kid has some serious credibility, having climbed one of the world’s biggest rock climbing challenges, El Capitan, in just two days! Fortunately, he carries the same passion for developing awesome code. Greg heads out almost every weekend to climb the many challenging landscapes accessible to the Bay Area, and he led the team through the basics of rock climbing during this week’s BoF Friday presentation.
He explained the various styles of rock-climbing, fielding questions bordering on fascination as well as being the recipient of some good old ribbing. For this post, we decided to skip explaining the various styles of rock climbing (Look here and here, if you must), but instead want to talk about Passion, Persistence, and Practice—The three P’s most evident from Greg’s presentation, and how they relate to GT code and GT’s pursuit of excellence.
Greg coiling his rope to hike down after climbing Tuolumne, just another beautiful Yosemite climbing challenge
Greg’s love for climbing started when he was 6 years old in Russia. His passion fuels him in spite of the risks involved and the mental and physical strain of the entire process. You’ve probably heard it before, but it begs repeating that the success of any venture or project depends on the passion behind the idea and the passion of the workforce that implements it.
You may have a great idea for a website, but if the people who help you implement that vision don’t believe in their job; whether it is providing a great user experience, creating an elegant workflow, or developing awesome code, then you are set up for failure.
Love is not enough. Well, romantic assertions aside, one also needs the attitude to ‘stick with it’. The persistence to see goals to the finish line, or in this case, to reach the summit was transparent in Greg’s attitude. This doggedness applies to our developers too, because it is this attitude that makes them go beyond just creating an average codebase to fostering a culture of collaborative and efficient coding practices.
Greg did a lot of practice and training to free climb El Capitan in 2 days. “It was a lifetime goal,” said Greg when asked how long it took him to train. The answer was self evident to him because every climber knows that it isn’t possible to reach the “summit” of El Capitan without dedicated practice over a reasonable period of time. It is exactly this kind of practice, spanning thousands of hours, that a developer puts in to become an absolute winner in this field. Without passion and persistence, this level of intense practice is impossible to achieve.
These three qualities are integral to the pursuit of excellence – as a person, as a professional, and as a company. This is why we love having BoF presentations. They remind us of the nuances of human nature and the reason for why we have come together as an organization—to excel.
By Nandita Menon on Tuesday, January 8th, 2013
General Things recently gained designation as an APN (AWS Partner Network) Standard Consulting Partner, a title that comes with a whole lot of perks. Standard Consulting Partners receive credits that can be used for AWS support and in the AWS store, and invites to webinars and events. General Things met a host of requirements to qualify as a Standard Consulting Partners such as having at least two AWS trained technical staff on board. By fulfilling these criteria, GT clients get top-notch professional assistance for AWS services like EC2 instances, S3, Cloudfront, and Route53.
Free stuff is always nice, but perhaps the best perk that comes with being a Standard Consulting Partner is being listed in the AWS Partner Directory. Oh, and being able to use the high-resolution APN Consulting Partner Logo is also nice.
By Nandita Menon on Friday, November 30th, 2012
General Things developer Greg Kerzhner recently completed work on an OOBE (out-of-box experience) project for a high-profile client. Greg’s task was to find a way to register and update the firmware files on the client’s newest line of cameras without the user needing to download any software.
It was very important to craft an OOBE that was easy to understand, good looking, and consistent with the client’s brand. Complicating the project was the fact that Greg had to design an OOBE for three different models of the same camera. Follow the link to Greg’s blog to see how much work goes into creating a great OOBE.
By Nandita Menon on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012
The General Things (GT) team recently embarked on an office outing to NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences for an evening of country music, drinks, and intellectual stimulation (aka learning). NightLife is a themed event held every Thursday night at the Academy. The theme during GT’s visit was Harvest NightLife, thus the country band and bluegrass DJ (both awesome).
The GT team promptly split up upon arriving at the Academy, drink tickets in hand, to explore the museum’s numerous offerings. Highlights of the event include the Rainforests of the World exhibit, the Morrison Planetarium, Claude, the albino alligator; and a group of baby ostriches.
The albino Gator and the antics of the baby Ostriches were fascinating to watch, but it was the Rainforests of the World exhibit and the Morrison Planetarium that were most popular with the GT team.
The rainforest exhibit is contained inside a four-story glass biome. Each level is designed to replicate a different rainforest from around the world. The GT team explored the splendor of the biome, stopping to stealthily snap photos of the various snakes, lizards, and frogs on display. The team went wild over the wildlife and rushed to the Planetarium to get a quick earthquake fix.
The Morrison Planetarium showed “Earthquake: Evidence of a Restless Planet” on its 75-foot screen. The film was narrated by Benjamin Bratt and Josh Roberts (an Academy staff member) and focused on the different fault lines around the world, with special attention paid to the fault lines running through the Bay Area. Earthquakes hold a special place in the heart of any California resident; so do seasonal cocktails.
The team night out was an overall success. General Things highly recommends checking out NightLife whether it be for a corporate outing or a personal one.