From Hardhats to Enterprise Apps

From Hardhats to Enterprise Apps

If you would have asked me this time last year if I was going to be working for a growing application design and development firm serving fortune 500 companies – I would have said, ‘In my dreams!’

Now, I can proudly say that is a reality, and I’m still pinching myself.

A year ago today, I was inspecting residential properties, skyscrapers, factories, construction sites and pipe trenches for asbestos, lead and mold. Believe it or not, there was a lot of down time for this type of work in between the hustle and bustle. I’m sure you’ve seen 10 construction workers on the side of the road while two guys are doing all the hard labor. That’s called safety folks!

I was not one to sit idle in my down time on the job site. I’m the type of person that likes to stay busy, learn and contribute to the world. Through family and friends, I learned about the ever growing world of UX and UI design. It wasn’t long before I realized that my passion for design worked equally well in the digital world as it did in the real one – and with a couple of art degrees from my past college years, I was determined to find my next venture.

I began studying this new digital world through websites like Udemy and YouTube, which offer great lectures and tutorials. I was also turned onto Mediumspecifically the UX collection, which is full of insightful blog posts that provide a glimpse into the tech world, and some of the pros and cons of the mobile app development industry.

I spent almost a year learning from lectures, tutorials, blog posts, testing mobile apps, studying design and visiting tech fairs. By putting myself out there – I found Shockoe. I was able to get my foot in the door to prove to a fast growing company that I had something to offer, something to contribute to be successful. 

What I’ve found most valuable working with an up and coming tech company is that they’re looking to give you a shot at succeeding. If you have the right attitude and perseverance to prove that you can contribute to the larger picture, are willing to learn and adapt and believe in high quality apps that are well thought out and intuitive, then you can find great opportunities. This is the core belief in creating enterprise apps at Shockoe. I can tell you one thing, sitting idle and watching time go by will likely keep you out of the tech world and farther from your fuller future. Instead, pull out your phone and enjoy critiquing what you love most about your favorite Android and iOS apps. 

Since I’ve been working at Shockoe, I’ve learned a lot about working as a team and how important transparency is among our peers so our ideas and our skills can be utilized appropriately or improved upon. We are creating positive user experiences by listening to our clients, thorough testing and well thought out designs with the user and their tasks in mind. If you’re ready to be apart of a team of hard workers looking to improve the world, look no further. Shockoe needs great minds like you to bring your vision to the world of mobile enterprise app development.

Start watching videos on YouTube and reading to learn what makes a great UI or exceptional UX (or even what those acronyms mean). Ask yourself, what works well and what might you do to improve them? You could be the one to join our team and create the next best idea.

Digital transformation through an attorney’s eyes

Digital transformation through an attorney’s eyes

Like many of my colleagues at Shockoe, I began writing computer code in a high school classroom.  However, in my case, the school was particularly advanced for its time in offering such a course, and our “computer” was a keyboard, dot-matrix printer, and a modem connection to the University of Virginia, where the actual computer occupied an entire floor of a large building.  And while most of those colleagues went on a path that brought them relatively quickly to Shockoe, I spent two decades working as an attorney in New York, Seoul, and Virginia.

Now in my third year of software development I have felt particularly happy to be at Shockoe because I believe it addresses needs that I often saw during my time working as an attorney, needs that I am certain are shared by many industries.

In my experience, the following was typical of the manner in which law firms implement technology.  First, the decisions are made by senior partners who, being busy with the representation of clients, have little time to keep up-to-date with what is available or most desirable in technology.  This leads either to an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, or an attempt to take care of the problem in one fell swoop with a package solution that may or may not fit comfortably with the way they have set up their practice.  In the latter case, the acquired technology may go unused, or used only to the extent required by the firm.  For example, if a time-tracking application is difficult to use, an attorney may keep track of his time on post-it notes as she always did before, then have her secretary type it all into the application at the end of the week.

In either case, what then happens is that employees begin finding their own solutions. Each attorney and his or her assistants devise their own system, piecing together hardware and applications as they see fit.  Depending on their level of technological sophistication, they may, or may not, arrive at a solution that works well for them.  However, this approach drastically reduces the potential for collaboration, and creates a host of potential problems, as the less technologically-adept might adopt solutions that introduce security vulnerabilities or other problems.

Although so often noted as to sound trite, an average employee today with a typical mobile device is comparable to an employee with superpowers two or three decades ago. To make the most of those powers, however, requires sophisticated solutions.  This includes, of course, a focus on the possible pitfalls of any new technology. A device that allows employees to watch training videos at convenient times may also allow them to spend the working day watching Netflix. Large collections of data become valuable, and thus must be protected, not only from hackers in foreign locales, but from disgruntled or former employees.  Yet while minimizing risk demands much attention, it is just as important to make certain that new technology is used to its full potential. Making one’s workforce five times more efficient is simply not good enough in a competitive business environment if the competition makes their workforce eight times more efficient.  

This is what excites me about working at Shockoe, being able to use my skills to allow our clients to make the greatest possible use of the technology available to them. Apps created now increase employee productivity, streamline task performance and ensure employees have real-time data access they need for day to day exchange opposed to the opposite stagnant mentality. If this sounds familiar to you, check out our work for Financial Services Mobile Technology and contact us for any innovative ideas to help your team tackle your digital transformation with a great mobile strategy.

What goes around comes back as an app

What goes around comes back as an app

Lessons from early Business Anthropologists

At the start of the 1920s, factory owners realized that improving the workplace might make disgruntled workers more gruntled, less unionized, and more productive. In trying to figure out what a ‘better’ workplace look like, factory owners’ research notes probably went something like this:

10am: I’ve been watching my employees like a hawk since raising the overhead lights to sun-like levels. Productivity is through the roof.

11am: Decided to go the other way with it. Turned the lights way down to speakeasy level. Productivity still through the roof. 

In 1924 when factory owners couldn’t figure out what was happening, they hired researchers to study the Hawthorne Works Factory to determine how environment affects productivity. I imagine their notes read:

10am: Sealed four workers in a mock production room. Have given them 7up and Charleston Chews, a 5 min break every hour, and a Buffalo Nickel for every extra Hawthorne Wipe Packet that comes off the production line over the hourly quota. Production is through the roof.

12am: Took away the 7up and Charleston Chews.

3pm: Haven’t given them a break in 5 hours.

4pm: No more Buffalo Nickels.

5pm: Production still through the roof. 

When looking back at the clumsy start to the field of Business Anthropology, we can now say: We know that when factory workers are watched by a supervisor, their production goes up. In other words: observation of a subject affects outcome. By any other name, the Hawthorne effect.

As product managers, when looking to create a mobile application we must take this lesson and look for the moments when we divide users into different groups, altering the observable need for an app.

Intended Use V. Expected Use

My former workplace recently implemented a clock in/clock out app for nonexempt employees. Along with the implementation of the app, the formula for exemption status also changed, skewing more towards supervisors and higher paid employees. This app was to be used simultaneously with separate time tracking apps and proved to be an extra burden on non-exempt employees. With no shared value the app set a dynamic between two sets of users. The supervisors were not using the app the way their employees were, and therefore were not privy to the knowledge shared among non-exempt users to bypass the app in order to clock in remotely. This behavior in turn gives supervisors an inaccurate view of their employees.

When Shockoe develops an app, we study different user groups, anticipate different use cases, and instead of mandating specific app use, seek to capitalize on shared goals.  

Imposed Goals V. Shared Goals

Let me brag about my team for a minute. My coworkers at Shockoe are creating an app for a major trucking company. Unlike the aforementioned app, this app accounts for the unpredictability that comes naturally when humans are working and interacting with customers. Instead of using time tracking strictly for managerial oversight, this app utilizes it to streamline communication between supervisor and trucker, ultimately acting as a support system for both. A package goes missing?  A delay on the highway? The trucker can immediately report via the app, the supervisor can take immediate action to communicate with customers. The trucker’s goal of getting home and the manager’s goal of heading off problems at the pass can both be satisfied. With a shared goal, both users benefit from use of the app.

Ultimately productivity applications should seek to create a more cohesive culture by acknowledging expected use cases among different sets of users. As we learned from the early days of business anthropology, altering group dynamics and creating two different groups of users can alter observable results. For us today that can mean an inconsistent corporate culture and poor app performance.

Energetic designer seeking long-term teammates

Energetic designer seeking long-term teammates

Me: Designer at a fast growing, Richmond-based mobile startup seeking long term relationship with boundary pushing, continuously learning designers.

You: Talented, eager individual looking for an opportunity to design alongside a team that has your back, for a company that thrives on their employees creating innovative solutions to everyday problems without it feeling like the daily grind.

I know you’re out there. I’ve seen your work. Whether it was a pixel perfect website, an awe-inspiring app screen or a sweet icon animation, I recognized your talent and want to work with you. Let me break that down:

 

Daily designer life at Shockoe:

As you enjoy your stroll through Sketch and gaze upon the user interface you have created, relax by nudging an object a few pixels in order to align your content. Let the curves of lorem ipsum fill your thoughts and focus on the best way to apply your layout skills to perfect every aspect of a user’s experience. You may be tapped on the shoulder by a fellow designer and asked for your (sometimes brutally) honest opinion, or pulled into a white board / or sticky note session. All of these moments will culminate in a project that you can be proud of when it goes into development. You get to own every aspect of your projects, from icons to colors, interactions to transitions, from client kick-off meeting to app store launch. You will work with the team at Shockoe to deliver an innovative, amazing product that keeps the user experience at the forefront.

Sounds like a dream, right. While some days may be tougher than others, in all I’ve found Shockoe to be a rare breed of startup that not only has core values but actually encourages their employees to live by them.

While the title UI /UX designer may be intimidating, don’t let that keep you from applying. Our designers have all started as pencil-pushing, layout changing, CSS editing designers. As long as you are willing to expand your knowledge by diving deep into iOS and Android Guidelines, I believe your talents and our projects will be a match made in heaven.

Office Life at Shockoe

Office Life at Shockoe

Shockoe is always facing new challenges, not least of which is where to put the millions of new people who have joined us in the office, from project managers to business analysts, to plain old software developers to glue everything together. But I’m not saying we’re packed in like sardines. Sardines are fish and they come in a can. We are humans and work in an office. And seemingly every day there’s a different subset of us here, as people jetset to meet with clients at the four corners of the Western hemisphere.

We’ve always had an open concept work environment, and with the new faces there’s always someone to talk with about work or football or the dangers of asbestos. However the constant availability of tantalizing conversation has led to the phenomenon of people being “wired in”–putting on headphones to get in the zone. This is one of the best things that has happened at Shockoe because it means you can throw your old fruits and vegetables at people to get their attention. Another cool tool that we just started using, in case you don’t have extra tomatoes or are afraid of touching them, is Slack, a nifty instant messaging client. We’ve used email-based chat tools before, but Slack makes it easier to group messages by project, take opinion polls, or send videos, gifs, and emojis that describe one’s mood or place in the world throughout the day.

An easy analogue way to tell someone’s energy level, or at least mine, in the office is to see whether they’re sitting or standing at their desk. Ever since we got standing desks before the new year there’s a constant up and down in the workspace, as people alternately decide to test their legs or give in to the soft embrace of a rolly-chair on the middle 50% of the back part of their bodies. I think if you were to film us for an entire day and then watch it sped up it would look like giant invisible hands methodically manipulating the keys of a large piano. It’s recommended that you stand for 80% of the day, which comes out to about 6 hours for us, meaning that if we follow this recommendation we could be standing for an extra two months out of the year that we would normally be sitting. That’s also 250 calories a day, or a bag of chips, which will hopefully be enough to fill the conference room by the end of the year, for diving purposes, a la Scrooge McDuck.

Snacks also make up an important part of our workspace, though usually we try to eat healthier than conference room chips. Stepping into our kitchen you will find a panoply of dried fruits and nuts (these start dry), along with life-sustaining peanut butter crackers (dry as well) and greek yogurt (wet).

All of these factors–snacks, tantalizing conversation, activation of the glutes and core–combine to make a happy energy, which we in turn harness to create what Shockoe is internationally renowned for: exceptional apps and spectacular blog posts.

Metalling with Titanium: Building my first Alloy application

Metalling with Titanium: Building my first Alloy application

 

Event listeners. Callback functions. Asynchronous programming? These words were foreign to me when I first started working at Shockoe LLC the first week of October 2015. But somehow, I needed to use these things to create a mobile application in the next two months.

I wasn’t completely new to programming. I had recently taking Java programming courses and was learning other languages like C++ and C# by watching online tutorials. Before I started working at Shockoe, I was told to learn JavaScript as that was predominately what I would be using to create Titanium Alloy applications. Going through the tutorial on CodeAcademy taught me little about the language. It seemed to be mostly a tutorial on what programming was. But I figured that since I had the gist of programming, I wouldn’t have much of an issue as anything could be solved with a simple Google query.

Showing up to work on the first day taught me that that wasn’t the case. Edwin, the CEO at Shockoe, assigned me to work on Fighting Mongooses, a name with which I’m now beginning to understand the logic behind.

The concept behind the app sounded pretty simple but integrating various devices, a server, a database, and mobile OS’s turned out to be far more complex than I had anticipated.

The first week or two was spent just trying to figure out what was actually happening in this partially built application.  I slowly started to figure out what the different pieces of code were doing to understand the logic. I used what was already available to piece together a rudimentary working application to fulfill the initial requirements and to prove I could fit in at Shockoe.

From there, I slowly expanded the capabilities of the application and learned more about Appcelerator, Titanium, and JavaScript along the way. After a month and a half of working on Fighting Mongoose, it has taken on a bit of my own personality. It is no longer another developer’s application that I was given to complete and that is a great feeling.

There is still a lot that I need to learn to get near the level of the other developers here, but I have had some great guidance and help while working on the Fighting Mongooses project.

I still have much that I wish to accomplish with the application and feel more comfortable and confident each day with what I’m doing.

I recently found an old version of the app on a device I used for testing about a month ago and it’s amazing to see for myself the progress that I have made since.

I look forward to see the kind of progress I can make in the next month on onward here at Shockoe.

 

 

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