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Co-working environments are good for software startups

clock April 26, 2008 23:53 by author JKealey

The Code FactoryA month or so ago we mentioned co-working environments in one of our blog posts about startup lessons. It appears we're now the number one hit on Google for co-working software startups. When I first heard of co-working, I assumed they were mainstream because the added value these environments bring to software startups is so obvious. However, they are an emerging trend in the software world and you should expect to hear more about them in the future. 

The advantages of co-working environments:

  1. It provides a location where members of a small core team can meet, brainstorm, and work on their new idea.
  2. It is a low-cost alternative to renting/owning your own office. You can use the space as much or as little as you need it and don't need to buy chairs, desks, a photocopier, fax machine, espresso machine, routers, etc.
  3. It opens the door to meeting new people and networking with peers in the same industry.

In a sense, they improve on the familiar software engineering lab environment that is available to university students and we know universities help create startup hubs.

Given the fact that it has become so inexpensive to start your own software company, co-working environments are a perfect fit for the small software start-ups that want to strike it big but have limited resources. Furthermore, who better to help you with your software startup business plan than someone who's gone through the process in the past? Most government agencies that help you start your business don't fully grasp software companies, but the people in a software co-working environment do!

Rather than ramble on about why co-working environments are so great, I'd like to make an announcement: 

LavaBlast Software will develop an industry-specific POS and interactive kiosk for The Code Factory, a new franchisor in the co-working arena.

The Code Factory will open their first location within a couple weeks. Ian Graham, the founder, is very much involved in the Ottawa startup community and this co-working space will definitely help budding software entrepreneurs in the Ottawa-region. The first event to be held at the Ottawa location will be the Ottawa Web Weekend, who is currently looking for more programmers for the event!  Those of you who are not familiar with the franchise industry (and thought it was limited to McDonalds and Subway) might be surprised to see a co-working environment using the franchise model but you'd be surprised by the wide variety of businesses that do (software shops, web design shops, etc.)!

Not only are we very happy to have a new franchisor on board, we're especially excited by the fact that The Code Factory will be out first client outside the child-related retail industry to use our industry-specific interactive kiosk as a key differentiator.



Should you judge a software engineer based on their hygiene?

clock April 19, 2008 16:32 by author JKealey

Although you may have landed on this page thinking you'd get clever insights on how to tell a coworker that bathing is not optional, I'm actually talking about their computer desktop hygiene. Look at the following desktop screenshots and imagine you have to hire a software engineer for your firm... who would you hire?

Clutterred 1920x1200 Smooth 1600x1200

What? You actually picked one of the two? I'd fire YOU for deciding without knowing anything about the context! :)

You might not be able to guess at first, but these desktops come from very similar people who are equally important in their respective teams. Both are perfectionists, both are versatile, both produce quality code, and both are pragmatists. Both loved Arrested Development and can't wait for the movie!  Both care about usability and software engineering. However, both are also very dissimilar in many regards. Instead of boring you with an enumeration of differences, I invite you to look at a coworker's desktop and see what you can learn.

Different people, different desktops.

As research for this post, I wanted to examine the commonalities and differences between the best software developers. I found lots of interesting classifications for software engineers. Rather than repeat what's already been said, let me point you to a few different sites.

  1. Synthesist, Idealist, Pragmatist, Analyst, Realist
  2. Scientist, Craftsman, Playboy (and regular "Employee")
  3. Elf, Dwarf, Ninja, Pirate
  4. Morons and assholes

 

One could also extract common personality traits:

  1. Pessimistic
  2. Angered by Sloppy Code
  3. Long Term Life Planners
  4. Attention to Detail

 

The more I did research, the more I was overwhelmed with a feeling of "Who the hell cares? Why am I wasting my time doing this research?" (which might ironically be due to the fact that I'm a pragmatist). Concretely, flagging someone as a particular type of person (with their strengths and weaknesses) appeared to be pointless because it's impossible to systemize people and, quite frankly, it's downright condescending.

Different individuals, great teams.

Although trying to assign personality types to people is elitist, the act of looking at the various classifications is an enriching experience. Taking a step back and evaluating yourself using personality traits instead of how many features you built this month, you'll learn more about yourself. I'm the first one to push self-help books into the shredder, but identifying key strengths and weaknesses with regards to your current context allows you to build a stronger software startup thanks to diversity. Anyone can have a great idea but you need strong people to execute on that idea. If you've ever watched Dragons' Den (Canadian version or UK version) where entrepreneurs try to convince angel investors to put their hard-earned money in their startups, you've probably noticed that the idea means nothing if the entrepreneur isn't as brilliant as their concept.

Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood?

Last week, I was surprised by the announcement that Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood were launching a new company together. Jeff points out that occasional disagreement is healthy and normal, which is totally true. If you'd have a week to waste, you could compare and contrast these prominent bloggers but you'd end up seeing they complement each other. I listened to their podcast to figure out what they were going to do with stackoverflow and the idea is quite interesting. Simply put, a developer community based on the right values of collaborative problem solving. (Question: Am I the only one who gets impatient listening to conversations and who prefers straight to the point blog posts?)

I can't wait to see what they're going to come up with, because they're basically solving a problem similar to one we've identified in the franchise world. If you spend 15 minutes googling franchise websites, you'll discover that all these sites have a sleazy-edge to them, just like experts-exchange. Commissions are big in the franchise sales world and it has basically corrupted the web community. A nice software engineering capstone project (at the end of the bachelor's degree) would be to create such as site and allow people to collaboratively identify the best franchises for potential new franchisee (minus the sales gimmicks). (Sidenote: Turning that into a profitable business is another story and would require careful thought but it does seem like a startup with benevolent aims).

Speaking of Joel Spolsky, have you heard of the upcoming Business of Software 2008 conference? The speaker list simply knocked my socks off (and not just because a higher percentage of speakers have names starting with the letter J). I hope we can free up the time and find the money to attend this event because it certainly will be an enriching conference for all those attending. Apart from Spolsky's great books, I'm a big fan of Eric Sink's Business of Software and Jessica Livingston's Founders at Work

Conclusion

In case you're wondering, I'm the one with the horrible looking desktop (weird side note: my second monitor actually has no icons on it) while our keyboard-bashing friend Jean-Philippe has the elegant looking one. We can also see is that his office desk is as nice and clean as his computer desktop. I'm not at all ashamed of my desktop even though people usually can't contain their surprise when they see it. One of my strengths is to quickly and efficiently find my way through chaos and it reflects the volume of diverse tasks I tackle each and every day. Seeing someone's desktop can help you learn more about that person, but you can't jump to any conclusions. I pay close attention to detail when it's important (pragmatism again!) but you'd never be able to guess that after looking at my cluttered desktop (unless you're reaching for explanations).

In any case, if anyone has cared to read up to this point, I'd be curious to glance at your desktop! 

kick it on DotNetKicks.com


Skinned Login Control

clock April 14, 2008 14:16 by author EtienneT
Here is our login form in FranchiseBlast.  We think it's a pretty cool login form and it was not that hard to do.  It only requires basic CSS and some jQuery.
 
 

How we did it

The only things you need is an image like this one here:

inputLogin

Then we used the following CSS to define our text boxes style.  The "Login" css class is applied to the ASP.NET Login control and the class "TextBox" are applied to both textboxes in the login control.

.Login .Textbox, .Login .Hover
{
    width: 337px;
    height: 17px;
    background:transparent url(images/inputlogin.png) no-repeat top left;
    color: Black;
    border: none;
    padding: 5px;
    font-weight: bold;
}
  
.Login .Hover
{
    background:transparent url(images/inputlogin.png) no-repeat bottom left;
}

 

Has you can see, the only difference for .Hover class is that we tell the background to show the bottom of the picture (the orange part) instead of the top of the image.  If Internet Explorer supported the "focus" CSS pseudo class then it would be much simpler, but IE doesn't support it, so we have to use jQuery to achieve the effect.

Don't forget to add jQuery.js somewhere in the page and then you can add the following script to your page:

$('.Login .Textbox').focus(function(){
  $(this).attr('class', 'Hover');
});
  
$('.Login .Textbox').blur(function(){
  $(this).attr('class', 'Textbox');
});

 

Basically the code above registers an event to all DOM elements which have the "Textbox" CSS class and are children of a control of the "Login" CSS class. The first call registers an event handler on the focus event of the text box which changes the class to Hover.  We do the exact opposite for the blur event when we the text box loses it's focus.   There may be a better way to do this why jQuery; if you know how, let us know.

Finally, as a special added touch, we use an AnimationExtender after a successful login:

<ajax:AnimationExtender ID="animLogin" runat="server" TargetControlID="LoginButton">
<Animations>
    <OnClick>
        <Sequence>
            <FadeOut Duration=".5" Fps="20" AnimationTarget="pnlLogin" />
        </Sequence>
    </OnClick>
</Animations>
</ajax:AnimationExtender>

 

One last thing, if you use this AnimationExtender, you have to make sure your validators don't run on the client side. Validation must occur on the server otherwise the fade out animation will still occur and the login control will disappear. For example, we used a RequiredFieldValidator for both the username and password text boxes and we had to set the EnableClientScript property to false on both these validators.

This concludes how to do a skinned Login control à la LavaBlast.

kick it on DotNetKicks.com


10th Annual Qu&eacute;bec Entrepreneurship Contest

clock April 10, 2008 14:05 by author EtienneT

contest As stated in one of our recent software start-up posts, we submitted our full-length business plan in this contest : 10th annual Québec Entrepreneurship Contest.  In the east part of Montreal alone, over eighty business plans were submitted.  Two weeks ago, we learned we were amongst the twenty-some finalists for the first round of the contest (there are three rounds: local, regional, national). On Monday, we had a short interview with the jury who decided which of the finalists would win in each category. It was a good way to practice our pitch, not only with the jury but also the other entrepreneurs that were being interviewed. Yesterday, at the awards ceremony for Montreal-East, we won the first prize in the Technological & Technical Innovation category.  Woohoo :). We won a cash prize and a one year membership to the chamber of commerce. 

We wanted to congratulate our good friends at Web Estate Management who also won a prize in the Services category! We had a long chat with the winners of the transformation / manufacturing category, Brik-a-Blok Inc.

Writing a business plan is a complex exercise if you want to do it properly. However, participating in a business plan contest can give you the small push you need to actually write it down and define your vision and your short/long term plan. If you aim to be a well-rounded software engineer doing more than coding, writing your plan brings a bit of variety to your day and allows you to distance yourself from the code for a few hours. We tackle business issues as if they were engineering problems and learned a lot during the whole process. (It is a known fact that it is the exercise of writing the plan that is valuable, not the document itself, which will evolve with the company.)

Even at this stage of the contest, we've already met some really interesting people that showed interest in our solution and had a few business propositions. The visibility that such a contest can offer in the media cannot be underestimated; some newspapers will most probably mention our company along with our sexy faces.

Yesterday was the ceremony for Montreal-East; we are now participating in the regional contest.  We'll know at the end of the month if we are in the finalists!  Wish us luck!  Regardless of the outcome, this was a very gratifying experience.



How do you keep from going crazy?

clock April 3, 2008 13:10 by author JKealey

Broken Wings When launching your own software company, expect an emotional roller-coaster ride. You're responsible for your own success and it can become stressful. Fortunately, it doesn't affect me too much, as I've been doing my own thing for almost a decade. However, whether you're a software engineer, a graphic designer, or even a PowerPoint slide monkey, you do need to find a certain balance in your every day tasks to avoid going crazy. Personally, I work on tons of different tasks in a day (marketing, sales, scripting, development, bug fixing, testing, deployment, web changes, documentation) and I find it is one way to find a balance during the day. After hours, I enjoy the time I spend off the computer with various activities and hobbies. Lots of people, including Etienne, enjoy playing video games to reduce their stress levels.

What does Steve, our talented art director, do when he's off hours? He creates video games! (Okay, he actually goes out with friends and plays hacky sack much more than he does game development, but that's beside the point). Steve has been developing games for years, as a hobby. He hasn't released that many, but many of his games have been played a couple million times. Over the course of the past year, while we were developing LavaBlast's software infrastructure, Steve developed a new game with his brother and it is called Broken Wings. Today, he's officially launching the game and I'm personally inviting you to spend a few minutes to try it out! It is a totally amazing airplane arcade game with RPG elements (whip out your Core2Duo!) Tell your boss it's a great way to keep from going crazy! :)

On a more serious note, what I find the most exciting about this game is that for the first time in years, Steve's gaming hobby can finally generate a few bucks. In the past, people stole the Flash SWF from the website and posted it on their crappy game portals, stealing all possible advertising revenues that could have been generated. In January, we found GameJacket, a software startup that specializes in putting advertisements inside Flash games. (They are a competitor to MochiAds.) Steve will also be able to monitor how often the game is played after spreading virally on the Internet.

Finally, the game features music by a local band called A Plot Against Me. These guys are simply amazing... it's worth it to try the game out just for the music. They were finalists for the Live 88.5 Big Money Shot and almost won a quarter million dollars in December. Personally, I listen to lots of music because it boosts my productivity and helps me retain my sanity.

What do you do to keep from going crazy? Oh, you're a big Dr. Phil fan, are you?



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Disclaimer

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in anyway.

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