Tag: Magnet

First C# Dev Connect is Coming Up

C# Dev Connect

 

C# Dev Connect Meetup!

About a year ago I had thrown around the idea of creating a C#-specific group that would meet at a regular interval with some of my colleagues. I saw that there was interest, but between all of the things we had going on in our personal lives and work lives, we just hadn’t been able to co-ordinate something. I’m excited to announce that with some more solid planning over the last couple of months, C# Dev Connect will be able to host their first meetup! The company I work for, Magnet Forensics, has graciously offered our new office to host the event which will help tremendously. We’ll have a group of people from Magnet Forensics their to help out, but the only thing “Magnet” about the event is really just that it’s hosted at the office.

What’s on the Dev Connect Agenda?

This upcoming Tuesday (Tuesday January 20th, 2015) C# Dev Connect will be hosting their first monthly meetup on the topic of Threading in C#. Directly from the event’s Meetup page:

Overview of the the basics of threading in C# language. Threading is a very complex idea with many different ways of handling the same problem, however, you have to learn to crawl before you can walk. We’ll be discussing the basics of threads in .NET 2.0 and .NET 4.0. In .NET 2.0 we’ll be discussing the Thread object, various ways to start/stop threads, and potential stumbling blocks when it comes to threading in C#. In .NET 4.0 we’ll be talking about the async and await operators and how to use them.

A colleague of mine, Chris Sippel, will be giving the talk. People are encouraged to bring their laptops so they can try out some C# exercises related to the discussion. This initial talk may be more geared at an introductory-level, but our goal is to be able to cover topics for all levels of knowledge in C# (From never used it before, to expert level). We’ll even provide some food! All you have to do is show up and be ready to learn some C#, or share your C# knowledge.

If you’re looking for our venue, we had this little map put together:

C# Dev Connect Venue Map

Go into the back of 156 Columbia Street West in Waterloo (at the corner of Phillip and Columbia). If you’re familiar with the area, this used to be called RIM/Blackberry 5.

 

More Dev Connect Info

Here are a few additional links to get you to more C# Dev Connect information online:

We’re excited for you to join us!


Hack The North

Hack The North

Hack The North… What The Hack Is That?

Hack The North is Canada’s largest international hackathon. It’s big. It’s bad. It’s awesome. Okay, but what does that even mean?

The idea is that 1000 people get together from all over the world in an event where they’re given 36 hours to create amazing technology hacks. There’s a lack of sleep but no lack of amazing ideas and hacked together proof of concepts that show incredible innovation. Sponsors are present to hand out prizes for best usage of their product or API to competitors as well as mentor them and provide help with problem solving. This year, Hack The North was hosted at The University of Waterloo.

Bro, Do You Even Hack?!

This was my first time ever at a hackathon. I’ve participated in the Ontario Engineering Competition (OEC) which is much smaller scale event with a similar structure–A bunch of students get together and have to come up with a design to solve a problem. I even ran OEC in 2010 with some schoolmates (you might know them at Thalmic Labs) which was a blast. However, this weekend I was sitting on the other side of the table.

I got to hang out with a group of my colleagues at Hack The North at the Magnet Forensics booth. We had a great time representing our company and meeting tons of incredible students from all over the world. We provided assistance where we could with some of the challenges that students were facing, and spoke to them about the important role that our software plays in the life of a forensic examiner/investigator.

What’d You See There?

When I first showed up at Hack The North, it was around 9:00 on Friday night. I got there just in time for the opening ceremonies, which I thought were great. They had live Q&A with a former Facebook employee who has “made it” in the software industry and intros from some of the major sponsors at the event.

Hack The North - Opening Ceremonies

Everyone getting settled for the opening ceremonies at Hack The North.

From that point on, I spent the rest of the time hanging around the Magnet booth… But that doesn’t mean I didn’t see anything awesome. We had people from all over the place coming by to talk to us and pick up some Magnet swag. We handed out an incredible amount of stress balls and couldn’t seem to keep a sufficient supply of them coming. We had our stickers showing up on everything from fuzzy viking hats to laptops to shirts to megaphones. You name it, our stickers made it onto it.

Hack The North - Magnet Viking

Akshay Joshi decorated his hat with Magnet stickers!

Hack The North - Magnet Megaphone

One of the Hack The North organizers was sporting a Magnet sticker on his megaphone.

On the last day of Hack The North, we had participants coming up to our booth to demonstrate some of their awesome hacks. We got to see how Thalmic’s Myo was being incorporated or how other vendors’ APIs were being leveraged to do some really awesome things. We were really impressed with some of the things we saw.

What’s Next?

I think even after the first night of being at Hack The North I was trying to think of what we could do next time or if we even wanted to come back… The answer to the latter was quickly an “absolutely yes!”, so I’m pretty confident we’ll be making an appearance at Hack The North again. There were so many great people at this even that we spoke with that it would be silly not to go back.

I think next year we’d like to participate even more. We learned a lot about the different ways that we could get involved, so things like speaking sessions or workshops would be awesome to get people involved with. We’ll definitely have more stress balls and unique giveaways to please the masses!

Thanks to everyone who made it out to Hack The North. Stay in touch with us! We’d love to hear more from you.

Hack The North - Kelly and Nick

Kelly and I with our #Truth T-shirts and other Magnet gear on at our booth!


Continuous Improvement – One on One Tweaks (Pt. 2)

Continuous Improvement - One on One Tweaks (Pt. 2)

Continuing With Continuous Improvement

I wrote about continuous improvement before and how I’ve been trying to tie that into my leadership role through changes to my one on one process. To recap, at our organization we try to roll continuous improvement into most things that we do. We’re well aware that we’re not going to get things perfect the first time, so as long as we have a process in place to learn, reflect, and adapt, then we can make changes to better our situation. It’s something that’s ongoing and it doesn’t really have an end. So long as your organization is growing and changing over time, or the environment in which your organization is changing over time, having continuous improvement baked into your culture is key to success.

Previously, I mentioned that at Magnet Forensics I hold regular one on ones with my team members. I made a tweak to them that included summarizing notes before holding the one on ones and saw a great improvement. I felt that for now this would be a positive change that I’d like to continue on with. I’ll keep reflecting on whether or not this makes sense over time.

What’s next, then?

Recognition

Recognition is something that I think is fundamental to keeping people engaged, but it looks different for everyone. When I comment on things or share things on social media, I often reflect on how recognition is incredibly important. It’s been a goal of mine to try and do a better job at recognizing my team members for the hard work they’re always putting in.

That was my next hack for continuous improvement. How could I leverage my one on one time to do a better job at recognition? Well, if recognizing my team for things they do is high on my priority list, then it should fall high on the one on one discussion list. The first thing, actually.

So now that I create a summary of topics to go over in our one on ones, I reflect on what my team members say they work on and I toss in other stuff they may not have mentioned. Did they have big accomplishments in our sprint? Did they have things outside of work? Did they have tweaks they suggested for the team to try? Accomplish goals they set for themselves? I try to gather that information and comment on a couple of things at the start of our one on ones now.

I want the team to know that their hard work and their success does not go unnoticed and that they should all keep working to the best of their abilities.

Results?

I’ve only been doing this recently, so I can’t quite say that I’ve noticed big differences. In my opinion, the team has been entering a solid groove over the past few months but it’s hard for me to say whether or not these one on one changes had any impact. I like to think that they did. I’ve heard from several people that they’re really happy with where the team is at.

Has this brought about anything negative? Were there any cons to rolling out this change? I’d say no, not at all. It’s no extra effort for me to reflect on what accomplishments each team member has add. I mean, I’m not writing out lengthy documentation on each accomplishment, but I jot down a couple of points on what I want to call out. I think if anything, that quick exercise has been really positive for myself, if not for the other team member.

So, in the end, I think this small tweak has been a positive change for me in terms of doing a better job of recognizing the team. I also hope that the team has a better understanding that myself and others do see their hard work and efforts.

Keep on it, Team Magnet!


Continuous Improvement – One on One Tweaks

Continuous Improvement - One on One Tweaks

Continuous Improvement – Baby Steps!

Our development team at Magnet Forensics focuses a lot on continuous improvement. It’s one of the things baked into a retrospective often performed in agile software shops. It’s all about acknowledging that no system or process is going to be perfect and that as your landscape changes, a lot of other things will too.

The concept of continuous improvement isn’t limited to just the software we make or the processes we put in place for doing so. You can apply it to anything that’s repeated over time where you can measure positive and negative changes. I figured it was time to apply it to my leadership practices.

The One on One

I lead a team of software developers at Magnet, but I’m not the boss of any of them. They’re all equally my peers and we’re all working toward a common goal. One of my responsibilities is to meet with my team regularly to touch base with them. What are things they’ve been working on? What concerns do they have with the current state of things? What’s going well for them? What sort of goals are they setting?

The one on ones that we have setup are just another version of continuous improvement. It’s up to me to help empower the team to drive that continuous improvement, so I need to facilitate them wherever I can. Often this isn’t a case of “okay, I’ll do that for you” but a “yes, I encourage you to proceed with that” type of scenario. The next time we meet up, I check in to see if they were able to make headway with the goals they had set up and we try to change things up if they’ve hit roadblocks.

No Change, No Improvement

I had been taking the same approach to one-on-ones for a while. I decided it was time for a change. If it didn’t work, it’s okay… I could always try something else. I had a good baseline to measure from, so I felt comfortable trying something different.

One on ones often consisted of my team members handing me a sheet of past actions, concerns, and status of goals before we’d jump into a quick 20 minute meeting together. I’d go over the sheet with them and we’d add in any missing areas and solidify goals for next time. But I wanted a change here. How helpful can I be if I get this sheet as we go into the room together?

I started asking to get these sheets ahead of time and started paraphrasing the whole sheet into a few bullet points. A small and simple change. But what impact did this have?

Most one on ones went from maxing out 20 minutes to only taking around 10 minutes to cover the most important topics. Additionally, it felt like we could really deep dive on topics because I was prepared with some sort of background questions or information to help progress through roadblocks. Myself and my team member could blast through the important pieces of information and then at the end, if I’d check to make sure there’s nothing we’d missed going over. If I had accidentally omitted something, we’d have almost another 10 minutes to at least start discussing it.

Trade Off?

I have an engineering background, so for me it’s all about pros and cons. What was the trade-off for doing this?

The first thing is that initially it seemed like I was asking for the sheets super early. Maybe it still feels like I’m asking for them early. I try to get them by the weekend before the week where I start scheduling one on ones, so sometimes it feels like people had less than a month to fill them out. Is it a problem really? Maybe not. Maybe it just means there’s less stuff to try and cram into there. I think the benefit of being able to go into the meeting with more information on my end can make it more productive.

The second thing is that since I paraphrase the sheet, I might miss something that my team member wanted to go over. However, because the time is used so much more effectively, we’re often able to cover anything  that was missed with time to spare. I think there’s enough trust in the team for them to know that if I miss something that it’s not because I wanted to dodge a question or topic.

I think the positive changes this brought about have certainly outweighed the drawbacks. I think I’ll make this a permanent part of my one on one setup… Until continuous improvement suggests I should try something new!


Techno Security 2014

Magnet Forensics Booth at Techno Security 2014

Techno Security… What’s it all about?

Techno Security is a conference that was hosted by NUIX this year in Myrtle Beach. As that first link suggests, this conference has been bringing IT security professionals together for 16 years now. Techno Security doesn’t aim to be the biggest conference of it’s kind–just the best.

At the Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort this year, Techno Security capitalized on a lot of the hotels real estate. There was a large banquet hall style room that was opened up for a great host of exhibitors. There were so many exhibitors that there was even overflow into the hallways surrounding the main exhibit area. On the other sides of those hallways there were rooms and smaller halls for training sessions. Even the halls in the basement of the hotel were packed with IT security and forensic-related sessions.

First Conference Perspective

This was my first conference not only with Magnet Forensics, but also in my professional career. While I’m not a product manager within our organization, I was selected to go to act as an ambassador for our primary development team. It was a great experience on so many levels.

Firstly, hanging around our booth during the day was absolutely incredible. We were almost always swarmed by people asking about our product or organization. We even had people coming up just to tell us that they love our product or that they wanted to thank us for having great interactions with our team back in Canada. It was almost overwhelming–but in a good way 🙂

I was able to sit in on some sessions and hear about what some other organizations are doing. There were companies like Berla that I had never even heard of that provided a high level overview of some of the really cool technology they’re working with. There were companies like Cellebrite and NUIX (that I had heard of) that provided really informative sessions on how to use their products and the benefits they offer. Not only were the sessions packed with information, but I really got a feel for what the digital forensics community is like outside of interactions with Magnet. It truly does feel like a tight knit group of people that at the core of it have one common goal–uncovering the truth.

One of the best experiences I had while at Techno Security was the “unofficial social events” that would take place each night after all of the sessions were done and exhibitors were packed up. Our team would get together outside with a couple of drinks in the warm weather–and no, that’s not why this was one of the best experiences–and some experts in the industry would meet up with us to talk. It was great to get to meet some customers and get a glimpse of what their lives are like: dealing with tons of cases, working through murder cases, working through child abuse cases, etc… It’s impossible for me to fully understand what it’s like for them, but getting a peek was more than enough for me. Again, customers were letting us know just how big of an impact Internet Evidence Finder is making in their investigations. Knowing that you’re making a difference for someone is one of the most rewarding feelings, and I hope the Magnet team truly understands that we are having a huge impact.

Closing Comments

Techno Security was not only packed with informative sessions and vendors with really awesome technology–it was filled with people who spend their days trying to get to the truth. It was amazing to hear all of the positive comments from customers and to get a glimpse of what their lives are like performing investigations. I’d love to go back next year to learn more and reconnect with all of the great people I got to meet.

Nick and Jad at the Magnet booth - Techno Security 2014

There’s me providing The Boss Man Jad Saliba with an arm rest at the Magnet booth at Techno Security 2014


Recognition: One of Team Magnet’s Masterminds

Recognition: One of Team Magnet's Masterminds (Image by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Background

At Magnet Forensics, I lead an awesome team of people with the mission of creating forensics software to help investigators around the world solve crimes. We’re stacked with incredible people–and not only on the team I’m on, but company-wide. We do a great job of recognizing our achievements as an organization and as a team, but also on an individual level. If someone has gone above and beyond, we don’t keep that a secret.

I’ve been trying to make more of a conscious effort to recognize the people I work with, especially in ways that are unique to my own style. I think recognizing people in person is important, but you also need to consider your setting. Sometimes recognition in a public forum isn’t actually appreciated or isn’t nearly as effective as appreciating in a one-on-one setting. I find even for myself that I get uncomfortable when being recognized in a public setting.

With that said, I wanted to recognize an individual I work with without shining too much of a spotlight directly her. Thank you, Christine, for all of your hard work.

Broken Retrospectives

At Magnet, we try to adhere to some agile philosophies.  It lets us pivot pretty quickly to customer needs–which keeps them quite happy–and still lets us deliver rock solid software. We develop in short cycles called “sprints” and at the end of every sprint we have a retrospective to look back at what worked well and what didn’t. That way in the next sprint we can make improvements. Keep the good stuff, drop the broken stuff and try out a thing or two that’s new. This is excellent for continuous improvement unless…

They don’t work.

We would run our retrospectives religiously, but it seemed like nobody really wanted to be there. It was a seemingly forced meeting where I felt a lot of the time I was trying to stir up conversation. By the end of the meeting, just about everyone would have chimed in, but there weren’t a lot of ideas being generated. It was long, boring, and didn’t accomplish any of the goals we wanted it to. Thus, our development cycles stayed basically the same for a while. They worked and they didn’t appear to be broken enough that people wanted to see change.

Things remained the same until I received some input from Christine. When Christine read an article on LinkedIn called I Like, I Wish, I Wonder, she thought it might have some positive carry-over to our development process. If Christine thought that it might spark a change in our retrospectives, that was more change than I was hearing from the team in general (including myself, to be fair). So I decided we’d give it a shot.

Annnd we haven’t looked back since.

I won’t go too in-depth on how I Like, I Wish, I Wonder has rocked our retrospective world because I want to save that for a separate write-up. The point is that it did, and it’s all thanks to Christine for digging it up for us. We’ve started to completely overhaul different aspects of our development process now that retrospectives are effective. I really started to realize just how big of an impact it had when I was explaining some of the development process changes to our CEO. I remember thinking “Wow… If we wouldn’t have switched our retrospective process, we’d be nowhere near as efficient”.

So, thank you for the retrospective idea, Christine. For anyone else looking to flip retrospectives around, try out the I Like, I Wish, I Wonder scheme.

Personalities

I can imagine a lot of people in the development world don’t think too much about personalities. I know I didn’t. Sure, everyone is different. Everyone has their own effective ways of communicating, things they like, things they don’t like, and optimal situations for working. I get it. Now let me go do my work and you go do your work. In an ideal world, you just assume everyone can figure out everyone else that they’re working with, and things will just be fine. Except things are never ideal, and it never hurts to put in a bit more effort to make sure you can get your team up to speed.

So we tried something out. I worked with my HR manager (read: communicated a potential scenario for our development team, let her run free with her awesome creative ideas, and then helped her where she needed it) to roll out a Myers-Briggs personality test for a small sub-team of our development team. If you aren’t familiar with the tests or the concept, check out the link and read up on it! We figured it would be best to try this kind of thing out on a small part of the team to see if they would find value in it, and if so, we’d try the whole team.

After we rolled out the Myers-Briggs results with the small team, the benefits were immediately noticeable. We didn’t even have to leave the room before seeing the benefits. We knew there was some potential here, so we were already excited to try it out with the rest of the team. With everyone being aware of how other individuals may act and react when communicating and working, it makes a big difference in how particular scenarios are approached.

Thank you, Christine, for making differences in personality something to be cognizant of and then supporting our roll-out of Myers-Briggs. For anyone reading this that manages a team or is part of one… Consider the personality types of the people you work with. Maybe you don’t need a formalized Myers-Briggs plan, but it’s worth raising awareness of it.

Thank You, Christine

Christine, you’ve made a lot of great contributions to the team and I’d like to thank you for them. Our development processes have been able to greatly improve thanks to your initial suggestion. I’m sure we would have adapted over time, but your suggested tweaks have certainly acted as a catalyst. Your furthered support with the personality type analysis and subsequent rollout was also greatly appreciated. You were able to participate in our mini-experiment and offered great feedback to turn it into a success for the entire team.

Thank you. I’m looking forward to what this year will bring!


Deloitte Companies to Watch – Weekly Article Dump

Deloitte Companies to Watch - Weekly Article Dump

Deloitte Companies to Watch

Another impressive accolade for Magnet Forensics! Deloitte has placed Magnet on their top 10 companies to watch list! To qualify for the list, the companies need to be operating for less than five years, be based out of Canada, and put a large portion of their revenue to generating intellectual property. Our CEO, Adam Belsher, had this to say about the award:

“We are honoured to be named one of Deloitte’s Companies-to-Watch. This award recognizes the hard work and dedication of our team. We’re thankful for the success we’ve achieved, and we’re incredibly proud to be contributing to the important work done by our customers who use our solutions to fight crime, enhance public safety, protect companies from fraud and theft, and ensure workplace safety and respect for their employees.”

Magnet Forensics Press & Events

The event was put together very well. It was great to be able to interact with individuals from the other companies and share success stories. I even had a chance to meet up with Stephen Lake of Thalmic Labs and have a good chat with him. I’m going to name-drop him everywhere I go because he’s my old university room/house mate! He also happens to be a incredible person that if you have the chance to meet, you absolutely should. Here’s some coverage on twitter of us talking with our founder Jad Saliba:

We enjoyed the whole night, and we were grateful for Deloitte putting on the event. The entire Magnet team is very proud of our achievements.

Articles

  • What comes first: employee engagement or great work?: A short but interesting article on employee engagement. The author claims that most employees probably start of at their position very motivated and engaged. Over time, an employees engagement drops if their leaders are not proactive in keeping their engagement levels up. By proactively acknowledging the success of your employees, you can keep your team engaged and producing great work.
  • Great Leadership Starts and Ends with This: Jeff Haden put together this quick little article about an answer an audience member gave about what the key to leading people is. Caring. Overly simplified? Well, the individual went on to say that regardless of all of your strategies, plans, and experience, if you can’t prove that you truly care about your team then they aren’t going to buy in. I’m never one to buy into something so absolute, but the takeaway for me is that team members cannot be looked at entirely as resources. Sure, the people on your team affect productivity and in that sense are resources, but forgetting to acknowledge the human side of things is a recipe for failure.
  • 9 Ways to Win Employee Trust: In his article, Geoffrey James put together a great list of nine things to help build trust with your team. I wouldn’t say these are groundbreaking things, but it’s important to be reminded about them. Try reflecting on his list and seeing if you actually do the things you think you do. You might be surprised. Some of the top things on the list for me are ensuring employees’ success is number one on your priorities, listen more than you talk, and walk the walk. Great list!
  • Lambdas: An Example in Refactoring Code: I put out this programming article earlier this week and had some great feedback. In this article, I talk about a real world example of how using lambda expressions in C# really helped when refactoring a piece of code. Some people have never heard of lambdas, and some people seem to hate them. In this case for me, it greatly simplified a set of code and reduced a bunch of extra classes. I definitely owe it to myself to start investigating them a little bit more.
  • Executive Coaching: Bringing Out Greater Leadership: This article is all about taking charge with your leadership. Judith Sherven talks about executive coaching for leaders, but the main points I see in here are around confidence. If you aren’t confident in your ability to lead, motivate, and inspire how can you expect anyone else to be? It ends up becoming a tough balance, because you need to listen and take feedback from your team, but when you make decisions you should do so with confidence.
  • Stop Worrying About Making the Right Decision: Ever heard of paralysis by analysis? This article does a great job of explaining why you shouldn’t let that creep in to your leadership approach. It’s important to make good decisions–there’s no doubt about that. But the reality is that no matter what decision you make, there are certain unknowns that can creep in and potentially have a huge effect on the choices you’ve made. So what’s more important: making the perfect decision, or being able to adapt effectively?
  • Appraising Performance Appraisal: Steven Sinofsky‘s article is a bit of a beast, but it’s a great starting point if you’re reconsidering performance appraisals. Even if you’re totally content with your performance review system, it might be worth reading to spark some ideas. Steven does a great job of pointing out some common pitfalls of typical performance appraisal systems and comments on some things you really need to try and understand before sticking to any one system. I’m not well enough versed in the performance review and/or human resources side of things, but this article certainly has enough to get you questioning the common approaches.
  • Tab Fragment Tutorial: Shameless plug for my Android application that I put out on the Google Play store. It’s the end result of the tutorial I wrote up over here. I think it’s going to blow past my legitimate application for converting units!
  • Does a Good Leader Have To Be Tough?: Deepak Chopra has some seriously great articles. In this article, he analyzes the pros and cons of being a “tough” leader. In short, there are positive takeaways from being a tough leader, but there are a lot of negative aspects to it. Deepak suggests you consider a different approach from tough-soft leadership. By focusing on a hierarchy of needs to be a successful leader, toughness is only one aspect of leadership. A pretty solid read, like all of Deepak’s articles.

Remember to follow Dev Leader on social media outlets to get these updates through the week.

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Matt Chang – Team Magnet Recognition

Matt Chang - Team Magnet Recognition

Matt “Chang-a-rang” Chang

If you saw this post, then the face above is no new face to you. You’re familiar with that beautiful ‘stache already. Okay, so I’m being a little misleading… Matt Chang doesn’t walk around with that glorious caterpillar on his face all year round. We’re working on that though.

You’re likely wondering why I’m putting incredible pictures of Matt Chang on the web and why I’m even writing this. Previously I mentioned that I want to start recognizing the people I work with when I feel that they’re going above and beyond. I did this with Cam Sapp not too long ago, and I plan to keep doing it for all of the great people I work with. There are a million ways to recognize someone, whether it be in team meetings, personally, or by doing what I’m doing right now. I hope he finds it at least mildly embarrassing, and I hope you get to realize just how important Matt Chang is to Team Magnet.

The Origins of The Chang

It must have been just under a year ago now when we were going out to recruit, if my calculations are correct. Based on the density of moustache growth that was on Matt Chang’s face, it must have been pretty late into M/November. We had an instantaneous bonding moment when Chang, my colleague Tayfun, and I stood at our Magnet Forensics booth and introduced ourselves–With our mighty ‘staches. It just goes to show you that we were all on the same page when we made the conscious decision to  leave our nose sweaters on when going to a public event. Needless to say, our conversations with Chang went great, and he was definitely our top candidate for the position based on everything we had heard from him.

In the early days, having Matt on board with us didn’t affect my day-to-day all that much. If there were customer questions/concerns coming in, he wouldn’t necessarily be able to answer them because he was brand new to the product. Completely expected. The only difference in my work was that now I’d periodically chat with a ‘stacheless Chang about potential bugs or customer questions. (I’ll get to the good stuff a bit later, hold your horses).

Aside from work, Matt Chang was a great addition to the Magnet culture. He’s one of our pro-star soccer players, and even the sales and marketing side of the office like him! They’re a tough crowd too, so that really means something. Whether it’s because it’s required by his job or just because he’s an awesome dude, Chang is incredibly approachable and easy to get along with. Simply put, he was a damn steal for us.

Above and Beyond

So now you know a bit about Matt Chang. Pretty sweet guy, right? No doubt. So what’s actually so good about Chang (aside from being able to grow a beauty ‘stache and being a great team player)?

Chang is our front line tech support guy. It’s probably the toughest position we have at Magnet. For anyone that knows me on a personal level, I get over the top sarcastic when I’m frustrated (actually, I’m almost always sarcastic). And sometimes I find it hard not to get frustrated when I hear things aren’t going right for the customer. Whether it’s actually a fault of our own or if the customer has misunderstood some instructions that were provided to them, it gets me pretty riled up. “We must be geniuses if we let that slip by us” and phrases like that are things I’ll mutter under my breath. It’s not positive thinking, but I’m working on it. Of course, I know just who to learn from.

Matt Chang always keeps his cool. Not only is he servicing customers all day, he has to put up with the development team’s crap. He does such an incredible job of it though, which is why I have to call him out. No matter how much effort he has to put into a customer support ticket (even if it’s a really small issue that the customer just really needs help with) he’s calm, collected, and gets them what they need. On the customer side of things, Matt Chang does an excellent job of ensuring that the customer is happy when they’re done talking with him.

That same Matt Chang is also a blessing from the developers’ perspective too. Before having Chang on board, and even in his early days when he was getting on board and learning our products, there would be a lot of back-and-forth with customers. If a support ticket came in, we’d have a lot to figure out. What was the customer seeing? Did they have debug logging on by chance or was there a crash log? Was it reproducible? Did they actually put their license for the product in the right spot? The questions would go on, but of course, Chang would take care of the customer in the end. At this point, Chang is an absolute super star. When he comes up to me to ask about a support issue, he’s already collected the information he needs. Sometimes, he’ll give me a heads up and tell me that he’s already getting the information I’d require, and he’d offer up what he thinks is happening. Hell, at this point in time, Matt Chang will go directly to the person who worked on the feature or previous bug fix to get even more information. He’s quick to get developers the information they need to debug a problem, and that’s absolutely awesome for us.

Tech support used to be invasive for the developers, but it was always handled reasonably well for the customers. Chang has taken it up a notch on both ends and made it relatively pain free for developers to help or look into issues while customers are kept quite pleased with the responses.

Wrappin’ It Up

We’ve received praise from our customers for a long time now that our product, Internet Evidence Finder, makes a big difference in investigations. It’s always amazing to hear that we’re having a positive impact. A more recent trend is that people are raving about our tech support, and there’s no doubt in my mind it’s because Matt Chang delivers the experience they want. Plenty of companies have cool software or software that has a positive impact, but few have superstar customer support to back them.

We knew Chang was going to be awesome from the day we met him, and he hasn’t let us down once. Thanks for being an awesome addition to Team Magnet, Matt. You hold the bar high, always deliver, and do a kick-ass job around the clock. Our hats are off to you.


Quality & Agility in Software: Session With Paul Carvalho

Quality & Agility in Software: Session With Paul Carvalho

Quality And Agility

Last week, at Magnet Forensics we were fortunate enough to have a very talented quality expert come in and talk to us. Paul Carvalho was able to bring a great deal of information, perspective, and activities to our development team that truly proved to be an eye opener. We were all extremely excited to get to sit down and hear what Paul had to say.

There’s lots to read about Paul over at his STAQS site, but I’ll re-iterate some of it here. Paul has held many roles when it comes to software development. He’s been a developer, a manager, a tech support person, and part of quality assurance. He certainly has a full perspective on software development. Coming from a science background, he does a great job of explaining why things are a certain way or why you’ll expect results given some conditions. This made understanding his approach to quality and software much easier for me to get a handle on.

It felt like we covered so much, but I want to provide a high level of the take away points that really stuck out for me.

Quality: What Is It?

Paul started us off by getting us to describe what quality means. In the end, we arrived at something that provides value (where value is actually defined) to an audience (again, where audience is actually something that’s defined). So what does that mean? Quality is dependent on who and what you’re talking about, so it’s important that when you’re trying to deliver quality that you are all aligned on what exactly quality will mean.

To illustrate his point, Paul had us perform an exercise where we really only used one method of communicating some information to our partner. The result of the activity proved that even when sitting right beside your partner, you can lose a ton of information in how you communicate. So having tickets written up or having a one way communication channel is almost guaranteed to cause some misunderstanding when it comes to expectations. Part of the solution? Converse. Actually have the person describe back to you what you said. This way, you both start to hone in on what your expectations are. It was a cool exercise, and it definitely proved his point.

Perspective

We also discussed perspective a lot in our session with Paul. He had examples where simply altering your (physical) view point on something would cause you to describe something completely different. From there, we drew parallels into our software development process. There’s the old “but it builds on my machine” scenario that mirrors this really well. Paul really wanted to drive home that product owners, developers, and testers all have different perspectives on things so we need to get on the same page to ensure we can deliver quality.

Paul also asked us what seemed to be a really simple question, which for a few of us meant that it actually had to be a loaded question underneath the obvious. By showing us something on the TV in our board room, he asked us if what was being shown was a particular object. The easy answer sounded like “well, duh, yes”, but he was driving home a huge point on perspective. We weren’t looking at the object, we were looking at a TV showing a digital rendering of a piece of artwork that depicted some object. The answer was kind of abstract, but it was really cool to have that conversation about what you’re really looking at.

Awesome Agile Activity Alliteration

As a team lead, there was one activity I found absolutely awesome. I’m hoping everyone got the same take away form it that I did. Paul had us work as one big group to perform some activity. The goal was to circulate as many balls through every individual in the group as we could in two minutes. There were a few rules that I won’t bother explaining, so it wasn’t necessarily that easy.

Quality & Agility in Software: Session With Paul Carvalho (Image by http://www.sxc.hu/)

Having 15 people shouting and debating in the first planning portion made things pretty tough, but we came up with a workable solution. Paul made us estimate how many balls we thought we could get through, and we felt so poorly about our design that we said only four. We tried it out, and managed to get about 20. Awesome!

We were told to do another iteration, and he gave us another mini planning session. Again, the shouting and mayhem ensued, but we wanted to tweak our first approach. We finally organized, and when we tried it out, we doubled our initial throughput. We were onto something. The next planning session, the shouting was a little less, and we added a few more tweaks. We noticed the following problems from before:

  • We were moving too fast, so balls were dropping.
  • We were only moving one ball between people at a time.
  • Our throughput was nearing the limit of how many balls we had.
  • Our counting was extremely poor.

Solutions? Slow down. Move two balls instead of one, which should be easy if we’re going slower. Recirculate the balls instead of putting them back in the container. Dedicate one person to counting that wasn’t me (the person who would either inject more balls or get them from the end to recirculate). We shattered our previous record, nearly doubling it again. Next planning was similar. We addressed some minor pain points and decided to go for a whopping four balls at once. We added another 25 to our throughput, so we were sitting around 100.

At this point we realized we were nearing the potential maximum throughput for this design and given the time restrictions for planning, we couldn’t generate much to improve upon. We debated a completely different approach for a bit, and realized it was going to be unrealistic–but this added to the takeaway.

So, with that said, what WAS the takeaway from this activity and why did I like it so much?

  • The activity is a direct parallel to our sprints. The balls are the features we’d be developing.
  • The planning process was hectic. Everyone was involved and generated great ideas, but it took a select few “leaders” to actually pull triggers. Otherwise, nobody would agree on ANY of the great ideas we heard.
  • Dropping a ball was equivalent to a problem sneaking through or something not getting done. In terms of quality, this was like a customer seeing a bug. The more people that touched it likely meant that the bug would be smaller or have less of an impact. A cool little quality parallel.
  • We need to be continuously improving. We should leverage our retrospectives to improve our process. It’s important that we keep experimenting with our process to see if it can be improved.
  • There will be a point where we think we can’t improve anymore with our current process. If we’re not happy with throughput, it may require a completely different approach.

Summary

The whole team thought having Paul in was great. We have a ton of things to take back to the drawing board to use and try to improve our processes. I think it’s safe to say any one of us would recommend consulting from Paul. His insights are excellent, he conveys his thoughts clearly, and he has activities that are so incredibly aligned to the points he’s trying to get across.

I’m looking forward to using Paul’s techniques for improving the quality in our software and the processes we use to develop. Thanks again, Paul.

Links


PROFIT HOT 50 – Weekly Article Dump

Magnet Forensics - Ranked #7 in Profit Hot 50!

PROFIT HOT 50

It’s with great honour that I can say the company I’m part of, Magnet Forensics, has achieved the 7th place in the Profit Hot 50 rankings for 2013. Last year Magnet Forensics was also on the list ranked at number 16th, but we’ve shown ourselves up by moving a full 9 positions! Our ranking in the Profit Hot 50 is even more impressive considering we’re the only company from Kitchener-Waterloo region in Ontario–Known for it’s incredible startup community and success stories–that made the list. We’re excited and tremendously proud of our accomplishments, but it’s certainly going to be quite the challenge for us to move up in rank next year. It’s a challenge we’re all ready to take on though. You can check out the ranking over here or at the official Profit Guide posting.

Articles

I’ll put the horn-tooting aside… even though it’s an incredible accomplishment (not sure that I mentioned that already).

  • Don’t Be A Perfectionist: Ilya Pozin discusses the downsides to being a perfectionist. Often, people call themselves perfectionists when they can’t think of some other weakness they might have (you see it a lot in interviews) and because they think it’s a loop-hole in the question. I mean, if your weakness is that you’re perfect… how can that be a weakness, right?! Well in reality, aside form being a cheesy way to answer an otherwise good interview question, perfectionism can certainly be a problem. Especially in a fast-paced startup environment, we’re often not hunting for perfect. We’re hunting for 80% perfect with 20% of the effort. It’s the only way we can keep moving fast and get products or services to our customers. Besides, we don’t know what “perfect” actually is… Our customers do. And if we never get anything to them, how the heck can we ever know what perfect is?
  • How Goofing Off Can Make You More Successful: In this article, Adam Rifkin discusses over work. It’s a great tie in to the articles I shared last week about burnout. Adam talks about why we often find ourselves in situations where we feel like we’re forced to over work to be successful and shared a handful of suggestions for how to avoid it. His top 3: Doing nothing. Socializing. Helping others. Sound counter-intuitive to your poor overworked soul? Well kick back, relax, and have a good read through his post 🙂
  • The New Rules for Career Success: In Dave Kerpen‘s article, he shares some answers from Dan Schawbel about what it means to have a successful career. Among the top points, Dan suggests looking inside your current company before looking for opportunities elsewhere. This is a a key point because instead of becoming a chronic company hopper you can actually look for other great opportunities in the company you’ve already invested yourself in. Additionally, Dan suggests acting like an entrepreneur at your current job. If you’ve already proven yourself successful at your role, look for side projects that can benefit your company.
  • The Part They Don’t Tell You About Startup Team Building: The end result of becoming a good leader is often that you obsolete yourself in your current job. It’s a strange truth about the position: You start off taking on a large workload and then lead others so that they can effectively take on your portion and more. Where does that put you as a leader though? Tomasz Tunguz discusses this leadership role evolution in his article.
  • Raspberry Pi + WordPress => PiPress: This is a bit of a shameless plug, but I thought it might be cool for any tech-savvy bloggers out there who are looking for a bit of a DIY. After reading all over The Internet for how I can use my Raspberry Pi, I discovered I could use it to host a blog. So, for what it’s worth, the text you’re reading right now is coming from a little computer just a tad bigger than a credit card.
  • The 7 Things That Will Stop You Getting Things Done: Do you find there are a lot of things throughout your day that cut into you working efficiently? Bernard Marr has a nice list of things that are likely chewing up your time and a handful of solutions for how you can minimize the effect they have on your life.
  • Business is Over: My New Post-Workday Transition RoutineJeanine O’Donnell uses a BBB acronym for helping her transition from work-mode to home-mode. How do you handle separating your work-life from your home-life? Is there even a separation for you?
  • The Business World Can Tear You Apart – If You Let It: Even after achieving financial success and success in your career, sometimes there’s just something missing. Joel Peterson shares some tips for how you can keep your career focus from taking away from the finer things in life.
  • 6 Ways to Put the Good (Bad and Ugly) in Goodbye—Part II: Last week I shared a post about a great example of how to say to goodbye to your employees when they’re leaving for other opportunities. This post by Chester Elton builds on that with more positive examples, but he also shares some downright terrible ways that people have been “let go” by their employers.
  • Adventures in Cat (and Dog) Sitting: What I Learned about Managing People: If you don’t know what your pets have in common with your employees, Whitney Johnson can help you out with that. Why is this comparison necessary? Well if you think about how some people treat their pets (letting them out for walks, feeding them when they need it, belly rubs, petting, etc…) there are a lot of parallels with your employees… Well, there should be. Your employees deserve a good environment to work in, being acknowledged for their hard work, and having engaging work.

That’s it for this week! I hope you checked out the Profit Hot 50 article I mentioned above. Follow Dev Leader on popular social media outlets to get these updates through the week!

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  • Nick Cosentino

    Nick Cosentino

    I work as a team lead of software engineering at Magnet Forensics (http://www.magnetforensics.com). I'm into powerlifting, bodybuilding, and blogging about leadership/development topics over at http://www.devleader.ca.

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