Equal Experts South Africa Gives Back
Here at Equal Experts South Africa, we’re busy with a number of initiatives as part of our contribution to society. South Africa is a developing country, with an unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity. We believe that contributing to levelling that playing field is the right thing for us to do.
We’ve made two donations to charities, who are doing sterling work during the Coronavirus pandemic. The first donation went to Abraham Kriel Kinderhuis, an orphanage in Johannesburg, the second to Holy Cross Children’s home in Cape Town. Children are being badly impacted by our Coronavirus-induced recession, which is being combined with a cold winter.
We’ll also be sponsoring five disadvantaged people doing IT learnerships this year. The company providing the training has a 100% success record in placing candidates, so we’ll be adding to the national IT staff pool while giving people access to new opportunities. In addition, we’ll also host the trainees on some of our projects throughout the year to give them a feel for real software projects.
A key part of reducing inequality in South Africa is supporting small businesses. We direct a majority of our procurement to companies owned by disadvantaged people and also help a small supplier of specialist HR skills with internal process improvements. By doing this, we hope small businesses will grow their own capabilities more quickly and increase their competitiveness and ability to tackle larger projects.
While delivering software services to clients in South Africa and abroad, we’re enjoying being able to contribute to the society we are a part of, doing our little bit to ensure we recover from the scars of the past.
On Saturday morning, I used my Zoom account to host a remote social gathering that included folks well into their 80s – joining after wiping the dust off their iPads.
One lady, Christine, even got up extra early to clean her home (to look its best on camera).
It was fun and delightful to spend a few hours with them.
That said, not everyone was able to make the leap.
A charming Portuguese gent named Antonio emailed me yesterday, saying he didn’t want to use Zoom.
He wrote, “May be, because I am from the time when we used starting handles to start car engines!!! Then, everything was physical… We wrote “emails” on sheets of paper (perfumed, if sent to girls), put them in envelopes and post them! Can you imagine?!!!”
Antonio also sent me this video – digital is a different language for him.
Social Physical Distancing
On BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of WHO, made an appearance from his home, looking a little disheveled. He made several very strong points about the COVID-19 crisis and what countries can do to deal with it. He praised the NHS while acknowledging our health services are about to be hit by an extreme challenge.
Dr Ryan said “The physical distancing measures that are in place, the lockdowns, separate everybody from everybody else. But what we really need to focus on is finding those who are sick, those who have the virus and isolate them, find their contacts and isolate them. . . .
Once we’ve suppressed transmission, we have to go after the virus. We have to take the fight to the virus.. . .
The danger right now with the lockdowns and with all the physical distancing and people are feeling this now, is that it’s really putting pressure on the economy and putting pressure on the social system.”
I was most struck by Dr Ryan’s use of the term physical distancing. He used it a number of times – not social distancing. Physical isolation does not have to mean social isolation. The virus does not transmit across communication networks, and billions of people are using them like never before.
Let’s take Dr Ryan’s lead and start calling what we must do physical distancing. And let’s socialise more, a lot more, but online.
Techies for Good
An estimated 900 million people are confined to their homes around the world, with the majority hemmed in by obligatory government lockdown orders. India is locking down large swaths of the country. The UK Coronavirus Bill will likely become law on Thursday. In England, 1.5 million vulnerable people are being told to confine themselves to their homes for 3 months.
We work with technology every day. Everyone reading this has high levels of digital skills, and we are all digital sophisticates.
Don’t take this for granted!
We have an extraordinary ability to help those around us to get through this and to come out on the other side in good physical health and in a sound state of mind.
I know most of you are already doing this, especially with your family and in your work – this comes first. But please do look out for the many opportunities to help others in the months ahead.
Stay safe and stay calm.
We are creating a new role, Chief Commercial Officer, as part of the Equal Experts exec team to help make sure, as a global consultancy, we are prepared to respond to customer feedback. Jon Dickinson will be moving into this new, crucial, role to ensure it gets the focus we need.
This means that Jon will focus on customer engagement to increase demonstrably the long-term value we are bringing to customers and to improve our new offerings and our commercial strategy.
As an organisation, I believe that we do some things well, and a few things great—like trying to do what’s right for every one of our customers in their unique contexts.
Recently, I interviewed 15 of our biggest/longest-standing customers to understand better what their perception of Equal Experts was. It became quite apparent that, in some other aspects, there is room for improvement.
There was a consensus that we are good to work with, that the quality of our people shines over the competition and that we seem to genuinely care about achieving the best outcome for our clients more than our short-term financial gain.
There was also feedback that as an organisation, we do not consistently communicate with our clients, our senior customer engagement could be more effective, we are less visible in the market than most, and our clients are not aware of our capabilities outside of their current engagement with us.
This tells me that we could do a better job at focusing on our customers in a more holistic fashion – outside of each isolated engagement. We have now reached a significant size with well over 100 delivery and consulting teams and a global scope across five continents. It is key that we take a step back to better understand our customers and the different ways that we can help them, as well as get our customers to better understand what we can do for them – and do this for the whole of Equal Experts and our entire customer base.
“This role is really a natural evolution of what my focus has been at Equal Experts over the last 18 months. I am looking forward to the opportunity to make a difference for our network and our customers globally. It is especially important at this time that we focus on working closely with our customers,” Jon Dickinson.
I could not think of a better person than Jon to lead this effort and bring us and our customers to the next level of collaboration and value creation.
Jon has been part of the Equal Experts journey every step of the way for over 9 years. He is a major contributor to our growth, having established our biggest and most successful offices outside of London in Manchester and Leeds. Over one year ago, Jon, alongside Sam McGregor, joined the Equal Experts executive team that Ryan Sikorsky and I created. As part of this, Jon and I job-shared the role of CEO. As co-CEO and member of the executive team, Jon already had a massively positive impact on our business, by helping set EE up to operate as a global business.
During the last year, the executive team learned a lot about what each of us brings to the table, as well as the areas of EE that benefit the most from executive and global leadership. We are now moving on to the next step and rejigging the team to get the most value based on what we learned from ourselves and our customers. Jon’s appointment to Chief Commercial Officer is part of this, and we believe the change will also bring greater clarity to the outside world, and the people that do not work day-to-day with Jon and me within Equal Experts. I will remain EE’s sole CEO for the foreseeable future, driving one common vision, culture and strategy globally across EE.
Jon’s visionary insight and his impressive ability to execute on a vision make me confident that he will add a tremendous amount of value to the Equal Experts network, and to our customers in this new role.
This month, Equal Experts UK North is celebrating and reflecting not only on an amazing 2019, (and it really was an amazing year!) but also on the incredible growth and journey we’ve experienced since we started only five short years ago.
Our five years have seen us grow from very humble beginnings, with two trailblazers from EE London, to a business unit that has now:
- Helped over 25 clients achieve amazing successes (including helping clients win 10 national recognition awards, as well as a couple more finalists and highly recommended recognitions);
- Grown to a team of over 450 experts; and,
- Been voted as the 2nd best place to work in the UK!
What an amazing journey and an equally amazing success!
2019 was a great step forward along this journey, with the business unit working with 10 new clients across new regions (expanding North, West and a bit to the East), as well as expanding existing client engagements to help in new and more impactful ways. It’s been immense!
We’ve also learned new ways of working as a business unit, to give us greater insight which is essential as we grow in new regions, offer new services, and focus intently on client and associate experience.
When we look back at our collective achievements, it’s staggering – a huge interplay of our individual skills, experiences and ideas, and unwavering welcoming of unchartered territories and new challenges, all to help our clients achieve more!
2020 is looking to be an amazing year, and all of this is only possible because of the passion and brilliance of our amazing clients who collaborate with us to achieve incredible new heights, the commitment and depth of expertise of our amazing associate network, and the drive and determination of our permanent EE team to strive for the most meaningful client and associate experience as possible!
Many thanks to everyone who has helped us on our journey so far, and here’s to another amazing five years!
Say our employees and associates – via Glassdoor
I was humbled to hear the news that we’ve been ranked the 2nd best place to work in the UK in Glassdoor’s Employees’ Choice Awards 2020. And we share the podium with two very prestigious tech companies.
One of our shared principles is that we value client success over getting recognition. It is much more important to us that our customers win awards instead of Equal Experts – for the outcomes we have helped them achieve.
However, when I founded Equal Experts I had a main driver. I wanted to create a haven where both IT expert practitioners and customers could work together in harmony, focusing on long term mutual value instead of one-sided short term gain. I wanted to create an organisation of “grown-ups” – a working environment with less politics, less hierarchy and more autonomy – where we speak the truth to clients, where we are humble enough to say we don’t have all the answers, where we have enough empathy to support each other, and share our customers’ pain. I wanted to create a space where it is easy to have genuine relationships, built on trust – between every member of the network, employees, associates and customers.
To make this happen, we pioneered a new business model. Our consultants have around 10 years’ experience or more in the industry. At Equal Experts, they can still be “makers” and practice their craft instead of moving into management positions, and they can keep learning from people as experienced as them. We also decided to follow an associate-based model, with only one third of our workforce permanent employees, the remainder is made up of long-standing associates (independent senior contractors and freelancers). Associates are in majority recruited through recommendations from other members of the network and selected based on a set of values shared by all the Equal Experts’ consultants.
So, of all the awards we could have possibly received, this one is actually quite special for me.
While I believe Equal Experts still has a way to go before it becomes the kind of organization I think it should be, this award shows me that we are going in the right direction.
I would like to thank everyone who worked with Equal Experts, employees and ex-employees, associates and alumni, other team members from different organisations and all our past and current customers for making all this possible.
I can not resist to share some of my favorite soundbites from Equal Experts employees and associates quoted directly from Glassdoor:
“You have the flexibility to try new things without the corporate noise to hinder every initiative. Genuinely inspiring people here. “
“Opportunity to grow and learn every day (…). I love working with grown ups but we still have fun.”
“Good work life balance, no divas, no slackers, just nice and normal people you are happy to work with”
“Your opinion is actively sought and valued. You have the opportunity to influence at all levels. There is a real team feel – individuals respect and support each other. Autonomy – you are trusted to do the right thing and to use your expertise.”
“A true values driven organisation that has progressive ways of working and attitudes to their people. Always seeking to learn, evolve and to do better. A world apart from the usual traditional IT consultancies and all the better for it. A focus on doing what’s right for clients and their people above office politics and profits.”
See the complete list of the Glassdoor Best Places to Work winners in 2020 here.
What’s it like to be a delivery lead at Equal Experts?
Rebecca Stafford and Lyndsay Prewer talk to fellow colleague Neha Datt about what exactly is a delivery lead, doing versus mentoring, a typical day, what’s the end state on a client site (#ResponsibleRedundancy), difficult parts of the job, tools of the trade, and this is why we do this job!
Thank you Neha, Rebecca and Lyndsay!
Want to find out more? Get in touch
What’s it like to be a developer at Equal Experts?
Abraham Marin-Perez and Subhash Gupta talk to fellow colleague Neha Datt about how they personally describe pairing, cross disciplinary pairing, TDD (#MyTestIsMyFirstClient), other practices that are typical at Equal Experts from an engineering perspective, a typical day, difficult parts of the job, and career growth.
Take a look to learn more:
Thank you Neha, Abraham and Subhash!
Want to find out more? Get in touch
We’ve previously written about how our decision making framework, the Advice Process, empowers our employees to make decisions within Equal Experts. We’ve recently made our process easier to consume, in the form of an open-source Advice Process Playbook.
We hope that by making this publicly available we can enable those outside our organisation to learn more about how we work and maybe even adapt it for their own purposes.
As our understanding of how we run EE matures, we’ve come to a point where we’re more confident about presenting some of the less mainstream ways that we work. We’ve long talked about providing a haven where we treat people like grown-ups, and this is one way where we have taken concrete steps to put our words into practice.
This playbook reflects on our decision making and corporate governance journey so far, and provides hints and tips that other organisations can apply when trying a new approach to making decisions.
How we use the Playbook
The playbook explains in detail how employees at Equal Experts use the Advice Process to manage change and make decisions while providing teams a high degree of autonomy. It provides context about how this style of decision making fits in with other systems, describes the process in detail and explains how it is implemented within EE.
Our main objective remains to treat people as grown-ups and we believe that the Advice Process provides a framework that taps into the talent of our team more deeply than other, more traditional approaches. Thereby improving the overall quality of decision making within Equal Experts.
Sharing our thinking
The ideas captured within the playbook have originated from a book written by Dennis Bakke and elaborated by people within the Equal Experts network.. We’d like others to benefit from our playbook and use it within their organisations. For that reason, we’ve published the playbook under a Creative Commons license and hosted it on GitHub for anyone to contribute, or even fork and modify to suit their context.
We hope this contribution helps advance our collective understanding of distributed management systems by Making Decisions. Better.
If you would like to know more please get in touch.
Our annual conference is always one of my favourite times of the year, and the 2019 edition was no exception.
There’s something very special about getting nearly 400 people from our network, spread around the UK and the globe as we are, together in one place – whether they’re employees, associates or alumni. It’s a reminder that our shared values aren’t just words on a page.
Here comes the science bit
We held this year’s conference in a brand new event space within London’s Science Museum, a venue that managed to be just as interesting as the talks on stage. As well as wonderful views across the city’s skyline, we had private access to the museum’s Wonder Lab – a thoroughly inspiring collection of mind-bending physics and chemistry experiments. Some of those can be seen in these video highlights from the evening:
Inspiration is what our conference is all about. Our MC and colleague Dan Mitchell had a few very inspiring words and brought that extra touch that made the evening so special.
This year our keynote came from the celebrated author and speaker Simon Singh, who shared stories from his book The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets. It’s fair to say this look at the hidden world of maths and numbers on show in Springfield hit right up the street for a room full of software engineers!
Why and how
With so many of us present, I took the opportunity to reflect on Equal Experts’ ‘why and how’, as my personal journey as founder has naturally shaped the organisation’s purpose: why do we do what we do?
However, this is not about setting an aspirational goal that we want to achieve in the fullness of time. This is very much about who we are on our best day, today. Therefore I need feedback from all the members of the network – including associates and customers – when we live up to our Why and when we fall short.
Then, together with my co-CEO Jon Dickinson and COO Sam McGregor, we shared some thinking on the role of the new Exec team and what we want EE focus to be in the next 12 months… and I hope those present will agree we didn’t hog the stage for too long before we gave way to a night of catching up.
Round it all off with some delicious food and drink (themed around the cuisine of countries with Equal Experts offices), and the night was another resounding success. Sincere thanks to all involved, whether on stage, behind the scenes, or attending. See you in 2020.
Sometimes, people need a bit of a helping hand at work – for lots of different reasons. With that in mind, there are a number of services we offer and things we do to help people fit in, get on, and stay healthy.
It might be simply to develop a sense of belonging when they start, or to get to know people better once they’re here. It might be because they want to learn new skills, or have some other issues – at work or at home – that they need help resolving.
With all this in mind, we offer some services to our employees – and others to both employees and associates – designed to help maintain the kind of healthy, happy workplace we’re so proud of.
We believe that our mental health is every bit as important as our physical health, if not more. We wanted to recognise this fact and allow our people the time and space to look after their minds as well as their bodies.
That’s why we introduced free and completely confidential one-to-one sessions with an occupational psychologist for our employees. So if someone’s feeling under pressure, or struggling with a dilemma or a conflict in the workplace – or going through difficulties at home – this is there to help them.
A guiding hand
We’ve also launched what we’re calling the ‘Guide Service’ for employees in the UK, Europe, Australia and South Africa. The Guide Service is a way of teaching new employees the ropes, helping them meet the right people, and showing them how things work in an autonomous, flat-structured business such as Equal Experts. In order to be able to offer guidance, of course, we need guides too, which is why the service is also designed to help those already within the network to learn how to mentor, guide and give something back themselves.
Mind your business
We’ve also just rolled out business coaching, run by an external coach, to support individual and team development at Equal Experts. Like the Guide Service, this is for employees only, and is currently available to those in our UK, Europe, Australia and South Africa office (though we’re hoping to roll it out globally in time).
We see this as the first step towards a culture of global learning, where we share skills amongst one another.
Walking round the world
Last year, we did our first company-wide walkathon in the month of May. We had such a good time that this year… we did it again! This time round, more people got involved, we walked further (53,911,458 steps – a bit more than once round the world), three people walked over a million steps each (!), and once again we donated a good amount of money to charity.
A walkathon is a perfect fit for Equal Experts, and not just as a way to give money to good causes. Coming together is crucial for a network such as ours, where people are based all around the world, and often work on-site with clients. It helps us get to know one another, fosters a better sense of community and belonging and – last but not least – it’s a good way to get fit, get outside and soak up the magic of the great outdoors.
Want to find out more about Equal Experts?
These are just some of the things we’re doing to help our people and to make sure Equal Experts remains a great place to work (it was recognised as having an excellent work/life balance in 2018 – but there’s always more that can be done).
If you’re keen to find out more, get in touch at HelloUK@equalexperts.com
At Equal Experts, we’re encouraged to take responsibility for our own business decisions by using something called the ‘Advice Process’. Here’s my experience of how it worked when I used it for the first time.
I joined the Equal Experts EvolvE programme two months ago, which is designed to take people with several years’ industry experience who wish to push their career forward at a rapid rate, and give them the skills to become fully-fledged Equal Experts consultants. My background prior to Equal Experts was working as a software engineer in commercial organisations. To get any kind of business decision approved at most commercial companies usually involves pushing it up the organisational hierarchy, so when I was presented with the Equal Experts Advice Process I was quite confused – and for the most part I ignored it as I thought at first that it was just a managerial approval mechanism.
My ignorance of the Advice Process continued until I was presented with an opportunity to use it myself. I wanted to attend a conference, QCon London, and because it was a substantial investment once you take ticket price, travel and hotel into account, it was only right that I should seek some kind of approval for this expense.
Over to you
I originally began by messaging the head of our EvolvE program, Steve Morgan, just as I would have done at previous employers. I assumed Steve would approve or deny my request, but instead he encouraged me to use the Advice Process for this. So I filled in the form, and when I got to the field where I was asked who the decision maker was, I put ‘Steve Morgan and Equal Experts for financial backing’.
Steve quickly left a message telling me that in fact I – the person who used the Advice Process – was the decision maker.
I’m the decision maker? How can that be? Surely I will just approve my decision, because if I want something, why wouldn’t I just approve it? It didn’t make sense.
Then the Advice Process began to shine. People started to comment with suggestions, ideas and experiences about QCon – this was a way for my colleagues throughout the Equal Experts network to offer advice and for me to then make an informed decision based on the feedback I received.
Some of the best bits of advice I received included:
- Previous QCon attendees who all described the conference positively.
- How I could reflect on the success of attending QCon – through networking, blogging, learnings
- How to push myself outside of my comfort zone by networking proactively
- How I could help with marketing the Equal Experts brand and the EvolvE program while at QCon
All of this advice was invaluable, and I used it to decide if QCon would be valuable to me and to Equal Experts. With all of the advice being positive and showing clear value for both myself, my colleagues and Equal Experts, the decision was an easy one. I approved my own request.
A powerful feeling
This radical new approach to decision-making was mind-blowing to me after working in multiple organisations where I had to seek hierarchical approval.
A system whereby I seek feedback, then use this feedback to make my own decision felt alien. It felt as if the regular day-in day-out hierarchical business model had been thrown away and this new system had been put in place. It felt like an evolution of business practices.
The empowerment to receive advice and make a decision was a powerful feeling and left me feeling very positive about the process and about Equal Experts as an organisation.
It was very liberating, I’ve recommended it to all my colleagues, and I hope other businesses begin following this decentralised approach.
Are you at QCon? If you’re interested to find out more about Equal Experts, and how we adapt and change, one of our Partners Mairead O’Connor will be presenting a talk called ‘People are more complex than computers’ on Tuesday 5th March. Come along, say hi, and Mairead will be happy to tell you more about what makes Equal Experts different!
At Equal Experts, we pride ourselves on being an open, flexible, grown-up and welcoming workplace (in fact, last year we ranked sixth in a Glassdoor survey for best work/life balance in the UK).
It’s easy to say such a thing of course – but how does this manifest itself in reality? Here are a just a few of the things we do to make Equal Experts that bit different:
1. We’ve opened up Slack
As it is for many tech organisations, the messaging tool Slack is the glue that sticks us all together. Recently we hit a milestone on it, as the number of people on our most popular Slack channel went above 1,000 (and since then it’s risen even further – to over 1,200).
Suffice to say, we’ve come a long way since we first started using Slack in 2016. At its launch, we had 363 people actively using the tool, so to arrive at a point just 2.5 years later where we’ve broken the 1,000 barrier on our main Slack channel shows you just how far we’ve come as a company in that time.
The reason our Slack numbers are higher than the number of people currently working for us (which is roughly 850) is that we recently decided to invite the whole network and not just those who are actively working with us to stay on our Slack.
We do this as we’ve believed from the very beginning that one of the things that makes Equal Experts different and binds us together is our sense of community. On top of that, we never know when our paths might cross again – many associates, once in the network, leave Equal Experts for a while before returning (in fact, over 100 associates returned to Equal Experts in 2018 alone).
2. We let employees make their own decisions
One of the other things that stands Equal Experts apart is our lack of hierarchical management structure. In fact, any employee can propose ideas and make decisions thanks to a system we call the Advice Process – even if the idea costs a lot of money or affects how the business works. Using the Advice Process our employees can ask for feedback on an idea, then when armed with all the information they need, they’re able to make the call themselves as to whether to proceed – or not.
3. Our executives are as transparent as they can be
Of course, just because our employees have the freedom to make decisions big or small, that doesn’t mean we don’t have any senior executives at Equal Experts. But, in keeping with the ethos of the company, any decisions made at senior level also go through the same Advice Process. Additionally, each week I write a round-up on what the exec team has been focusing on and how we as an exec team are progressing against our published objectives. Being as open, honest and approachable as possible is good for everyone involved.
4. Our delivery teams have the autonomy to get on with things
We are a disparate network in which most of our people are based on-site with clients. So not only would it be hard to breathe down the necks of our client-side delivery teams, it would also be counter-productive even if we could. Only highly-experienced and self-starting people join our network, and we trust them to get on with the job without interference. Armed with our values and with the backup of those in the network if they need it, we find that people work better when given the responsibility and accountability to do so.
5. We come together from far and wide
With offices in eight countries spanning five continents, and with teams embedded with clients, it’s not always easy to get to know people in the global network, or to come together as one. To bond the network, we came up with the idea of a global Walkathon in 2018; a month during which we teamed up to battle blisters, bad weather and one another to walk as far as we could. The result? We raised loads of money for charity and walked nearly 40 million steps.
6. We spread the knowledge
We held a grand total of 121 events in 2018, some for internal audiences but the large majority open to anyone. As well as hosting software clinics and our global ExpertTalks (in which our employees and Associates share stories of their successes and challenges), Equal Experts practitioners also present at conferences, and we sponsor a variety of other events too. Our ExpertTalks in particular are hugely popular: in fact, ExpertTalks Manchester now has almost 3,000 members.
7. We want to make our processes and policies public
Most companies’ processes and policies stay hidden within security of the company’s IT system – and up to now, so have ours. However, where documentation is not company or people sensitive, we think much of it can be made public. Not only is it easier for those within our network, or our alumni, to see, but it might be useful for others too. We’ve got a long way to go with this, but we’ll be starting the process with our InfoSec policy for Associates.
Find out more
If you’re interested to find out more about how Equal Experts has adapted and changed as it’s grown – especially in recent years – one of our Partners Mairead O’Connor will be presenting a talk called ‘People are more complex than computers’ at this year’s QCon. Come along, say hi, and Mairead will be happy to tell you more about what makes Equal Experts different!
We’re not perfect, and we’d never pretend we are. However, we are proud of what we’ve achieved as a business, and by being open and welcoming we believe we make the Equal Experts network the grown-up, forward-thinking and adaptable place it is.
Are you looking for a new challenge in 2019? Why not get in touch!
In just three years, Equal Experts North has flourished – from an initial client engagement requiring just two of us, to 200 Associates working in Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Edinburgh.
EE North continues to be an important, exciting and fast-developing part of our network, and as a result we’re always keen to meet experienced technologists working across the region. For a flavour of our culture, do watch the short video below, filmed in our Manchester office late last year:
If you’re keen to be part of a stimulating working culture and want to work up North, whether you’re already here or thinking of heading home, perhaps, do drop us a line.
You’re also very welcome to join us at ExpertTalks, our popular Meetups. These are well established in Manchester and Leeds, with occasional outings in Liverpool and Edinburgh too. Just join your local group to stay informed:
It’s been another great year for Equal Experts. Here’s a look back at our 2018 – in numbers.
Thanks to everyone for their hard work – we wouldn’t have achieved what we’ve achieved without all our fantastic employees, associates and clients. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, have a great break – here’s to a happy and healthy 2019!
Our Pune office recently staged its ExpertTalks conference (for the 4th year running).
We welcomed around 100 people from outside the company, with plenty more from Equal Experts in attendance too. It was great to see the level of interest and commitment from attendees was even higher than in previous years – perhaps helped by the fact we ran three interactive workshops as part of the conference schedule.
Our thanks go to everyone who gave or listened to a talk – we’re looking forward to the 5th ExpertTalks India already!
One aspect of the conference that went down especially well was a bonus interactive session from Paul Stringer, who ran a ‘Lightning Feedback Jam’ at the end of the day. The topic? Well, in the spirit of continuous improvement we discussed how we could make ExpertTalks 2019 even better than this year’s event.
This went down so well, Paul’s taken a moment to explain the format below…
Lightning Feedback Jam – Paul Stringer
The Lightning Decision Jam is a creative problem-solving loop that favours structure and process over discussion and debate. It uses some of the core principles of Jake Knapp’s Design Sprint format: for example, ‘working together alone’ and ‘you don’t need to discuss everything’.
While the principles are fixed, the format isn’t, so I created a version I called the Lightning Feedback Jam to suit a conference set-up. It was great to use the opportunity of presenting at ExpertTalks to share the principles of Design Sprints with an audience in a way they could immediately try for themselves.
The idea was to have a discussion about the conference, at the conference – giving the organisers specific actions to take away to improve it further. So we began by setting the challenge: “Make Next Year’s ExpertTalks India even more awesome!”
Then, through a series of timeboxed exercises we did the following:
- Noted down our feedback (alone);
- Stuck our notes up and read them all (together);
- Voted on our favourites (alone);
- Prioritised the ideas according to popularity (together).
It was a fun, frenetic and intense exercise, with around 100 people working together (and alone). Out of all the chaos, opinion and perspective we were able to pinpoint three specific actions in 30 minutes – things that ExpertTalks can do next year. These were:
- Let the audience vote on which talks make the schedule;
- Add even more interactive sessions;
- Run multiple tracks to make the most of the time.
So next year, expect to be able to vote on what talks you’ll be listening to…
In the meantime, if you want to try a Jam along these lines (which I can heartily recommend), check this guide out.
Equal Experts Portugal has been up and running since 2015, and is still growing fast; we’re looking for skilled Devs (among other technical roles) to add to our distinctive culture in Lisbon.
Originally set up to offer near-shore capabilities and working on projects alongside our teams in the UK and India, EE Portugal is now winning its own clients – and is well on the way to becoming a self-sustaining business unit.
It also offers a relaxed working culture that the whole team clearly takes pride in (although it’s worth noting an excellent culture is a priority for all of us at Equal Experts!). We recently met with the team in Lisbon to capture a slice of Portuguese life, so take a look to see what working life is like here:
Looking for a move?
We’re keen to welcome more people to join our Lisbon team, with a particular emphasis on experienced Devs, DevOps, Delivery Leads and Testers. If you’re curious to learn more, we’d love to hear from you.
In a global network where people are spread far and wide, it’s not always easy to shout about your successes. One of our Product Leads came up with a solution – using Slack.
On April 22nd 2015, Simon Bostock took a moment out of his day to set up a new channel, named #smallvictories.
The purpose of the channel is simply to document “little changes that add up into big stuff like transformation”. Over time, “small” has become less of a requirement, and we frequently hear of not-so-small victories – like the successful delivery of key milestones that break new ground for our clients.
For a while, the channel went almost unnoticed. But one post at a time (and without any mandates to get involved), #smallvictories has slowly gained traction, to the point where it’s now one of our busiest channels.
It’s now the place to celebrate a wide variety of positive moments, big or small; whether that be passing on a client’s glowing feedback to a wider audience, or applauding the kindness of a team-mate’s weekly gift of home-made bread.
Regardless of size, all these victories are important, because each is a reminder of why we’re part of the EE network in the first place.
Cheering the good stuff
The #smallvictories channel attracts people from right across the network; many different teams, across all our clients and countries.
It’s valuable as it provides the space to give well-deserved, widely-read kudos when it matters. Ultimately it’s about recognition – both the personal recognition of a job well done by individuals and teams, and of the value we collectively create for our clients, each and every day.
As a network of colleagues spread right around the globe, anything that brings us together and helps us celebrate what we’re all doing is incredibly valuable. The simple act of sharing good news, as and when it happens, is hugely important.
I often feel quite humbled when I see the excellent things our network has achieved, so much so I posted this in the channel the other day:
“This business is never about just one big great idea or one big great success, but the multitude of things that add up and reinforce each other in a beautiful kaleidoscope of goodness.”
Please excuse the poorly worded metaphor, but that’s what it’s all about for me.
If your own Slack doesn’t have a channel like #smallvictories, I can heartily recommend setting one up.
For us, that channel on Slack did more to reinforce our values and our culture than most things we have ever done. Thank you Simon!
In many organisations, if you have a good initiative you’d pitch it to your boss, who’d pitch it to theirs, before it disappears into a labyrinthine decision-making process with seven sign-off parties.
However tenaciously you try to make it happen, the idea fizzles out. In other places, you have to get consensus to make an initiative take off – but consensus is never forthcoming.
We don’t want to make decisions like that here, for those very reasons. We’re a network of experienced practitioners who relish a challenge and don’t need our hands holding, which is why we pride ourselves at Equal Experts on the autonomy and responsibility we’re all given to make decisions ourselves.
Introducing the Advice Process
The dramatic growth of our network, especially in recent years, has made autonomous decision-making a little harder. So to remedy that we’ve introduced what we call the ‘Advice Process’. It’s similar to the ideas explored by Dennis Bakke in his book The Decision Maker and it empowers our employees in the UK and Portugal (initially) to make almost any decision they might need to.
In simple terms, with the Advice Process our employees are given the power to be the sole decision maker of whether or not to implement an idea. But it doesn’t stop there: the advice process is about providing sufficient knowledge to make that decision easier.
Autonomous decision-making is not the same as ‘do whatever you want’. We talk a lot about being grown-ups here; part of being a grown-up is in recognising where the boundary of our knowledge lies, and asking for help when it is needed. By sharing their idea – and the impact of doing it, the cost involved, and how they’d measure its success – with a selection of appropriate colleagues, our employees arm themselves with as much information as necessary to make an informed decision on whether to proceed or not.
Yes, it’s their decision and they are accountable for it. For some people, this is a little daunting, but that’s why the Advice Process exists – it’s there to help them decide. It’s worth reiterating that we won’t hang anyone out to dry if one of their ideas doesn’t work. That’s the nature of trying new things out, after all: some initiatives will work, but others will not.
We’re still experimenting with it, but so far the Advice Process has worked really well for us. Not only does it provide clear accountability, but it also encourages better decision making by fostering collaboration between those giving advice and those receiving it. It brings an increased level of transparency on why decisions are made, and it helps us learn from our decisions as individuals and as an organisation.
The advice process has been used to make numerous decisions around Equal Experts (around 30 so far); from implementing new paid-for tools and services, kicking off new charity partnerships, trialling new roles within the organisation and even launching our space agency (EESA).
We mean what we say when Equal Experts is a company of grown-ups. As we grow, our culture will inevitably evolve, but there are certain aspects (such as autonomy) that we will always hold on to. Working out the best way to do so is a challenge we are taking on together.
The month of May saw us trotting, skipping, traipsing, and… well, walking our way through the first ever Equal Experts Walkathon.
Having been inspired by the team in our office in Pune – who ran their own event last year – we worked with the folks behind the fitness challenge app Hoofit to run a global Walkathon that helped us to get away from our screens, appreciate the outside world, and raise money for some very special charities while we were at it.
120 of us got walking – divided into 10 teams – and competition throughout the month was fierce.
Collectively, we walked a whopping 39,896,160 steps over the month, with some truly herculean efforts among us. In the end, the winning team (EE-sy Striders) trotted out 4,775,121 steps between them. This adds up to around 3,451km – the equivalent of walking from London to Turkey. Not bad when they all had day jobs to contend with too!
Walking for a much-loved colleague
We always wanted to make charity part of the Walkathon.
Our friend and colleague Ber Flynn – a brilliant Delivery Lead, also responsible for creating our popular Ice Breaker cards – was suffering from a rare form of cancer and we resolved to walk as far as we could for her.
Sadly, Ber passed away shortly before the end of our challenge, something that has come as a huge blow to all of us fortunate enough to know her.
As someone that saw the positive in everything and everyone, we’re taking Ber as inspiration and donating the money raised by our Walkathon to four charities, chosen by her and her family. Every single step has contributed to the donation.
Bringing the network together
To raise money for good causes, in memory of Ber, was a great motivator for us at Equal Experts. On top of that, it turned into an event that brought people together throughout the network. We had participants across Europe, in the USA, in India and in Australia – and even one person who was on holiday in Japan.
People got to know one another, they got competitive, they started posting photos from their walks – it really gripped our imaginations. Thanks to everyone involved – we can’t wait to do it again next year.
Our blog’s not the only place you can hear from Equal Experts.
Rare is the business that doesn’t have a presence on various social platforms these days, and we’re no exception. Playing our part in the wider software community is important to us, and the web is where that community can be found.
With that in mind, here’s a quick rundown of some of the key spots you’ll find us online:
The professional’s social network is a key way we find experienced talent to work with.
Be a good egg and follow @EqualExperts. In return, you’ll see our news, the latest blogs, and live updates from the many events we attend, sponsor and speak at.
Our channel is home to a variety of content and key insights into our internal culture.
You might have heard of this one. 100% no fake news when you like our page, promise.
The newest addition to our social list, and home to The ExpertTalks Podcast! We’re currently two episodes in – why not join us?
If you aren’t part of Equal Experts, you may want to check our Glassdoor page to hear the thoughts of people who are. It might be interesting to anyone who’s interested in working with us; note that we don’t have any editorial control over this one.
At Equal Experts, getting together in one place is not as easy as it sounds. With offices across the world, and with most of our consultants co-located with clients, it means we often rely on Slack to stay in touch and get to know one another.
That’s why our annual conference is so important for us – it’s a time to bring as many people together as we can to stop, reflect and look forward to the year ahead. Oh, and let our hair down a bit too, obviously.
Looking back, and to the future
This year, around 250 of us – which is about a third of the network – headed to Tobacco Dock in London for this year’s conference – our sixth. Could we better last year’s? We had a good go!
After recapping what was a great 2017 for Equal Experts, fellow co-founder Ryan Sikorsky and I cast our minds into the future. What’s in store for the network? What is our direction of travel? The answer, in short, is that we want Equal Experts to continuously improve so that it becomes a role model – a model organisation – that can inspire the rest of the industry. How so? In the way it treats its employees and associates, in the way it treats its clients, in the quality of its output and its approach to innovation. All this while still growing in a sustainable way, so that we don’t lose what makes the network special in the first place.
It’s keynote time
We then had a keynote from the excellent Dr. Hannah Fry, Senior Lecturer at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL. She spoke on the mathematics of ‘Being Human’. Taking everyday human behaviours, such as relationships and city living, she looked through the prisms of maths and data to show us a whole new angle on who we are – often with unexpected conclusions.
Finally, we had a series of Lightning Talks from people within the network on a diverse range of topics, from Blockchain and Monitoring, to Machine Learning, GDPR and ‘Florence Nightingale as an Agile pioneer’.
It was a fantastic, informative evening, and it was so gratifying to see so many people there enjoying themselves and getting to know each other better. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.
Thanks to everyone involved for making it a huge success. Bring on next year’s…
It’s not all bad news
- Apply for a BVLOS exemption (Beyond Visual Line Of Site). This is quite expensive and long winded process, but is our best chance of flying in the UK.
- Apply to other countries. Some countries are more open to off-the-wall applications such as ours. So far we’ve approached Iceland, Spain and Australia, and Canada and Poland are other countries we could speak to. The Scouting Association has given us permission (and insurance) to fly from, over and to any of their property worldwide, too (we’re working with a local Scouts group as part of this project).
My name is Lyndsay Prewer, and I’m currently working as a Technical Delivery Manager for one of Equal Experts’ public sector clients.
I share the role with another EE consultant, Beccy, and between us we lead seven teams that develop and maintain our client’s Platform-as-as-Service (PaaS). This is used by 50+ digital delivery teams, distributed all around the UK. These teams design, deliver and support hundreds of microservices that serve online content to the client’s varied customers.
A typical day for me starts with my train commute into London. I use this time for a mixture of personal reflection, catching up on Slack/emails, and learning about any parts of the PaaS tech stack that I’m less familiar with (my tech-du-jour is mongodb). This is like catnip to me – I was a developer before moving into leadership, and I still really enjoy learning new languages and technologies.
Building our client relationship
Once on site, Beccy and I work closely with our client Product Owner, Andrew. One of his daily rituals is a morning coffee run, which we’ll often accompany him on. It’s a great opportunity to chat about current events, whether they be highlights from our weekends or burning issues within the client organisation.
These impromptu conversations are important – they provide the wider context that is vital for us to bear in mind as consultants. This allows us to better empathise with our client, better understand their needs and constraints. And the coffee’s good, too.
Organising for self-organisation
Equal Experts strongly supports self-organisation and adaptation to context, and hence each of the teams that Beccy and I serve is free to pick and choose its own agile/lean practices as they best see fit.
In keeping with this mindset, each team has its own Delivery Lead and Product Owner. Still, some co-ordination and shared context is essential, and we run a daily scrum-of-scrums (SoS) that achieves this well. We’re also in daily contact with Chris, Equal Experts’ Engagement Manager for this client.
Ahead of the SoS, Beccy and I often hold our own daily standup to catch up on each other’s successes and challenges, and to co-ordinate who progresses any new items in our shared backlog.
I’m a big fan of pair-programming, and despite our roles being somewhat “non-technical”, working so closely with Beccy and Chris provides a huge degree of reassurance, affirmation, support and fun – similar to what I’ve experienced when pair-programming.
Getting stuff done
My work is often derived from the SoS meeting. Although each of the platform teams has clear ownership over different work areas, the breadth and scale of our platform and digital services inevitably means that some issues defy clear categorisation.
That’s where my role comes in. In addition to facilitating cross-team co-ordination, a key aspect of the job is picking up these miscellaneous issues and either completing them, or progressing them to a point where they are ready to hand over to a specific team.
This often takes the form of engaging with a range of stakeholders to gauge the scope of a problem, and shape its business and technical aspects into a form that’s sufficiently well defined for a platform team to progress. I love this part of the role, as it requires a diverse set of skills:
- Getting to grips with a technical concept (such as how microservices address third party components);
- Using our monitoring tools to analyse traffic, and gather data to help guide decisions;
- Working with delivery teams to understand their usage of a platform feature, and the impact that any change would have on them.
The wider view
Beyond the immediate day-to-day, we also make sure to keep an eye on the wider context of our work. We’ve recently been helping our teams to form some strategic goals for the platform.
Facilitating the delivery of these goals is now a significant part of my focus. Most of the goals require co-ordination between multiple teams to get them delivered, alongside the backlogs of regular and ad-hoc work that each team has to address.
To help understand the impact of this strategic work on each team, I’m holding regular sessions with each Product Owner and Delivery Lead pair to gain a deep understanding of their team’s work-in-progress and backlog. This gives me important context, empathy and a sense of the bigger picture, all of which is essential to facilitating how the teams get the cross-team goals broken down, planned, prioritised and delivered.
Space for gratitude
One of the things I love about EE is the wide variety of opportunities we have to enrich people’s lives – be they our clients, client’s customers, our colleagues or anyone we meet! An essential and very satisfying part of my role is showing appreciation to our clients and colleagues. This may be as simple as taking someone out for lunch, or sending them a small gift. A more fun and unusual gift I recently organised was a custom designed cake for a senior stakeholder, who was leaving after 30 years service with our client.
My day draws to an end via another train commute home. If it’s been a particularly intense day, an episode (or two) of the IT Crowd helps me unwind. If something of wider interest to the EE network happened, then I’ll also write an internal EE blog post, to share something of our successes, learnings and challenges. Our network is large and very diverse, and so sharing news in this way helps form new connections across the network and strengthen existing ones.
Hopefully this gives you a flavour of what my role entails… but of course, no role, client or day is exactly the same at EE, which helps to make this a very satisfying place to work.
If you’d like to learn more about the roles available within our network, check out Equal Experts’ LinkedIn page, or learn why you might like to join us on Glassdoor.
We’ve enjoyed a great 2017 at Equal Experts. Here’s a snapshot of how the year looked for us.
Thanks to everyone for all their hard work, and thanks to all our clients for their continued trust and collaboration.
From all of us at Equal Experts – have a great break and see you in 2018!
For many experienced software consultants, moving to a new country or to a bigger city is a fact of life. You get the best of both worlds – rewarding work and new adventures in a different place.
But what happens if you’ve done your stint elsewhere and you think it’s time to move onto the next stage of your career – perhaps somewhere nearer home?
It’s something that Equal Experts in India is looking at. There’s a growing number of Indian software engineers who went to the US, to Britain or elsewhere to work, but now want to head home to be closer to their families.
Previously, those working overseas might have considered a move back to India to be a step down, both in terms of the kinds of roles and the overall packages available. However, cities like Pune are increasingly able to offer what they’re looking for.
So our recruitment team in India is actively helping them make that move. Thanks to our approach to hiring, which reflects our own values as a company, and thanks to the varied clients we work with, they’re confident that the Equal Experts network will prove to be a good fit for potential returnees.
The proof is in the pudding
This campaign has already yielded results. One candidate, who was looking to return to India from several years in Seattle, found our approach to recruiting “raises the bar” and was “similar to what we go through in the US”.
“I’m looking forward to forging a partnership and joining hands with Equal Experts,” he added.
But it’s not just in India where we’re keen to hear from people dreaming of home. With an office in Manchester, and clients across the UK, those joining the Equal Experts network – as well as those already in it – are encouraged to follow their heart if they want to.
Take Seb, for example. He was an Equal Experts Associate in London, but he and his partner decided to return to their roots in the north of England, and took the opportunity to go travelling before heading home and finding a new job. Seb got in touch with Equal Experts in the north to see what opportunities there might be. They kept him in mind while he was out of the country, and the upshot was that he was lucky enough to find a role to dive straight into once he got home.
“Equal Experts certainly smoothed the process and took a huge weight off my shoulders,” he said. “I didn’t have to search for a role while arriving back in the UK and trying to find somewhere to live and unpack all of our belongings.”
We’re proud of our network and we want everyone in it to be happy. Being flexible and open is one way of doing that and is part of what makes Equal Experts what it is.
If you’re interested in joining the Equal Experts network, get in touch.
For a while now, we’ve been holding ‘Pizza Talks’ in our Lisbon office – part of a friendly environment where everyone is welcome to share their experiences and passions.
The talks are sometimes work-related, sometimes not. Either way, we’ve found they have quickly become a much-loved part of our working week here. Every Wednesday, our usual lunch slot is replaced with a Pizza Talk. People gather around, sitting on bean bags, chairs or just standing. Think “campfire stories” but with a projector instead of a fire, and pizza instead of marshmallows (though come to think of it…).
Why we do it
First of all, why not? The talks are a great opportunity for our team to share their experiences and passions, whether they are work related or not. But specifically, we decided to carry this initiative because:
- It’s an opportunity for individuals to push their comfort zone and practice their public speaking skills to an ever growing audience;
- It’s a good time for colleagues to learn something new and get to know their teammates better;
- It fosters creativity, and helps to trigger conversations and break the routine;
- We like pizza (reason enough).
How we do it
We use a simple Trello board to track the talk submissions and their scheduling. Each talk is given in English and recorded. And after some minor video editing the talk gets published and shared online, following the spirit of “ideas worth spreading” so famously espoused by TED.
We save the pizzas for after the talk – when the speaker finishes nourishing the minds of the audience, it’s time for everyone to feed the body. As we savour the pizzas, some of us will invariably take the time to ask questions and provide feedback.
What we talk about
Over the last eight months, 18 different speakers have delivered 29 talks. The “most talkative” award goes to Nuno Marques with 6 talks, but I only need two more to catch up with him! Not that this is a competition (ahem).
Recently, we started recording our Pizza Talks. You can watch them on YouTube, or subscribe to be notified when the next one comes out. Here are three of our most popular talks so far:
- Train to Lisbon – Organizational impact in an international context.
- Agile Roadtrip – Through a simple analogy, learn how to incorporate feedback and effectively drive your team using the backlog.
- In the name of pragmatism – We use the word ‘pragmatic’ a lot here. This talk is about going back to Equal Experts core values, staying disciplined and making better decisions when dropping practices.
Hope you find them useful and/or interesting – and either way, I can heartily recommend a pizza talk as a great way to get your team together!
Over the last few posts, we’ve been highlighting various aspects of our culture as part of our 10 year anniversary celebrations.
We’ve saved the most important part for last. When we asked our people what they like about the EE network, their answer was each other.
We’re proud to have a distinctive, friendly and collaborative culture, one which people say they enjoy being part of. But we still have work to do; if you want to help us make it even better, do get in touch.
Watch other videos in this series:
After a decade of collaboration, we’re glad to say the EE network goes from strength to strength.
To mark our tenth year, we asked a number of our staff and associates about their experiences of working with us. And one thing kept coming up as a big plus – the freedom to make their own decisions.
Watch other videos in this series:
The majority of people in the Equal Experts network are associates, who work with us on a contract-by-contract basis.
Currently, we number around 200 permanent staff and 600 associates. As part of our celebration of 10 years of EE, we asked our network why they value this way of working:
Watch other videos in this series:
To mark a decade of being in business, we asked our people what they value from being part of the EE network.
The ability to learn both from your peers and through the exposure to different projects was mentioned again and again:
Watch other videos in this series:
To celebrate a decade of the Equal Experts network, we asked those within it what they think matters most.
In this second video, they share their thoughts on our delivery values:
You can explore our values in more detail elsewhere on the site – both technical and delivery-focused.
Or watch the other videos in this series:
We are incredibly grateful for the fact that Equal Experts is a network, made up of our permanent employees, our associates, our customers and our alumni.
Together, this network creates a distinctive culture that people tell us is a great place to work. And in 2017, we are already marking a decade of working together as Equal Experts.
To celebrate, we spoke with our permanent staff, associates, customers and alumni, and asked them about the topics that we consider to be important aspects of the Equal Experts network.
We’ll be sharing their thoughts in a series of short videos over the coming weeks. Their first Topic? Talent:
Watch other videos in this series:
With the weather occasionally calming down, we’ve been able to get outside and perform some more tests of our gear for Equal Experts Space Agency.
For our most recent balloon flight – our third – we sent a weather balloon up to 30,000m to release a toy glider, using the release mechanism and scripts we’ve written. Specifically, we wanted to test the following:
- The servo motors (which release the payload), to check they work at low temperature and high altitude (low pressure)
- Do our GPS and barometer reports match up? This would tell us if altitude is being reported correctly.
- Our GoPro cameras – we had two onboard, and were keen to see if they would work positioned outside of the payload box, without protection.
- Does the mission script work? Does it successfully release a toy glider at the intended altitude?
- Observe the flight of the glider at 30,000m; does it fly or plummet uncontrollably?
Incidentally, if you’re curious to know more about the scripts controlling our flights, you can view our code at the project’s Github.
Here’s how it went
The nature of this enterprise is that there’s often an unforeseen complication, and so it proved this time. When we retrieved the gear, we found the flight logs – informative data on how the flight is progressing – hadn’t been recorded during this flight. Unfortunately, the SD card they are saved to corrupted. It’s fair to say this wasn’t a helpful development!
Still, as I’ve said before, identifying and solving these issues is the point of all this, and highly satisfying (and what makes it analogous to our work for our clients!). Here’s a rundown of the rest of our findings:
Servo motors: Positive news here. We tried standard grease in one motor and silicon grease in the other, and both seemed to have worked upon landing. Reviewing our onboard footage more closely confirms that both kept working as expected.
GPS/Barometer altitude: We can’t tell if it was the barometer pressure reading or the GPS height measurement that actually triggered the glider’s release, thanks to the loss of our flight logs. But we could work out the altitude at the time of release by combining onboard black box data with video evidence of when the glider was released. It turns out this happened at 29,851.3 metres – just 15 seconds before the blackbox recorded 30km. So between them, the GPS and barometer seem to be doing their job:
GoPro camera: Our footage from the Karma camera – which was carried outside of the payload – suffered from frozen condensation on the lens. Our GoPro Session’s lens didn’t have the same problem though. This is odd – but either way, we need to try to fly when humidity is lower (another aspect of the weather that so affects this project). On a related note, the gimbal holding the camera managed to survive the speedy spinning of the descent very well indeed.
Glider performance: The glider released and fell – extremely quickly! It seemed to catch the air and do what it’s supposed to (glide) before becoming too small to see from the balloon cameras, but there was a lot of tumbling before this. We want to experiment with releasing the glider from its tail next time, to see what difference this makes; for this flight, it was released with the tail down.
Working out the stall speed at 30,000m – and therefore, how far the glider has to fall before it can even out and fly horizontally – is one of our next tasks.
A hard landing
All in all, this was a pretty successful outing for our equipment. But one last aspect we hadn’t planned for was the speedy fall of our payload once the balloon burst. The latex from the balloon seemed to become tangled with the parachute, preventing it from opening properly. This meant the descent rate was faster than predicted and the payload landed a good few miles away from where it was supposed to – in a wheat field.
It was soon spotted via our drone (permission granted, of course). Next time, we’ll need a longer line from the parachute to the balloon, to try and stop this from happening again.
It’s been a little while since I last posted an update about our EESA side project – Equal Experts Space Agency. But we’ve been very busy in the background…
In an ideal world, we’d have achieved our dream to fly our UAV in the highest ever horizontal flight by now (if you’re unfamiliar with the plan, check our dedicated page). But with a project like this there’s always something to trip you up, and amateur space flight isn’t a straightforward problem to solve. That’s why I love it!
Still, our plan remains the same, and we’re making good progress – ably abetted by the boys and girls of Addingham Scout Group, where I am also a Scout Leader. Here’s a quick summary of what we’ve been up to since our last post.
Low level flight tests
We performed lots of successful tests with our initial drone, which set out to test the GPS programming. We’ve now moved onto the bigger frame, which we’ll use for the record attempt itself. Our first go wasn’t successful as the bungie hook, used to launch the plane from the ground for low level tests, was placed too far back.
We’ve now rebuilt the frame, but have been unable to test it again thanks to a combination of trips away and unsuitable weather conditions when I have been around (perhaps this is why NASA chose Florida over Yorkshire).
Release mechanism tests
We needed to test the release mechanism repeatedly, but can’t keep sending weather balloons up each time. So we built a huge, heavy lift octocopter drone, capable of lifting the payload to 120 metres and automatically releasing it to drop (or fly) to the ground.
This has worked a treat with test payloads (and thanks go to Addingham Scouts who have tirelessly retrieved the payloads we’ve dropped everywhere, once acclimatised to the drone!). When we’ve established our big plane is capable of stable flight we’ll be launching the drone again with that attached. Again, something that’s dependent on weather conditions.
Permission to fly
Achieving our goal isn’t just a technical feat – it’s a regulatory one. We need the UK Civil Aviation Authority to be happy with what we’re up to and give us the go-ahead before attempting the record flight.
Getting permission has been the source of our biggest delays; the CAA is very busy, with staff away on holiday to add to the pressure, so has not been able to assess our applications for flight exemptions. Back in June I applied for two balloon launches to be performed in July but I’ve still not had the paperwork back. This week I’ve resent the application with the dates changed to August. This is something that’s out of our own hands, really, so we’re just focussing on being ready when the time does come.
Besides the new developments we’ve been working to add enhancements to what we already have. We’ve been testing our ‘sense and avoid’ scripts on the wilds of the Yorkshire moors. These automatically keep our equipment well clear of other planes. We have it set to 1km of horizontal separation (much further than the 500m mandatory separation), and can see our flight plan change when a commercial jet flies “near” (although the jets in question are actually 10km above our plane – we’re only testing in 2D without taking altitude into account).
We’ve also added a geofence to our tests. This restricts the plane from flying more than 500m from its take-off point, keeping it in sight all the time. If it can’t maintain a 500m horizontal separation with commercial jets it will automatically fly back to base and land.
We’re hoping that this extra safety feature will make it easier to write a CAA safety case for our eventual record attempt.
That’s it for now…
All in all then, busy times – we’re having a lot of fun solving the various challenges along the way and we’ll keep you posted! For anyone curious about the technicalities, we’re sharing information and code up on the project’s own Github.
I first took a photograph when I was six years old, in the days of film when there was no live screen – and even then I was told I had a knack for photography.
Clumsier photographers had the bad habit of cutting people’s heads and feet off on photos. But not (mini) me!
So I was predisposed to picking up a camera of my own. Ten years later I bought my first camera, and photography soon became one of my favourite hobbies. I think it’s a brilliant complementary pastime to software development – so with summer time approaching, let me explain why I recommend paying more attention to your holiday snaps if you work in the field of software development…
Everyone needs photos. That organisation hosting an event, that friend getting married, that family lunch you are attending… and the opportunity to record what you and your team are up to as you create brilliance. Once your skills are sufficient, there will always be plenty of opportunities to put them to good use.
It gets you out of your chair
The nature of our work as technologists means we tend to spend a big chunk of our time seated inside. Having the excuse of taking photos is a great motivation to get out there, breath some fresh air, and wipe the cobwebs away. And that makes you feel more motivated when the time comes to sit back down.
Opportunity to meet people
While you are out shooting you will meet strangers, make new friends and get to know other photography enthusiasts. Welcome to the tribe! And since photography offers a satisfying mix of technical and creative thinking, the people you meet are often very interesting people…
Building on that point above – developers are often very logical and analytical people. Since photography is an art, it’s an opportunity to give the other side of your brain a moment to have fun and exercise!
Trains your patience
These days, everything happens fast and everyone is in a hurry. Photography forces you to slow down, to breathe before taking the shot, and wait for the right moment. It’s like a hunter-prey game (but nobody gets hurt)! Yet more skills that are useful anywhere, not least the workplace (I mean the patience, not the hunting).
…and also your attention
When you slow down, you become fully aware. You start to notice curious events, patterns and behaviours. Not only is this mindfulness a useful counterpoint to the rush of our everyday lives, but it’s good for spotting bugs too (I am a tester in the day job…)
Offers you unique moments
Ultimately, this is why I’d say I take photos, rather than make photos. I love capturing the moment, the candid. Most of those events are unique and will never happen again in the same way. So take the opportunity to look up from your screen once in a while and admire the world (even if it’s through your camera screen)!
It seems I think the same thing each year – surely our annual Equal Experts Annual Conference cannot be bettered next year. And every year I am happy to be proved wrong!
Here are a few highlights from this year’s event, held recently:
10 years young
An aspect that made this a particularly special occasion was that the Equal Experts network is celebrating its 10 year anniversary this year. To help us celebrate we held our first ever Equal Experts network awards ceremony . We recognised a few teams and individuals among the inspiring array of people that constitute our network.
We also welcomed Simon Wardley as our keynote speaker, and his talk Situation Normal, Everything Must Change provided a detailed look at how companies fail to understand the importance of a good map when it comes to their strategy. It was both highly entertaining and food for thought:
I’d like to extend thanks to our own associates who volunteered to take the stage for a series of lightning talks that we recorded:
- Plamen Balkanski (A Tale of Two Start-ups)
- Surfraz Ahmed (The Secret Sauce of Empathy in Agile Delivery – starts at 2:47)
- Dan Mitchell (discussing diversity at EE, from 7:23)
- Lyndsay Prewer (Scope Visualisation – Just How Big and Gnarly is your Backlog? – from 12:09)
- Olly Shaw (I’m Happy When I’m not Fed Up: Secrets to Happiness in Agile – from 16:44)
- Thanks too to Sarah Jones and Baber Kalil, whose talk covered confidential information we can’t share publicly – but provided great insight on neuro-linguistic programming (NLP)
To finish up, here are some more shots from the event. An evening to remember – surely we can’t top this one?
The appearance of favourable weather conditions recently allowed team EESA to test its balloon apparatus – and we now have plenty of new data to work with (and some more problems to solve – just the way we like it).
We’ve already written about the aim of our Equal Experts Space Agency project on this blog, and you can check out the entire project on our dedicated EESA page. In short, we’re aiming to fly our drone higher than has ever been achieved.
For our latest test, we sent our balloon up with a 3kg payload to simulate the eventual drone weight). We also included the flight computer, to check it all works as planned at high altitude. Here’s some video taken from the test; as you’ll see, we are getting seriously high:
As well as being good fun, the aim of this test was to get answers to some vital questions:
Can our balloon equipment take the drone high enough?
A definite YES! The balloon reached 34,632 metres before going pop. We’d predicted 33,000m, so that’s a great result. We’re getting our equipment up to altitudes where it can potentially break records, which is great news.
The gear came down to earth within 10 miles of where we’d predicted, too, in Worksop.
Can the flight computer cope with the altitude?
No – not yet, anyway. Things were less positive here, as the GPS stopped recording at ~21km. We suspect that the GPS receiver failed when it became too cold, so we now need to repeat this same balloon test, while trying some new ways to keep the GPS receiver sufficiently warm.
We can’t progress to the next stage without confirming that the GPS will work. Without it,the plane will not know when to release from the balloon, where to fly to, or how fast it’s going.
All in all then, a mixed bag for this test – but getting the GPS to work at altitude should not be an insurmountable problem, and it’s exciting to know we are reaching such heady heights with our gear.
Stats, glorious stats
Here are a few details from the test for anyone interested in the more technical details:
Burst altitude: 34,632m
Burst temp: 6°C
Min external temp: -63°C
Max internal temp: 21°C
Min internal temp: -2°C
Avg. internal temp: 9°C
Min temp on ascent: -53°C
Ascent rate 5.1 m/s 11.4 mph
Earlier in the year we shared news of EESA – an ambitious side project, aiming to fly an unmanned aerial vehicle higher than has ever been managed before.
EE associates Tim Squires and Nick Porthouse are the driving force behind EESA; watch this video to learn what they’re up to (and see some of the first test footage).
You can learn more about EESA on our dedicated project page. And keep an eye on this blog for news of the team’s first balloon test, coming soon.
By day, I’m an Associate working with Equal Experts as a Business Analyst. As such I specialise in helping companies deliver huge value very quickly through the iterative delivery of digital services.
Outside of work, I’ve also recently set up a charity – Benefit Breastfeeding – which has all come together very quickly. It’s been eye-opening to learn just how effective the approaches I take in my daily work with EE have proved in this totally new adventure.
The idea for Benefit Breastfeeding came to me one day in December 2016, the morning after a Christmas night out with friends. Fuelled by my Christmas hangover, a passion for the breastfeeding cause and the help of a few trusted friends, I decided to go for it.
I approached this initiative the way I approach all digital delivery projects.
By 20th January 2017 I’d learnt how to define and set up a new charity, recruited a team of trustees, and launched our first shop. Another week on from that and we had money coming through the door, and the press wanting to understand what we’re doing!
So how did I go about it? Well firstly, I invested time upfront in clearly defining Benefit Breastfeeding’s vision and mission. The charity registration process helps enormously with that by forcing applicants to consider why they want to do what they’re proposing. I came up with this:
“Benefit Breastfeeding’s vision is a world where every family that want to breastfeed, or who want their baby to have human breastmilk, is offered the support they need to give them the best chance of meeting their goals.”
With a clear sense of what I wanted to achieve, I asked myself, “what is the simplest step I can take to prove that this idea will add value?”
I defined my minimum viable product as a virtual shop in my home city of Winchester, offering a few of my surplus children’s bits and pieces for sale. I reasoned that if our pilot shop goes well then we’ll raise a bit of money, if it goes wrong then we haven’t lost anything or wasted very much time. In other words, by launching in a very small way and involving only a handful of people, we get to spot and fix issues quickly and simply.
I then narrowed my focus to what was needed in order to market just that. Turns out that’s not very much: a Facebook selling group, a PayPal account, an email address, and a few basic rules. Simple.
‘Test and learn’ works – whatever you’re doing
As in the projects I’d encounter working with EE, the beauty of this approach is that we can deliver small amounts of value very quickly with a low-risk, low-cost experiment. It also allows us to learn very quickly. When something goes wrong we can celebrate our learning, pivot, and try another low-risk, low-cost experiment that has the added benefit of recent experience. And we can adjust our direction as we go (keeping the original vision in mind).
We’re going to get things wrong on this journey, and that’s okay; that’s how we learn; that’s how we achieve excellence not perfection. Get in touch if you want to help us learn.
It’s been a wonderful experience so far, and a reminder of the power of this kind of approach – whatever the project!
Continuously delivering iterations of more value and more learning, through frequent low-risk experiments that each take a baby step closer towards your clearly defined vision.
Benefit Breastfeeding is now up and running, and you can learn more about Sarah’s project on the charity’s website. To learn more about the way Equal Experts works, bookmark this blog and read more about what we do.
Ber Flynn is an Equal Experts Associate, working with one of our major government clients as a Delivery Lead.
She’s also the brains behind a snazzy pack of ‘Icebreaker cards’ we’ve put together, which you might have seen if you’ve recently come across EE at one of the many industry events we attend.
The cards feature a range of questions –some silly, some serious, some intriguing – all designed to break down barriers to communication and help new colleagues get to know each other. The cards are proving popular with our teams and clients alike, so we thought we’d take a moment with Ber to find out how and why they came together.
How did the idea come about?
“Over the course of various contracts in my career, I’ve been a part of a few teams where communication was a problem. Team members would sit next to each other, but not talk or interact with each other on a professional or social level. I’d also see people preferring to communicate via instant messenger rather than have a face to face conversation. There would be hours of silence everyday and it just wasn’t a happy or collaborative environment to work in.
Structured team-building exercises are not always a luxury that is extended to contractors, so there had to be a more simple way. I tried to think of what would encourage people to talk to each other, firstly on a social level, thinking that the professional conversations would soon follow.
I thought about what I would do when I was getting to know somebody – how did I learn about them? I’d ask questions. And they’d ask me questions. In sharing information about each other, a lot of the time we’d learn something completely unexpected.
So I then came up with a list of safe, non-invasive, fun questions and created a little laminated card for each one. Some of the questions came from friends, some from the internet and some from my own warped sense of curiosity.
I was curious whether this simple approach could be applied to working teams – whether they’d help to break down communication barriers, or whether people would object to such a non-techy idea!”
So how did people react?
“I first introduced them at morning stand ups, taking turns to each answer a question picked at random (including the person that read the card). Every morning it was inevitable that at least a few of the answers would be funny or unexpected, or spark conversations that would follow later.
Within the first few days, two of the team members realised they were both avid film buffs and I noticed them having lunch together discussing their favourite movies. Another two team members realised they were both training for a marathon and were later found poring over training routes together. They were communicating!
Over time, the questions improved the general atmosphere and collaboration within the teams. And as people felt more comfortable with each other, they were able to pair, discuss issues and resolve conflicts more easily.”
Even on a team where communication is not an issue, the icebreakers can be used as a general fun start to the day. Who doesn’t like to laugh every morning before you get stuck into your work?
Moving the idea on
“After joining the Equal Experts network as an associate, I continued to use the cards at standups and one of the partners (Benjamin Mitchell) asked about them and began using them with his own team. Another colleague, Jonathan Mundy, witnessed one of these Q&A sessions and asked me to share it with the delivery community within EE’s Slack, and they seemed to really like the idea too.
They then picked up a life of their own; Phil Parker had the great idea of splitting the questions into 4 themes, which could be mapped to a suit – so the cards could be used as a standard deck of playing cards as well. Genius!
Our marketing team then got to work, adding a little polish, and before we knew it we had a posh set of Equal Experts Icebreaker cards. A case of taking a simple idea and making it into something so much better!
Without EE, I’d still be carrying around my amateur batch of laminated cards, so a huge thank you to everyone that’s helped take the idea further.”
We’ve already had some glowing reports from teams using our Icebreaker cards, but would would love to hear about your experiences using them; do let us know on Twitter @EqualExperts if you’ve had a chance to try them out. If you’d like your own pack, visit our stand at an event and we’ll see what we can do…
In case you missed our recent blog, Equal Experts is supporting me in something quite dramatic – a record attempt!
I work with the boys and girls of Addingham Scout Group and we recently worked on a project to float a balloon up to the edge of space. It was a really successful experience and now EE (who I work with as a Technical Architect) is working with me to push things up a notch.
The plan is to break the record for the highest altitude in horizontal flight by a winged aircraft, and to make that happen, here’s what we plan to do:
- Our balloon will lift our unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to 30,500 metres
- The UAV will be released and will fall. Once enough speed is reached – at around 30,000m – we aim to level it out and achieve horizontal flight.
- The UAV will circle, gradually losing altitude and heading towards the landing area (well away from any air corridor).
- The balloon will continue upwards to about 36km, at which point it will burst, allowing its onboard camera to descend.
Achieving all this will obviously take a bit of effort! We completed the first part with a successful maiden flight of our UAV.
Our maiden voyage
We won’t beat the record without testing our gear, so the main object of this exercise was simply to see how our UAV flies. We’ll be using a bigger airframe for the actual record attempt but I wanted to see how my existing drone handled the weight of the cameras (there are three onboard). You can see for yourself with the footage below:
The good news is it went really well. There was a bit of wobble but tuning the flight computer and adding some carbon rods to stiffen the wings should put that right. And the battery used only 10% of its capacity for two 3-minute flights, which is very encouraging.
Here’s a breakdown of what I was hoping to discover, and what I learned:
- Start tuning the flight computer: More tuning is needed to decrease wing wobble, increase control response and increase climb rate;
- Test the longevity of the batteries: Batteries performed well – a total of 480mAh (of 4400mAh) was used over 6 minutes flight, including take-off;
- See how it performs with the Gear 360 camera on the bottom: This was put on for the second test and handling suffered with the 360 camera, as it caused a lot of drag; things will hopefully improve with flight computer tuning;
- Landing on semi-auto flight mode: The landing was very smooth using Fly By Wire B flight mode
- Test centre of gravity: This was spot-on, even with the 360 camera on the bottom;
- Test Return to Landing mode: this also helps to establish the accuracy of the onboard GPS. It worked, but the turn home was very slow – something else that needs tuning!
All in all, then, a very satisfactory start. Our next steps:
- Make the prototype fully autonomous, including auto-landing and emergency procedures
- Build the full-size plane so that we know how much it’s going to weigh
- First balloon launch – with a box payload weighing the same as the full size plane it will eventually haul up to the stratosphere…
We’ll keep you posted!
We recently wrote about our sponsorship of this year’s Women in IT awards – and now that the event has passed, we thought we’d return to the topic to mark what was an inspiring and positive event for all who attended.
Katie Coleman, an Engagement Manager at Equal Experts who works with a range of our clients in the public and private sectors, was one of several of our own women in IT who were at the awards. She says:
“Fantastic night at the Women in IT Awards! Great to see so many celebrating their successes – a real inspiration for women in the industry and a chance to show younger women that there are many ways to build a fulfilling IT career.”
One of our clients at O2, Jennifer Rigby – herself a winner in the awards last year – also attended, remarking that “This year’s Women in IT Awards was fantastic and it is great to see the Awards grow year on year; it was wonderful to celebrate the achievements of so many women in our industry, and see the difference women are making at all levels and roles.”
Embracing your full potential (whatever your gender)
Sponsoring the Women in IT Awards was a logical move for us. We value diversity very highly, something that is evident at many of our company get togethers.
But we can still do more – and an area where we are particularly keen to improve is in recruiting experienced women who have temporarily left the workforce behind to start their family (or other reasons).
Equal Experts aims to be a flexible employer, and a great place to work (check our Glassdoor profile, if you haven’t before). Many of our people work part time to accommodate family responsibilities and diverse interests, without sacrificing the challenge and responsibility they enjoy in their careers.
So if the time is coming to return to the workforce, and you’re an experienced hand in this industry, consider this an invitation to get in touch.
Equal Experts is heading into the stratosphere with the launch of EESA – Equal Experts Space Agency. And no, it’s not April 1st…
One of our Associates, Tim Squires, recently made the news with his spare time project. Working with Addingham Scout Group (near Shipley, Yorkshire), he launched a balloon to the very edge of space:
For 2017, we’re supporting him in his efforts to go a step further – by breaking a World Record. Together, we’re aiming to achieve the highest ever release of an autonomous UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), by releasing a craft from a balloon at (very) high altitude.
The record is currently set at 19,000 metres, and we’re hoping to get to around 30,000.
What on earth..?
Well, we’re actually leaving the Earth, but that’s not important right now. This might all seem a far cry from our usual activity, but in many ways it’s not at all. It’s a tough technical challenge, and we’ll be learning new skills and techniques along the way; and we’ll be doing our best to have a great time as we go along.
We’ll be featuring regular news of EESA’s progress in the run-up to our record attempt, later this spring.
The annual Women in IT Awards is “the world’s largest event dedicated to tackling the technology industry’s disheartening gender imbalance.”
With ‘Equal’ right there in our name, balance and diversity is something we care deeply about at EE. And while it should go without saying in this day and age, our company is full of dynamic, smart and passionate women, working in exactly the same kinds of challenging roles as anyone else.
With that in mind we’ve leapt at the chance to sponsor the 2017 awards, fast approaching in January. You can see more details on the event’s own website.
We’re proud to celebrate the ongoing contribution women make to computing, and look forward to congratulating the finalists and winners of the upcoming awards.
It’s been quite a year for Equal Experts and quite a journey. About the same time five years ago, we were 70 people – today, there are 700 of us across the world.
In 2016, we’ve welcomed several new clients, and contributed further to the success of our existing clients. To help us do it all, we’ve added new offices into our growing family (in Manchester and New York), moved to more spacious digs in Pune and Lisbon, and expanded in London with our second office in Lavington Street. We also had our first taste of Down Under and got our first product sales with our own software, UX Forms. And this is just a sample of everthing that’s happened this last 12 months.
We are very conscious that this kind of growth presents its own set of challenges. And it is really important to us to keep the essence of EE – it’s why we started Equal Experts in the first place. So we are doing everything we can to keep on improving our culture, so people keep feeling they are part of a greater whole.
Now though, it’s time to take stock and be proud. Everyone in the network can be very proud of the value we created for our clients in the last 12 months.
That’s more than enough reason to let our hair down for a seasonal shindig. While our team up north added an element of competition via some ten-pin bowling, in London it seems a pair of reindeer glasses triggered something of a beauty competition… Either way, fun was had, and very much deserved. And globally, we still have a few more Christmas parties to look forward to before wrapping up the year.
Sincere thanks to everyone who has contributed to the success of the EE network this year: employees, associates, clients, alumni and everyone else we worked with at some point or another.
Merry Christmas and happy new year.
– Ryan Sikorsky and Thomas Granier
A few of us from Equal Experts recently attended the second ever SwanseaCon, partly sponsored by EE. Held at the Liberty stadium, it turned out to be a fine blend of Agile talks and development craftsmanship.
One of our Partners, Phil Parker, ran a ‘Rubber Duck session’, helping SwanseaCon visitors to resolve their delivery-related issues. Anyone interested could get a one-on-one session with Phil to discuss their current delivery, and any hurdles holding up progress. What’s more, each person received a free, EE-branded rubber duck. This combination was understandably irresistible to many attendees, and Phil was kept busy throughout the conference (more of that later).
Called to the stage
In addition to enjoying the varied roster of speakers, some of Equal Experts’ own took to the stage, too.
Kingsley Davies is an EE Associate currently acting as tech lead and product owner for a project within HMRC. At SwanseaCon his talk was dedicated to KISS – Keep It Simple and Small – addressing the art of how to control complexity in architecture and delivery. Kingsley started by introducing the various frameworks that attempt to analyse and address complexity in software systems (such as the Cynefin framework and Systems thinking approach). From this base, he then addressed signs and instances of complexity as witnessed on real-world projects, before covering tactical and strategic ways to handle this complexity. His presentation is online, and well worth a look.
In a break from the advertised schedule, Phil Parker also stepped away from his ducks to deliver a talk at the last minute, thanks to the planned speaker being unavailable. He spoke about Continuous Delivery, and how it does not require any compromise in securing your platform – quite the opposite in fact. Again, you can view his presentation online.
Last but not least
There must have been something in the water in Wales, as it turned out yours truly had a chance to take part too, facilitating a goldfish bowl on Scaling Agile Frameworks. We had a healthy debate on how to scale scrum, with the “virtues” of SAFe proving to be a contentious topic.
Overall, SwanseaCon proved to be an excellent couple of days. We left with our brains full of inspiration and our bags emptied of rubber ducks – success all round. It’s great to see the event going from strength to strength, roll on next year.
Here at Equal Experts we like to have pet projects and help the community. And of course, we are also geeks at heart.
So when we at EE Portugal came across the problem I’m about to explain, we had to solve it.
Everyday at around 10:30am and 4:30pm, a company called YumYum arrives at our office building with a trolley full of croissants, pastries, sweet and normal bread (it’s the Portuguese way!).
Naturally we strive to stay healthy and avoid the temptation of sweets, thus whenever possible we choose brown bread. That means the last people that get to the trolley have no choice but to eat cakes. And to make things worse, EE’s office is on the upper floor – so when we finally notice the trolley has arrived, it is already too late.
We had already tried a low-tech solution: the receptionist tried to phone one of us, who would then shout to the room “YumYum time!”. But the people using headphones would always miss it.
This situation was far from optimal. Clearly, an expert could do better.
What if… there was a magic button that the receptionist could press and it would notify the whole team on Slack?
Then I spoke with my colleague Mark Winteringham and he suggested: “The Internet Button is that magic you are looking for!”
Before long, The Internet Button was in our hands. The little package includes 11 LEDs, four buttons, an accelerometer, a speaker and a small chip (Photon) that controls all this and directly connects to wifi.
I programmed one of the buttons to push a message to our Slack channel on every click. The code was written in C++, coded locally on Particle’s local IDE (a flavour of Atom). The editor includes a button to compile the code and another to deploy it to the device. So the way it works is the code is sent to Particle’s cloud, where it is compiled, and then sent to the physical device – all through wifi. It’s great!
• EE’s team is now the first to arrive to YumYum’s trolley, even though we are on another floor.
• People who use headphones are back to a healthy diet.
• The receptionist’s efficiency on this task was improved by 700%.
• Three companies are now subscribers of our YumYutton alerts.
• We are being asked to develop a visual and audible alert along the main floor.
- Make the world a wee bit more awesome everyday!
- Everyone loves a cake button.
Diogo Nunes is a Software Tester for Equal Experts Portugal. When he’s not designing or running uncompromising software tests (or making cake buttons), you might find him posting on his site at diogonunes.com.
Sunshine, puppies, food and friends – sound good to you? Well, it pretty much summed up our plans for the Equal Experts summer barbecue, which we held on Sunday in the grounds of beautiful Grove House, in Roehampton, London.
Around 150 Equal Experts, partners, kids and yes, their dogs made it along. And amazingly (especially when working with children and small animals), every element of the plan clicked into place – even the sunshine!
It was great to see so many of our colleagues’ loved ones joining us, and with entertainment and music on hand to keep everyone busy – as well as the food – the afternoon flew by. Impromptu cricket and tree-climbing were soon added to the entertainment on offer, too.
As always when we get together away from work, it was a reminder of what a great bunch of people we’re lucky enough to work with. We’re growing fast this year, so who knows – start by following the Equal Experts LinkedIn page and perhaps we’ll see you at our Christmas party?
Equal Experts enjoyed a fantastic time at Agile in the City last week – although we’re coming to expect this from organiser Mark Dalgarno (@MarkDalgarno) and his team, after such a good experience at Agile Manchester.
We’d like to thank everyone who made it such a great event; the organisers, the venue, speakers, our fellow sponsors (who we enjoyed some good chats with) and of course – all the attendees.
Speaking personally, there were many stand-out moments – and more that I was unlucky enough to miss, this being a multi-track conference.
Jurgen Appelo’s (@jurgenappelo) keynote, “Managing for Happiness”, implored the audience to “manage the system, not the people”. Crucially, he also gave some practical experiments, which I’m looking forward to trying myself. Check out his upcoming book, also called “Managing for Happiness” – I had a sneak peek after his talk, and I’ve pre-ordered my own copy.
Luca Minudel (@lukadotnet) gave an informative overview of Continuous Delivery, touching on points that are often glossed over – like the business value of implementing CD, and the pre-requisites for doing so. He also won the unofficial Equal Experts award for coolest speaker of the conference, when he mentioned working at Ferrari and being able to perform 1-click rollbacks of software, during a Formula 1 race.
Katherine Kirk gave an informative and equally entertaining view on “How to derail Agile/Lean rollouts”. With references encompassing Buddha, Dark Triads and gynaecologists, I’ll never look at a transformation programme the same way again. I’ll also be on the lookout for those dark human instincts that threaten to take over…
David Leach’s (@AgileLeachy) talk on how to “Develop the product, not the software” resonated with me throughout his 45-minute slot. Adopting his focus on Why, on delivering better rather than faster, and on experimentation to learn about the product, would see much less digital waste in our industry. He only let himself down by failing to award me one of his Nerf gun prizes.
Adrian Howard’s (@adrianh) talk – “Lean Personas: discover your real customers” – was a genuine eye-opener. I learned something really valuable; not to treat information as static, done. Information is constantly changing, becoming more or less true, more or less valuable to the team. Adrian’s talk was about this information in relation to personas, but I’m already using it for other information my team has gathered. I suspect it’s a technique with worth in many contexts, so I’m trying that out.
Finally, there was some guy called Phil Parker (@parker0phil), talking about “Real-world Agile: Tricks, Traps and Tales from the Trenches”. Sourced from Phil’s own experiences, as well as his Equal Experts colleagues, the talk led the audience through potential howlers around ceremonies, stories and engineering practices. It was amusing to see so many people nodding, all at different points, throughout the talk. Clearly many of his tales hit home, and people left with a few more tricks up their sleeves. That said, no-one could pronounce the title of his talk once the social event got going…
The illustrations you see in this article were brilliantly created live during the event, by the incomparable Stuart Young (@Stuartliveart). I hope to see him in action at other conferences in the future.
So thanks again Mark and the entire Agile in the City team. We’re already looking forward to the next event.
We recently shared an update from this year’s Associates Conference, and with two of the talks from our Associates being filmed for future posterity, it would be remiss of us not to share them with a wider audience.
So without further ado, here’s EE Associate Simon Bostock, who spoke on the topic of ‘ExperienceOps’, or ExOps – and wondered how a UX practitioner’s view of the world might be enhanced by the good folk of DevOps.
Take a look at Simon’s whole talk below. Be warned: there are some very fine GIFs.
Building on this ExperienceOps concept, Simon will be sharing an updated, substantial take on the idea at forthcoming ExpertTalks events in Leeds (held on July 20th) and Cardiff (September 8th). If you’d like to attend, just sign up via the relevant Meetup page; we’d love to see you there.
As we’ve already mentioned, our recent annual conference was our best yet. If you missed it (or just want to re-live it), check out this highlights video that showcases our headline speaker, award-winning writer, broadcaster and doctor Dr. Ben Goldacre in action.
You can also see Mairead O’Connor engaging the crowd during her presentation,“Grow up! And tidy your bedroom!” – Taking a product through those difficult teenage years,” as well as Simon Bostock presenting his insightful talk on, “ExperienceOps: Continuous Design in the Enterprise.”
Both of these presentations (and more!) can be viewed in full on our YouTube channel or by clicking on the video above.
And finally, enjoy watching everyone vote for our Slack app competition – congratulations to winner Alex Haylock! – and our Associate community having a good time, as they’re known to do…
It doesn’t seem all that long ago we were enjoying our last annual conference in 2015, but this year’s event overshadowed it in all respects.
Our headline speaker this year was Dr. Ben Goldacre, the award-winning writer, broadcaster, and doctor who specialises in unpicking (and occasionally ridiculing) scientific claims.
Always an engaging speaker, Dr. Goldacre proved a great choice for an audience made up of Equal Experts Associates; evidence-based pragmatism is our natural mode of operation too.
Talking of our Associates, two of them stepped up with engaging talks of their own. Mairead O’Connor compared the rearing of a successful prototype to the growing pains of an awkward teenager, while Simon Bostock painted a picture of how UX could borrow some ideas from DevOps practices and mindset (could this herald the arrival of ExOps?).
All the talks were excellent – thank you to our speakers, and who knows, maybe there’ll be an opportunity to see those last two elsewhere at future Expert Talks…
And we have a winner!
EE Conferences aren’t just about listening, they’re about taking part, and this year we had a new opportunity for our Associate community to do just that. Over the last few weeks we’ve held a competition internally, inviting our people to submit their ideas for a new Slack app to a judging panel – and finally, the scrutiny of the assembled Equal Experts throng.
The finalists’ ideas were all excellent. And the prize? We’re investing in the winning idea to get it made – look out for FaceGame (a Slack game to help you get to know your colleagues), coming soon.
The evening ran on into the night, as these things do – it was a great reminder that not only are we working with some of the best in the business, they are fun to be around too. Thanks to all who made it such a great evening! If you’d like to be a part of it all next year, keep an eye on our LinkedIn page for opportunities to join us.
We hosted our first event of the year last Wednesday, with the launch of NiteTech North.
An enthusiastic crowd joined us at MadLab in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, and we were thrilled to see so many attending. It was the first in a new series of NiteTech events, held outside London for the first time.
We’re currently growing our UK presence outside the south east – especially in Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle – so if you’re an experienced developer based up north, get in touch!
What is NiteTech?
NiteTech is both a social and professional forum, allowing us to share our experiences and learnings in agile development. The events serve the growing network of Equal Experts Associates as well as members of the wider agile development community, and are always an excellent opportunity to meet informally over drinks and nibbles – as well as network with like-minded agile software development practitioners.
A successful debut in Manchester
After some drinks and chat, our guest speakers took to the stage. Reda Hmeid – an Equal Experts Technical Architect and part of our team at HMRC – delivered an engaging talk about the HMRC API strategy. He spoke about the four rules the team has adopted to guide the design of the HMRC API platform, making APIs easy to consume and maintain. With the rise in popularity of APIs, the talk was relevant to many in the audience that had faced similar challenges.
After a brief refuel/refill, Jon Dickinson (one of Equal Experts’ Partners) led the second half of the evening. His talk and Q&A were focussed on a DevOps theme; he discussed the challenges we faced (and overcame) in creating an automated pipeline. This enabled application engineers and infrastructure engineers to validate their changes to infrastructure code, all within a heavily compliance-driven environment.
Jon explained how the pipeline allows product teams to check their infrastructure changes. Accompanied by a practical demonstration and followed up with a lively Q&A, it proved to be another useful, enjoyable talk.
Our thanks go to MadLab for hosting our first Manchester NiteTech – the venue was excellent, as was their great taste in pizza!
Next up north…
If you missed the event in Manchester, join us in Leeds instead! We’re holding another NiteTech event in Leeds on Wednesday 24 February, and it’ll be another chance to hear from Reda and Jon.
As with all Equal Experts events, attendance is free and food and drink is provided. We’d love to see you there – if you’d like to join us, or want to be notified of future events, join our NiteTech North page on meetup. You can also follow us on Twitter for updates.
At Equal Experts India, we love coming to work everyday (yes, even Monday mornings!).
Many have asked us what it’s like working at Equal Experts India and want to know more about what we do. Well… here’s a sneak peek into our world.
If you’d like to learn more, you’re always welcome to get in touch – drop us a line at helloIndia@equalexperts.com.
Equal Experts has an enormous depth and variety of experience within our community which is showcased in this recap from last year’s annual conference.
150 UK associates, partners and staff gathered together to share their passion and interests and learn more from their colleagues who presented as follows:
- Building Microservices with Play – Doug Clinton
- The Need for Manual Testing in an Agile Environment – Matt Archer
- Test-Driven SQL – Chris Oldwood
- Introduction to QuantifiedDev and the 1Self platform – Martin Strotton & Ed Sykes
- Conditional Logging Considered Harmful – Sean Reilly
- Build up Your Product Team’s Immune System – Mairead O’Connor
This year’s conference promises to be equally exciting. We’re expecting even more of our colleagues to attend when we gather together at Skills Matter on 30th April. Presentations have been confirmed as follows:
- Node.js And The New Front-End – Daniele Polencic
- Fishbowl Panel Discussion: Let’s Talk About The Reactive Manifesto
- MicroServices – Using Failure as a Deployment Mechanism – Tom van Neerijnen
- Fishbowl Panel Discussion: Do We Need Roles in a Cross Functional Team?
We’ll be posting recaps of all of the above shortly after. Watch this space.