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The polar vortex has blasted Chicago. The blizzards have bamboozled Atlanta. Sunshine and highs in the 60s have nearly torn San Diego apart...wait...
Winter is terrorizing most of the country, but luckily we live in the 21st century, and there's an app for that. These 11 tech tricks will help you survive February from morning to night.
As we close out 2013, we wanted to take a look back at the year that was. We think we upped our game this past year, improving our business, growing our office, and participating in many new events and organizations. Take a look at some of the year's highlights below, and once again, thank you to everyone who's been with us for the ride!
It's no surprise that here at Table XI we're full up with tech-heads. If you've got a gadget-lover that needs some love this holiday season, consider these five techie gifts (plus two bonus ideas for the more analog-minded).
Romo the Robot, $149.99
Meet Romo, a robot that “uses your iPhone as his brain.” Fit your phone onto Romo and “teach” him to do different things, like smile when he recognizes your face, or push things from one side of a table to the other.
What makes a good Vine video? I've found it's helpful to think backward. If a friend visited the office, what would I be certain to point out? Is there anything particularly ridiculous or hilarious that I couldn't describe to a stranger? Or finally, is there something I really want to see happen that I can set up under the auspices of, "Hey, can you help me shoot a Vine?"
As a format, Vine is best-suited for capturing small, microcosmic moments (like, say, when it snowed for the first time this year and minutes later an office-wide Nerf battle erupted—Vine gold).
You’ve seen this on every website for every tech company: “Our company cares about its people.” It’s so ubiquitous that everyone’s eyes skate right across it. The meaning is lost.
However, Table XI’s people-caring efforts are a bit different. If you’ve had a chance to explore the Culture page on our website, you’ll notice the section at the bottom, “Adventures Powered by Table XI.” This section highlights several team members who have traveled abroad and/or worked remotely, continuing to contribute to the company while being away from our main office in Chicago.
Table XI has no formal policy around living abroad and working remotely, but our COO Mark, CTO Matt, and CEO Josh believe strongly that happy employees work better. They apply that idea to this subject in a very real way.
After working as Table XI’s Director of Delivery for a little less than a year, last spring I dropped a few big bombs. First, I let Mark, Matt, and Josh know that I planned to move to Seattle, where I’m originally from. All three immediately suggested that we try to figure out a remote-work situation. Given my short tenure with the company, I was thrilled that they’d even consider this an option. In a stunning surprise to all (including me), a few weeks later I discovered I was pregnant and laid that news down, as well.
As the Director of Delivery, along with serving on the management team and participating in recruitment, resource management, and other operations responsibilities, much of my role falls in the Delivery Assurance bucket: project management, business analysis, and quality assurance. All of this requires a ton of collaboration with other people in the office, and at first, the difficulties in working remotely loomed large. But rather than shy away from the challenges that my working from Seattle might bring, the TXI leadership did what they do best—try to find a solution that works for everyone. We discussed some tools and processes that would help me remain effective despite the time difference and distance, and agreed to give the new situation a solid three-month trial.
TXI continued to be supportive as I moved to Seattle with my husband, set up my home office, and went to the 4,400 doctors’ appointments required of a pregnant lady. As my son’s due date grew closer, I faced the great questions that confront every pregnant, working woman. Will I work or will I stay home once the baby is born? How will I manage the intense focus and energy my job requires and also take care of an infant? How will I take care of an infant at all?! (That question comes to EVERY pregnant woman, working or not!)
In January my son was born and I went on maternity leave. I’d been honest with TXI that I might not be returning, and set a date to discuss my plans with them halfway through my leave. I decided that the best thing for our family would be for me to work part-time, around 30 hours per week. I wasn’t sure if TXI would go for it—after all, most tech companies laugh at the thought of part-time requests—but I put a proposal together and arranged a call to go over it.
Nervously, I laid out my reasons to Mark, Matt, and Josh and waited for them to respond, saying I understood if they needed to discuss separately before giving me an answer. Instead, they immediately accepted my proposal and stressed how thrilled they were that I was returning. Each of them expressed how much I had been missed, that the work I do is valued, and that they wanted me to find a working situation that would lead to health and happiness. (Insanely awesome, right?!)
I’ve been back at work for about three months now. I work six-hour days Mon–Fri, 10am-4pm Chicago time (8am-2pm Seattle time). Working fewer hours every day of the week versus three longer days is better for my role, since I can check in on various projects and initiatives daily. I pick my son up from daycare after work, and we spend our afternoons together. Once in awhile a meeting pops up that requires me to rearrange my schedule, which is easy to do with advanced warning.
Now, as I approach my two-year anniversary with TXI, I continue to be impressed by the effort our company puts forth in caring about its people. The flexible work environment attracts and retains people like nothing else. People stay at the company longer (our attrition rate is very low), and they tend to be more productive and happier. If TXI had been inflexible, I most likely would have quit and found something else, and been just another part of the mass exodus of new mothers I’ve seen leave other tech companies. Instead, we found a way to make it work, and we all won: I continue to provide value to TXI, TXI continues to employ me, and my baby benefits from a mom who’s professionally fulfilled AND excited to play everyday at 2pm.
Many working moms talk about The Dream: working part-time in a rewarding job while also getting extended time with the kiddos. At Table XI, The Dream is alive and well.
Time goes fast when you're enjoying yourself, and I've been nothing but happy since I've joined the team here at Table XI. I can't believe it's already been a month. Quite a bit has changed in a very short amount of time, so I thought I'd take a breather and reflect back on what I've learned over the past 30 days.
A Well-Maintained Calendar Is a Beautiful Thing
Organization has always been a weak suit of mine. The only method that reliably worked was a combination of Post-it notes, chalkboards, and regular check-ins. That's manageable when your team is four people. But when you've got 30+ and a threefold increase in project count, that doesn't cut it anymore. After my first week I knew that I'd sink or swim on the accuracy of my calendar. I dove in and learned about all of the nifty tricks that Google Calendar has had for (probably) years: viewing your colleagues' calendars, multiple calendar organization, etc. The one tip that has made the biggest difference in my ability to keep a sane mind is to make sure I schedule myself time to work. It ensures I have nice blocks of time every day to hunker down and get done what needs to be done. Just this past week I've felt like I got things under control. Let's see how it feels a month from now.
Culture Isn't Created, It Develops over Time
"Company Culture" is a big deal in our industry. But it's not something that's forced on the people that work for you. It needs to be fostered over time. For all of your blog posts and meetings about creating the best culture in town, you're wasting your time if you don't have a group of friendly, empathetic, and interesting co-workers. That is where company culture thrives, and it's been wonderful to see that first-hand. I knew that working at Table XI would be a blast. It only took me a month to see to what degree.
The Best Way to Learn Is to Work with People Smarter than You
I've actually known this for a while, but it helps to remind yourself every now and then. If you're the smartest person in your office it may be time to find some new surroundings. We've got some of the smartest developers in the city put together in the same room and it's amazing the impact that it has. Not only do you learn tips, tricks, and techniques from them. That's a given. There's something bigger at work, though. It's only been 30 days, but I see myself working harder than I ever have before not to bring the curve down. That's what happens when you're surrounded by people that do such great work. You don't want to be the one to let them down.
Budgets Don't Matter, Problems Do
It's safe to assume that at Table XI we're working on projects that are larger in scope than those we tackled at Love Has No Logic. I was really interested to see what impact that had on the life cycle of the projects we were jumping into. You know what? Budget doesn't matter. Every client I've worked with, whether they had $500 or $500,000, came to us because they had a problem to solve and they're relying on our expertise to solve it. The budget just becomes another tool with which you can work to solve that problem. It's important to remember that lesson, especially as you start to see those 0's on the budget start to multiply. It's been up to me to get over the line-items and stay focused on the problem at hand.
I have a terrible habit. I get tunnel vision. If I'm working on something, I don't see anything else until it's complete. The real world impact of this is that for seven years I quite regularly forgot to eat lunch. That often led to me being extremely cranky in the afternoon and evening as my blood sugar dropped, and it probably impacted some of my business dealings over that time. At Table XI we've got a wonderful chef who comes in and cooks great food for us. When people from outside the company swing by for lunch, they talk about how great the food is. But the best part for me is that it breaks me out of my tunnel vision. Everyday when lunch is ready, Chef Aram walks out and lets us know. Someone at the office last week commented that they had forgotten how to feed themselves. We all laughed at the joke, but in my own mind I flipped it around and realized that in my first month here, I've remembered how to feed myself.
It's been a busy first month, and we've already done so much great work that I can't wait to share. I've learned quite a bit being here, and I'm excited to see what I continue to learn as time goes on. I plan to share more of my lessons in the future.
We’ve got a whole bunch of new faces around the office (and now we're positively swimming in Matts). Here are the newest recruits to the Table XI team:
Mike Gibson, Senior Designer
Mike is a Chicago native and heads up Love Has No Logic (LHNL), the design firm we recently joined forces with. Known by some as the “Czar of Design,” he’s an amazing front-end developer who got interested in design by creating flyers for bands at 14. Mike then started his own record label at 16, and has, in his words, “a lot” of records. He’s known around the office for his large headphones and very loud keyboard, and he also has a dog named “Chupacabra.”
Annie Swank, Designer
Annie originally hails from Southern California. She found her way to Chicago through studying English and creative writing at the University of Chicago, where she graduated in 2010. In 2008, she interned at Obama for America in downtown Chicago, and later worked at the White House. She’s also worked for the UN in Bangkok, and even did an event with the Thai princess. She met Mike Gibson through The Starter League, and eventually joined LHNL, where her user experience skills came in handy.
Keep up with Annie at @annieswank.
Matt Wagner, Developer
Matt’s from Sacramento originally, but has moved around a lot since then. He’s lived in the Philippines, where most of his 26 cousins now reside, and later moved to Indianapolis. For college, he went to Northwestern and graduated in 2008 with a degree in computer science. Here at Table XI he works as a developer.
Matt Reich, Front-end Developer
Matt hails originally from South Dakota where he worked as a network technician. He attended school at Northern State University, where he studied Management Information Systems and played baseball. After teaching himself front-end design, he realized that was where his real interests lay, so after meeting Mike Gibson at The Starter League, he decided to come aboard with us at Table XI. Matt plays the banjo, and in his spare time once biked across the entire state of South Dakota in under 48 hours (the long way).
Keep up with Matt at @mgreich.
Isaac Sanders, Intern
Isaac is our summer development intern and just finished his freshman year at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He’s interned at Edgecase, 2checkout.com, LeanDog, and Groupon. He’s interested in artificial intelligence, loves Ruby, and became an Eagle scout at 13.
Keep up with Isaac at @isaacsanders.
Alex Tamkin, Intern
Alex is our photographer and marketing/design intern. He was born and raised in Chicagoland, and now attends Phillips Academy in Massachusetts, where he’ll return for his senior year of high school this fall. Alex has interests in science and math, but at Table XI, he’ll be working with client services to explore new ways Table XI can create value and help clients. He also loves to travel and learn new languages, and has climbed the two tallest mountains in the Rockies.
Keep up with Alex at @alextamkin.
With all of the hype surrounding fast-growing tech startups, as well as discussions about improving our education system, teaching kids how to code is top of mind for many people these days. Large scale change is in our future, and I look forward to a day when coding is as integral a part of early education as reading, writing, and math.
Fortunately, you don't have to wait for "someday" to get your kids coding—here are 6 tips to help you spark and sustain a child's interest in programming:
1. Emphasize that Coding = Creativity
Coding is as much about creativity as it is about math, science, and problem solving. The stereotype of computer programmers as math nerds scares many people away from coding, adults and children alike. But coding is creating and making things come to life—drawings, games, robots, applications. Most kids like to create things, so coding will come as naturally as painting a picture or building something with Legos. Capture their interest by emphasizing creativity, and they'll naturally learn some core programming concepts along the way. Keep it fun and don't force it—not all kids like to paint, and not all kids will like to code either.
2. Encourage Exploration
Find age-appropriate tools that give your child enough room to play without needing to read an instruction manual every few minutes. The process of discovery—or the "I wonder what will happen if I do this?" moment—is a core component of a coder's world. Encourage your child to experiment, and keep an eye out for signs they're reaching the limits of a specific app. Even if you're not a coder yourself, you can learn along with your child.
Here's a list of free apps/websites to get you started:
Daisy the Dinosaur (iPad, ages 6-10): This simple iPad app will get kids excited about being able to control the movements of a character on screen using basic commands. As an intro to coding it’s even great with younger children, but may not hold older children's attention for very long.
Hopscotch (iPad, ages 8-12): From the makers of Daisy the Dinosaur, this app is fun, easy to use, and lets kids create drawings and more complex animations with a whole cast of characters to choose from. You can also share your programs with other Hopscotch users via email, which is great for encouraging kids to play with friends and share their creations.
Scratch (web, ages 8-16): Scratch has been around for a while and has an active community of young programmers. It builds on some of the basic programming controls used in Hopscotch, and introduces many new tools for creating more unique and complex animations and games.
Codecademy (web, ages 12+): Codecademy provides free online courses in specific programming languages. Older children who show a sustained interest in coding may be ready to start learning to program on their own. The course on HTML and CSS is a great place to start, and it will teach your child how to create web pages from scratch.
3. Tap Into Each Child's Passions
Coding can be used to create many different kinds of programs—try those that interest your child and don't write off coding altogether if they don't enjoy one specific flavor. There are apps that focus on everything from drawing to animation to storytelling to game design. Kits like Lego Mindstorms, Sparki, and littleBits let kids design robots and create programs to operate them. Avid readers can build websites to publish reviews of books they've read. Sports fanatics can build websites to track the stats of their favorite players or teams. Tap into something your child already enjoys doing and show them how to use coding as a new way to bring their ideas to life.
4. Make Coding a Social Activity
Find opportunities and encourage your child to code with other children. As they grow, having a network of friends who are also interested in coding will go a long way to keeping them engaged. "Kids become coders because they are friends with other coders or are born into coder families," Mimi Ito recently pointed out in a Fast Company article. Doing a quick search in your area will likely turn up a number of options for local summer camps or after-school programs. You could also gather a couple of kids and help them participate virtually in an online program, or find someone to help you create a project to get them started.
5. Find a Mentor
As Mimi Ito noted, children of programmers are more likely to code than children of non-programmers. But hope is not lost if you're not a programmer yourself! There are plenty out there and most would be excited to help you. Find a friend or family member who codes or works in a technical field and ask them for assistance. (If your child is at that age where they want to do the opposite of everything you suggest, this may be even more effective than doing the mentoring yourself.) This person can guide your child when they hit a roadblock with a program they're creating, challenge them to keep exploring, and show them what different coding careers could look like.
6. Keep Problem Solving Fun
Programmers like to solve problems, and many professional coders choose where to work based on the types of problems they'll get to solve. Whether or not your child gets hooked on any of the apps listed above, you can always encourage them to be curious, to tinker, and to solve problems. Push them to learn how something works and to find different ways of doing things, or make puzzle games a fun thing you do as a family. A child who enjoys creative problem solving may get into coding somewhere down the road, even if they're not interested today.
Introducing children to coding will open up a whole world of possibilities for them later in life, not to mention the enjoyment they'll get from having new tools to create with today. But it's also important to remember that coding isn't for everyone. Not every child likes to paint or play baseball or dance, and not everyone will like to code either. Don't force it. Show them the apps, provide some support, and let them drive. If they don't show an immediate interest, they may yet come back to it later.
We've had a lot of hiring activity since the new year. Say hi to the new faces that have sprung up around the office.
Bradley Schaefer, Developer
We rang in the new year by bringing on Bradley as a Ruby developer. He’s worked as a software engineer at a Who’s Who of tech firms including Stubhub, AOL, Anything Social, and Bebo. Given this, it’s not surprising that Bradley thinks everyone should get some programming experience under their belts: “It’s not only useful for a wide variety of applications, but it also teaches you logical thinking, humility, patience, communication skills, and tons more.” Bradley also serves as a member of the RSpec team.
Jon Buda, Developer
Very active in Chicago’s dev scene, Jon helps run RefreshChicago, a popular meetup that promotes the sharing of knowledge and ideas in design, technology, usability, and standards. He also helped launch Desktime, a global coworking and shared workspace service. Hit up Jon if you agree that everyone should spend some time in Michigan’s UP, or if you want to hear the tale of his missing uvula.
Jen Mozen, Delivery Principal
Jen is an entrepreneur and digital media consultant. She studied computer science and has spent much of her career leading agile software development teams globally. In college, Jen developed a passion for getting girls interested in STEM fields and is excited about making software development more accessible to everyone. This past year she helped launch the Chicago chapter of Girl Develop It, a code school dedicated to empowering women to learn how to develop software. She's a self-confessed learning junkie (Coursera, Codeacademy, etc.), avid reader, enthusiastic sports fan, and cool aunt.
Alex Skryl, Developer
Though he originally hails from Ukraine, Alex has been a freelance software engineer in Chicago for the last several years, working for such names as Enova and Trunk Club. Earlier this year he took some time away from his monitor to drive a rented Camaro really fast down HWY 1 from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. It’s possible a speed limit was broken here and there. Alex was recently accepted into New York's prestigious Hacker School, so we're sending him off with warm wishes for a summer in the Big Apple.
Gabriel joins Table XI via Austin, TX, via Chicago, IL, via Harrisonburg, VA, and originating from Sydney, Australia. He enjoys making computers do things they both should and shouldn't do, and finally fills the long vacant position here of "person vaccinated against rabies."
Keep up with Gabriel at his blog.
Lloyd Philbrook, DevOps
Lloyd lives in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia for now. He mainly works while we’re asleep, making sure that all our servers keep purring along. If he isn't trying to tweak a Chef cookbook or write another bash script to automate himself out of a job, he's at -60 feet hanging with the fishes. We might actually meet him face-to-face one day.
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