Each year, we try to take a look back at what we did the year before. It helps us remember all the things we did accomplish — which can too easily get lost when you’re trying to keep up with the day-to-day. More importantly, it helps us set the bar. By looking back on what we did in 2018, we can decide what we want more of in 2019, and make a plan to get it.
Here are our highlights, month-by-month …
In January, we helped Tyson turn food waste into snack sales
The Innovation Lab at Tyson, our neighbors up the street, had been tasked with finding a way to repurpose food waste into a new, sellable snack product. Deep into the project, they invited Table XI in to bring fresh insights and the Google Design Sprint process to the task.
Not only were we able to help them create Yappah — a protein crisp that won a spot on Time’s list of the “10 Smartest Sustainable Products of 2018” — we were also able to help the Tyson team learn design thinking in the process, building a deeper relationship that continues to this day.
In February, we nurtured the next generation with an apprentice program
In February, we brought on two apprentices, Kara Carrell and Alyssa Ramsey, both of whom had some experience developing software and wanted to learn more. They both got the benefit of working directly with our own Noel Rappin, who’s taught thousands of developers through conferences, his books and our Tech Done Right podcast. We also had them pair with as many people as possible, so they could learn from everyone’s perspective and expertise.
To keep that pairing from feeling awkward, Kara, one of our apprentices, designed her own solution — an adaptation of Kal Keckler's "Get-Zine to Know You" workshop. Called “Pair-a-Palooza” (and posted on GitHub), Kara’s project set up a zine-making station in the middle of the office, asking everyone to create a physical magazine documenting a few key facts about themselves and how they like to work. That way, when it was time to pair, Kara and Alyssa would already know everyone’s quirks.
This year’s apprentice program was such a success that both of our apprentices joined as full-time employees.
In March, we prepared for a year of TXI babies with a new parental leave policy
In 2018, we ramped up our efforts to create a more inclusive workplace by making our parental much more generous to new parents. We started by surveying companies in our peer group, other consulting firms of a similar size. We were already near the top, but we wanted to offer more. Now, primary parents are able to take 12 weeks of paid leave while non-primary parents can take four weeks of paid leave with an additional eight weeks unpaid. We also rewrote the policy to make it more accessible and comprehensible for everyone. Given how overwhelming becoming a parent can be, translating our benefits into plain language felt like an easy-to-offer kindness.
Under the new policy, we’ve welcomed six babies — each of whom rocked an excellent custom onesie. Best of all, all their parents have stuck with Table XI, grateful for the increased support we’re able to offer.
In April, we shot our first team video
With all the new faces and proud moments going on at the start of the year, we decided to celebrate with our first video. We invited a production crew to follow us around the office for a day, recording the work we do and conversations with the people who do it. The shoot provided an opportunity to capture our people, clients and culture on camera, giving us a video that shows how far we’ve come, and where we’re going:
In May, we shared strategies with other product companies
Ops-Conf is an annual tradition for us, and we get as much value out of it as we give. This year, the retreat gathered leaders from all kinds of product consultancies in Sedona, Arizona. There, we were able to dig into the difficulties of running a business and brainstorm new solutions. We all left with new perspectives on our problems, and new relationships we can tap into for advice and support until May of 2019, when we do it all again in Maine.
In June, we pushed the podcast toward 50 episodes
Okay, this one is kind of cheating. Our Tech Done Right podcast did reach 50 episodes in 2018, but not until November. It’s our 40th episode in June, however, that I want to highlight. It’s a discussion between our team at Table XI, Michael Donnelly, our partner at the FWD (For Women and Diversity) Collective, and Elena Valentine of Skill Scout about what it takes to foster diversity and inclusion at a small company. It’s everything we want Tech Done Right to be — a platform for bringing together diverse people to discuss the big issues underpinning technology.
In July, we partnered with FWD Collective to promote inclusion
Speaking of the FWD Collective, we partnered a lot in 2018. The company is totally focused on helping other people create inclusive cultures, making its team a great resource as we examined and expanded our own efforts. We brought folks from FWD Collective in to educate our team, and we partnered for a series of inclusion events open to the larger business community in Chicago. Both helped us further our mission of making tech a more open and welcoming industry, and we plan to do more work together in 2019.
In August, we were named a tech leader by Clutch
Clutch is basically Yelp for professional service companies like Table XI. Our rank is based entirely on interviews with our customers, which is why we were so pleased to be named the best software development company and best Ruby on Rails developers in Chicago. We also scored top points in mobile and iOS development, all based on the recommendations of our clients. We can’t thank you enough.
In September, we helped CEOs get perspective with Walkshop
Much like we started OpsConf to help our management team work through operational issues, we started Walkshop to help our leadership team work through big-picture issues. In 2018, we took a group of leaders on a journey through Germany’s Black Forest. The hiking lends itself to thinking, then talking, then sharing, advising and growing as leaders, together. By the time we left the woods, we had a new team of champions who we could count on to lift us up and set us on the right track.
In October, we asked our clients to share their biggest mistakes at Chicago Ideas week
We’ve been Chicago Ideas’ partner since the company was just a week-long event. Now it’s a full-fledged community for thinkers and doers, and we’ve built almost all of the technology to make it possible.
To celebrate, each year we sponsor and host events at Chicago Ideas’ annual festival, teaching others how to put design thinking into practice, solve big ideas and tackle the latest technology. We also showcase how to embrace failure.
Our “Biggest Mistake Night” is one of my favorite events at the festival, and this year we invited our clients and partners to share the big mistakes that turned into even bigger opportunities for their careers. Catch the highlights here, and watch the full videos from each speaker — including myself — on our Vimeo channel.
In November, we launched our first Kickstarter to make meetings more inclusive
We try all kinds of experiments internally at Table XI — from an Internet of Things system to tell you if the bathroom is occupied to new methods of professional development. The second something shows promise, we bring it to our bigger community to workshop it, make it better and put it out into the world for everyone to benefit.
One of these experiments was a deck of cards we created to keep everyone in-line and contributing equally in our meetings. It started with just a few cards for the interrupters, tangent-goers and the people who share too many opinions (okay, that last one was specifically for me). They worked surprisingly well, so we added in new ideas, developing cards to help people speak up and contradict each other, anything to make meetings more inclusive and fill them with unique ideas.
We used the cards with a client and tracked a noticeable improvement in how our teams were communicating even without the cards. When we realized this could help people, we launched a Kickstarter for Inclusion Meeting Cards, our first crowdfunding campaign as a company. Over the course of a month, we got input and support from 135 backers who believed in our mission to make meetings better. In 2019, we’ll be using their input and feedback to build out the cards and make them available to everyone.
In December, we raised the DevOps game with Docker and Kubernetes
We grew our DevOps practice steadily in 2018, working to integrate everyone into a unified team that can give our partners the best software on the best platform. Part of that process involved adding Docker and Kubernetes to our workflow, two practices that make infrastructure much more efficient and effective.
With Docker, we’re able to move from managing all the dependencies for each application independently, to bucketing all those dependencies with the application into a container. The resulting Docker image gives us an industry-standard way to ship our applications so anyone can run them, and it allows us to isolate our applications, making it easier to maximize utilization on each server and avoid breakage caused by different versions of the same dependency.
Kubernetes then allows us to take these containers and manage them efficiently across our servers. We tell Kubernetes what the environment for the application should look like, and then Kubernetes analyzes our servers to find the best place to run the application, and the best place to host a backup. Depending on the number of servers and applications you have running, letting Kubernetes make these decisions within set parameters can save a lot of time. We’ve already brought this system to Participate, one of our partners, and we hope to roll it out across the Table XI infrastructure in 2019.
Keeping these accomplishments going — and scoring new ones — in 2019
As much as we got done in 2018, we were also laying the groundwork for an even bigger 2019. New hires, new tools, new events and new partners are all in the works. And that’s just what we have planned for the first half of the year. We can’t wait to share more with you and to build more together. We hope you’ll help us live up to this list — and to pursue even more ambitious projects — in 2019.