Life at a Start-up : Making a Great Working Environment

Working at a start-up can be challenging and is certainly a lot of work. The people we employ might be required to take on many different roles and tasks if we don’t have all the people we need, so it is important to try and create a nice working environment to work in. We want people to enjoy coming into work and we do this by providing challenging problems to work on with modern technology.

We also want to create a nice office environment and a culture to fill it.  Something we have started doing is a monthly event called Thirsty Thursday. This is where on a Thursday we stop work  a little earlier and go out for some drinks and food. These sorts of events are important as they allow us to blow off a little steam and socialize. With moving to an office in the centre of Nottingham we are really spoilt for choice for bars, pubs and restaurants.

Thirsty Thursday Team Drinks

Thirsty Thursday Team Drinks

Another monthly event we are starting up soon is Massage Mondays where we have a professional masseuse come into the office to offer massages to anyone that wants one. As well as these events we are also making the office a fun environment. We are part way for making a recreation room that has a pool table, darts board, arcade machine and a small kitchen area with a nice coffee machine. We are calling this area the park as we are getting the carpet removed and Astroturf put down instead. This created a nice area where people can go for a break to get away from the screen for a bit.

As well as good recreational facilities we are putting some effort into the decoration of the main work area and meeting rooms. We have lots of inspirational quotes from famous people on the walls and lots of white boards for people to collaborate. The meeting rooms are themed around cars. The small meeting room we call the Mini Room. This is painted in Mini racing colours and has a big decal on the wall of a classing mini car. This room also has no chairs in it, but instead there are 4 large bean bags.  They are very comfortable and I normally tend to do my phone interviews from there.

The larger meeting room is themed around Jaguar cars and even has an old dashboard and wheel in the room. Not quite sure how we are going to fit those to the wall!!

Buying Butler - Typical Developer Kit

Buying Butler – Typical Developer Kit

The office is starting to look very nice, but all this is meaningless if our staff don’t have the right tools to do the job. We try to provide people with great kit to work with. Every developer gets a high spec laptop. Our current build is a Lenovo Yoga 900 convertible laptop with 16gb Ram and a fast I7 processor. Designers and people who will be involved in mobile development are working on Apple Macbook Pro laptops. Each developer also gets 2 large 27in widescreen CAD monitors to work from. These are mounted to the desk with sturdy arms. Having very good monitors makes a lot of difference when you spend a lot of your day staring at them. I really don’t get why a lot of companies skimp on these essential items for developers.

To help developers stay on top of the latest technology we also provide all developers with a full Pluralsight license. This isn’t just because I am an author with Pluralsight, this is because they offer the best training platform in the industry. The best way to describe it is like Netflix for training. We have already made some technology choices for our tech stack based off of content we watched on Pluralsight.

To summarise this blog post, I really wanted to highlight the environment we have created, the events we offer and the tools and training that are available to our people. All this plus very interesting projects means our staff enjoy coming to work. We don’t want it to feel like a job, a standard 9 to 5. We want Buying Butler to be a place people enjoy coming to work with like minded people on products that solve real problems for real people.

Life at a Start-up : Hiring Developers

In a previous post I said that at Buying Butler and RightIndem we have been growing quite rapidly across the board, but in this post I want to talk a little about our hiring process for developers. Hiring good people is hard and Me, and our CTO Steve Weston, have worked at many companies that have had horrible hiring processes, so we are keen to not replicate some of these other companies.

Interview Preparation

Interview Preparation

When we hire developers, and if you are due to interview with me and have landed on this post as part of your research (hello), there are 4 main things we are looking for in a developer. These are

  • Have you got the base skills to come in and be productive straight away?
  • How passionate are you about software development?
  • What is your approach to learning and picking up new skills and technologies?
  • Will you be a good cultural fit for the company?

By knowing this bit of insight you are not cheating our recruitment process, but by understanding these 4 areas you will be in a position to wow us in the interview. Lets cover these off one by one.

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New Course Released : RabbitMQ by Example

I recently released my latest (7th) course over at Pluralsight called RabbitMQ by Example. This course shows you how to make full use of RabbitMQ in your .NET applications. RabbitMQ is a very powerful messaging broker and this course takes a practical look at how to use it by showing you how to build a payments system.

RabbitMQ By Example Course by Stephen Haunts at Pluralsight

RabbitMQ By Example Course by Stephen Haunts at Pluralsight

Here is the official course description :

In this course, RabbitMQ by Example, you will see how to use RabbitMQ by using practical examples featuring a fictional company and a software development scenario based around taking card payments and purchase order payments. You’ll start with an introduction to RabbitMQ and how it compares to Windows’ default queue technology, MSMQ. As well as looking at RabbitMQ specifically, you will look at message queuing architectures, micro services, and how RabbitMQ can work as a broker for handling asynchronous and synchronous messages in this architecture. You will also get to explore the use of the topics exchange for routing and synchronous remote procedure calls. By the end of this course, you’ll be ready to use RabbitMQ in your .NET applications.

The course is split into 8 modules

  1. Introduction
  2. Introducing RabbitMQ
  3. Introducing RabbitMQ Exchanges
  4. Understanding Queuing Architecture
  5. Implementing Microservices and Message Queueing
  6. Installing and Configuring RabbitMQ
  7. Implementing Queueing Code
  8. Course Summary

The example application built in this course is based around the concept of Microservices, so this is a great use case for modern enterprise application development. The feedback from the course so far has been excellent as it has been getting very good ratings, so I am glad that it is helping people.

Data Security talk at NDC Oslo

Back in June I was fortunate enough to be selected to speak at NDC Oslo in Norway. This is a huge developer conference and I was humbled to have been selected to speak. Below is a link to a recording of my talk on .NET Data Security and it is all about cryptography using .NET.

The talk was great fun and the audience seemed really receptive to what I was talking about which reflected in a great speaker score afterwards. This was by far the largest audience I have spoken too as the room was full with people standing at the back. Security is a very hot topic at the moment so this subject resonated with many developers.

Stephen Haunts Speaking at NDC Oslo

Stephen Haunts Speaking at NDC Oslo

As always at an NDC conference there were many great speakers on the bill, a good few I know from my work with Pluralsight, so it is always good to catch up with friends. The highlight of the trip, when not at the conference itself, was a shrimp cruise on the fjords. The weather was fantastic and sunny and we sailed until late in the evening. I had to not drink too much though as my talk was the next day first thing.

NDC Oslo From the Stage

NDC Oslo From the Stage

I am currently planning next years content so I really hope to make it back to both NDC London and NDC Oslo. They are such an amazing experience to attend as a speaker, and it is great to see other people speak to learn different delivery techniques.

NDC Oslo Work in Progress the Day Before it Started

NDC Oslo Work in Progress the Day Before it Started

Another highlight of the conference was being part of a .NET Rocks security show. This was a live panel show with myself, Troy Hunt and Niall Merrigan. The show was recorded as a video, but then edited down into an episode of the PodCast which you can listen too here.

DotNet Rocks live Security Panel Show at NDC Oslo

DotNet Rocks live Security Panel Show at NDC Oslo

We had a lot of fun doing this show, but it was hard work as many of us had started coming down with a throat bug which meant we were losing our voices. I had to go to a pharmacy before hand to get enough drugs to see me through the show. Within 2 hours of doing this show for DotNet Rocks I had pretty much lost my voice. By the time I had flown back to London I could not speak at all, which is interesting when trying to check into a hotel. I had no voice the the entire week after too which made things very difficult at work. I was mostly communicating with my team using Slack.

Speaking at DDDNorth

Stephen Haunts speaking at DDDNorth

Stephen Haunts speaking at DDDNorth

I am pleased to announce that I will be speaking at this years DDDNorth community conference about Lean Software Development. This is my first DDD event so I am looking forward to it. The conference is a free one day event that is being held at Leeds University on Saturday 1st October. Here is my talk description.

Lean software development (LSD) is a translation of lean manufacturing and lean IT principles and practices to the software development domain. Adapted from the Toyota Production System, a pro-lean subculture is emerging from within the Agile community

In this talk we will look at Lean Software Development and how it is a benefit to modern development.

We will start off quickly looking at Waterfall and Agile, and then look at the history of Lean and its origins at Ford and Toyota. From there we will show how leans applies to software with the following lean principles:

Eliminate Waste

Build Quality In

Create Knowledge

Defer Commitment

Deliver Fast

Respect People

Optimize the Whole

We will then answer the question Agile or Lean and then look at different software practices that will help support your use of lean including Kanban.

The talk would be aimed at software developers who are keen to apply lean to their software projects.


Life at a Start-up : 3 Months In

It has been over 3 months since I last blogged about my new job at the start-up Buying Butler, but I have deliberately waiting until I have spent more time here. So much has happened in this short space of time and it is all very exciting. As a team we are expanding quite rapidly after a round of investment to build out our 2 main products, Buying Butler and RightIndem.

Buying Butlers new office above Belgos in Nottingham

Buying Butlers new office above Belgos in Nottingham

I will write in more detail in another blog post about what these products are, but at a high level BuyingButler is a concierge buying site, primarily focused on cars, that lets you make that complex purchase with the help of an expert. This system uses some clever AI to help make car recommendations and walks the buyer through the entire buying and tendering process with different dealers.

Our 2nd product, RightIndem, is an insurance claims management system that is initially targeting towards cars but we have plans for other industries too. This system makes the entire claims management process very transparent for both the insurance company and the claimant. This system is generating a lot of interest in the insurance and insurtech field and we are currently running pilots with some major names. There is a synergy between these 2 products but I will cover that in a separate post.

My desk at Buying Butler

My desk at Buying Butler

When I started in May I was the only full time developer and I have been focusing mainly on the RightIndem side of the business, but in this short space of time I have been heavily recruiting to build out our core team. At the time of writing this post I have 6 full time developers who have started or are due to start within the next few weeks and we have augmented with 3 contractors. This is quite a lot of grown in a short space of time and I can see this team getting bigger over the next 6 months.

Because of this growth we very quickly outgrew our existing office in Nottingham. With developers, design, testing, marketing and product / project management we are currently up to over 18 people so we have had to move office to central Nottingham. The new office is in a great location in the Lace Market side of town. The office is an old building that has been modernised, so we have a mix of quirky building and modern fits and finishing’s. We have been in the office for just over a month now and the place is really starting to take shape as you can see from some of the photos in this post.

Funky 3D Signage in Reception

Funky 3D Signage in Reception

In future posts in this series I want to cover lots of subjects including a more detailed looked at the products we are building, the approach we are taking to software development, our hiring process and many more.

Get Coding – A Book for Kids Looking to Learn Coding

A fellow usergroup speaker and UK developer, David Whitney,  as recently written a book called Get Coding, which aims to get young kids of around 10 years old to start learning programming, and more specifically web development with HTML 5, CSS, and Javascript. The book teaches these by developing small websites and games.

Get Coding - A Book for Kids Looking to Learn Coding

Get Coding – A Book for Kids Looking to Learn Coding

The quality of the book is exceptional and it is all taught in a bright, colorful and engaging style which I think works really well. I am currently working my way through the book and I hope that when my daughter is a little older she can also start to learn from this book and others like it.

The book progresses at a sensible rate that I think kids will be able to easily digest and you end up with fully working software. Naturally a book this size won’t teach you everything about HTML, CSS and Javascript, but it serves as a fantastic introduction to each of these and because of the fun, colorful and engaging style it should encourage kids to hack around with what they have built and hopefully learn a lot more.

The programming world these days seems to mostly lean towards the web, so the choice of technologies in this book is sensible and should hopefully help to create our future software development workforce. Learning at a young age from resources like this or even mature resources like Pluralsight and Lynda is much more valuable than formal school education as it is more fun (in my opinion) and encourages kids to experiment instead of fitting into a rigid curriculum.

Go and get a copy of this book for your kids, or buy it for friends who have kids and help to inspire them, it really is not an expensive book which really helps lower the barrier to entry.

The book is available from most book shops and Amazon UK and Amazon US