Life at a Start-up : Team Trip to Web Summit

A few weeks ago, a group of us from Buying Butler flew over to Lisbon for the Web Summit conference. 9 of us went over, who were the initial team that built the first version of our insurance claims platform, RightIndem. The trip was an incentive for us completing the first version on time, and also an opportunity for us to show off our platform to the world as well as pitching to investors.

We all met at the office on Monday morning for work as normal and just lunch we got into a couple of cars and set off to Manchester airport. The trip to the airport was reasonably quick and before we knew it we were checked in and though security. Naturally we went for a pint in the bar before boarding out flight.

After arriving at Lisbon airport, we went straight to the Web Summit registration tent to get our conference pass. This is a great idea to register at the airport because the conference is so large that it would be chaos to do this on the day at the conference itself. The hotel was about 20 minutes drive from the airport so we jumped into taxi’s. Once we got checked in, we got changed met in the bar and then went for dinner at a near by restaurant.

RightIndem visiting Web Summit 2016 in Lisbon

RightIndem visiting Web Summit 2016 in Lisbon

After the restaurant we went back to the hotel and ended up having a large group coding session to finish our competition website for the conference. It was pretty much done as the guys back the office had been finishing it whilst we travelled, but there was still some work to do to get it finished so we took the night shift to get it ready. We ended up having a mini codathon until 2am. I used to love doing this when I was in my 20’s. Now that I am 40, staying up late like this is really hard. I prefer early nights with a nice cup of tea, so this made the next day quite tiring after about 4 hours sleep as no matter what time I go to bed, I always wake up around 6am.

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Speaking at NDC London 2017

Stephen Haunts Speaking at NDC London 2017

Stephen Haunts Speaking at NDC London 2017

I am pleased to announce that I will be speaking again at NDC London in January 2017. For this conference my talk is called Hacking Humans : Social Engineering Techniques and How to Protect Against Them.

Social engineering is one of the biggest threats to our organisations as attackers use manipulation techniques to coerce people into revealing secrets about our companies to allow attackers to gain access to critical systems.

In this talk we will look at some of the techniques used in social engineering and look at how to guard yourself against them. We will cover subjects like pre-texting, elicitation and body language as techniques for manipulating people.

I am really looking forward to doing this talk and I think it will be a lot of fun for the audience as we explore techniques for manipulating people and then how to protect against them.

Life at a Start-up : What is it We are Building?

In the last few posts in my Life at a Start-up series I have talked about how we want to work as a company, our hiring process and the office environment, but in this post I want to talk about the 2 products that we are building here at Buying Butler and RightIndem. On initial inspection they may look like two completely disparate products, but there is a link between the two that makes them a very attractive proposition. First I will explain what the Buying Butler platform is and then I will talk about what RightIndem is about. I will finish up by covering why these 2 products compliment each other.

Buying Butler

Buying Butler is a platform that allows a customer to make a complex purchase with the help of an expert. We are focusing on car purchases at the moment, but we can expand the platform to include any type of purchase that requires a lot of research to buy like laptops, bikes, white goods etc. The way the system works is like the following. You specify your requirements using plain language search parameters. For example you may specify that safety is more important than speed. You need plenty of boot space, or you might want a smaller faster car. The Buying Butler engine will take your requirements and using our algorithms select a series of cars that you can then refine your search with.

Buying Butler

Buying Butler

Once you have a good idea of what you want you can then proceed to a tendering phase where your requirements are sent out to dealers who are signed up to the platform. These could be within a certain distance boundary that you can specify. These dealers can then make offers against each other anonymously. So, for example, one dealer might say, that they can’t come down on their price but they could throw in some extra fittings. Another dealer might not have the car in the colour you originally specified but they can drop the price by £500 etc. Once you have picked an offer that you like you can then arrange a test drive and follow through with your purchase.

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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.