Author Archives: Stephen Haunts

Life at a Start-up : Exploring the Microsoft HoloLens

Over the last week we have been working on something quite exciting. At BuyingButler and RightIndem we pride ourselves on being a very technology focused company, and we love looking to see where we can use the latest technology to solve real problems. We have been doing just that with Microsoft new HoloLens Mixed Reality headset.

On Thursday 12th Jan 2017 we had a good friend and fellow Pluralsight author Lars Klint fly over to the UK for the NDC London conference. Before the conference he came up to Nottingham  for a couple of days to work with us around some use cases for the Hololens for RightIndem. I can’t discuss what those use cases are at the moment openly, but they are quite exciting and complement one of our project modules nicely.

First though, what is the HoloLens. Below is the brief description taken from the HoloLens website.

Microsoft HoloLens is the first self-contained, holographic computer, enabling you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the world around you.

When wearing the headset, you still have an unrestricted view of your surroundings, but you also see holograms that are placed in the room that you can only see with the HoloLens attached. These holograms are aware of their surroundings and can be placed on walls and tables. This is achieved by the HoloLens doing spatial mapping of the environment around it. You can then interact with these holograms directly whilst walking around your environment.

The HoloLens is a Windows 10 device which is untethered, which means you do not need a cable running between the headset and a powerful computer like you do with a Virtual Reality headset like the Oculus Rift.

Lars Klint Demonstrating the HoloLens

Lars Klint Demonstrating the HoloLens

With Lars visiting our offices we had 2 goals to achieve over 2 days. On the first day Lars facilitated a brain storming session with myself and the rest of the companies management team. We already had some ideas of where the HoloLens could be applied, but the purpose of this session was to work through different ideas and walk away with a rough plan for a series of minimum viable products we could build. This session went very well, and everyone involved had the opportunity to try the HoloLens for a good amount of time. This was important as people need to understand what the experience feels like in order to understand the constraints posed. Off the back of the session we have an idea for 2 technical spikes we want to try and a prototype product to build with it. The cool thing is, we already have a company we are talking too about partnering with us to deliver a HoloLens solution.

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Switching to an Apple Mac

For my entire career I been a Windows users. I have made my career around it, and it has been a good career. This has meant working on desktop and laptop PC’s of varying quality from really bad, and underpowered machines, through to some very nice laptops like the Dell XPS and the Lenovo Yoga 900. Back in August of 2016, I decided to switch over to using an Apple Mac to give it a try as we run a mixed Mac / PC estate at Buying Butler and RightIndem.

It took a few days to get used to some of the differences, especially around the use of the keyboard layout, but after a few days it started to feel very natural. For general productivity I am still using the Microsoft Office suite, and I must say Office 2016 on the Mac is pretty good. I have found it stable and I have not had any compatibility issues with any documents. One of my most used tools is OneNote and this works perfectly on the Mac. In fact, I am drafting this very post in OneNote whilst on a long train journey.

If I am honest, I always used to think that people who used Macs just used them because Apple seemed trendy and never really saw the point. After using one for a while though, I can see why they are so beloved of their users. They are very easy to use and they do indeed just work.

MacBook Pro 15 Inch with Touch Bar

MacBook Pro 15 Inch with Touch Bar

The Mac I started off with last August was the late 2015 MacBook Pro 15inch with a 512gb SSD and 16gb of Ram. The machine also had an additional graphics processor, so this machine felt very fast indeed. I initially had reservations around how future proof 16gb of ram would be, but in my observations, memory management seems to be a lot more efficient in MacOS. Working in a development team that still makes a lot of use of the Microsoft .NET development platform I still need to run Visual Studio 2015/2017 and this doesn’t run natively on the Mac so I still need to run Windows for development work. My 2 options here were to run a bootcamp partition and boot across to Windows, or run Windows 10 in a virtual machine using Parallels. I opted for the later to try It our and it runs very well. I run a VM with 8gb ram assigned to the virtual machine and it runs very well. I am literally only Visual Studio and any related development tools in this VM and any productivity tools natively on the Mac. Even with this virtual machine running, and office and browsers windows, I have still not been near the tipping point with Ram which is great.

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Life at a Start-up : Assessing and Appraising our Development Team

In this series I have written about  our hiring process, but now I want to talk about what work with developers once they are at the company. Once developers, or indeed any staff member starts at your company, you have  a duty to develop them over time. Buying Butler is no different. I have worked for many companies both large and small and seen some good examples of staff development, but also some terrible examples. Naturally I want Buying Butler to be a  good example.

Life at a Startup - Buying Butler / RightIndem

Life at a Startup – Buying Butler / RightIndem

I run the development teams across both Buying Butler and RightIndem, so I am going to be talking about how I work with my developers specifically, but anything I say here is just as applicable to any type of skilled knowledge worker. Like most companies, we conduct 1 to 1’s with our staff. We use these as a way to give feedback but also offer some coaching if required and to see how developers are progressing with objectives. When giving feedback, I feel this should generally be positive in the 1 to 1. If there is anything bad that you need to bring to their attention then this should have happened prior to a 1 to 1. This meeting shouldn’t contain any bad surprises in my opinion.

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Scrapping New Years Resolutions for Goals

It’s that time of year where we have just had the new year celebrations and everyone starts making new years resolution. Not me though, I am not too keen on the idea of resolutions. They are a nice idea, but not very specific and you always end up breaking them. What I prefer are more solid goals.

Scrapping New Years Resolutions for Goals

Scrapping New Years Resolutions for Goals

For example, here are some typical resolutions..

  • Loose weight
  • Give up drinking
  • Learning a new programming language
  • Spend more time with the family

On the face of it, they are all valid ideals that would benefit anyone, but they are not that specific. A goal on the other hand is much more specific and takes a form more like what you might be used to at work, which is SMART goals. This means Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound.

Specific : Target a specific area for improvement or development.

Measurable : How will you measure progress?

Achievable : Is it an achievable goal or is it asking too much.

Relevant : Is the goal relevant to the person it is being assigned too.

Time bound  : When do you expect this goal to be achieved.

You don’t necessarily need to list the goal out in this format, but these points reflect what you should be thinking about when setting the goal.

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A Year in Review

2016 : A Year in Review for Stephen Haunts

2016 : A Year in Review for Stephen Haunts

I’m a few days late posting this due to festivities and taking some time out to spend with family and friends, but I just wanted to put up a short review post about the past 12 months. Mainly for my benefit as it is good to write about positive things that have happened.

Is being a manager right for me by Stephen Haunts at Techorama

Is being a manager right for me by Stephen Haunts at Techorama

Normally I would write about all the cool Pluralsight courses I have released, and I have released 2 this year (Lean Fundamentals and RabbitMQ by Example) which are doing vey well, but that is not the best thing that has happened this year. First of all I started speaking at large conferences. This was a big deal for me as I originally started talking at user groups last year to get over a fear of public speaking, so getting accepted at major conferences was fantastic. Last year I spoke at the following events, NDC London, Techorama in Belgium, and NDC Oslo. It felt like a personal triumph to speak at these world class conferences, especially as my talks all received good ratings from the attendees.

Thirsty Thursday Team Drinks

Thirsty Thursday Team Drinks

Also in 2016 I changed jobs to work at a start-ups (well 2 linked companies) called Buying Butler and RightIndem. I started there as their Head of Development, which means I run both of the teams producing our main products. My circumstances starting at Buying Butler are quite unique though. I have known the founders for nearly 3 years and the plan was that I would always go and work there, but with start-ups being what they are it takes time to get funding. But the funding came and things really took off and I started working there in May. We went from 5 people working in a small office to 30 people in a larger modern office in the centre of Nottingham by Christmas. We are also now about to enter a new growth phase by recruiting more staff. Very exciting times ahead.

In 2017 I am planning on more of the same. I am speaking at NDC London in January (OMG 2 weeks away, I best do more rehearsing), SDD Conf and hopefully more conferences around the world. Buying Butler is going from strength to strength and I am genuinely excited to see what we can achieve this year. I will of course be working on more Pluralsight content. I have a course in production at the moment and I am also recording a Play by Play live course with colleague and friend Lars Klint at NDC London.

Here’s to another action packed and fun year 🙂

Life at a Start-up : We are Hiring

The rate of growth we are experiencing at Buying Butler has been staggering. When I started in May we were 4 people sitting in a small room. Now we are almost 30 people in a nice office in the centre of Nottingham. Because of the amount of work coming through and the next round of investment landing we at the next phase of our growth, which is really great.

I really pride myself on the fact we run an excellent and motivated development team working on challenging yet exciting projects that solve real world problems. In the short time that we have all been working here we have been working on 2 exciting projects, Buying Butler and RightIndem.

We are hiring at Buying Butler / RightIndem

We are hiring at Buying Butler / RightIndem

For RightIndem, we have launched several successful pilots of our platform with various huge insurance companies for Motor Insurance and Marine / Cargo Insurance. We are now looking to roll out more pilots with more huge companies against different industries and different geographies.

For Buying Butler we are very near the launch of version 2 of our vehicle concierge buying platform. Both products are looking great and we have so much work that we want to do. To support this, we need to grow the size of our team.

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Microsofts Future Decoded Conference

I am trying to catch up on some posts I meant to write the other week, but I didn’t get time to complete them. The week before I went to Web Summit in Lisbon I attended another conference in London called Future Decoded. Future Decoded is a free event that is run by Microsoft and it takes place over 2 days. The 1st day is the Business Day, and the 2nd day is aimed at more of a technical audience. The theme for the Business day was Digital Transformation, and this was about businesses, mainly large and well established enterprises, using Microsoft technologies to transform their business to being more digital.

There were many interesting keynote talks about companies that had made the shift and there were also some interesting sessions about security which had someone from the security services talking about cyber security and also the Chancellor of the exchequer, Phil Hammond, announcing the UK’s new Cyber security strategy.  This was quite interesting, and as you can imagine there was a fair amount of press interest at this session as it was an official government announcement.

Microsoft Future Decoded

Microsoft Future Decoded

In the afternoon I attended several talks, in particularly about Blockchain so I could understand a little more about the technology.  It certainly looks interesting as it is the underlying distributed ledger database behind the bitcoin currency, but it, in my mind, has limited uses. A lot of companies say they want blockchain until they learn about the distributed nature and openness of the data, and then realise what they actually want is just a database. Again it is an interesting set of tools, and like all tools they have their uses, but they are not a one stop solution.

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