Recording a Pluralsight Play by Play course at NDC {London}

During my recent speaking trip to the NDC London conference, I was also invited to record a Play by Play course for Pluralsight. A Play by Play course is a short film course that is in a conversational style. This involves having one person who is the subject matter expert for the course, and a 2nd person who is the facilitator for the course. It is this persons job to introduce the course and help draw information out of the subject matter expert by asking questions. This conversational style should make it easier for the learner to get a good gist of the subject in a short space of time. These types of courses are not meant to be super in-depth, but an introduction to a subject, or focusing on one area of a larger subject.

My partner in crime for this course was Lars Klint, who is another Pluralsight author. Lars has done a few of these courses before, so I knew I was in good hands. The course we was recording was about enterprise data security using Azure KeyVault. Essentially the course was about encryption key management using hardware security modules, or abstracted hardware security modules like Azure KeyVault.

We started the planning for  this course in December where we put together the proposal  that split the course down into modules. Each of these modules then had a content plan so we knew what the overall narrative would be from start to finish. Once this was approved I then split this out in to a slide deck where we have bullet points for each modules. I had this on my screen whilst we were recording. This acted as a prompt for me and Lars. Whilst this prompt would have been recorded on my laptop, none of this will be seen as it will be edited out.

Stephen Haunts recording a Pluralsight : Play by Play Course
Stephen Haunts recording a Pluralsight : Play by Play Course

When I first walked into the room on the day of recording, I will admit that it felt a little intimidating seeing all the lights, 3 large cameras and 3 camera operators, but luckily Lars and Troy Hunt were recording a course first, so they were happy for me to sit in and watch. I am glad I did this as it meant I could see what was involved, including how best to recover if you make a mistake. The technique here is to remember what you last said, pause and carry on with the same intonation in your voice to help make it a clean edit point for the editor. Every now and again we would speak out editor notes to the camera, but of course this will all be edited out of the final course.

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.

If you would like Lars to run a workshop for your company, you can see the details on his workshops page. I highly recommend him for the Hololens workshop or his Winning at Life workshop.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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