interviews

Tori Breitling on the Austin UX book club

Submitted by Lynn Bender on Tue, 12/02/2008 - 12:00am

  For the last few years, I have seen a tremendous growth of interest in User Experience, or as it is more commonly called UX. Unfortunately, there were few opportunities for local UX pros to gather to discuss their craft. Last last week, Tori Breitling, of Launchpad Coworking, announced the formation of a local UX reading group. I suspect that this is going to be the beginning of all kinds of good stuff.

Lynn Bender: I was excited to see your formation of a local UX book club. Where did you get the idea?

Smart Bear’s Jason Cohen on Code Review

Submitted by Lynn Bender on Tue, 09/23/2008 - 11:00pm

  Intro: Every company in the tech space that I've worked for has had a QA dept. However, it wasn't until I worked with Troy Waldrep at Pervasive that I heard about code review. The next time I heard about it was from Jason Cohen (blog), founder of Smart Bear Software, whose company offers a tool called Code Collaborator. Recently, I've been increasingly interested in software quality and process. So, I decided to ask Jason to talk to me about code review, and its role in the software lifecycle.

Lynn Bender: I recently asked a head developer at a software company if his team had a formal code review process. He immediately got defensive and replied: "yes". When I asked him to elaborate, he began to explain their QA process. So to begin, what is code review?

Darren Peterson on the Joomla Austin meetup

Submitted by Lynn Bender on Sun, 09/21/2008 - 11:00pm

  I just found out from Darren Peterson about the first meetup of Joomla users in Austin. I've been hearing about Joomla quite a bit recently -- mostly as an alternative to Drupal. I decided to contact Darren and get the details on the meeting as well as a status on Joomla.

Lynn Bender: Have you been using Joomla long?

Paul Young on ProductCamp Austin

Submitted by Lynn Bender on Mon, 05/05/2008 - 11:00pm

Over the last few weeks, there has been an increasing amount of talk about the upcoming ProductCamp Austin. I asked Paul Young, one of the organizers, if he could give us the background on the event.

Lynn Bender: You're a local guy. Where did you get the idea to host a ProductCamp Austin. Have you previously attended one in another city? Have you attended a BarCamp?

Geek Austin Cody Marx Bailey on the Bryan/College Station scene

Submitted by Lynn Bender on Wed, 04/23/2008 - 11:00pm

Cody Marx Bailey and his colleagues in College Station have been executing successful projects and events in rapid succession. While asking Cody if he would consider playing DJ at the upcoming Get Agile event, I took the opportunity to discuss some of the recent projects he has been involved in.

Lynn Bender: It seems in the last year, Bryan/College Station has really established a reputation as a city with a strong, well-connected, technical community -- not just as a place where people talk the talk, but rather where people put plans into action. Bryan/College Station was host to a very successful BarCampTexas II. It's the location for the first co-working facility in Texas -- The Creative Space (thecreativespace.org). You seem to be one of the main instigators. Tell me how this all came about.

Certain Affinity seeks IT manager - to help with Plunder, and more.

Submitted by Lynn Bender on Thu, 04/17/2008 - 11:00pm

Martin Galway, longtime veteran of the Austin game industry, sent me an note yesterday to let me know that his latest company, Certain Affinity, is seeking a IT manager. I took the opportunity to catch up with Martin on the latest news -- including Plunder.

Lynn Bender: So, how long has CertainAffinity been around? You're one of the founders, yes?

Jason Cohen founded Smart Bear Software on a bet. The bet paid off. Profitable and cash-flow positive since Q4 '03, Smart Bear was recently acquired by the software testing firm, Automated QA. During a recent conversation about agile practices, Jason mentioned that Smart Bear was employing agile practices in their marketing strategy. I asked if I could interview him for GeekAustin.

Lynn Bender: Jason, it seems like only a few years back when GeekAustin saw the first Smart Bear job posting.. Since then, you've gone on to win the Jolt award for Code Collaborator. I believe, however, that Code Collaborator wasn't your first product. Could you tell me about your suite of tools and the market they serve?

Jason Cohen: Yeah, it was just a few years back when GeekAustin ran our first posting. By the way that's also where I found employee #1!

Code Historian was our first product -- a version control system data-mining tool. Version control is used primarily to keep developers from stepping on each others' toes, but there's a lot of useful data in there that's generally hard to get at. We had everything from a "time-line diff" where you could get a diff of a file between any two points in time with one click to a system that transferred version control data to an RDBMS for real reporting.

Code review wasn't in the original game plan. I stumbled into this hole in the developer tools market because people were abusing Code Historian in order to do reviews. By listening to my customers I made my way into code review.

Sounds agile already doesn't it? Morphing yourself based stakeholder input rather than sticking to some pre-determined long-term master plan. If I hadn't done that, we would certainly not have the same success.

Bender: When we last discussed agile methodology, you mentioned that Smart Bear employs agile methods in business and marketing. Could you elaborate on this?

Cohen: The traditional business plan looks out 2-4 years. Marketing -- especially in print and events -- takes months to plan, expects targets to be met months in the future, and campaigns often run 1-2 years.

These time-lines are as far-sighted and pre-planned as traditional waterfall software development, and at Smart Bear we don't have them. Our marketing efforts can last 1-2 months, and can be set up in less than a month. We measure the response and adjust accordingly.

Bender: Traditionally, it seems that marketing has been driven by that elusive quality called inspiration. Once found, this is usually followed by pre-launch preparation, and then a massive launch. This is a heavyweight approach. Are there ways to insert agile practices into these steps -- or do you simply have to discard this approach entirely?

Cohen: It's a tricky answer because some things in marketing are beyond your control.

For example, print ads have a 2-3 month lead-time, and often you have to sign up for 6-12 months. Tradeshows can have a 12-month lead-time to get involved and 6 months lead-time for preparation. You can't change these timelines, so to some extent they exert non-agile control over your efforts. For example, if the new print ad talks about features in v4.0, it's going to come out 3 months from now and you'd better have released those features by then!

However the majority of our marketing efforts are, in fact, very different from the usual approach you described. We don't talk about artsy-fuzzy things like 'inspiration, we start early, and we fail-fast. We throw out the traditional model completely except for these issues of timeline.

Bender: Your book on code review is prominently advertised on the Smart Bear website. How does this fit in to your agile marketing strategy?

Cohen: We give away something of real value -- a book about code review. It's a physical book and and we print and ship it for free. There are sample chapters on-line so you can see that it's full of genuinely useful information, not a sales pitch. We ask where you heard about us and people tell us. We know they tell the truth because if they came in from a web page we save the referring URL and we can see that the text they type in does match the referring site, so we assume it's accurate for the other marketing efforts too.

We know books lead to trials because in our live demos the potential customer has always gotten the book. Over 50% of people who get a live demo end up purchasing, so there's a direct and substantial correlation between getting books and purchasing.

We use the book to determine which marketing efforts work. Sure, it costs money to print and ship books, but what's the value of not only promoting your product and earning trust in your company, but simultaneously measuring the efficacy of every marketing campaign?

Bender: Programmers have a suite of pre-built tools to drive the development process. Can you tell me a bit about how you manage test-driven marketing? I am guessing that there is nothing like JUnit for marketing.

Cohen: Ha, yeah there's not.

The idea of test-driven development is to set up the conditions for success, then write code until the conditions are met. It also implies that you continue to measure continuously in the future to make sure you don't regress.

We approach our marketing the same way. It's only a question of time and money to get a print ad in 7 magazines, to get a booth at 20 tradeshows, and to spend $10k/month on Google ads. But you don't have infinite time or money, and you know half those marketing efforts are a complete waste. So you have to measure which ones work and only spend money there.

So first set up the test cases. Maybe it's "We get an average of 100 leads/month from this ad." Or "We get 5 sales from that tradeshow." Then you try it, and measure it (measurement is the hard part). Then it either passes or fails. If passes, we might spend more money but we'll definitely stay with it. If it fails, we've spent a known amount of money, that's OK.

Then there's the "continuous testing" part. We've found that in marketing it's often true that an ad can work in a magazine for 2 years and then stop being effective. So there's the regression bug testing aspect as well.

We just use a single table in a database for book orders. We have a bunch of regex's that look through user-supplied "how did you hear" (it's fill-in-the-blank to prevent people from selecting an item at random) and mapping it into a set of 30+ fixed categories. Then we just "group by" that and count the books, usually grouping by date etc.. We use MS Access to generate a few reports.

One of the neat reports is "ROI." Here we have a little table (updated by hand in Access) with how much money we've spent in each campaign, then we link that to the book orders. So it's "Cost per book" on the advertising side; add in the cost to print and ship times the number of books and you have your total expense.

Bender: Can you tell me a bit more about the test metrics?

Cohen: It's often difficult to link a sale to a marketing campaign, which is ultimately what you want to know. That is, if I spend X dollars on campaign C, I eventually get Y dollars in revenue. Most people are happy if Y > X, even if Y isn't much bigger, even with overhead. We're like that.

But tying the X dollars to the Y dollars is a lot of steps. When they got from your ad / booth / mailer / phone call to your web site / sales rep, did you record that fact? When others in the same group try out your software, do you link that to the original guy who found you? When you get the purchase order from accounts payable, can you link that as well?

Often even the first step is hard. Print advertising is notoriously difficult. You can try a fancy URL, but techie people know that's unnecessary. Print-ad sales reps tell you you're buying a brand, but that's not my experience.

Bender: Putting the stakeholders first is considered to be one of the core agile values. Can you tell me a bit how this works in marketing / business development?

Cohen: It's tautological to say that marketing should be driven by customers' desires, behaviors, pains, etc., but so often it just isn't.

Take IBM WebSphere (http://www-306.ibm.com/software/websphere/). It's almost impossible to get any real information from the site. Tons of links to nebulous places, empty text like "Extend access to business processes, applications and information to anyone anywhere." Was this site designed to serve a potential customer, or just a hierarchical dumping ground for a mountain of information?

Contrast with Safari (http://www.apple.com/safari/). In 5 seconds I can see what it is. I can download with one click, or I can get screenshots and brief, tantalizing descriptions of what it does. Isn't that what you want from a software web page 90% of the time? This is designed with the curious, time-strapped user in mind.

We're always in our customers' heads. Everything we make -- print ads, website, product screens -- we ask ourselves questions like: What is the use-case? Is this really what I want to see, or is this just what we're trying to push down their throats? Is this serving a specific purpose or is it fluff? Are we communicating something useful with every phrase or are we speaking in generalities? Are we really solving a specific problem for the customer?

If you don't ask these questions, you're not treating your potential customer (the ultimate stakeholder) as the most important thing.

Bender: Do you ever think we will hear marketing people talk about SCRUM and sprints?

Cohen: I doubt it. Although it would be nice to get iterations, 2-week deadlines usually not important in fact.

The "meetings" part of scrum is to get everyone the same page, but in marketing a lot of times either the projects don't intersect at all (tradeshow planning versus print ads; once the copy and art is done there's nothing else to interact on) or everyone works together almost continuously anyway, checking things out many times per day -- sometimes even like "pair programming. The "release SOMETHING INTERESTING regularly" is probably a useful technique.

Bender: Will you be in town for the Get Agile with Geek Austin party this month?

Cohen: You bet! GeekAustin parties are always a blast.

Bender: I'll see you then. Jason, thanks for taking the time.

Browsing through the SXSW Panels, I saw that Vignette's CTO Conleth O'Connell is leading a panel called How Many Clicks to the Center of…? Given that Conleth has been with Vignette since the early days, and Vignette was one of the first companies in the enterprise content management space, I felt the title was a bit of a tease. So I contacted Conleth and asked him to elaborate:

Lynn Bender: Conleth, thanks for taking the time. Please tell me about Success in 3 Clicks.

Geek Austin Austin C/C++ Meetup! — GA interviews Matt Weigel

Submitted by Lynn Bender on Mon, 02/25/2008 - 12:00am

I really love C -- largely because I learned it at the same time I learned Unix, but my knowledge of C is largely limited to the chunks of Unix source code with which I am familiar. I'd love to learn C++ but I doubt that that will ever happen. Tonight I caught up with Matt Weigel,an old friend who just happens to be the organizer of the Austin C/C++ meetup. I took the opportunity to ask Matt about the Austin C/C++ meetup.


(10:12:16 PM) Linear:
C or C++: Is there more emphasis on one or the other?

(10:13:16 PM) Matthew Weigel:
It's a mix. We have a few Linux kernel developers who come, and a few old-school Unix developers of other stripes who stick to C.

(10:13:18 PM) linearb:
Do you have presentations? or are these just meet and greets.

(10:13:24 PM) Matthew Weigel:
no presentations as of yet.willing to host one, but so far no one has been chomping at the bit to give one.

(10:14:25 PM) linearb:
Do you think that is because of the suitability of the venues, or do you think that the guys are just looking for an opportunity to get together?

(10:14:46 PM) Matthew Weigel:
a bit of both? I mean, some people come strictly for the socialization. Any kind of presentation, I'd want to precede it or follow it with meet'n'greet. With B.B. Rovers we have the back room available, which is sufficiently separate and quiet that presentations are a possibility. The capacity is around 30? we usually have about 10-15 people show up. So, we have room to grow.

(10:18:36 PM) linearb:
BB's seems to be rife with geeks.

(10:18:53 PM) Matthew Weigel:
indeed. wireless+beer.

(10:20:55 PM) linearb:
How many of BB's beers have you sampled? Any beer reccommendations ?

(10:21:05 PM) Matthew Weigel:
80+%, but not all of them there. Recommendations: Full Sail Session Lager, Fuller's ESB, Great Divide Titan IPA

(10:23:40 PM) linearb:
so, are you more of a C or C++ guy?

(10:23:50 PM) Matthew Weigel:
"meh" :-). at this point I've probably actually spent more time working in C, but the current job is C++, so that will change before too long. I'm probably more of a C++ guy, but I also miss C's simplicity

(10:25:11 PM) linearb:
There is a real poetry about it. What are your favorite C/C++ books?

(10:26:43 PM) Matthew Weigel:
for C, The C Programming Language, and The Practice of Programming, and for C++, Effective C++. The Practice of Programming isn't really about C, it just uses C to illustrate a lot of points (along with awk, Perl, and Java)... but the C is the best.

(10:28:20 PM) linearb:
Effective C++ seemed to spawn a bunch of similar books for other languages.

(10:29:24 PM) Matthew Weigel:
the important part about the Effective C++ books (there are at least 3, but I've only read one) is that they're written by Scott Meyers

(10:31:15 PM) linearb:
I was thinking about Effective Perl Programming, Effective Java

(10:32:01 PM) Matthew Weigel:
hehe, wow

(10:32:16 PM) linearb:
and all the other books influenced by Meyer's books

(10:32:53 PM) linearb:
Although I don't expect to see Effective Haskell anytime soon.

(10:33:06 PM) Matthew Weigel:
parse error

(10:34:26 PM) linearb:
So back to the meeting, do you find that meetup works for helping coordinate the meetings? Can you get contact info for the members? or does all communication have to be mediated through meetup?

(10:34:39 PM) Matthew Weigel:
it works pretty well.Enough people use meetup that there's a stream of newcomers, and meetup.com provides a mailing list, tools to track who has RSVP'ed and who's active/inactive

(10:34:40 PM) linearb:
So when is the next meeting and what is the linkedin page?

(10:34:54 PM) Matthew Weigel:
3/18 the URL is http://c.meetup.com/48/

(10:35:15 PM) linearb:
Hey, thanks for the info.

(11:36:12 PM) linearb:
hey, so do you know that joke? : "Two C strings walk into a bar....

(11:03:53 PM) Matthew Weigel:
the first one says "I'd like a beer, please098u807g23pdhoenueuth,,.' and the second one says "you'll have to excuse my friend, he's not NULL-terminated"

(11:04:20 PM) linearb:
hehe, that's the one

Big Pimpin’ with Ed Schipul of Schipul

Submitted by Michelle Greer on Thu, 01/31/2008 - 12:00am

Ed Schipul Ed Schipul is the CEO and president of Schipul–The Web Marketing Company. Ed will be discussing how to take your non-profit to 11 in his SXSW speech “Pimping My Non-Profit–Real Non-Profits Kicking Ass with Online Technology.”

MICHELLE:
Your SxSW Interactive Speech is called, “Pimp My Non Profit — Real Non-Profits Kicking Ass with Online Technology.” Does this perhaps involve putting TV screens in head consoles or in car trunks? How does one pimp a non-profit?

Going Hollywood with Microsoft’s Chris Bernard

Submitted by Michelle Greer on Tue, 01/22/2008 - 12:00am

Design is taking a new direction as websites become less like entertainment and news and more like applications for people to use. At the forefront of this shift is Microsoft’s User Experience Evangelist Chris Bernard, who is speaking this year at South by Southwest Interactive. You can find Chris at the finals of Microsoft’s Phizzpop Challenge at their SxSW after party.

MICHELLE:
In your blog, http://chrisbernard.blogs.com, you write, “De Stijl, Bauhaus, Futurism. The short history of design is filled with a lexicon of terms and movements that inspire designers of today.” How can GeekAustin designers use the design and cultural cues of the past to improve their work everyday?

Geek Austin Dishing It Up With SXSW Panelist Lindsey Simon

Submitted by Michelle Greer on Fri, 01/11/2008 - 12:00am

Lindsey Simon The SxSW Interactive Festival is full of interesting speakers from throughout the technology spectrum. SxSW fans like you can choose who you want to hear from using a Panel Picker. Fortunately for me, I was able to speak to the man behind the picker himself, Lindsey Simon.

MICHELLE:
So I hear you work for some company called Google. How is that going for you?

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