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Zoom Etiquette in the new norm

Zoom Etiquette in the new norm…

A couple of weeks ago the homebound cast of Saturday Night Live pulled off a classic skit that made fun of quarantine life via a Zoom video conference call.  There was the “too close to the camera” lady who was 2 inches away from her webcam.  They had the “forgot to mute in the bathroom” character and the Zoom office jokester who did the already old “you only want to see me from the waist up” quip.

 

Nashville Remote IT

Working remote etiquette…

The funny thing, of course, is that their portrayal of the new norm of video conferencing from our living room couches rings true to life.   For most people, Zoom and similar services are new.  The world has had to adopt a new way of communicating almost overnight.

In normal times, new technologies take a while to catch on.

They usually start with the “early adopters” (aka ‘”gadget geeks”) who, when it comes to tech, want to be first in line.  Often a younger crowd, these are the tech adventurers who bought cell phones when they were the size of bricks and spent big bucks to get the early version of the iPod.

If the early adopters are all-in, next comes what is often termed the “early majority.”  This is where most of us fall—the users who are willing to dip their toe in the water, but only after someone else has jumped in to test the temperature.  They may not have been the first ones to try out Uber or buy a Prius, but they are the ones that will collectively take an innovation from underground to mainstream.

And finally, the “late majority” and the unfortunately named “laggards” get into the mix.  Some are older and others are just set in their ways.  These luddites are the users who resist until it’s futile, the old schoolers who prefer paper maps to GPS and would rather not have to learn yet one more invention.

This “technology lifecycle” that is well known in the startup and marketing worlds is predictable and repetitive.   New tech products usually take years to become mainstream.

But these are not normal times.

In the midst of a global pandemic, we have had to learn and embrace what is for many a new communication platform almost overnight.   Who would have thought just a few weeks ago a Zoom meeting would become the new default for business communications?

With this rushed mass adoption of video conferencing, as the SNL skit portrayed, social norms, best practices and etiquette are works in progress.  Everyone knows that when the phone rings you answer it by saying “Hello” and that emails should never be typed in ALL CAPS.   And (most) people know that it can be awkward to show up to a meeting at the office in your pajamas.  These unwritten rules are less defined for video conferencing.

Nevertheless, as the weeks of never leaving your house continue, ideas are starting to take hold about which behaviors are deemed acceptable and which are frowned upon.

It’s now considered good manners to mute yourself when you’re not talking.  Your background can make you look either professional (like a bookshelf or cabinet) or slovenly (like an unmade bed.)  Dogs barking or babies crying in the background are cute or humanizing, but a pair of teenagers arguing in the frame is distracting. Multitasking during a call is more obvious to viewers than you think.  Drinking coffee is fine, wolfing down a sandwich is not.

The technology around video conferencing is nothing new.  But the speed at which it’s replaced phone calls and in-person meetings has been head-spinning.  Until our collective understanding of the etiquette of video conferencing takes shape, we all need to be patient with one another (and never do a video call from the bathroom).

 JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba, a Nashville IT consulting and custom software development firm.  Visit Atiba.com or AtibaNetworkServices.com for more info.

 

Is Remote-Only the way of the future?

A day in the life of a Nashville computer geek:   Remote-Only

Published April 12,2020 in The Tennessean – JJ Rosen

It was just a few short weeks ago that a day-in-the-life at work meant shaking hands with people, meeting over coffee, flying places, and grabbing an occasional beer with some co-workers.   Online meetings were not uncommon, but face-to-face was always preferred and often needed to be efficient.

Flash forward to today.

With an ongoing global pandemic, everything about work has changed.  This change from our daily norms has not only been drastic, but it’s also been sudden.  For most of us, the transition to being  100% isolated at home, doing all meetings virtually, and having work and family-life become one and the same has been challenging to say the least.

For me, a creature of habit (for better or worse), I was completely out of whack for the first couple of weeks of this new life.  But as time has gone by, new routines and work habits have formed. Although it’s taken a bit of getting used to, I’ve started to settle in and somehow feel comfortable.  The whole situation is still weird, but I guess I’ve managed to adjust.

But what’s been interesting and unexpected is that some of the friends and co-workers I talk to are not just feeling more comfortable working only at home, but they’re also beginning to feel more productive working only at home.

I don’t think there are any silver linings to a global pandemic that is causing so much suffering.  But in the context of work, the situation we all find ourselves in these past few weeks is presenting some alternative ways of doing business.

Virtual meetings over Zoom, Slack or Microsoft Teams, have cut down on the amount of time it takes to physically gather.  All the sudden, it’s become acceptable to video conference with co-workers and clients in faraway places rather than to deal with the time, expense, and hassle of travel.   And even meetings that you would normally have face-to-face in your office have become faster and more efficient when they are moved online.

Commutes have alternated from 30 minutes of driving to 30 seconds of walking from the kitchen to the quietest place in the house to get some work done.   There is now more time in the day to manage as each person sees fit.

Business phone calls have become less formal and less stressful.   Who would have thought I could take a care of several business calls while simultaneously walking around my neighborhood getting some exercise?   Where it used to be embarrassing to have your kid crying or dog barking in the background of conference call, it’s now no big deal.

Will these new ways of working stick?

No one knows how long we will need to stay home.  But, if working this way makes employees happier, more productive, and more efficient, we may be in for a transformation from the way business has always been done.  At least for some sectors, fancy conference rooms and corner offices may become obsolete in favor of simply working in an old chair at the dining room table.

There are some companies, especially in the tech world, that were already seeing the upside of being a completely remote workforce before the pandemic was forced upon us.  Studies of these early-adopters has revealed that ditching the office and making an entire company remote-only does indeed increase employee happiness and productivity.   Which in turn increases retention and profits.

As technology advancements make it simpler and easier to keep us connected no matter where we work, we can expect our new norm to become a permanent change to the way many of us work.

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba, a Nashville IT consulting and custom software development firm.  Visit Atiba.com or AtibaNetworkServices.com for more info.

 

Battle of the Clouds: AWS vs Azure

Atiba: Nashville’s AWS and Azure Consultants

Thinking about moving to the cloud?

The next step in determining which cloud to use.   Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, and Google Cloud are the main players.

As die hard computer nerds, our crew at Atiba likes them all!  All three provide similar services and all three have proven to be reliable and cost-effective.

So how do you choose?

Here’s a quick list of the factor we consider when determining which cloud to use for our clients:

  • If you are managing your own cloud, AWS is slightly easier to understand.
  • AWS can be slightly cheaper
  • Azure is great if you are heavily invested in Office365 and have any complexities our Active Directory
  • Azure AD is cheaper that AWS AD
  • DaaS / VDI is equal.   AWS was ahead until 2020…
  • Auto-scaling  is a great way to save $ on both
  • AWS RDS offers more options, but Azure’s integration for PowerBI is better
  • Google Cloud, not as popular but its a low cost way to backup cross-cloud
  • Azure has more built in account hardening tools for security

So both are great.   Contact Atiba at info@atiba.com for help deciding what’s best for your organization!

 

 

 

 

 

Revenge of the Nerds: Why techies make great CEOs…

Walking into a room full of people dressed in costumes would be normal if it were Halloween.

But it wasn’t the end of October. It was Labor Day, and I found myself surrounded, not by kids, but by grown-ups dressed in medieval garb and Batman outfits and more. Everyone from E.T. to The Incredible Hulk was there.

Welcome to Dragon Con, the world’s largest gathering of die-hard science-fiction, gaming, and fantasy fans from all over the world. Hatched in 1987, Dragon Con has grown to more than 80,000 attendees that take over four hotels and nearly every street corner in downtown Atlanta once a year.

Activities include everything from playing Dungeons and Dragons with 1,000 of your closest friends to participating in “Klingon Karaoke.”  Fantasy fans and gamers young and old flock to discussion groups and seminars on topics like “Space-Based Solar Power” and advanced puppetry. And that’s just on day 1.

The term “nerd” has been used the describe those of us who are obsessively into non-mainstream activities like those offered at Dragon Con.   We are mostly introverts except when we are with our own.  We like technology and science, and yes, we can be a bit quirky when it comes to social interactions.

Taking on the label of a nerd in high school or college is something most of us tried to avoid. Especially as a kid, being nerdy carries with it sometimes severe social repercussions, especially if young nerds are teased and even bullied.

Today, being labeled a nerd is becoming less derogatory.  In fact, as technology has become more central to nearly every aspect of life, being a nerd has proved itself to be quite advantageous. We tend to have a combination of computer skills and creative skills that are more relevant than ever.

In the business world, it turns out that the characteristics that nerds get ridiculed for as kids are the same traits that make them some of the best entrepreneurs and CEOs around.  The unparalleled success of people like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg prove that being a nerd can be a business asset.

In fact, there is an argument to be made that nerds are more likely to be successful in their careers than their cooler counterparts.

There are three nerdy qualities that translate into business leader success:

  • As I was reminded at Dragon Con, nerds tend to live and breathe their passions, sometimes to a fault. Whether it’s role-playing games or Star Trek, true nerds go all in.  This is the same kind of dedication and passion that entrepreneurs need for success.
  • It takes real courage to be different. Most of us have a natural inclination to try to fit in.  But being different in business is what drives innovation.   It takes courage not to follow the crowd – the same courage it takes to disrupt an entire industry.
  • Technology focused. It may be a stereotype, but it’s true – we nerds love technology. Our interests in video games and sci-fi translate to a tech-oriented mindset that has become a mission-critical part of nearly every company.

There are of course plenty of “cool” kids who have these characteristics as well.  And coolness and nerdiness are not mutually exclusive. But we nerds often take them to another level, which is what many companies need.

So, if you’re not a nerd, it’s never too late to learn. A trip to Dragon Con next year might be in order.  It may not be everyone’s idea of professional development, but the creativity and dedication you find there might ensure that you live long and prosper.

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba. A Nashville custom software development and IT support company.  Visit www.atiba.com or www.atibanetworkservices.com for more info.

The Internet is Broken

The internet is broken.

On March 12, 2019, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the Word Wide Web, commemorated its 30th birthday with a blog post that focused largely on what is wrong with it.

While working at the European scientific research center CERN in 1989, Sir Tim submitted a paper entitled “Information Management: A Proposal,” (which his boss returned to him with a note: “Vague but exciting”.)  Since then, the web and the internet it’s built on have come a long way.  What started as a relatively simple platform to post and link to information has become central to most of our lives.

There’s no doubt — at 30 years old the World Wide Web has a lot to celebrate.

It’s the place we go for everything from healthcare, to news, to shopping. We can use it to communicate, pontificate, or find a date.  Whether you’re selling, buying, blogging, tweeting, or just browsing, the World Wide Web has made many tasks in life much easier.

But as Sir Tim points out, the web’s ease of use is both a strength and a weakness.

As much as it provides otherwise marginalized groups with a place to speak freely, it also provides a conduit for hate speech and bullying. As easy as the web makes it to publish news, videos, and pictures, it provides no way of vetting their accuracy or source—it’s difficult to tell fact from fiction. With all the good this ingenious invention provides us, it also enables a worldwide unregulated platform for scammers and criminals to do harm.

Despite his warnings about the current state of the web, Sir Tim is hopeful for its future, stating that “given how much the web has changed in the past 30 years, it would be defeatist and unimaginative to assume that the web as we know it can’t be changed for the better in the next 30. If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web.”

So, how can we build a better web?  How can we balance the benefits of freedom with the risks of promoting a virtual wild wild west?

There’s no easy answer, but Sir Tim’s blog post has inspired some interesting ideas. Most proposals to build a better web center around three common goals:

  • Reduce the spread of fake content (news, photos, and videos).
  • Stop the use of the web as a platform for cyberbullying.
  • Protect the web from scammers, hackers, and those with criminal intent.

When it comes to reducing the fake content, whether it originates from hackers or governments, AI (artificial intelligence) is far from perfect but is rapidly improving.  Companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google are already using AI to block some fake content, but as the bad actors get more sophisticated it has become an ongoing battle. Nevertheless, as AI improves there’s a good chance the amount of fake content will fade.

Ending cyberbullying is more complex because it’s hard to define.  What’s the difference between online bullying, gossiping, or just sharing an honest opinion?  The latest ideas around curbing cyberbullying include technical, educational, and legal remedies.  Several are gaining traction, whether social media hate speech filters or mobile apps that alert parents when their kid is either a victim or perpetrator.

Protecting the web from being taken over by scammers is perhaps the biggest challenge. Because most all activity on the web can be anonymous, it can be hard to deter those with ill intent from tricking users into giving up their credit cards or their identities. Even so, techies are hard at work building “data loss prevention” systems that enhance antivirus, antimalware, and firewall systems by managing what data leaves your computer in addition to what is trying to enter it.

So yes, the internet is broken but all is not lost.

In the words for Sir Tim, “The web is for everyone and collectively we hold the power to change it. It won’t be easy. But if we dream a little and work a lot, we can get the web we want.”

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba. A Nashville software development and IT support company.  Visit www.atiba.com or www.atibanetworkservices.com for more info.

 

 

Atiba Kids Series — Learning to Code: Day 1

Our blog series Atiba Kids features tech musings from a few of our team’s kids…  

This post is from Isaac Chomsky.   A brilliant rising high school sophomore on his first day teaching himself how to code.   Enjoy! 

Learning to Code Python:  Day 1 — by Isaac Chomsky

In our modern world, technology has become increasingly useful for everyday practices.

Because of this, it is important that we all learn how to properly utilize technology for these methods. In order to do that, I’ve recently decided to enhance my Python coding capabilities by working on a program that will notify me whenever a homework assignment is almost due.

This program is most likely something that has already been created, but it is still an excellent way of learning how to use Python in conventional ways. First, I had to figure out exactly how this program could work. One idea that I came up with was to create a calendar where the user could input their school assignments into the dates that they are due and, one day before the due date, the program would email the user to remind them of the assignment. This initial idea seemed plausible, so I decided to work on making the idea a reality.

The first step of this idea was learning how to create a program that can send automated messages. Through some short research, I learned how to use SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, to properly encrypt my messages, making the message harder to be accessed by individuals other than myself and the person receiving the email. I also decided to implement “getpass” into my program, which allows the user to enter their password without it being displayed on the screen. (Basically, “getpass” is whenever you see this for passwords: *******).

This process of implementing both SSL and “getpass” proved to be sort of tricky, as the script of the program had to be exactly right or else nothing would work.

This is typical amongst programs, at least I believe so, but what made the process even more difficult was that when there was an error, the command console I was using for the program would immediately close, which prevented me from seeing any error code that could guide me towards finding the issue. However, through some manual review of my script and some trial and error, I was able to find the problem (finally!) and successfully complete the first step of this project.

Day 1 appears to have been a success!

What is technical debt?

“Rather go to bed without dinner than to rise in debt.” — Benjamin Franklin 

The thought of debt can be a scary one that conjures up images of credit cards, mortgages, car payments, and sleepless nights.  To most of us, it’s simple to define:  an amount of money you owe someone else. 

But, the concept of debt is not always related to dollars and cents.   

This was weighing heavily on my mind last week as I was looking at my end-of-year-calendar. 

In the IT field, the term “technical debt” is often used to describe the habit of taking technical shortcuts that, over time, accumulate and cause more work down the road.  Because it’s hard to quantify and often hidden from management until it’s out of control, the buildup of technical debt on a project is sometimes even more dangerous to a company than money owed on a balance sheet. 

Delaying IT infrastructure upgrades to save money, not testing software thoroughly because of a tight deadline, blowing off doing a disaster recovery plan—these are common examples of shortcuts that build up technical debts that will always come back to bite you if not paid off at some point. 

There are other types of debt as well.    

Some of us (me) eat too much and build up an “exercise debt” that we must pay off at some point if we want to maintain a healthy weight.   Some work too much, building up a “sleep debt.” Others play too much and amass a “work debt.”    

These non-financial “soft” debts are more difficult to measure than what we traditionally think of as debt, but they have real costs nonetheless.  And just like money debt, if you’re not careful, you can spend all your time and resources paying the interest instead of paying down the principal. 

Proactively managing different types of debt is an often overlooked but critical skill that determines the long-term viability of every business.  Soft debts should be tracked and managed in much the same way that financial debts are. 

In tech, we call it a “backlog.”  It’s simply a list of any tech-related shortcuts, band-aids or items we skimp on because of deadline or budget constraints, along with estimates of how much work (debt) it will take us to fix them down the road.  Some technical debts are intentional – a conscious choice to save time or money. Others are accidental, discovered in the form of bugs.   

As the backlog list grows, the key is to treat each item as a debt owed, the same way you would as if you were making payments on a bank loan.   This involves planning your “savings” (in the form of time) so that you can eventually make your “payments” (in the form of future work).    We basically mark off time on our calendars for every project to pay off our backlog debts. 

Earlier this year we began to explore this simple backlog approach to managing other areas of debt in our company.   As expected, just like tech, the constraints of time and budget created a backlog in everything from HR to marketing.  Things like updating our employee handbook and standardizing our email signatures made it to our backlog.  And just like tech debt, we have marked our calendars for our end of year payments to clear out the backlogs. 

Thinking of debt as something that is beyond a purely a financial metric has changed the way we operate.  It’s forced us to justify any shortcuts we take company-wide, because we are now tracking them as real costs rather than forgotten to-do lists that will inevitably come back to haunt us. Sleep well. 

JJ Rosen is the founder of Atiba.  A Nashville IT consulting and custom software development firm.  Visit www.atiba.com or www.atibanetworkservices.com for more info. 

 

 

A Day in the Life of a Nashville Angular Developer

A Day in the Life of an Atiba Nashville Angular Developer

Sharing what we do Atiba so both clients and potential employees can see the behind the scenes of what’s it like being a coder in Nashville is part of our culture.  AngularJS / Angular coding along with ReactJS has been some of the main coding we have been working on for our clients the past few years.

Here’s a peak at a day the life of an Atiba Nashville Angular developer:

  • We did our stand-up meetings with clients and/or internal development teams first thing every morning at 8 am each day.
  • From there, I usually connect into Jira to look at the user stories I will be working on for the day
  • I started in Angular but now I have been focusing in Angular 2.x development.   I have 2 main projects I am working on.  One is working on the front-end of an intranet site and the other is for a large public website we developed and support called Guitars.com.
  • Lunch! We usually pickup lunch (we have a Microsoft Teams Channel we use to coordinate lunch plans.  Sometimes we all go out / depends on the day.
  • After lunch I either keep the Angular coding going — or depending on deadlines I will use some of my learning time that Atiba builds into the week to study new tech (currently working on learning PHP Laravel)
  • Wind down ~5 pm or so, some days stay later others done a bit sooner.

I have been working at Atiba for 7 years.  I started as a C# coder and still work on some .Net but have enjoyed mixing it up a bit!

Atiba has some of Nashville’s best front-end developers with a crew of JavaScript gurus doing Angular, React, JQuery and more.   Let us know if we can can ever help you with you project!

 

 

Drupal Basics from Nashville’s Drupal Developers

A quick Drupal overview from Nashville’s Drupal Developers…

Drupal is free software, written in PHP, which has a wide and active community of users and developers who collaborate together in its improvement and expansion. Drupal is designed to be the perfect content management solution for non-technical users who need both simplicity and flexibility. This is achieved with a modular approach to site construction.  Unlike other CMSs, Drupal is not a prefabricated toy truck, but rather a collection of wheels, windshields, axles, frames, etc., that a toy manufacturer can easily assemble.

Drupal can be described both as a content management system and as a content management environment: a unified system that strives to have the advantages of both, without its shortcomings. In this way, if someone is looking to create a news site, an online store, social networks, blog, wiki, or something totally different, it is all about finding the right combination of modules.

This extension is possible because it is a modular system with a very consistent architecture, which allows modules created by any developer to interact with the core of the system and modules created by other members of the community. With Drupal, it is possible to implement a wide variety of websites: a personal or professional blog, a corporate portal, a virtual store, a social network or virtual community, etc … Directed to those people, with technical training or not, who want to start in the creation of Web Portals with Drupal. It is also very useful for companies or professionals who want to create their professional or personal web portal without external dependencies.

Drupal is an open source program, with GNU / GPL license, written in PHP, developed and maintained by an active community of users. It stands out for the quality of its code and the pages generated the respect of web standards, and a special emphasis on the usability and consistency of the entire system. Online help: A robust online help system and help pages for the ‘core’ modules, both for users and administrators.

Open source: The Drupal source code is freely available under the terms of the GNU / GPL license. Unlike other systems of ‘blogs’ or proprietary content management, it is possible to extend or adapt Drupal according to the needs.

Modules: The Drupal community has contributed many modules that provide features such as ‘category page’, private messages, bookmarks, etc.

Personalization: A robust personalization environment is implemented in the core of Drupal. Both the content and the presentation can be individualized according to the preferences defined by the user.

Friendly URLs: Drupal uses the mod_rewrite of Apache to create URLs that are manageable by users and search engines

Five Key Attributes To Look For In A Custom Software Development Company

There are a variety of reasons people seek out a custom software solution for their business, and it is sometimes the biggest decision a business might make. The most common reason is that there is no software solution that solves the problem(s) they are trying to solve. It could be that there are software solutions, but they have poor functionality or just don’t fit exactly what they’re trying to do. It could be that there is a solution out there that is prohibitively expensive with many features the company would never use. If you find yourself starting on the journey to find a software development company, here are five thoughts to keep in mind as you get started.

1) Communication Is Key

Rare is a software development project that doesn’t require consultation and advice along the way. Look for a software development company that has been around a while and has the battle scars to prove it. And make sure they are good communicators so that if you request something they have tried in the past and found doesn’t work, they will not hesitate to communicate that experience to you. They should also be able to  recommend ways to solve your specific requirements. If you lay out your vision and come away thinking, “I have no idea what they are talking about, I guess I’ll just have to trust them,” you’re setting yourself up for possible trouble down the road.

2) Experience Counts

hands typing on a laptop keyboardIf you’re looking for a custom software solution, you’ve probably reached your last nerve trying to deal with all the available product that don’t quite solve your problem. That means you need software that will do exactly what it is you want it to do. This is where experience is an advantage for a software development firm. A company with leadership who have solved a variety of problems over the years bring institutional knowledge and wisdom to the table that greatly increase the chances that your new software will be successful. They don’t necessarily have to have already built exactly what you want for someone else, but they may have experience with some of the components and processes you are requesting. Plus, if they’ve been around, it shows that they’ve encountered plenty of problems and been able to come up with solutions.

3) Look For A Strong User Experience Development History

A user-friendly interface is vital to your new software’s success. The backend can function beautifully, but if users can’t figure out how to use it, the software is useless. Make sure the software development company you choose places an emphasis on user experience (UX), which includes rigorous quality assurance (QA) all along the development cycle.

4) They Have A Clear Support Policy

You’re getting a software solution that is being built from scratch, so you need to expect some bugs and quirks upon deployment. Make sure the company you choose gives you a clear picture of what support is included, and how much support that is not included is going to cost.

5) Check Their Work

A good indicator of future success is a rich history of past success. Take time to have them show you custom software development projects they’ve done in the past, explain the process and problems they went through, and, if possible, show you the end result. Not only is this an important step in your due diligence, it will give you peace of mind moving forward that your project is in the right hands.