Hello friends of Balsamiq!
It is my great pleasure to introduce to you Andrea Serra, the latest member of the Balsamiq family.
Andrea is a client-side developer who will be focussing on our myBalsamiq wireframe editor, at least at first. He's only been here for a couple of days, had never done any Flex development before, and he's already checking in new features for the next release. W00t! :)
Andrea has been working on software to power Formula 1 race cars and other fancy cars. I'm sure that is knowledge of embedded software and the particular issues it comes with - performance, low bandwidth communication channels, coding against a shifting API, etc. - will come useful to our company in the future as well.
Andrea will work out of our Bologna office and his email is email@example.com.
Please join us in welcoming Andrea by leaving a comment below.
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team
Hello friends of Balsamiq!
Another week, another piece of good news. No, two! :)
We hired a new team member to speed up our software development, and we partnered with a long term friend's company to improve our software quality.
Meet Michele Orsini
Michele is a senior developer and former colleague of Marco and Paolo. He endured our grueling 2-week-long interviewing process, and left us all majorly impressed. We ended up learning a lot from him during the interview process! :)
Rumor has it that you can throw any programming challenge at him, and he'll figure it out. He's been working with us for a week or so, and I can already see there's truth to those rumors! :)
Michele's initial focus will be fixing as many Mockups bugs as possible, but he's also going to implement new features and help us with our very ambitious future plans for Mockups.
Michele's email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
We partnered with BSN Design, LLC
If you have used our GetSatisfaction Forums, chances are you have already interacted with Ben Norris of BSN Design, LLC.
Ben has been a Community Champion for us for months, monitoring the forums and often beating us to give you the perfect answer.
He has also been accurately reporting bugs on current and pre-release features for a long time, for which we are so grateful.
We have decided to make our relationship more official, and have started a long-term partnership with Ben's company, BSN Design, LLC.
Ben is going to help us all by testing our features before they go out, and continue to monitor and report issues coming from our awesome community, to make sure we maintain the high quality you've come to expect from us.
Even if he's not a Balsamiq employee, we gave Ben a email@example.com email address so that he can better communicate with us and the community.
Please leave a comment below to help us welcome Michele and Ben to the extended Balsamiq family! :)
On the same day my 14-year old son was inspired by this video about how everybody–including kids-- should learn to code, I got an email from Bullis Charter School inviting me to meet a class of 13-year olds learning about Application Design. Co-teachers, Jessica Lura, Roxanne Lanzot and 25 kids completed the entire life cycle development for educational iPad apps. The curriculum included brainstorming, ideation, UX research, and wireframing with Balsamiq Mockups. They incorporated feedback, coded things up, and put on a Road Show at the Googleplex. They even found and reported a bug for us, resulting in this video response from Stefano! I can hear all my nerd-parent friends groaning with jealousy!
Photos by Doreen Shrivastava
Like most of us using technology to solve real problems, these kids started their app development process by looking for answers to their own (enchanting) problems:
- The school choir is open to 3rd-8th graders. How can we help the 3rd graders learn to read music faster?
- Some 5th graders have trouble mastering state history standards;
- What else was going on around the world at the same time as important historical events we're learning about?
- The kindergarten challenge of learning letters, numbers and colors;
- How to make time management fun so kids get to school on time.
After they mocked up their apps, they exported them to PDF, loaded them on iPads, and tested with younger kids during recess on the playground. So smart! I love it!
They incorporated feedback, prepared revisions, and coded in Corona SDK and Gimp to create working apps. The last piece of the week was the Dog & Pony show. A parent who works at Google arranged for a conference room, complete with free lunch! The kids were energized by the setting, and I was pleased to see such gracious corporate generosity.
The room was electric with excitement, families milling about beforehand. My favorite comment from a younger, 5th grade sibling was, "I can't wait til I'm in 8th grade so I can learn to make applications, too!"
The teams hit some of the same bumps adult teams do: they had differing ideas, and didn't always compromise easily. As I made my way around the room, I watched a demo by a lone student. When asked if the rest of his team was absent, he said, "No, I had a different idea of what I wanted an app to do. I asked my friends if they would be ok if I went off on my own to build something a little bit different, and they were fine with that. So I did." I remain impressed with his confident, matter-of-fact explanation. It gives me hope that peaceful conflict resolution is part of elementary education. Imagine the impact on future software development and feature innovation with this kind of thinking!
No demos are complete without technical difficulties, and these girls won the first (but not only) "Grace Under Fire" award for keeping their cool. They weren't rattled at all and gave a great preso.
Big thanks to the panel and volunteers who made this happen, including Chris Streeter, technical founder of Educreations (Their delightful motto is, "Teach what you know. Learn what you don't.") Laura Borns, founder of Cambridge Consultants LLC, UX agency, a real-life VC, and several hands-on coding fairies, dads who just want to share what they love with kids in their community.
Friends of Balsamiq, this is a completely repeatable formula. If you want to use Balsamiq Mockups to teach about UX and app design, please take a look at our free program details here.
If you are already using Balsamiq Mockups in a classroom, be sure you check out Leon's new "Creating your First Mockup" tutorial here.
Be well, do well. Mock well. :-)
Hello friends of Balsamiq!
It is with great pleasure that I can announce today that Balsamiq has entered a long-term partnership with Aramis B.V., a Dutch software development company owned by my long-time friend Stefano Masini.
Aramis is going to help us with our software development efforts, working on myBalsamiq, Mockups, as well as with some of our internal tools.
I am really excited about this partnership. I have known Stefano since our days at the University of Bologna, studying Computer Science together. We were lab partners quite often, and I have no shame in admitting that he was by far the better programmer. :)
When I moved back to Italy in 2008, I went to visit Stefano so that he could teach me some TDD, while I taught him a bit about Flex. We have been in touch ever since, following each other's professional careers and companies.
After much progress on both sides, which included him relocating to The Netherlands, I am very pleased to be able to work with him again.
Even if he's not a Balsamiq employee, we gave Stefano a firstname.lastname@example.org email address so that he can support the features he'll be developing.
Please join me in welcoming Stefano and Aramis B.V. into the extended Balsamiq family by leaving a comment below.
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team
It is my great pleasure to introduce to you Anna Mariotti, the latest addition to the Balsamiq family.
Anna's main job is to ensure that our growing Italian company runs smoothly.
She's going to work on purchasing, managing bills and paper records, prepare the monthly expense report for our italian accountants, handle city and local registrations and paperwork, work with our banks, insurance and payroll consultants, and lots and lots more.
In time, she's also going to take on some sales support for our European customers, processing orders, refunds, sales inquiries etc.
Anna is Italian but grew up in London, UK. She is super well organized and simply lovely to work with. :)
Having worked for different airlines in the past, she brings us a lot of experience in dealing with difficult situations…not that it's a common occurrence here at Balsamiq… :)
Anna is based in our Bologna office, and her email is email@example.com.
Please help us welcome Anna to the Balsamiq family by leaving a comment below.
Welcome to Balsamiq, Anna!
It's a great pleasure to introduce you all to Leon Barnard, the newest member of our team. We're excited to have Leon onboard to help move our UX and support teams forward.
We've known Leon from the very beginning of Balsamiq's history. He's among the awesome group of early adopters from the interaction design community. If you've used our products, you may have seen him in the GetSatisfaction forums over the years. He actually met Peldi to organize a meetup once in Prague years ago!
One of Leon's primary goals (at least in the near term) will be improving elements of the user experience—documentation, training, and community advocacy.
As we've grown, the need to keep pace with new features has increased. We want to make it easier for new users to learn the Mockups way of zen wireframing.
We want to help existing users learn how to make the most out of all of Mockups' advanced features when they want to, and we want to share the design principles that can help to make your work more awesome.
Leon is up to the task. He will play a big role in community management, working on several of our existing blogs, as well as some new resources we're planning to help users get better at design.
Leon brings expertise in working in Agile teams, and will fill needs in the area of user research, and product design. He also has front end development chops to contribute to moving our web sites forward.
Those of us who know and have met Leon feel like this is a win for team and community alike.
Leon will be based in Berkeley, California. Please help welcome Leon! He's firstname.lastname@example.org and @balsamiqLeon on Twitter.
Mike for the Balsamiq Team
When I was a growing up my parents paid me to read books they thought had value for my personal growth. I suspect the first was The Little Engine that Could, a sort of early introduction to positive thinking.
I can't remember the names of most of those books, but one did stick with me, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.
I remember telling some friends about it in high school or college, and their reaction was basically that it sounded a bit hokey and old-fashioned. After a few similar reactions, I eventually stopped trying to recommend what I found to be so useful. I added the book to the pile of other old-fashioned quirky things that I personally love, but others find a bit dusty. (My friends can confirm I have a rather big pile) :)
So it was with great delight that Peldi enthusiastically mentioned to me a few months back that there was an old book he had just learned about from the 1930's about working with people. "By Dale Carnegie?" I replied, smiling.
The fact is, the book is very old. And dated too. Even though there was a newer edition published in 1981, nearly all the stories are from the original version. So the examples are about companies and people few of us now know, and he uses some terms and slang that today are giggle-worthy. But the thing that is so amazing is it shows that more or less, people haven't really changed that much. The skills he talks about are rudimentary and timeless ways to communicate in a positive way with the humans (and the human nature) that surround us.
I can't say I've always upheld the values and techniques Dale Carnegie suggests - I've certainly had my share of failed interactions with people, either out of my own carelessness, stress, or inexperience - but more or less I've tried to keep improving how I interact with people in ways he's described. It's not always easy, but the positive outcomes I've seen, have given me encouragement to keep trying.
One memorable experiment was when I worked as a dresser at La Jolla Playhouse, a regional theatre in California. As a dresser, you have an awkward role from the start, as one of your major jobs is to help people take their clothes off, and put them back on again (often in a ridiculously quick way), but thrown on top of this is working under the pressure of a live performance, with a group of people (oh, dear, beloved actors) that are not always gentle and docile by nature. :)
It would have been easy to respond to irrational behavior, or anger misdirected at me, with sharp retorts, pointing out why they were wrong, or demanding an apology. But really, starting a battle when you work that closely with someone, in such a pressured situation, is going to net few results, except disaster. In the end, I wanted them to have a great performance, and I wanted to be able to do my job keeping the drama on the stage, not in the wings.
The best path? As much wisdom of human nature as my 22 year old self could gather. Here are the top 5 Principles from Dale Carnegie's golden list for this situation:
- Make the person feel important--and do it sincerely
- If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically
- Let the other person save face
- Be sympathetic to the other person's ideas and desires
*Perhaps the simplest, but wisest principle of all. :)
What usually happened after the 8 weeks I spent with people as their dresser? They were usually gentler and kinder in our interactions, and quite appreciative of me. We developed a rapport and a smooth and easy way of working with each other.
Though of course it doesn't always work successfully, over and over, I have found the way in which I choose to interact with people changes both of us.
At Balsamiq, the philosophy of Dale Carnegie fits us well. He doesn't teach you to be kind and helpful to people merely so that it gets you what you want. We aren't looking to trick anyone into buying something they don't need, feigning interest in their needs.
Our goal is to be genuinely kind and helpful to customers, not because it helps our bottom line, but because we value dealing with people in this way. The great mixed-up treasure of this is, having our customers' interests at heart, seems to result in a win for everyone.
We're not perfect, lest this blog post make you think we are customer service gurus. Though we're striving always to improve, we stumble too. But we hope by working on having patience, kindness, and thoughtfulness in our support of customers, we'll all make the world (and software too) a little better.
P.S. Peldi would like to express his gratitude to Amy Hoy for exposing him to the book during her excellent talk at Microconf 2012.
My suitcases are not yet unpacked because I have Balsamiq Jetlag Syndrome (BJS). Luis defines that as "A complication of ordinary jetlag, where the subject is kept awake by the steady stream of inspiration resulting from the intense interaction with other at-risk subjects during group events such as a yearly retreat. There is no known cure and surprisingly, BJS s known to affect subjects not having experienced any real ordinary jetlag. Luckily, BJS is circumscribed to a small group of individuals spread out between Italy, France, Germany and in the New York and Bay Areas of the United States as of June 2012."
Last week, we balsamici gathered on Long Island, NY to work together, reconnect, and plan Balsamiq 3.0. It appears from photos that we mostly ate, drank and laughed, but truth be told, when we get together, mostly we learn. In this blog post, I'll review our recent retreat, and share lessons we'll remember when planning for 2013 in Northern California. Maybe this will help you plan a retreat, too!
Mike lives in Brooklyn, so he served as our advance man, and Peldi, Natalie, Joy handled all the planning and contracts. Hats off!
Before the retreat
Have a designated planner/planning team. In a small company, things can easily become a group effort. Resist the temptation. This keeps surprises fresh and keeps business focused and humming.
Publish the date ASAP. It is a challenge to coordinate 10 calendars, and summers fill up quickly, so float dates as early in the year as possible. We start talking about things in January, to block the time. This helps us load-balance vacations, too, so some folks can come early or others stay late while we maintain pretty full coverage.
Make a retreat wiki page. (Restrict surprises to private pages!)
- Use it to brainstorm discussion topics, collect grocery requests.
- Post everybody's arrival and departure info, along with contact details. The Europeans got temporary US cell phones, so make sure you post those numbers, too. (When Luis' wife in Paris couldn't reach him on his French cell phone, she emailed email@example.com and got a response within the hour! That's service, huh Anne?)
- Give suggestions on what to pack. Mike brought some bluetooth speakers, US/Euro adapters, and I brought a ukulele, in case a sing along of YMCA broke out. (It did.)
- Invite input, comments, dietary considerations. Review suggestions from previous off-sites.
We prefer to rent a house over a hotel or conference center so we can cook together, comfortably break down into sub-teams, and stay up late/sleep in. We found a big house (we don't mind sharing rooms), and kept a grocery list on a wiki page so the first wave of arrivals could do a market run.
Plan to talk/Talk to plan. List subjects of discussions you hope to have. When you get to the retreat, add names of relevant folks. Anyone is welcome to listen in. Block out discussion time on the schedule, even if it's in the van on the way to a far-flung destination. We categorized them to help us track/plan and came up with: Seminars/lessons/training; Working sessions; Demos (iPad app by balsamiqMarco); Brainstorming/Design; Activities (like taking new team photos)
During the retreat
This time together is golden, our chance to teach and learn. Post a schedule where everyone can see. Provide downtime and respect solo online time.
The house wifi wasn't cutting it, and Peldi quickly bought a new wireless router the first morning we were there. Don't waste precious time limping along. If your required tech is feeble, fix it so it doesn't become a drag on creativity and mood.
Discover things together. Get out and see what's in the area. Feel the breeze on your face, the cool rain on your hair, walk around this new place. We felt safe, curious, excited, emotions we feel during the work day! We use this time to deepen our relationships (which are almost exclusively online, mostly in HipChat, sometimes in a Skype video chat, and very rarely, when one of us travels. (We have an office in Bologna, where Peldi, Marco, Paolo and Natalie often work, though they, too, regularly work remotely.
We took one day to visit the Big Apple, including our NY Office (AKA Mike's home). His family graciously hosted us for breakfast, and we saw in person what we had only ever seen on Skype. It was gratifying to finally see the natural habitat of a Designicorn! We ate like locals (Florian's first bagel) and were ready for our day in NYC.
Just like millions of other tourists, we visited the Empire State Building.
In the afternoon, we scored a VIP tour of FogCreek, where FogBugz is made. Thanks again for the gracious hospitality, Michael and Joel.
Have little fun surprises.
For about $40, Mike made temporary tattoos, but we also got some books to read/discuss, and each received a balsamiq-branded iPad. We love to do business with other companies our size, so Peldi ordered us each some of his favorite hot sauce made by a family-run business in Portland.
Cook together. We work well together, and it's obvious by the way our meals are one part Stone Soup, one part Cooperation, one part Planned and one part Random. The kitchen is where we live our values, and during meal prep, we talked recycling, composting, food ethics, hunger, waste all while making some delicious meals. Non-work is key in developing and maintaining our friendships. These were some of our favorite times. Make sure you rotate the clean up duties, too.
Florian's morning rolls, Kyle's bacon-grease scrambled eggs, Paolo's barbecue, lobster. So freakin' good.
Stay flexible. We booked an afternoon kayak trip, but when it starting raining, some of us decided to pack it in, do some relaxing yoga on the beach while the others kayaked back to the rendez-vous spot. Both groups were happy because we were allowed to pivot, to change the plans to suit our wants.
Break out. It's great to be able to finally have teams together to work through processes in real time.
Share pictures! We brought an external hard drive, and on the last night, we passed it around for everyone to load their photos and videos. After everyone had uploaded, we passed it around again to download the entire collection. Last year, we gave out Balsamiq-branded jump drives, but that turned into a time-consuming duplication project. We believe in a Self-Serve model, so the effort was distributed and everyone left with the pictures they wanted.
After the retreat
The time always goes too fast. We always learn more about each other than we expected (like how TALL Florian is!), and make great progress on our work, our apps, and our company. We also learn what we'd do differently next time:
Get books to attendees in advance. Peldi gave great books, but next year, we'll distribute them a few months in advance, to give us time to read them, and schedule a dinnertime discussion.
More work. We didn't want less fun, but we did want more time to work.
Repeat! We're considering doing small-group offsites more often, maybe including families every 5th Retreat, and continuing to rotate locations. (Next is the Bay Area, but after that, France? Germany? Back to Italy?)
I hope you've enjoyed reading about our annual retreat and can see the value of spending time and money to get together. Companies like ours are becoming more and more common, so if you've held retreats and learned lessons to share, please comment! Our community is one of the strongest aspects of Balsamiq, and we love to hear how you keep your distributed teams connected and in sync.
Be well, do well. Mock well. :-)
Valerie for the Balsamiq Team
Hello friends of Balsamiq!
It is my great pleasure to introduce to you the newest member of the Balsamiq family: Florian Brauer!
We first met Florian in July last year, whene he posted quite a few detailed and accurate bug reports on our GetSatisfaction forums (here are some examples).
Almost right away, Florian started answering other people's questions there before we could even get to them. We were so pleased with his help that we sent him a limited edition Life's too short for bad software! T-Shirt! :)
Then, at the end of September, while we were looking for Kyle, Florian wrote me:
I must admit your software is amazing. I would say I fell in love with the way your software is designed and how you support your customers. And when you fall in love with something you want to be part of it.
The way I could help so far was only via the support forum. But this does not seem to satisfy me. I would like to help in more ways.
I know you are looking for a DevOps in California. I would apply for this job if I would fulfil the requirements you have. I am no system admin or product manager (yet). This might be due to the fact that I will finish my studies in computer science in the next two months.
I got the idea of a trainee programme in my mind. Since I have not found an equivalent translation for it will write a few words about it.
The idea of a trainee programme is to allow people who have finished their education to learn more in a wide field on a certain topic. Often companies require skills other than those that the person might have learned so far. In a programme, which normally takes between 12 and 18 months, the person acquires these skills. At the end of the time he/she should be able to use the new skills.
Trainees would receive a lower salary than their peers to reflect the fact that they are learning.
I would love to work for / with you in such a trainee programme. I attach my CV.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Because of its timing and of all the respect Florian had already earned from us over the summer, I couldn't have been happier to receive such an email, and jumped at the opportunity.
Florian has been working full-time for us as an external contractor since the beginning of November.
In the last five months, he has helped us tremendously in our effort to pay back the technical debt that we had accumulated since we launched in 2008: he has devised ways to automate the testing of our Mockups editor (which is written in Flash, a notoriously hard technology to test programmatically), and has already written over 500 unit and integration tests. He's caught some bugs, and even fixed some himself. All with minimal supervision.
In short, he's a machine. A German-engineered machine. :)
Florian starts today. His job title (not that we care much about job titles) is "developer in testing", and his focus will continue to be writing and maintaining our testing harnesses, helping the devs write unit, integration and scenario tests, and answering your questions in GetSatisfaction and via Desk.com while Lou and Mike are sleeping in the US.
Florian is based in Bremen, Germany. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and his Twitter handle is @balsamiqFlo.
We updated the company page with Florian's bio and added a very northern pin to the employees map.
We all look forward to meeting Florian in person at our next retreat in NYC in June.
Please join us in welcoming Florian to the Balsamiq family! :)
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team
This post is part of a series about our VERY FEW company policies. Read this intro post for some context.
While we're not quite big enough yet to sponsor NOVA or Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me!, we're still committed to trying to be good citizens. :)
We've been giving out software since day one to "do-gooders" and have made some other donations along the way, but this year during out retreat, we met to discuss how we could more fully meet our commitment in our manifesto.
After a lively and wonderful discussion, we developed a little donation policy, below.
It's not quite perfect yet: we'd love to be able to have the hours in the day to make donations to many more organizations, and of course giving MORE money will be awesome. And Marco's dream for the entire team spread out in three countries being involved on the same project, giving our time as well as money? Hopefully we'll get there someday! ;)
For now our goals reached are:
- Make donations in an amount that should have a significant impact on an organization.
- Make donations personal, so that the choices represent the unique make up of the cares and concerns of our little Balsamiq family.
Here's our current donation policy:
Each year, every full-time employee can chose one non-profit organization for the company
to make a contribution. The amount of the contribution will be 2% percent of the prior year
profits divided by the number of full-time employees.
That 2% might not seem much, but it resulted in 9 donations of roughly $3,000 each this year, and it will be bigger in 2012.
And what fun it has been for Joy and I as the Balsamiq bean counters to curate this process! It has been a pleasure for me to see each choice made by my fellow team member. It has been an honor to be able to help make the donations, and helps us feel closer to our colleagues spread around the globe.
Here are the organizations we donated to this year, with a quick message from each of us:
Joy - 7th Grade class, Sacramento, CA
I decided to pick my daughters class. The money will be used so that all the kids can go on all the field trips together even if their parents can't afford to contribute to the class fund.
Louanne - The Pet Rescue Center, Mission Viejo, CA
I recently moved to Southern California with my two elderly Maine Coon cats. I knew there would come a time soon when I would need a competent, kind and gentle vet to help help me care for my dear, sweet Sune. Sune and I arrived at the exact right place at the exact right time. As a way of thanking the staff at the Alicia Pet Care Center, I made my donation to The Pet Rescue Center they run.
Luis - ARAA, Rueil, France
ARAA is a non-profit that helps pets, mainly stray cats, by feeding them, sterlizing them and helping them to find a home. I learned about ARAA one day when we first had our dog Zoé, and looking for someone reliable who could keep her while we were in the US on vacation. I saw how devoted they are to their cause and I wanted to reach out and say thanks.
Marco - CEFA, Bologna, Italy
I chose an organization here in Bologna that does development work in nations around the globe.
Mike - Nature Conservancy, Plant a Billion Trees, Arlington, VA
This year I let my son pick the beneficiary for my donation, and he chose The Nature Conservancy. Since the end of the summer he has been trying to get the word out about their Plant a Billion Trees drive, whose goal is to plant a billion trees in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. We have hopes that this donation helps reach that goal.
Natalie - California 4-H Foundation, Merced County, CA
4-H has made a huge impact on me and many members of my family. My uncle is about to retire after running the program in Merced County for decades. He has particularly spearheaded curricula in science and technology, so I thought this was the perfect mix for Balsamiq and me. The donation will go towards scholarships for low-income 4-H members in his county.
Paolo - CBM, Italy
My wife and I have always had sight problems since we were kids, and my father also had eye surgery last year. We decided to donate to this organization that helps to prevent and cure blindness in young people all over the world.
Peldi - UNICEF, Italy
After much deliberation I decided to donate to UNICEF this year after listening to the head of the UNICEF Bologna chapter talk about the various programs they are working on. Although it's a big organization, I feel that a large enough part of my donation is going towards helping children in need around the world.
Val - Peninsula Temple Sholom, Burlingame, CA
Last year, my daughter asked if a friend could come home with her after school, and maybe spend the night. She had lost her home that weekend. Her dad was scrambling for a place. She ended up staying with us for a few weeks, and my family was the first Jewish family she had ever met. A few weeks later, I was at our Temple one evening when they were providing emergency shelter to homeless families, and I found she was there, with her dad. The Temple does so many good things for so many people, Jewish or not. I am proud to be associated with them.
Happy New Year everyone!
Natalie for the Balsamiq team
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