Admin Engineers

About a year and a half ago, we started experimenting with a company structured around project-based work. I remember Peldi asking me what I thought we should name the project for the more operational things he, Anna, Joy, and I work on. When I suggested simply Admin & Finance would be fine, I realized he had been worried I might be offended in some way to be labeled as doing administrative work. He knows the value and importance of the work we were doing, without a doubt.

But on thinking about it some, I realized he's right. There is often some sort of preconceived notion that admin and accounting departments are, well, the unglamorous, uncreative, and perhaps less important areas of a company.

Bored SecretaryMaybe it's some old notion of the secretary pool, typing away at mundane and repetitive work? A left over comedic archetype of the 1950's stenographer? (By the way, I think we all know in our hearts that secretaries --though hardly ever called that any more-- often are the ones really keep the show running).

Or maybe it's the classic image of bad middle management that "administrates" by pushing paper around, not only being unhelpful to the innovation of the team, but often even stifling it?

Sure, the entry-level, pretty-darn-replaceable admin jobs exist. Sure, there are those paper pushing useless administrators around, but I'd like to give a little shout out to the awesome admin and finance folks out there, that are making and creating in fantastic ways.

It came up again for me recently as I was listening to a story on Marketplace. The author Andrew Yang was being interviewed about his new book Smart People Should Build Things and how he believes we need to encourage our top students not to go get "good," safe, well paying jobs, but instead to be the creators, builders, and risk takers.

I haven't read Yang's book, but what stuck out to me as I listened was he wasn't talking just about those we typically think of when we think of innovators and inventors: "Yang says there's a misconception that start-ups only need coders and engineers. 'Early stage companies need talented salespeople, customer support, management, operations, marketing, administration. They need talented people at every part of the organization, in a variety of roles.' "

I'm fortunate enough to work with folks who appreciate what I do. But that's not always the case. And in fact, some times I don't even appreciate what I do. I didn't study anything related to what I am doing now. I sort of fell into it over time, and something about that makes it seem invalid (i.e. If what I was doing required me having a specific degree, then it would be important.)

Supporting the companyBut I want to encourage those folks working in admin, accounting, human resources, and business operations, to not fall into the trap of seeing what you are doing as just boring work that sustains others who are doing the real creating.

What we do can be a craft. It can be creating something new: improving relationships, systems, and flow for the company.

And for all those programmers and coders out there, help your co-workers recognize that they are administrative engineers, with the ability to create, to be discoverers of solutions, and inventors of new ways of doing things.

Our good old friend Wikipedia says "Engineers design materials, structures, and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality, regulation, safety, and cost."

We may not be using code to analyze, design, and create, but let's challenge ourselves to remember we can be builders and problem solvers using things such as words and numbers, facilities and logistics, bookkeeping systems and customer records, people and relationships.

Don't let your admin title fool you; we can be makers too.

Group working together

Natalie

Looking back at 2013

Hello friends of Balsamiq! As 2013 comes to an end, it's time to revive an old tradition (2008, 2009) and look back at all that we have achieved this year.

TL;DR: We continue to truck along nicely, growing organically. We are now 5 years old, employ 16 people, revenue is over $6M, profit margins are around 30%. In 2013 we focused on laying the foundations for future growth and started to work on the next generation of Mockups.


Once again, this was a transformative year for our little company. The main difference is how big we are. We added 6 new people to the extended Balsamiq family. In order to do so, we had to spend a considerable amount of resources codifying "how we work" in our ever-growing company handbook, as well as change offices in Bologna and even rent the office below our new office in order to make room for all the new hires.

The other thing that might be interesting to notice is that more than half of what we did in 2013 was not directly customer facing. That's a very high percentage, which I'm sure will be much lower in 2014. I don't feel bad about it, it's just part of the natural ebb and flow of our company's journey. Just like in product development we alternate releases focused on features with ones focused on bug fixing, so does our company's focus alternate between product/growth and making sure our company is solid enough to withstand future growth.

This post is meant to show you a bit of what's under the hood, so that you know what we've been up to and can get a sense of what it's like to run a company like ours.

Alright, let's dive in!

First up, let's talk about our products.

We did 8 official releases this year: Jan 19, Feb 28, Apr 16, May 21, Jul 9, Sep 25, Oct 24 and Dec 13 - releasing about once a month seems to be a pretty good pace for us these days.
We also had to ship 5 hotfixes this year: Jan 28, Mar 8, Jul 16, Oct 24, Dec 20 - mostly to fix small regressions...but still, I hope we'll be able to lower this number in 2014.

New Features in all versions of Mockups

For a year not really focused on product development, we ended up doing quite a bit! :)

Take a look, click on each link to see the relative release announcement:

Improvements specific to Mockups for Desktop

Improvements specific to myBalsamiq

Improvements specific to mockups-web

Mockups-web is our internal name for the Flex editor that runs our web demo as well as all the plugin versions.

In 2013 we focused on bringing our plugin codebases closer to each other (less code = less maintenance!), by having all plugins (and myBalsamiq!) share CSS and JS wrapper files, which resulted in more consistent keyboard shortcut support across our versions, and more.

We also made a lot of progress in merging the mockups-web and myBalsamiq Flex editor code-bases. Once again, less code means less bugs and a more consistent UX across products, both of which are awesome. This HUGE but mostly-behind-the-scenes work should be completed in early 2014.

Improvements specific to Mockups for Google Drive

Mockups for Google Drive wins our most improved in 2013 award. It went from being a little experiment full of bugs and with high churn into a well-loved, very advanced, fast-growing product.

Mockups for Confluence and JIRA

Mockups for FogBugz and XWiki and new Integration Strategy

As part of our efforts to STREAMLINE ALL THE THINGS!, in November we said goodbye to Mockups for FogBugz and Mockups for XWiki.

We plan on integrating with these tools again (and many more) in 2014, by offering a few simple myBalsamiq APIs. This new integration strategy is a lot easier for us to maintain than writing our own plugins, and will result in more, cheaper, faster and more powerful integrations, all at once!

Mockups 3.0: native and project-centric!

Speaking of future stuff, this might be a good time to mention the other BIG project we've been working on for most of 2013. We are moving off of Flash, and plan on releasing native versions of the Mockups editor on HTML, Windows, OSX, Linux, iPad and Android. In order to continue sharing 80%+ of our code between all versions, we are writing a core set of libraries in Javascript, and running them either natively or in a JSVM (like Spidermonkey) inside native shells. It's a HUGE effort, but it's super-exciting and coming along nicely already.

The first part of this next-gen version of Mockups, a native BMML viewer for different platforms, will come out in early 2014. Building the different native editors will be our main development focus for 2014.

We have also been thinking about the UX of the Mockups editor, and have a lot of exciting updates in the pipeline. The focus is to make projects (i.e. collection of mockups) first class citizens of our app (all versions), simplify the UX of using Symbols, and a lot more...too much for this post, but know that we'll bring some of these improvements to the Flex-based editor first, and soon! :)

Next up...

Testing!

Our love for automated testing has been growing steadily, as has the amount of our code covered by our automated unit, integration and functional tests.

The focus in 2013 was still to have our tests catch up with our code, and that effort is pretty much complete. Now we just write tests for the new features as they come in, as well as add any tests that are necessary to prevent regressions from happening again.

We now have more, faster and more reliable tests. More of our developers write tests first, and we run more and more tests on our build machine after each build, as it should be.

We are expanding our load, performance and penetration tests and expect to do a lot more in this area in 2014. It'll be exciting!

Operations!

Ops is another one of those totally-behind-the-scenes but vitally important parts of what we do.

We re-did how we do myBalsamiq builds to make for faster and safer zero-downtime updates (in short, we now generate AWS AMIs directly instead of WARs). We reserved a bunch of AWS instances, which will lower our Amazon monthly bill quite a bit (now around $4k/month).

We changed how we build our websites, from WordPress to a rock-solid HTML/CSS/JS (jQuery) + Hammer + Github + Jenkins + S3 workflow. We also moved our website's assets to a dedicated media.balsamiq.com S3 bucket.

We moved all of our code from our own Bazaar server to github.com, and are totally loving it. We also open-sourced a few repos while we were at it.

We now have per-branch online staging areas for our products and website, and on-deck areas for testing the final bits before they go live.

We switched from Eclipse + Flash Builder to IntelliJ IDEA as our only IDE, and are very happy about it.

We bought and installed new SSL and code-signing certificates, and even set up fancy DNS redirects for the many balsamiq.* domains we own.

We are very happy with our uptime report. Here it is straight from Pingdom:

pingdom

Next up, let's talk about our websites!

Updates to our Websites

Another behind-the-scenes project that made a huge jump forward for us this year is what we affectionally call...

...Olio!

Olio is an internal web-app that makes our company's engine run smoothly. It's a custom CRM + license manager + sales support help desk solution.

We debated buying vs building for a while, and after evaluating a lot of tools we decided to build our own home-grown solution. We are VERY happy with it: our customer database now has over 160,000 transaction, with about 4,000 more getting added each month. Because Olio takes care of managing keys, sending keys to those who lost them, generating estimates and invoices, sending automated maintenance reminders, making sending free licenses a two-click operation and more, we are able to serve a big global customer base with what totals to only two full-time sales-support people.

This year Olio became super-powerful: we started by making it generate estimates and invoices, then we made it send automated maintenance reminder emails, we integrated it with Stripe, generate all the reports our accountants need from us and even made it manage exchanges and refunds.

Starting in January, our accounting work will be MUCH easier than it's ever been, making us even more efficient. We are also working on replacing the current Buy page and shopping cart experience with an Olio+React-powered client-side, single-page, super-usable shopping cart application.

In case you're wondering, Olio is not for sale...we're keeping it as a little competitive advantage, at least for now. ;)

The rest of what's on the list are things that are pretty much invisible from the outside world, but that are just as important as product features! Without a solid company behind it, even the best product is nothing but a proof-of-concept. :)

Admin, Finance and More

Speaking of solid company: there's A LOT that goes into making a micro-multinational run smoothly.

Here are a few examples, in random order: we updated our local LLC business registrations, we "got out" of NYC (Mike moved to California so we no longer need to pay NY-state sales tax). We bought furniture for our office in Bologna and rented and furnished a new office right under it. We hired 6 people and let go of 1, which entails quite a bit of paperwork, and training! We invested some of our reserve cash, switched 401k provider, updated our PCI compliance applications, as well as the Transfer Pricing documents we submit to the IRS and the Italian tax agency each year. We catalogued our fixed assets, took mandated safety and first-aid courses and started a quarterly review of many financial metrics. We established proper contracts with our external collaborators, and dealt with Natalie relocating from Italy to California.

We organized and ran an awesome company retreat in San Francisco during which we celebrated our 5th birthday and also had 3 other mini-retreats during the year: a developer one in the Marche region in Italy, a sales-and-admin one in Bologna and a UX-and-Docs one in San Francisco.

We politely turned away 29 emails from VC-types, answered 9,719 sales-related emails and 2,536 tech-support related ones (on top of the hundreds of GetSatisfaction forum threads). We also donated more than 2,000 free licenses this year.

Handbook + Kaizen

Our internal handbook got a lot of attention this year. We started using the term Kaizen - an old term to explain how we move forward in small, continuous improvements.

We started a monthly "Balsamiq Kaizen" meeting in which we discuss and review handbook pages together.

Here are a some of the pages that either were created or received major updates in 2013:

  • Company Equity & Ownership
  • Contingency Plans
  • Don't Create Work: The Curse of Maintenance
  • Fighting Fires
  • How we split Work
  • Dealing with Really Angry People
  • How we do GetSatisfaction
  • Sharing Updates with the Community
  • Raffles
  • Hiring Forms for California Employees
  • Salaries and Benefits for Multinationals
  • Budgets
  • Donations
  • Gift Policy
  • SWAG Gifts
  • Time off to Exercise
  • Office, Home Offices, Co-Working Spaces
  • Professional Development
  • Working Hours
  • Recurring Internal Meetings Etc
  • Sponsorships
  • Buddy System
  • External Collaborators
  • the sales support bible received a HUGE update
  • and many others...

If you're interested in knowing more about any of these policies, let me know in the comments and I'll be happy to write about it.

We started a monthly "Balsamiq Media Club" meeting - we all watch or read the same thing and then we get together on Google Hangout to chat about it, as a bonding experience - and a monthly "UX Club" meeting, where we discuss and teach each other about UX-related topics. We favorited hundreds of customer twestimonials, bookmarked hundreds of press mentions, ran lots of raffles and sponsored a ton of events, organizations and websites.

We experimented with live chat support on our website, and decided we weren't ready to offer it yet. We worked on Mockups for iPad quite a bit, then decided to put it back in the icebox until the shared code-base was ready to power it (but we did nail down the UX, which is awesome).

As a company, it felt like we went from version 2.0, to 2.5, to 3.0 and we're quickly getting to 3.5 (I'll explain more in a separate blog post).

Last but not least...

Conferences and Interviews

We attended the following conferences (* means we spoke):

We were interviewed 5 times:

Looking ahead

We are SUPER excited about 2014. We have a rock solid team and company, we work very well together and love doing so, we're under very little competitive pressure, and a lot of the seeds we've been planting will finally bear fruit.

As always, things will take longer than expected, there will be ups and there will be downs, and we'll learn A TON in the process. Bring it on, we're ready! :)

We hope you'll want to come along for the ride.

Here's a question for you: after reading all of the above, what do you think we should do differently? What should we do better? Be blunt, make it hurt, we need it! :)

Thanks for reading this super-long post, and for helping us get to this point.

We hope 2014 brings you and your families health, happiness and success.

Onward!
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

Sketching the 2013 Retreat

· Posted by Ben in Company, Fun · 1 Comment
Balsamiq Retreat 2013
Our house
Our home for the week

Hi all! Ben here again. As Val already posted, last summer we had our annual company retreat. This was my first opportunity to attend, and it was such a wonderful event. When we work remotely, having that intense week to get to know each other on a deep, personal level makes all the difference in the world.

One of my personal passions is sketchnoting - I posted a few in my first-ever Balsamiq blog post. If you have no idea what that means, it is a form of note taking that combines simple visuals with stylized text to create notes that are fun both to create and to review. Mike Rohde, the man who coined the term "sketchnotes", has written a great book explaining some of the basics that you can check out: The Sketchnote Handbook. As part of our retreat, I did an impromptu session teaching everyone about sketchnotes and how to get started. After we got home, I thought it would be a fun way to capture our experiences.

I deliberated whether or not to post the sketchnotes in our blog, because they were made primarily for those of us who were there. Without having had those experiences, they will mean less to you looking at them later. But we decided they would still be a fun way to share some of the activities we were able to do while we there, so hopefully you enjoy them!


The first day was a lot of this

The only person from Balsamiq that I had met before this retreat was Mike, so I was a little nervous about how I would fit in with everyone, and how well we would be able to get to know each in such a short time. However, it was wonderfully surprising how at-home I felt immediately with everyone. We had all interacted virtually for a while, so we weren't total strangers. I had no idea what to expect living in the same house for a week with a group of people I hand't even met, but it was just like a vacation with family and friends, although we did some work too! :)

Food Trucks
This was amazing food!

One new experience for me was eating at food trucks. I had a job in construction long ago, and there was a greasy bucket of bolts that would pull in every day, and we could buy lunch from there if we hadn't planned ahead. You were never sure how long you would survive after eating that food, so it was a bit of an adventure. When I heard that we were eating at food trucks, that was the image that immediately came to mind. Luckily for me, this was a totally different class of food trucks.

San Francisco City

A highlight of the last full day was getting to meet all the local families. Everyone came together for a tour through San Francisco and lunch in beautiful Alamo Square Park. We could see the whole city over the top of the famous Painted Ladies. It was the perfect way to wrap up our week together.


Saying goodbye was not easy

After a blindingly fast week, it was time to head our separate ways. We left armed with new inside jokes, renewed enthusiasm, and fast friendships. I can hardly wait until we get to see each other again next year!

Here is the complete set of sketchnotes. Enjoy!

(Click to enlarge; ← and → to move through the images)
Sketchnotes from Balsamiq Retreat (1)Sketchnotes from Balsamiq Retreat (2)Sketchnotes from Balsamiq Retreat (3)

Sketchnoting has been a fun way for me to capture and share experiences. How do you share meaningful experiences you've had with your company? Let us know in the comments!

An office with a View

IMG_3395

It's been a wild 3 years since my last blog post about our office in Bologna. Since then, we've grown to 16 friendly faces, a whopping 8 in Bologna alone! (If you're keeping track, we are in Bay Area, France, Germany, Holland and Utah.) So, while it was super sad to say goodbye to our office mates, we moved the magic to a new location in Bologna last year. Last week, Joy and I went to visit Natalie and Anna for our first-ever Wow! Division Sales Offsite.

I took these pictures to show the rest of the team, and thought I'd share them with you, too. Enjoy!

IMG_3379

The clocks in Bologna show both Wow! Division time zones.

IMG_3381

Some fun press clippings, and a recent addition: a taped up mission statement

IMG_3382

Currently, Sax and Andrea are next to the window/deck/view, and Peldi uses a standing set up. (Perhaps so he can see right over Sax's head. The view is really sweet, directly facing the famous Towers!)

IMG_3384

There is a small but efficient kitchen with fridge, dishwasher and oven.

IMG_3385

That little red espresso machine in the corner gets a true workout every day, and deserves its own shout out.

IMG_3386

This door connects the "office space" from the back area, containing 2 rooms (perfect for overnight guests or meeting space), storage space, and two bathrooms, complete with shower/tub. In my wildest dreams I didn't think we could score anything so perfect. Great work, BO team.

IMG_3387

First room (usually a dining room).

IMG_3388

Second room (check out those windows!)

We also have a second office downstairs. We'll post more! :)

Happy 5th Birthday, dear Balsamiq!

01cupcakes

With the SuperMoon shining upon us, the friends who make up Balsamiq met in San Francisco to celebrate our company's 5th birthday. Our team is scattered around Europe and the States, so being together is rare and deliberate. Our goal is to ensure that our friendships are based on more than just Mockups. We get together to make sure we still believe every word of our Manifesto.

Planning a retreat for 16 (including a startling 7 first-timers whom most of us had never met) takes a caring advance team, some boots on the ground, and lots of detail-wrangling. Led by Joy, a team of 5 of us put together a full-to-bursting but balanced schedule that represented the interests and values of our company. We picked some activities that were work-related, community-based, and sometimes just straight-up fun.

02schedule

Lessons from our 2013 Retreat

Start with a "Day Zero" to give travelers a soft landing.

Because of the distance between us, one group or another will show up at a Retreat with jet lag, regardless of where we meet. This year, to give travelers a soft landing, we organized Day 0. I met the four flights at SFO on Saturday, and brought the gang to the Peninsula to soak up some Vitamin D along the San Francisco Bay, and enjoy a casual dinner. Our friend Roberta prepared up a Mexican feast, and we spent the evening getting to know the new balsamici and laughing with friends.

Build on Themes

The week was punctuated with group activities, presentations and field trips focused on themes.

Identity/Awareness: we walked to the San Francisco Zen Center to learn about the practice of managing stress through meditation. This sounded like it would be especially helpful for customer-facing jobs (like Sales, and Tech Support), but it was actually a very powerful experience for our group. Interestingly, during the remainder of the week, I noticed people repeat the final lines of the Loving Kindness Meditation, applying the lesson in a wide variety of situations. When I answer an incoming phone call, or write a complicated email, my little mantra is:

May he have what he needs and is best for him.
May he be happy. May I be happy. May all beings be happy.

To help us continue to get acquainted, Leon took us across the road into Golden Gate Park, to play some ice-breaker/improv games.

07improv

After dinner, we each delivered a 5 minute talk about our personal Heroes, to define our values and identify what inspires us.

Team/Communication: this was the nuts & bolts stuff: vision and roadmap, goals of internal processes, Olio - our home-grown record-keeping and License tracking tool - and more. A particularly successful event was a discussion about Communication led by Natalie, using partner dancing as a metaphor. That night, we took Group Swing Dance lessons. That's right. We took a bunch of software engineers to an old-fashioned dance club and we had a blast. Shut the place down. Surprise!

05dancing

Ben led an outstanding session on Sketchnotes, a terribly creative and different way to take notes. Stay tuned here for a blog post about it, and check out the darling rollovers he did for our company page. Those are also featured on the T-Shirt we gave to Peldi at our birthday party.

03peldi

Community: because it was important for us that our San Francisco Retreat include some form of volunteerism, we spent an afternoon packing pasta at the San Francisco Food Bank. In a remarkable, small-town surprise, we ran into a group from Adobe there, including some former Macromedia friends! Another good lesson: if you want good people, hire on compassion and empathy.

08foodbank

Think Globally. Act Neighborly.

Make outings count! Fun + good for the soul = memorable. A week flies, so we kept all our activities in The City. We walked a lot, allowing us to transition easily through diverse events and offering opportunities for small groups to have side-conversations during each walk.

13bacon

14bowling

We thrive in Close Quarters

We rented an old Victorian split into two separate units, in the historic and personality-plus Haight-Ashbury. Maybe because we all loved summer camp, or maybe because we don't get to work together all year long, but we love living in the same house. We are just not hotel-people and we wouldn't know what to do with a conference center. We love casual, shared space, and a large group provides lots of opportunity for side conversations. Of course, when welcoming everyone to the Retreat, Peldi reminded us that we were free to duck out anytime, for privacy or just to get a break. The house worked out perfectly, even if it was a tad snug.

09work

Allow for mini-breaks and the chance to create some inside jokes. Make sure you have a room that is big enough for everyone to be in at one time. We were about 60 sq ft short, but we made it work.

We built in time to relax in the park.

04fencing

Don't forget sight-seeing. It's important the out-of-towners aren't distracted or feel like they are missing out on what the location has to offer!

11baybridge

It was great to have everybody in San Francisco, since that's where it all started, when Balsamiq was just Peldi. Peldi toured around the young whippersnappers through his old old neighborhood, where it all began.

06hoods

In another old-timey scene, a passing car rolled down the window, honked the horn, and shouted, "Hi Peldi!" as our mob ambled down the street. Nothing makes you feel more at home than running into a friendly face and a warm greeting.

10wall

Celebrate!

On Wednesday, June 19, we celebrated Balsamiq's FIFTH BIRTHDAY! Thanks to everybody who came out to celebrate with us. It was great to see so many old friends and happy faces. It really warmed our hearts. Our team, like any other, thrives on the electricity of real, healthy, face-to-face friendships. During our Retreat, we recharge the batteries on our team that will augment and sustain these two-dimensional on-line relationships.

It's almost scientific how a Retreat completes the circuit, generating between colleagues a deeper reservoir of understanding and patience, that we then slowly discharge over several months. We are nourished by the collective experience. At our Retreat, we work, think, eat, and play together, to recalibrate the vibes, adjust the tension, and synchronize the cadence to keep our company running at a sustainable clip. We've already started to plan next year's Retreat. We end each Retreat looking forward to the next time we can be together.

15bowlingshirt

We'd love to hear how you keep a distributed team close and emotionally connected. Please feel free to share your challenges and experiences in the comments.

12goldengate

Val for the Balsamiq Team

Salvatore Cammarata joins Balsamiq!

· Posted by peldi in Company · 1 Comment

Hello friends of Balsamiq!

Our little team is growing again! This time I'd like you to join me in welcoming my good friend and old college buddy Salvatore 'Sax' Cammarata to the Balsamiq family.

sax-600

Sax will take on the big and difficult job of making our plugin strategy move forward and grow, both by maintaining our current plugins and by developing new ones. We also have a long list of companies that want to integrate Balsamiq with their tools, and have some pretty exciting plans to make that possible in a scalable way.

I've known Sax since we were computer-lab mates in college. I remember us spending many long hours working on a Turbo Pascal compiler written in Objective-Camel. The project was extremely painful, but mostly thanks to Sax's skills and perseverance, we delivered it on time. It turns out that were the only team to be able to deliver it at all, so the professor had to change final assignment to something easier for the rest of the class. :)

I am excited and looking forward to working with Sax again. He will be based out of our Bologna office.
Please welcome him with a comment below, or email him at sax@balsamiq.com.

Onward!
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

Andrea Serra joins Balsamiq!

· Posted by peldi in Company · 4 Comments

Hello friends of Balsamiq!

It is my great pleasure to introduce to you Andrea Serra, the latest member of the Balsamiq family.

andrea_for_blog

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 his 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 andrea@balsamiq.com.

Please join us in welcoming Andrea by leaving a comment below.

Onward!
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

Meet Michele and Ben!

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_600

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 michele@balsamiq.com.

We partnered with BSN Design, LLC

ben_600

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 ben@balsamiq.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! :)

Onward!

App Design with 8th Graders

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.

girls

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. :-)

Val

Balsamiq partners with Aramis B.V.

· Posted by peldi in Company · 3 Comments

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. :)

stefano

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 stefano@balsamiq.com 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.

Onward!
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team


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