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! :)
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.
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)
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!
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!
The clocks in Bologna show both Wow! Division time zones.
Some fun press clippings, and a recent addition: a taped up mission statement
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!)
There is a small but efficient kitchen with fridge, dishwasher and oven.
That little red espresso machine in the corner gets a true workout every day, and deserves its own shout out.
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.
First room (usually a dining room).
Second room (check out those windows!)
We also have a second office downstairs. We'll post more! :)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 faced and a warm greeting.
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.
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.
Val for the Balsamiq Team
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 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 email@example.com.
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com and @balsamiqLeon on Twitter.
Mike for the Balsamiq Team
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