Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Know your hammer from your screwdriver: The right tool for the job

As software developers, we at Naked Element, are skilled and experienced in a number of different programming languages and aware of many, many more. Choosing the right programming language for a piece of software is as important as choosing a hammer to knock in a nail, a flat headed screw driver for a flat headed screw and a cross headed screwdriver for cross headed screw. However with software it’s far more complicated as there isn’t always just one tool for the job.

It’s also important to consider the skills you have at hand. For example, you wouldn’t usually ask a plumber to fix your electrics or an electrician to fix your plumbing. However, given enough time most plumbers could learn to do electrics and vice versa. Generally people with a talent for practical things can easily pick up other practical skills. It’s the same with software developers, but you have to consider whether the investment in new skills will return sufficient results in an acceptable time frame, or whether to risk compromising your margins by bringing in already experienced outside help. It’s not an easy decision!

Software developers (the good ones at least) love learning new things - programming languages in particular - but there are divisions of course. Some software developers are only interested in writing software for Microsoft Windows, for example, or for Open Source platforms such as Linux and the tools they use are quite different. It’s even more pronounced with Android developers and iPhone developers! You don’t often get developers who like a bit of everything, but it does happen, and those are the sorts of developers we have at Naked Element.

It’s true that we’d happily write Java (a general purpose programming language aimed at open source software development) all day long, but that wouldn’t allow us to develop complete pieces of software. We regularly use various combinations of Java, Ruby on Rails and JavaScript in order to get the best result. We’ve turned our hand to Python and, more recently, Microsoft core languages such as C# and VB.net too. It depends what our clients need and our assessment of the right tool for the job. Sometimes it’s not even about choosing a programming language. Sometimes it’s about choosing pre-built software, such as Wordpress, and customising it to our client’s needs. We wouldn’t use Wordpress for anything more complicated than a simple e-commerce system, but for websites, including ours, it’s the right tool for the job.

So when you’re choosing your software development partner, consider whether they’re using the right tools for your project or whether they’re just using the hammer they’re familiar with to knock in your screw.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Sign on the Dotted Line – Why Contracts are Important

Contracts might seem like something only big business needs, and many small companies work without them, but if your work is important to you, it is vital to have a contract in place. A well put together contract can make a business relationship stronger and more successful, so it is worth investing some time and effort in getting a contract just right.

When people think of contracts, they often seem daunting, filled with complicated language only solicitors understand, fine print made to confuse the signatory and seemingly endless clauses that only apply in the most unique of circumstances. Documents like this are off putting, and occasionally detrimental to the business process, especially at the beginning of a new working relationship. Contracts don’t need to be pages and pages long, or contain lots of legal jargon or penalties, the most important thing is that all parties understand the content of the contract and all are in agreement as to their own responsibilities. It is very important to make clear what is expected of each party and what will happen if either side fails to keep up their end of the agreement. Being clear on cost is essential too - what is included in the charge and, very importantly, what is not included. A good contract should only contain information relevant to that particular piece of work and should be written in simple, understandable language where possible. Having someone sign something they don’t understand is not a good way to begin!

For general terms of business, applicable to every piece of work, a Master Service Agreement can prove useful to accompany each specific work contract and Naked Element agrees and signs an MSA with every client. This MSA does not oblige either party to work with each other, it merely details the quality of the service or product, each party’s availability throughout the business relationship and the responsibilities they have to each other. Only once a schedule is signed, does it become a binding contract. The MSA defines the confidentiality clauses, copyright details, intellectual property rights, payment terms and the scope of charges as well as liability from each party. These key details are indispensable for any business, whether the project is worth £500 or £5,000,000 as they are crucial if something were to go wrong.

Contracts also shouldn’t be designed to catch someone out, or tie them down unnecessarily, they should be an agreement, put together for the benefit of all parties. Where possible, a clever business person should be open to discussing and amending a proposed contract before it is signed if the other party wishes to make changes. It is also often beneficial to include a clause allowing either party to revisit a contract for adjustment after a set period of time. Being flexible and open to future issues in this way increases trust between parties, making a successful business relationship more likely.

A good contract should -

  • Only include relevant information
  • Use simple language
  • Outline benefits of the contract to both parties
  • Be negotiable
  • Be adjustable where appropriate

With a proper contract the client will feel they can depend on the product or service they are paying for and can rely on the contract to ensure they will not be out of pocket if something goes awry. By the same token, the service provider is protected by the contract if a client should renege on something that was previously mutually agreed upon. A good contract, that has everyone's  interests covered equally, makes a business seem more trustworthy, as well as more professional, and if everything goes well, more likely to do business again.

Words by Lauren.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

The Kings of Leon

Sheffield is in the North and things, well people, are very different in the North. They’re friendlier than other places. They apologise in a friendly way when they knock into you and several people run after your ticket when it blows away in the wind after you’ve been through security.

Given the recent events in Manchester security was tight at Sheffield Arena. There were plenty of police, some of them visibly armed. You weren’t allowed to take in a bag any bigger than A4 and everyone was searched before they could enter the arena foyer. Having said that, we had no problems parking (getting out of the car park was a different matter) and were through the security check in no time. Everyone there, including the security, was friendly! Even the armed police were posing for selfies and chatting at the end of the night.

I’m not a fan of the Kings of Leon. They’ve got a few good songs, I mean who doesn’t like having their sex on fire? I find them bland, monotonous and a bit boring. Live it’s a different story. They’ve still only got one sound, but it’s much more palatable and they’re very good at it. The lead guitarist can play, but is nothing special, the bass player looks like Billy Idol on a good day and the drummer spent most of the show chewing gum and blowing bubbles, but the singer, his range and the effortless delivery were incredible. He just needs to work on his interaction and eye contact with the crowd.


What was also quite cool was, about halfway through, a complete stage rearrange, the moving of the drum riser and the introduction of a third guitarist and a keyboard player all performed behind a curtain with sometimes just the front man and sometimes all of the main band playing out the front. It was fun, exciting and interesting to see.

They played most of the hits, as far as I could tell and didn’t do an encore, which always makes things easier and means you get more music and less messing around.



Monday, 5 June 2017

NorDevMag: Call for submissions

After receiving such a positive response to the nor(DEV):con magazines at each conference, we’ve decided to release a magazine outside of the conference too!

Each issue will contain tech articles, local features, news and interviews as well as tech events in Norfolk and further afield, but most importantly it will be free to download! But we need your help to make this a success.

We’re asking for your suggestions and contributions for our first issue due for release in September. This first issue will be focused around different aspects of A.I.

Contributions

We need

  • News – are you beginning or completing a project? Expanding into a new area? Taking on new staff/premises/tech? Have you won an award or achieved something noteworthy you want to tell people about?
  • Events – are you planning or hosting an event between September 2017 and the end of January 2018? Are you attending an event over the summer you think we should review or take photos at?
  • Articles – do you have something tech related you would like to talk about or share with the community? Can you write an engaging and interesting piece for our pages?
  • Columns – do you have something to say others would like to hear? An experience or opinion about something in the tech community or industry that others would enjoy reading?
Suggestions and comments for other articles or features are also welcome! What do you like about the past conference magazines? What don’t you like? What would you like to see more of? Less of?

Advertisers

  • Would you like to reach the tech community?
  • Do you have a service or product you think we should know about?
  • Are you holding an event that would benefit from being in front of the tech people of Norfolk
We want to hear from YOU! This is a magazine for Norfolk’s tech community, so please help us to make it what you want it be.

Contact us at: mag@norfolkdevelopers.com

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Coffee in the Mine: In Java I wish I could... part 1

I started programming in BBC Basic on an Acorn Electron in 1985. I then went on to learn and use commercially C, C++ (there's no such language as C/C++), C# and Java. When I was a C++ programmer I looked down on Java with it's virtual machine, just in time compiling and garbage collector. When I became a Java programmer I completely fell in love with it and it's tool chain. Not so with Ruby, especially its tool chain, a lack of a static type system and lack of interfaces.

However, there are some fantastic features in the language and a few of them I wish I could use in Java. For example, in Ruby, you can put conditional statements after expressions, for example:

return '1' if a == 1
return '2' if a == 2

Whereas in Java you'd have to write:

if (a == 1)
  return "1";

if (a == 2)
  return "2";

which is more verbose and less expressive. Ruby also has the unless keyword, which Java lacks, so in Ruby you can do this:

return @colour unless @colour.nil?

The example shows off another feature in Ruby. To test for nil in Ruby you can call .nil? on any object, whereas the equivalent null check in Java is more verbose:

if (colour != null)
  return colour;

I could go on, but I'll leave that for a later piece in the series.  These features of Ruby may only be, in the main, syntactic sugar, but they are the ones I miss most when I'm developing in Java.

Next time we'll look at what Rails taught me about Spring MVC projects.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

You Can't Do That

by Emma Roache
ISBN-13: 978-1523989560

I sat next to Emma (complete with orange jumper) at a Norfolk Chamber breakfast in Great Yarmouth. We had the best table for the event and the conversation ranged from Trivium (modern Thrash Metal band) to the Kings of Leon. It’s incredible how, when you get away from business, the conversation flows. Of course everyone talked about what they did and I was delighted to hear that Emma was a coach and that she had a book!

‘You Can’t Do That’ is like nothing else I’ve read. It’s not science fiction or fantasy and it has absolutely nothing to do with software development or management. The style was easy and simple and very readable. This isn’t a self help book, it’s a travel diary. In most cases you have to read between the lines to see the personal issues which Emma is overcoming, they are in no way exaggerated or over played. Although I’m in no two minds about her dislike of spiders!

Something came across loud and clear. Emma loves people. I found this inspiring. Despite working to break the classic software development mould I still struggle with ‘small talk’ with people I don’t know (unless of course we’re talking Rock & Metal).

This book won’t take you long to read and is well worth it! Could only be improved by being available for the Kindle.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Paul's Guide to Jazz

Hopefully you've read my guide to Death Metal. Death metal isn't the only type of music I listen too. In fact I don't only like rock based music, I like some other stuff too.

Wikipedia describes Jazz as “...a music genre that originated amongst African Americans in New Orleans, United States, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in Blues and Ragtime. Since the 1920s jazz age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African American and European American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation.”

As with my Death Metal guide, I'm going to run through the Jazz bands I feel are worth listening to, I have enjoyed and have made a difference to me.

Monday, 1 May 2017

You can go your own way - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

There aren’t many sequels as good or better than the original (obvious examples are Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back, Lethal Weapon 2, etc), but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is! It’s a totally different type of story, more in the classic sci-fi vein. Stories where you don’t have to start by building all of the main characters are often easier to get straight into.

I had one, for me, huge issue with the film. They used Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” in the most brilliant way for one of the action sequences, from almost the beginning right up to just before the bass lead section the BBC and Channel 4 use for the Formula 1 theme. Then the song stopped. Later on in the film they used it again and I thought “Great, we’ll get it all this time!”, but no, it finished too early again. Maybe this was a deliberate tease for the Fleetwood Mac fans and I’ve just fallen for it 100%.

As well as all of the main characters, Kurt Russell was excellent. My other slight issue with the film was that there wasn’t enough of Sylvester Stallone. I think they could have made much more of his character, but I suspect he’s being lined up for the next film. It was great to see a brief part for Ben Browder from Farscape too. He’ll always be John Crichton to me.

When a film as good and off the wall as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 is released and such a hit, there’s an automatic apprehension about a sequel. You shouldn’t be apprehensive about this sequel. Go see it!

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Happy 5th birthday to us!


5 years ago today, on the 26th April 2012 Naked Element was incorporated by Matthew Wells, Chris Wright and our CEO Paul Grenyer.

Over the 5 years Naked Element has successfully developed software for a wide variety of clients, helping them to improve their business processes and to increase their efficiency, saving them both time and money.

A couple of most recent projects that we’re proud of:

Fountain Partnership - An online marketing agency. “Naked Element’s software for Fountain reduces processing time by 95%.” Naked Element were chosen to build a script which would allow Fountain to manage one of their largest clients in Google AdWords. In simple terms a script was created that allowed the user to specify AdWords accounts, campaigns and ad groups and then to enter a search, replacing each with a phrase or word.

IDSystems - Suppliers and installers of doors and windows. Naked Element developed a bespoke web application for IDSystems. The new application is designed to aid their trade partners through the complex choices and range of options available to IDSystems customers. Because of the complex nature of the product and service that this Norfolk company offer, the software used to handle their sales and quotes, both internally and when with a potential customer, has to be truly unique.

Over time we’ve evolved to not only offer software development, but also the design and build of responsive websites and consultancy services to improve development processes.

In the beginning, neither Paul or Matthew claimed to be professors on the business side of things and only really wanted to write software! In order to grow, the guys worked with a handful of consultants to keep them on the right track. Emma Gooderham, who is now our Commercial Director helped back in 2015 for a few weeks to market Naked Element. We have also worked with James Allison from WLP who took on the role of our growth accelerator coach from April 2016-2017, and we continue to undergo sales training with Ermine Amies of Sandler.

Along with other networking events, Naked Element have been members of the Norfolk Chamber for a little over 3 years, and we continue to use the events as a way to build up our network and bring in business.

Over the years we’ve built up expertise in iOS Development, Front and Back end, .Net development and cross platform mobile apps using Xamarin with our trusted team of developers.

What was a team of 3 full time employees, is now an expanding team consisting of:

Paul Grenyer, CEO
Charlotte Grenyer, Sales Co-ordinator
Emma Gooderham, Commercial Director
Rain Crowson, Administrator Apprentice & PA
Chris “Frankie” Salt, Software Developer
Jack Rogers, Software Apprentice
Emily Vinsen, Junior Software Developer
Shelley Burrows, Web Developer
Kieran Johnson, Software Developer
Adrian Pickering, Software Developer
Luke Rogers, Software Developer

Lewis Leeds also played a big part of Naked Element and was with us throughout his apprenticeship and beyond. He recently moved on to pursue his interests in Project Management and wish him well in the future.

Naked Element are very keen to help bring young developers into the industry. We offer work experience to students throughout their courses and A-levels. A couple of A-Level students, Tom Alabaster and Chelsea Crawford were especially brilliant have returned to Naked Element  to work during school holidays.

So here’s to another 5 great years of expanding our team, our clients and our network. We thank everyone who has helped us to grow along the way, and we look forward to driving our successes even more over the next 5.

Click here to read on our blog.

Monday, 24 April 2017

A hand up, not a hand out

Cities, by their very nature, aren't small (unless of course you're a pretend city like Ely). According to Wikipedia there are over 141,000 people in Norwich and over 370,000 people in the ‘travel to work’ area. I've got a lot of contacts on LinkedIn, but these numbers of people are large by anyones’s standards!

Since I came back to work in Norwich for the third time in 2011, I've been expanding my professional network at an exponential rate. From time to time, and more frequently as time goes on, I encounter people I was at school with and Rebecca White was one of those people (although she was a year or two above me at Notre Dame High School).

Rebecca is a social entrepreneur and CEO of the social enterprise Your Own Place.  Your Own Place equips young people with the skills, confidence and knowledge to live safely and securely. They achieve this by continually developing innovative and entrepreneurial solutions as well as collaborating for the benefit of  young people. By working restoratively and delivering high quality interventions they create a culture of empowered and independent young people.

After a number of exchanges on linkedin, twitter and email with Rebecca, I was invited along to hear Baron John Bird, founder of the Big Issue, speak at the St. Giles House Hotel in Norwich. This was an unusual event for me to be invited to, as there was no tech or business angle, but we’re all familiar with the Big Issue and I was already  impressed with what Rebecca was achieving, so I was intrigued. On our way to the event my wife and I encountered the Big Issue seller who is often at the top of Lower Goat Lane near the Guildhall, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he knew John Bird was only meters away.

I was completely unprepared in almost every way for John Bird. We sat at the back, the only place there were two chairs left together, around one of a handful of tables shoehorned into the packed room on the first floor of the hotel. A couple of the usual suspects  such as Sarah Daniels from the Redcat Partnership and Lucy Marks of the Norfolk Network also wandered in. My first surprise was to discover that Sarah, who I know well, was chairing. I knew from that point on that with the self proclaimed, “loudest voice in room”, we were in for a fun couple of hours.

Baron Bird of Notting Hill was astounding.  A huge personality and presence in the room. He took us through the highs and lows of his life from his upbringing in Notting Hill by Irish, Catholic, racist parents to living on the streets of Edinburgh at 21, meeting one of the founders of the Body Shop, Gordon Roddick, his rehabilitation in prison where one of the “screws” taught him to read, his three wives, money, the Big Issue and admission into the House of Lords. John Bird was funny, entertaining, loud, inspiring and great entertainment. I’ve never seen someone move so much in such a small space, often with both arms in the air, a loud passionate voice and little respect for political correctness. It was refreshing.

26 years ago there were more than 500 homeless charities in London (there are now around 2000). All of them lacked something. None of those charities were helping the homeless to stop being homeless. John Bird had a vision, inspired by Street News in the USA and spawned from a case study funded by the Body Shop, the Big Issue was born. A way of helping homeless people make money to stop them being homeless. John Bird believes in a hand up, not a hand out and is working hard to prevent the next generation of Big Issue sellers.

I could have listened to him all evening. He finished by explaining some of the social ideas he’s pursuing, such as creating a Kitemark called the Social Echo to award to businesses who act on their social conscience.

One such social enterprise is Your Own Place. Following an introduction by Sarah, Rebecca White showed us a recent video which explains the work they do:


Your Own Place are looking for employer sponsored Volunteer Tenancy Mentors. The training costs the employers just £300 per person for two days. Your Own Place work with businesses to provide their staff with a unique training and development opportunity as Volunteer Tenancy Mentors and to prevent youth homelessness at the same time. Their Volunteer Tenancy Mentoring training packages include high quality volunteer training, comprehensive policies, training packs, vetting and ongoing support for the mentors.

The event was over all too soon, but as well as finding out more about what someone I was at school with was up to, seeing some regular faces and making a new contact at Leathes Prior, I was inspired to contribute and am looking forward to Rebecca coming to speak to the Naked Element team at Whitespace.