Tech talksAt least twice a month, sometimes even once a week, we have internal “tech talks”. These are “lightning talk” style presentations about a topic that someone feels passionately about and wants to share with others. We love our tech talks! So much so we record them and share the videos on an app we built. This means that if you’re on leave that day or you need to remind yourself about a topic that was given a while ago you can easily catch up, and it’s great for new staff to see what topics have been covered and get a feel for how we do things here. We also encourage project teams to give tech talks on projects they’ve just delivered. From this the whole company can find out about how projects were run, and get a quick debrief of the things that went well and we want to do again as well as the problems encountered and where we can learn and improve.
This year we’ve also been inviting external speakers to give tech talks at Box UK. These include two great conference speakers Ross Tuck and Matt Barcomb. Ross came to speak to us about Models and Service Layers and Matt spoke about Agile planning and “product construction” (this post was in fact partly inspired by Matt’s talk “Building a Learning Organization“). We’re looking to get more speakers involved in this so if you’re interested please do contact us!
Hack nights are a great way to experiment with new tech in a safe environment. This is often a good time for pair programming too so it’s very much a collaborative effort to find something new and interesting we can use. These evenings are a bit like a research and development exercise but it’s lots of fun and everyone comes away from it feeling like they’ve learned and tried something different.
We have a modestly-sized library in our office stacked with useful books and pocket guides, and if there’s something that’s not there we have a great office team who can make sure we get it added. It’s so popular we also built a small web app to manage who currently has what book checked out! I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty sweet. The other awesome thing about our library is the collection of retro video game consoles that people have donated: Amstrads, ZX Spectrums, Sega Megadrives and more!
Instant messaging (IM)
Probably an obvious but often overlooked point, but we use HipChat as our IM system. There are general development rooms, project rooms and all-staff rooms. The project rooms are a great way to discuss things without the context switch of walking over to someone’s desk and interrupting them. Plus there are animated gifs! We share a lot of gifs. But we’re not alone in our thinking; Atlassian wrote about this too!
We also collate weekly updates from teams across the company about what they’ve been working on for the past week and send them to all staff in one email. This could be accomplishments on Support, the delivery of a project or some other piece of exciting news. It means we all have a summary of what’s going on across the wider company and we can celebrate things as a group.
The bottom line
At the end of the day all these tools, processes and practices only work because of one thing: the people! Hiring people who are willing to experiment and learn is extremely valuable; that’s what drives confidence in those around them and creates a sharing culture. Without people who are passionate about programming it’s difficult to see this happening. Nobody wants to work in an environment where you can’t finish a task because “Joe knows all about that, but he’s off on sick leave so it’ll have to wait”. Information silos are a burden on all of us and the more we can do to prevent them through learning and sharing the more we can grow and enjoy our industry.
If this has got you interested in joining the Box UK team, take a look at our vacancies to find out more.