Collective Growth at Bilue

At Bilue we aim to do impactful work. We collaborate with clients, we encourage creativity and we deliver inspired solutions. Recently at our half yearly team day our CEO Cameron Barrie, urged us to pursue personal and collective growth in the year ahead. Cameron said connection is fundamental to the work we do at Bilue, but in order to truly connect and inspire others, strong communication skills are critical at both an individual and company level.

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Only 7% of communication takes place through words. Voice makes up 38% and body language a whopping 55%. It is essential to be aware of your body language and align how you present yourself with what you’re saying, in order to get your point across and inspire others to listen to what you have to say.

To this end Cameron invited leadership developer and coach, James Brett, to facilitate a half day training for the company in body language, connecting and creating rapport. Having worked in technology for 20 years, James is able to appreciate the synchronicity between understanding the problem space as a developer and understanding the problem space as a consultant.

It is our mission at Bilue to empower people through technology. When we present our inspired ideas the physical messages we communicate are potentially more powerful than the words we use. For example if we cover our mouth with our hands or stand with folded arms, our audience may not feel our message is genuine and they may not be convinced by what we say. If we are busy scratching our nose or stroking our chin, clients might think we are untrustworthy and unreliable.

Furthermore, understanding the problem space for our clients involves reading their body language and observing the visual cues they provide. James taught us about four levels of active listening, ranging from simply ‘downloading’ what someone is saying, to taking in content and observing body language ‘factually’, to more ‘empathic’ listening, and finally what he called ‘presence’ and so listening without having any agenda at all. To define the core problem our clients are communicating to us, engaging active listening and empathy helps us develop a deeper understanding of their thoughts and motivations.

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During the second half of our team day we were given the opportunity to put our increased appreciation for the power of body language and active listening into practise. Impro Australia facilitated a highly active session to loosen us up and take us out of our comfort zones. Working together in pairs or groups and individually, we were forced to think laterally and quickly on our feet. Encouraging us to have fun with communication, we were taught how to deliver a message with confidence and to embody excitement and enthusiasm.

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Marina, Annelise, Marcelo and Phill doing the “Arms, Double Figures” game

We were given exercises to challenge and extend boundaries by responding to spontaneous challenges. One of the most powerful games we played was the “Yes, But”, “Yes, And” game. Countering everything our partner had to say with “yes but” was surprisingly easy. Being on the receiving end of this was much more difficult and constantly having to defend decisions and come up with counter offers was draining in the end. When you apply “yes, and” to real life situations people feel heard and supported. When you apply “yes, but” it is deflating and shuts the conversation down. Having a potentially difficult conversation with “yes, and” is much more effective and people feel like they are part of the solution rather than the problem.

With our new perspective on communication and connection we finished the day in true Bilue fashion with an awesome party back at Bilue headquarters. Putting our new found confidence into practise, there was twerking, the cha cha and even some dirty dancing! Come Monday morning we needed just a little refresher on what had transpired the Friday before and then we determined to stay aware of our body language wherever possible. Feel free to point out if we are folding our arms and crossing our feet when we meet you. I’m confident we will get to it before you do and our expression will be open and confident within the blink of an eye.

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Rhys, Marcelo, Phill, Craig, Tom and Gary finsihing the day with a beer

The Cole Classic 2016 Swim

Yesterday a small group of us took to the water at the North Sydney Olympic Pool to begin our preparation for The Sydney Morning Herald’s Cole Classic 2016 swim. The Cole Classic swim incorporates a 1km, 2km, and 5km ocean swim from Shelly Beach to Manly Beach and will take place on Sunday, 7th February 2016.

Participating in the swim is an opportunity to help raise money for a variety of 800 different charities. In 2015 the Cole Classic raised more than $140, 000 for charity. Each member of Bilue’s team will be swimming in support of The Kids Cancer Project, an extremely special cause that truly holds a certain significance for us all.

As founder Graham Cole wrote in 1982, “the event is not a race but a challenge to all persons to stretch themselves in body and mind to swim a reasonable distance through surf. It will, I hope, be an incentive to persons to involve themselves in the self-discipline required to get fit; obtain confidence in their ability through swimming to achieve pride in having performed something that is, perhaps slightly above average, and finally to recieve some recognition of their accomplishment.”

In order to rigorously prepare our team for the challenge we’ve scheduled in two distance swimming sessions each week. Beginning with 500m, we’ll increase our distance by 200-250m each session, in the hopes that by the time we race we’ll be capable of swimming at least 1.3-1.5km. In late January we’ve planned a dry-run session where we’ll attempt to swim the entire 1km in the lead up to the main event.

We’re immensely proud that we have the opportunity, people and motivation to be apart of this challenge. If you want to, you too can support a charitable cause by participating in the Cole Classic swim, or simply by donating to our cause – The Kids Cancer Project.

Yow! 2015 Conference

On Thursday 10 December, once nothing more than a $10,000 credit card debt and now a Sydney-based technology startup, Atlassian raised $US462 million in a much anticipated Initial Public Offering (IPO). It goes to show that now is as good a time as ever to push forward, break down barriers and achieve something bold.

Australia is an amazing country with a thriving technology industry that is only destined to grow.

At the forefront of this technological growth are Software Developers, Engineers and Technology Architects. The impact of technology on us all is entirely at the hands of these men and women, the systems they build and the problems they solve.

Also on Thursday 10 December, Yow Australia held the Yow! 2015 Conference in Sydney. As a proud sponsor of the largest independent event for software development across Australia, Bilue attended both the Yow! 2015 Conference and Yow! CTO Summit in Melbourne and Sydney.

Attracting the sharpest developers from across the country, the conference is an opportunity to sit infront of a diverse range of experienced, innovative and influential speakers from around the world.

Unlike your off-the-shelf technical conference, Yow! is an event focused on fostering open-mindedness, practical learning and richly engaging discussions. This year’s schedule is split into three well crafted tracks on topics ranging from Cloud Infrastructure to People & Processes, Security, Mobile, Architecture & Design, Languages, Big Data and ofcourse Software Engineering. It includes an amazing line up of well known speakers who have in many ways defined their respective industries, including – Dave Thomas, Kathleen Fisher, Sam Newman and so many more.

While there’s still another entire day’s worth of sessions about to begin, I’ve already seen talks that are going to change my perspective and approach on my work as a developer for years to come.

On Thursday morning I attended Ben Tesse & Sam Ritchie’s ‘Rethinking MVC with React Native & ReactiveCocoa’ which cast quite a unique light on Functional Reactive paradigms through the lense of Javascript’s React Native framework.

I also sat front row during an eye opening, insightful talk by Mike Magruder – ‘Mobile Performance at Facebook’ that revealed the extremly extensive efforts from Facebook sacrificed in the name of Performance testing. Aaron Bedra’s ‘Adaptive Security’ introduced me to the core concepts behind system security and how adapting to change will improve our chances against malicious attackers.

One talk that stood out as a brilliant testament to the core beliefs, intentions and driving forces for us at Bilue was Dave Thomas’ talk ‘Rigor Mortis (Avoiding)’. Put simply, Dave told his audience to ‘Think Differently’ and ‘Program Differently’. He put forward the idea that language is a limiting factor to the world around us.

What we can’t express with words, we can’t comprehend and by knowing this we can reason that by keeping an open mind, learning new languages and experimenting with different ways of solving problems we can achieve a deeper level of understanding in our work.

This concept applies extremely well to software and it holds up just as strongly when applied to everything that we do. Through an open mind, through seeking new ideas and through exploring new ways of thinking we expose ourselves to experiences and solutions we would otherwise have not even thought possible.

Yow! 2015 Conference has so far been amazing and informative for all of us at Bilue who’ve attended. New, unique and exciting ways of thinking are the creative forces driving the great work we strive to do each day. As we start to process these new ideas and perspectives from the sessions we’ve attended we’ll spend some time writing them down and sharing them with you. If you too attended Yow! 2015 Conference, enjoy today’s sessions and remember to program differently.

Driving Forward

Being a company focused on culture, design-led thinking and relentless improvement, Bilue is always looking for ways to tighten the ship and be better. Not just growth in terms of personnel or physical space but in terms of friendships, teamwork, encouragement, exploration, learning, setting goals and achieving them. Yesterday everyone at Bilue woke slightly earlier than usual and boarded a bus headed out west for an excitement-fuelled day of go-karting.

We sat together as a team and asked ourselves a few really important questions – Why does Bilue exist? What have we achieved? What have we failed at? What do we want? And how do we get there. There were some crucial discussions throughout the morning that will no doubt help correct ourselves and steer us forward in the right direction.

In the coming months and with the new year a mere month ahead of us, we are all really looking forward to putting the creative thinking we accomplished yesterday into action. We want to force ourselves to do better in ways we didn’t know we could. We want to continue to be a place where everyone, not just me, is excited to work every single day.

There was also some go-karting that happened.

Fresh off the tail of a full stomach, everyone was split into two groups. Each group completed a 5-minute warm up, and then 2 heats of 8 laps each. Those who put the pedal to the metal and did well were selected to compete in the finals – if they weren’t already suffering from heat stroke in the 35 degree weather.

There were plenty of ridiculously hilarious crashes and spin outs, and much fun had by all. I couldn’t feel my hands at one point, and was seconds from collapsing.

From the dust of the final lap the victors emerged:

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First
Cameron

Second
Sye

Third
Luke D

Tired and fighting our own internal battles with the heat, we boarded the bus again to head back to the office – only to see that our space had undergone a bit of an improvement. What was once a concrete jungle that we begrudgingly convinced ourselves and our clients was a balcony, is now an amazingly vibrant, unique and relaxing break from all the intensity of indoors.

NSCamp 2015

You can only move fast and break things for so long. At some point you need to slow down, step away and gather a little bit of perspective. Last weekend the Bilue team helped organise and attended NSCamp up in Brooklyn, New South Wales. For the entire weekend we accompanied a group of talented developers, designers and creatives from as far as Perth and Melbourne to spend some time away from the regular routine of life and instead challenge ourselves with focus, growth and passion for the work we truly care about.

Part social getaway, part hack weekend, NSCamp created the perfect environment to nuture and encourage attendees to work on side projects, as well as meet and collaborate with like-minded creatives. There were small impromptu talks around the island on a range of different topics including ‘Designing iOS apps in Storyboards without Code’, ‘Pirate Metrics’, ‘Building apps with tvOS’ and even ‘Brewing Coffee’ by a professional Barista.

Internet was a scarce commodity, instead of Google and Stack Overflow attendees were encouraged to apply elbow grease, knuckle down deep into documentation and raise a hand to direct any questions at peers. Writing code was by far not a requirement of camp. A big focus for me throughout the weekend were three things – People, Reflection and Inspiration.

A great community of smart, talented and creative people attended camp which for me was a fantastic opportunity to discuss ideas and learn from people whom I rarely get to see face-to-face. We shared beers, ciders and whiskey over a campfire on the beach, strengthening friendships and forming new friendships all around. Designers helped developers add the sparkle their apps desperately needed, developers shrugged beside designers as they considered ways of making their ideas into reality and many creative thinkers discussed ways of improving their apps beyond just interface and code.

One of the most compelling aspects of camp was the lack of schedule and all around do-what-you-want attitude. There was nothing but time to think, and I loved it. I found myself an amazing spot hidden out on the rocks near the water, where I hid myself from the rest of camp a few times. It felt great to escape where no one could find me and just introspect about where I am, where I want to be, how I want to get there and where technology fits in with my broader life goals. Something that we as fast moving developers, designers and creative people rarely find time to stop, step away and do.

We look at code, at interfaces, at urgent problems every single day. It doesn’t take long for the pressure to build up and scar our creative side. We tend to fizzle out, feel un-inspired and corner ourselves.

At camp we had a rare chance to leave our outer shell at the wharf and to forget all expectations. There were plenty of challenges – the slackline challenge, the coffee machine, the blazingly hot showers, the lack of dry firewood and the scarcity of internet. All of these challenges enforced new and unexpected restrictions on us that forced us to open our minds, change our perspective and think of new ways to solve the problems we were faced with.

Through dedication many attendees were inspired to overcome the slackline, help build an amazing beach fire and embraced the lack of internet settling disagreements the old fashioned way – an alcohol infused argument and hefty bets on either side.

A highlight of the weekend had to be the absolutely amazing job that our own Duncan Campbell and Cameron Barrie did in preparing a feast of Ribs, Pulled pork and Lamb Shoulder rivalled by none other. It was also the fantastic coffee, the endless supply of beer and wine, the insanely great location and tear jerking game of Cards Against Humanity.

Thanks to all who were involved in making NSCamp 2015 possible, we look forward to an even better camp next year!

A Minimum Viable Product without development

Bilue has a challenge, as we grow from a 3, 5, 15, 35+ member team. We need to communicate with more clients about even more projects. And as such, we need to share information and outcomes with each other more often but with less time. We are at the point where we need a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

Client Communication

So we did what every other company would do, we went and purchased a system. Except, it didn’t solve our problem, and we hated it. Why? It forced us to change the way we work and communicate. Logging into another system to update information was slower than talking, causing us grief and frustration, and ultimately we stopped using it. It didn’t match how we wanted to work.

So we talked about making a solution the suited us, after all we are a software development company.

And this brings us to the point of creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Sometimes, a product doesn’t have to be a fully formed idea or solution. Just enough to validate the idea.

The goal of an MVP is to test a hypothesis. What better way to test a hypothesis than use existing software and services? A step above a prototype, something usable that gets the job done.

MVP to test ideas

I set out to test the idea: Do we need another CRM system when we already have many online systems that we use? How could I design a CRM product/system with existing services and software?

My first version of our cut down CRM was a failure, I tried adapting Confluence and didn’t work. It was just another system that we had to log into to tell everyone something that was in our emails. It was cumbersome and slow. None of us had time to log in to do that.

In terms of an MVP, this is a great outcome. We learnt that we needed a fast system, that didn’t require ‘double’ entry and something we could update on the go.

Again, rather than looking for a new piece of software or working out ‘what to build’. I looked at what other software we already had, and what I could use that didn’t need development time to produce. What could I reuse or use in a different way, and this is where Slack comes in.

Slack as a CRM

We use Slack for a variety of things at Bilue. The obvious is sending animated gifs to each other in our channel called #weirdos. The entire company is in Slack every day, and we can quickly access it on the go through our mobiles.

Taking the learnings of using a tool that we already use a lot meant that Slack was an obvious choice. The other tool we use a lot is email and email holds most of the communication with our clients. So I set about combining the two, our tool for internal communication and our tool for client communication.

Slack is a great immediate communication tool for teams, but I wanted to use it as a “database” for Client communication. With a bit of planning and thinking, I was able to come up with a solution.

The first step was to create a standard naming format for new private groups in Slack. We settled on crm-company_code-project_code. This way we can separate them from all the other channels we have in Slack easily.

The second step was combining email. Slack allows email integrations where you can setup an email address for a channel or group. But the email address isn’t entirely friendly. And since I want this system to be easy to use, that includes forwarding emails into Slack simply. We needed a better email address.

Email to Slack

To get around this, I turned to our company email system and created new email groups. Each with the Slack group/channel name as the address and placed the Slack generated email address as a member of the group.

Now, anyone at Bilue working on a client account can forward or bcc an email to a Slack group/channel name via email, just by knowing the groups/channels name. And other members of that group can be notified of important developments and influences affecting the project.

With a bit of planning and creative thought to set up our current solution, it was faster and cheaper than using a developer to build a solution. We could test what did and didn’t work for us without purchasing a large piece of software. And most of all we learnt from our mistakes.

Tools like IFTTT, Zapier and Flowxo are great tools to help you connect multiple services together. Allowing you to ‘build’ systems to test and validate your ideas before going down the rabbit hole of development.

At the end of the day, my lean MVP is proving the hypothesis around how we use a CRM here at Bilue. And I did it all in a couple of hours.

More Integrations

It is still not a perfect system for us, but we are improving it by adding other integrations, such as Pipedrive to introduce sales leads for full end to end communication on projects.

But, most importantly, we are learning what works and what doesn’t while improving our internal communication. And as we move towards the future and continue to grow, we know what to look for in a CRM system if we ever need to purchase a solution.

Next time you have an idea, find the easiest way to prove the solution rather than going and building it first. You might find you would have built the wrong thing the first time around.

A podcast a day

You sit back in the cold, sticky, plastic, blue train seat sniffle on the morning train into the office. Beside you is the last person you want to be seated next to. Sniffle Scrolling aimlessly through your Facebook news feed you can’t help but keep hearing it.

sniffle What is that? sniffle sniffle It hits you.

The frustrating, relentless and insufferable sniffle of a cold-ridden commuter from hell. You look around and notice all the carriage seats are full. You ain’t going no where. Aside from imagining yourself inflicting some form of mass violence upon everyone around you, like something out of Kill Bill or The Purge, what would you do?

I asked everyone at Bilue what they would do and they had this to say

“What a stupid question Phill, what rock are you living under? What else is there to do except whip out a pair of swanky headphones and block it all out with some podcasts!”

So these are the podcasts that we’ve been listening to lately –

Scott

Serial

From the same guys who bring you This American Life, bring an even better Story about a high school murder, the people involved, and the guy who got convicted. Is he innocent or guilty?

Stuff you should know

In life there’s things to keep in your memory banks and things to be discarded like last weeks Beef Stroganoff. Josh and Chuck bring you only the choicest cuts from the cow of knowledge.

Sye

99% Insvisible

I care about the stories behind how ‘things’ came to be. The trials & tribulations of the person behind the decisions, the environment under which those decisions came about.

 

Amy

This American Life

I have a weird interest in American culture. It fascinates me. They share stories on a particular theme with real people in real situations. I love it!

 

Criminal

‘Serial’ and ‘Criminal’ are also great if you have a sick obsession with crime cases like me!

 

Tom

StartUp

The first season of StartUp follows Alex Blumberg as he documents his own journey seeking funding for his podcast network. It’s especially interesting to hear all of the tense, emotional conversations that take place.

Exponent

I’m really interested in the business side of technology companies and in my opinion Ben Thompson and James Allworth give a great insight into the industry.

 

Annelise

Spark

If you’re anything like me you love hearing about media, technology and culture combined. Josh Topolsky talks to a slew of guests about what is and will be happening tomorrow.

 

Design Details

A good chat between designers or developers in the product design space. It doesn’t tell you what to do or how to design, it’s just a persons thoughts and experiences in the industry.

Jake

Shop Talk Show

The quirky sound board and the rapid fire shows make this a standout for me. A must subscribe if you are a passionate web developer.

 

TTL

A relatively new podcast hosted by Rebecca Murphey that focuses on finding out the many responsibilities of a front-end operations engineer.

 

Lisa

Around the Bloc

A group of soccer fans discussing their love of football/soccer, The Simpsons, South Park, music, all foods and everything in between.

 

Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

Another must listen!

 

 

Billy

No Such Thing As A Fish

Some times I wish I have a bit of commute time so that I can consume my podcasts faster.

 

Nerdist Writer’s Panel

My podcast client says I’m subscribed to 58 channels. Geez.

 

Duncan

Reconcilable Differences

Oh, Reconcilable Differences.

 

 

Phill

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Tomorrow

If you’re anything like me you love hearing about media, technology and culture combined. Josh Topolsky talks to a slew of guests about what is and will be happening tomorrow.

 

My Brother, my brother and me

I’ve only just subscribed but already love it! Three brothers geeking out, laughing and pretending to give good advice.

 

Luke

Wilosophy

Some people don’t like him, he can get a little chatty but the chats with Todd Sampson and Pinky Beecroft are good.

 

WTF with Marc Maron

Definitely check out the Obama interview.

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