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Evolving the Industry

Social Weight, Needy Devices, & the Need for Continuity – Key Takeaways from O’Reilly Solid

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Source: O’Reilly Conferences

I recently returned from the inaugural O’Reily Solid, a conference focused on the intersection of software and hardware. It was a fascinating event — I can think of few other places where you could find dancing robots, modular circuit boards, smart power tools, and airborne wind turbines under the same roof as such diverse and revolutionary talks as designing interactions between connected devices, collaborative UX for the internet of things, and the future of fabrication.

Needless to say, I had a great time and learned a lot. With this post, I would like to share, in no particular order, some of my main observations and takeaways from this conference. Read more on Social Weight, Needy Devices, & the Need for Continuity – Key Takeaways from O’Reilly Solid…

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Reflections on 10+ Years of Pairing – What Works, What Breaks, and What’s Next

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I started pair programming in 2000 on my first real software job, while I was still working on a computer science undergraduate degree. I’ve been mostly pairing in daily practice since then.

First Impressions Matter

My earliest perspectives on pairing are useful because I’ve seen bad results when people are denied the chance of finding out its benefits for themselves. Pair programming wasn’t prescribed or preached to me, it was encouraged. Read more on Reflections on 10+ Years of Pairing – What Works, What Breaks, and What’s Next…

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Why Workplace Gender Diversity Matters

Tech companies in the US are notoriously lacking in diversity of all sorts. Gender, racial, and in some places age diversity seem to evade this field, and since the 1980s has actually gotten worse in terms of gender diversity.

Early in my career, my youthful optimism led me to believe that things couldn’t be all that bad out here in the working world, but several jobs later — in both academia and industry, large company and small — I have come to realize that I am always in the minority at work. My alma mater, the University of Michigan College of Engineering, grants 22-24% of its degrees to women, 8-15% to underrepresented minorities. I was the first female faculty member in the Mechanical Engineering department at the University of Notre Dame. When I worked at Ford Motor Company, its engineering workforce mirrored the industry as a whole (~20% women). My peak experience was with my previous company, SRT Solutions, which was 30-35% women. Atomic Object is 20% female.

As a woman in tech, I’m sometimes asked to comment on the issue of diversity in STEM workplaces, which got me wondering recently if gender and age diversity really matter.

As it turns out, it does. Read more on Why Workplace Gender Diversity Matters…

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What the Industry Wants: Preparing Design Students for Employment Success

It’s spring, which means that around the country, graduates are throwing their mortarboards in the air and pounding the pavement for work. Those of us who are hiring or recruiting (like myself) will see a deluge of fresh resumes flooding our inboxes and we’ll cross our fingers that maybe, just maybe, we’ll find a promising young candidate to join the team and start contributing right way.

Recently, I attended the Ferris State University Graphic Design Senior Portfolio Review. On the invites and on their website, the tag line to the show was, “Are we industry ready? You decide.” Based on previous experience with university graphic design programs and their graduates, I was not optimistic. Read more on What the Industry Wants: Preparing Design Students for Employment Success…

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The Future of Wearable Technology

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It seems the next trend in technology has arrived, wearable devices. Today, wearable devices such as Jawbone UP and FitBit allow us to track our daily lives. We can measure steps taken, activities accomplished, even our sleep efficiency. Smart watches allow us to answer phone calls from our wrists. These are just a couple examples of the big things happening in the wearable technology space, but we are not even close to the limits of what can be accomplished. Read more on The Future of Wearable Technology…

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Connecting Technology to the Real World

chicagoI’ve been spending a lot of time in Chicago lately, and this past week something caught my eye. When you get off the CTA trains, many of the stations have a large granite compass rose inlay on the ground. It’s a fairly handy thing to see in its own right (and they’ve helped me navigate on more than one occasion), but it’s also a great specific example of a really interesting general concept: These physical compass roses are a bridge between the abstract world of the map and the real physical world.

When I started thinking about them in those terms, I realized there are a lot of other great (and some not so great!) examples of the same concept.

There are a few really obvious instances: bar codes (such as UPCs) are a perfect example, but they aren’t really very interesting because the transition between the physical box and the abstract world of the inventory system is not really very smooth. Read more on Connecting Technology to the Real World…

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Cross-Train to Become a Better Programmer

last-minute-code-review-smallProgramming attracts people from a huge number of backgrounds. I’ve seen great programmers who started as mathematicians, journalists, musicians, physicists, and mechanical engineers. Even formally-trained programmers come from a wide range of liberal arts, engineering, and business schools. It’s one of few professions where you can be rewarded just for being smart and working hard.

To be honest, I’ve always been embarrassed by how personal our methods are — it’s difficult to separate effective methods from natural talent. Maybe our diversity is the reason I’ve heard us criticized as navel gazers pretending to be engineers. “Herding cats” was coined for us after all!

We are taught data structures, formal methods, computer architecture and technology. We self organize into communities and movements like literate, agile, and craftsman. We write tests, review code, follow best practices, decouple our classes, encapsulate our designs. It’s a little half-baked — even cargo-cultish on a bad day.

Fundamental software design is almost completely missing from programming. Is design valuable? Can we learn how to design? I think so, but not yet from the software community. Cross-train into mechanical design! Read more on Cross-Train to Become a Better Programmer…

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A Scratch-Based Elementary School Computer Club Curriculum

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This past winter I ran an after-school Computer Club for a group of about 40 4th and 5th graders at my local public elementary school. Teaching elementary school kids basic computer programming skills was definitely a challenge, but a rewarding experience and one that I would recommend to any software developer who has kids and likes to spend time with them.

Last week I offered some tips about how to organize and run your Computer Club. In this post I provide a week-by-week curriculum to help you plan what you’ll do at the club. Read more on A Scratch-Based Elementary School Computer Club Curriculum…

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10 Tips for Running an Elementary School Computer Club

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While I’m a software developer by trade, I’m also the mother of two school-aged kids, so one of my pastimes is volunteering in various capacities at our local public elementary school. At some point early this school year, in a moment of temporary insanity, I found myself nodding my head “Yes” when a wiser full-time-working parent would be saying “No”, and next thing you know, I had agreed to lead an after-school Computer Club for 4th and 5th graders.

Something I’ve observed that you may have also: by the time a kid is 9 or 10 years old, they are already incredibly capable of wasting copious amounts of time on a computer. This age group (ok, all age groups?) would happily spend all their time playing computer games — Minecraft being the game of choice these days.

My goal with Computer Club was to get the kids away from just playing games and into creating something with their computers — maybe even creating their own games. After a quick survey of developers with kids and the Internet, I settled on teaching basic programming concepts with a language/platform called Scratch. Read more on 10 Tips for Running an Elementary School Computer Club…

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Change the World: Mentor FIRST Robotics

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Team 3322 pit crew hard at work during the 2013 Bloomfield Girls Robotics Competition.

Atomic Object is a company of poly-skilled, generalist makers. Chances are, you too are a maker or manage makers. You understand the world can be reimagined, improved, and changed in big ways. You understand that technology isn’t some force of nature, but the creative output of many people.

Unfortunately that isn’t true for most kids these days. Schools mainly teach past theory. The present world is controlling, protecting, and closed. Students use technology, but they don’t own it. Read more on Change the World: Mentor FIRST Robotics…

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