Hack Your Community at McMaster University

On November 1st I had the pleasure of serving as a volunteer judge for Spectrum's “Hack Your Community” event.  The 72 hour hackathon focused on creating solutions for the community as a whole and was supported by Community Foundations of Canada.

The winning team, “Project Jenny” embodied the spirit of the event in their innovation: a simple, low-cost, feature phone texting service that returns Google answers on-the-fly.  Well done!

How I hire software developers

I’ve noticed that quite a few job posts for software developers still recruit for “ninjas,” “makers,” or other hip job monikers.

As one of the people responsible for new hires at Weever Apps, I try to carefully write our job placement adverts to demonstrate that our business culture views a developer as a person and not as a cute title. When I see these “of the moment” job titles, I feel that the applicant is being treated only as a commodity. I believe in hiring people.

I was recently asked by a person I was interviewing for a position at Weever Apps how I evaluate software developer job applicants.  I explained that after I establish the applicant’s general technical qualifications, I then evaluate additional attributes to determine their suitability for the job: problem-solving experience, perseverance, and patience.

Problem-solving experience.

My first evaluation addresses the applicant’s commercial or self-directed problem solving experience, – and not their education, training, or certifications. I don’t think there’s a substitute for solving real-world problems with code or other tools. Great developers, in my experience, are professional problem-solvers.

Items which “flag” someone’s proven problem-solving experience include:

  • Active and varying roles on complex work projects.
  • Contributions to open-source github repositories.
  • Volunteering, or co-op work, or internships.
  • Personal projects.
  • Experience with a business case that’s similar to what we do at Weever Apps (fulfilling projects for enterprise clients, working with digital forms, etc.)

Perseverance and Patience.

As with all things, class and other types of privilege give undue advantage to some some individuals. Finding the time to contribute to a github repo, volunteer, or work on personal projects is much easier when you’re already well situated and/or well-off. So I also look for evidence of perseverance and patience in our applicants. While not everyone has the time to volunteer or work on side projects, but most people who really love coding will find ways to pursue and keep their passion active. continue to do so as much as they can.

Perseverance is important. Very few companies build things well on their first try. Most struggle through shifting project scope, employee turnover, miscommunications, and (sometimes) unreasonable expectations. The best people-at-building-things I’ve known have learned to match their intelligence with both the perseverance to confront tough, unfair problems, and with the patience to know when to step back, review whether the problem is actually being solved (well,) – and formulate a new plan.

So when you are looking (or hiring) for a reliable software developer position, remember the three P’s: Problem-solving experience, Perseverance, and Patience. It’s a good formula for developers and a good one for entrepreneurs too I think!

City of Innovation

This week I had the privilege of witnessing some positive change happening in my home city of Hamilton, ON.

On Wednesday I toured the new coworking space, CoMotion.  A venture put together by local organizers–including Larrisa Drobot, and Tammy Hwang of the Hamilton Innovation Factory–CoMotion aims to be:

“an eco-system for the development of start-ups and existing small businesses, but also a testing ground to explore better ways of working together.” 1

I believe CoMotion will succeed as they have a prime downtown location, super fast internet, natural lighting, great food and culture nearby, and a beautiful, retrofitted building space.  I strongly recommend anyone looking for a great working space in Hamilton to visit CoMotion for a tour.

115 King Street E. – Google hasn’t recorded the new signs yet!

On Thursday I attended the launch party for another new downtown space, the FORGE, located at (address) on James St. South.  The FORGE is a local “accelerator” for startup companies.  I’ve had the good fortune to advise a few Forge startup teams including Start the Cycle and Thrive Games.  Similar to CoMotion, The Forge creates a space where hard working people can build new companies and opportunities together.

245 James St. North

Revitalizing Hamilton’s formerly vacant, dusty downtown spaces benefits the city as a whole.  When I arrived in Hamilton about a decade ago there wasn’t a “startup ecosystem” or anything resembling the sort of collective creative vibrancy that is so active in the city today. That’s changed.

Thanks to the hard work of forward-thinking people at the Innovation Factory, Hamilton Economic Development, OCE, Software Hamilton, McMaster University (and many more parties not named here), new startups have an ecosystem of experience, networks, and resources they can tap into.  It’s working – we’re now seeing a dream of a better Hamilton with new, good jobs being realized in practice.2

This weekend, the city sees the music / food truck / culture fair SuperCrawl return and on Monday, McMaster’s Spectrum student startup program launches their new season. Later this month, Lion’s Lair returns.

In short it’s a good time to be in Hamilton.

1. Interview on CoMotion at Software Hamilton.

2. I also like to believe that my company, Weever Apps, as an early successful startup, has played a key part in the new wave of Hamilton business development–“it can happen here”.

Startups in the city

This June I enjoyed guest judging at the Spectrum Summer Startup competition with Kevin Browne of Software Hamilton and Robyn Larsen of Robynlarsen.ca and Normative.

Meeting 20+ startup teams in in rapid succession was quite exhilarating!  One of my favourites (and the eventual competition winner) was “Clear Roots” a startup focused on gardening inside the home.  Their product takes inspiration from the popular urban ecology movement and IoT companies like Nest.

At Weever Apps our own “internet of things” protocol, IoTA, continues to grow. We recently leveraged IoTA to deploy a web app which connects to and instructs a popular home device.  I look forward to sharing this project later in the year.

Learning to ask the right questions

On April the 211st I had the privilege of speaking to graduate students in the Walter G. Booth School of Engineering Practice at McMaster University.

The venue was the impressive McMaster Engineering Technology building at McMaster University and my host was Dr. David Potter, a Xerox alumni, which seems fitting given Weever Apps’ recent Xerox partnership announcement.

I always enjoy learning about new student startups and sharing with them my experiences as a naive entrepreneur who made quite a few assumptions in my business plan – hopefully they can avoid the mistakes I’ve made and make better ones!

All dizzying photo credit due to the MMM Group.