Find the Top Programmers for the Job

October 27th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

This week on NVTC’s blog, member company Robert Half shares three technical questions you should ask in an interview in order to find the top programmers for the job. 


The technical interview for a software developer position should give you a clear picture of the candidate’s ability to perform the most important aspects of the job: writing quality code and fixing broken code.

The interview should include specific questions related to the technologies your organization uses; ASP.NET or JavaScript might be some examples. Beyond these general knowledge questions, you’ll need to ask technical interview questions that determine the candidate’s understanding of software development itself.

Here are three questions that will help you uncover top technical talent.

1. Please describe the architecture of your most recent project.

Ask candidates to describe a recent project in depth. Invite them to use a whiteboard or a large pad of paper to draw diagrams, if needed.

You’re looking to accomplish two specific things with this type of question. First, you want to look beyond what is listed in the candidate’s resume and confirm that the developer truly understands the work. This process will also help you determine just how active the software developer was in the example project and give you a good idea of that person’s level of decision-making.

The other goal is to see how well a programmer can present a technical concept. Evaluate the developer’s answer as if that person were presenting to both technical and nontechnical business leaders and project stakeholders. Would every person in the audience walk away with a solid understanding of how the application works and why things were done in a certain way?

The ability to communicate well with nontechnical colleagues is a critical skill if you want someone who can be a lead developer or software architect.

2. What lessons have you learned from your current project?

Every project presents an opportunity for a software developer to expand skills and knowledge. A candidate who has the curiosity and open-minded nature required of a top programmer can take away something valuable from every project they work on.

One of your technical interview questions therefore should be designed to give candidates an opportunity to share what they have learned on previous projects. Another version of this question is “What do you like about your current assignments and what would you improve?” The candidate you want to hire will be able to answer this in a way that shows the ability to learn from their experiences, whether they were positive or negative.

3. Let’s see some code.

Many interviewers fail to ask technical interview questions that require candidates to prove that they can do exactly what the software developer job entails: write code.

So, be sure to have the candidate write a few simple pieces of code. Two or three small code samples (about the size of a function, roughly 5-10 lines of code) should tell you very quickly if the candidate actually knows what he or she is doing.

One popular version of a short programming test is FizzBuzz. You might want to give  a time limit on this test or the results could be misleading. HireVue shows how long it takes candidate to complete challenges set up by the hiring manager. Another example of a test is to ask the candidate to write a function that finds the maximum value in an array of integers.

These tests do not merely help you identify unqualified applicants, they also can provide insight into how a particular candidate thinks. Does this person launch into a problem without proper planning only to realize he or she made an easily foreseeable mistake? Is the developer’s code clean and demonstrating sound coding practices? Does the candidate listen to instructions and follow them properly to solve the problem?

Try asking these technical interview questions in your next interview with a software developer candidate. You might just be surprised how many professionals with impressive resumes you’ll end up weeding out.

If you’re hiring software developers or any other IT pros, check out our Salary Guide for current starting salaries and hiring trends: 2016 Salary Guide

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This week on NVTC’s blog, Kathy Stershic of member company Dialog Research and Communications introduces the first in her 8 part series of principles for responsible data stewardship to help guide behavioral change that will preserve customer good will and trust.


Following up to the introduction of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship That Won’t Kill Your Customer Relationships, here’s the first principle.

I know right off the bat that espousing customer control of coveted data collected at great effort and expense is marketing heresy. But it’s what they want. Sensed loss of control (psychological or otherwise) was the predominant finding in Dialog’s recent research.

Control extends to multiple domains. Perhaps most contentious is who ‘owns’ someone’s data. People believe they own their own data; the businesses who collect it feel they do, and in reality, they do legally own what’s collected in the course of transacting business. Customer data is a critical asset. But what happens with that data beyond the original intent (a la “I know I bought a thing from you but not them”) is unclear and uncomfortable. Some respondents want access to their data to see what’s been collected. Some feel that they should be paid for the use of it. Most want the option to decide whether or not their data gets shared, with whom, for what purpose and in what circumstance. This is far from today’s practices.

The letter of the law may permit sharing or selling of data to 3rd parties. Long, complex privacy policies in 3 point font may direct customers to some limited opt-out actions. Those policies are seldom read and even less seldom understood. But perception is what really matters. When customers feel loss of control over how their data is used and abused, offending brands will pay the price. One respondent told me she could tell exactly which nonprofit entity had been repeatedly selling her data by the volumes of spam received; she stopped supporting that nonprofit all together.

Control over the digital experience is another concern. If the internet is about freedom, then people should be free to direct their online experience, and not have a search engine or a business decide what they see. People passionately hate pop-ups, and don’t form favorable opinions of the unwanted brands that pop up. Turning them off imposes a burden on the user, and blocking all pop-ups may interfere with desired experiences on other sites. Much preferable would be inviting users to allow some dynamic messaging when they are open to receiving it.

In that same vein, customers want to choose the frequency of interaction. A positive purchase experience can easily sour by excessive promotional emailing. One respondent told me she regularly unsubscribes from chosen brands who spam her, and those brands fall off her consideration list. I myself have done this. Another respondent expressed anger over being “tricked” by a brand who slipped in a subtle clause on an e-commerce site that then obligated her to buy something she didn’t realize and didn’t want. In her words, this should have been opt-in, not opt-out. But she also told me she really appreciated that when receiving promotional material from a company she had not previously bought from, it clearly stated that she was receiving it because she had purchased from XYZ. That transparency was enough to make her feel positive about the old and the new brands.

The marketing practices mentioned here are common. Industries are built on them. But as more data is collected from more connected ‘stuff’, these issues stand to exponentially multiply. It’s not about what’s legally allowed; it’s about customer perception and experience. The more an organization empowers a customer to truly have choice and control in the data relationship, stronger loyalty and brand reputation will be the reward.

Please share your thoughts and perspectives!

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This week on NVTC’s blog, Kathy Stershic of member company Dialog Research and Communications introduces her 8 part series of principles for responsible data stewardship to help guide behavioral change that will preserve customer good will and trust.


An Introduction.

At what may be the dawn of a radical new era of technologically-driven marketing capability, I have been wondering – is enough ever going to be enough for the people being marketed to? People love their apps. They love online shopping. They love free stuff. They love connecting digitally to their friends and family 24-7. Even the growing stream of data breaches doesn’t seem to have much of a behavior-changing effect.

But the game is accelerating. Predictive intent, always the brass ring of marketing, is becoming ever-more precise, thanks to unprecedented analytics capabilities, Big Data, and soon-to-be connected everything. We may be heading toward something like on-demand lizard-brain manipulation — with marketing suggesting what people are going to want to buy before they are consciously aware of it themselves — with greater and greater accuracy on the timing of when a desire will manifest. That’s a future vision I don’t think many people understand.

So I thought I’d pose a simple question. Dialog recently conducted a study in which respondents were asked how they’d like marketers to behave in a predictive analytics world, mining data from the places the respondents digitally engage – willingly or not, knowingly or not. Respondents ranged in age from 30 to late 60s. They were male and female. They were all Americans, except for one subject of Her Majesty. Most have a college degree, a few have a Master’s, and a few work (or worked) in marketing-related jobs. They all willingly and regularly participate in the digital economy. And they all sense a lack of control over data about themselves.

One of the things that most struck me was that people have a general, vague awareness that ‘they’ are tracking everything about us. But less clear is who ‘they’ are or what’s being done with the data. Although I asked for gut reactions, what I got instead from the great majority were thoughtful, detailed and impassioned responses. Clearly this topic pushes a button. There is a growing undercurrent of discomfort. A general discomfort will get quickly channeled to any particular brand that pushes too far. Several respondents expressed (unprompted) anger at particular brands they felt disrespect their relationship. Given the huge investment required to build positive brand reputation, active customer anger should be every marketer’s (and CEO’s) nightmare.

The patterns that emerged from all of the respondents’ feedback were clear. It’s time to change behaviors. A lot of them. In the interest of something actionable, Dialog will offer NVTC members over the next few weeks a series of 8 Principles for Responsible Data Stewardship to help guide behavioral change that will preserve customer good will and trust. I request and welcome thoughts and feedback to further this important discussion.

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This week on NVTC’s Blog, Business Development, Marketing & Sales Vice Chair Jenny Couch of member company Providge Consulting gives advice on investing in an ERP platform, one of the most critical decisions your business will make.


Investing in an ERP platform is one of the most critical decisions your business will make. Implementations can take years, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete. Critical business functions will likely be supported by this platform for many years to come. You’ll need to train, or hire resources who can support the platform. So it’s critical that you select a system that best fits your business’s needs. But, with so many options available on the market today, it can be challenging to narrow down the field and select the right ERP solution for your business.

By considering some of the factors below during your evaluation, you will increase the likelihood that you and your team will select the right ERP platform for your company.

  • Cloud or internal architecture ERP. The cloud is hot right now, but it may not be the right solution for you. Consider factors such as control, down-time, access, and customization needs when determining whether to select a cloud or internal architecture ERP system.
  • Company size. Some ERP applications are better suited to large companies, and some are a better fit for small to mid-sized companies. If available, review the companies currently using the platforms you are considering. Are those companies a similar size, or drastically larger or smaller? Look for platforms with companies that are a similar size to increase the likelihood that you’ll select a platform designed for your business.
  • In-house ERP skill sets. Review the ERP skill sets you already have on your team. Is the majority of your staff familiar with PeopleSoft, but never heard of Workday? Then you may want to consider the time and cost that can be saved in training by selecting a platform with which your team is already familiar.
  • Criticality of the back-office function. For some companies, any hiccup, no matter how small, within the back-office system is disastrous. If the ERP system will be a critical component of your business that cannot have downtime, then you may not want to rely on vendors to provide support when you experience issues or downtime. Look for platforms where your team has full control and maintains responsibility for resolving issues.
  • Number of system users. The higher the number of users requiring access to your ERP platform, the more important it is to have a user-friendly interface. Such a requirement can often increase costs, either by limiting the pool of available COTS products, or by increasing the need for ongoing changes to the platform to meet your users’ needs.
  • Customization and interface needs. Certain industries, such as higher education, or government/military users, often have unique requirements that “standard” companies lack. COTS systems are designed to meet the greatest number of companies’ needs, so if you have highly complex, or unique back-office processes, you will need to select an ERP platform that can support a large number of customizations. For companies, or agencies needing a large number of customizations, cloud-based ERP solutions may not suit those needs. Similarly, if you have a large number of external systems that will need to interface with the ERP platform, make sure to account for this need in your evaluation criteria as not all ERP platforms are structured to support a significant number of interfaces.
  • Exit Plans. While you may feel certain that you’ll stay on your chosen ERP platform for years, it’s important to have an exit strategy. Surprises happen all the time, and they aren’t always of the confetti-throwing, present-giving variety. A software vendor could go out of business. An implementation could turn disastrous. Unforeseen issues can be uncovered with the platform. It’s important to prepare for the unexpected by developing an exit strategy. If you chose a cloud-based ERP, how easily and quickly can move off of that product. What will happen to all of your data, including any archived data? Is there an option to have your data stored for a certain time frame after you’ve moved off the platform? What data extraction and migration tools are available?  Can your data easily be moved to another platform?
  • Data privacy rules and regulations. While not a concern for many companies, for companies operating globally, this could be a critical consideration. Certain countries require that all employee data be hosted locally within that particular country. While some vendors, including cloud-based ones, have developed a solution to address this issue, some vendors are still playing catch-up.

Not sure how to select an ERP system that will meet your organization’s needs? Contact us and we’ll help narrow the overwhelming field of options, and select a system that best fits your business’s needs.

 


Jenny Couch

This post was written by Jenny Couch. Couch is a project management consultant, and Providge’s Business Development Manager. She loves efficiency, to-do lists, and delivering projects on-time and on-budget.

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5 Effective Platforms for Managing Your Project

October 6th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Jones in Guest Blogs | Uncategorized - (Comments Off)

This week on NVTC’s Blog, member company Providge Consulting’s Jenny Couch introduces five project management platforms that make managing your team and tasks easier for any project.


You’ve just been assigned as the lead for a new project. It’s a great opportunity for your career. You finally have a chance to demonstrate your ability to manage a team. But first, you have to figure out how you’re going to, well, manage a team and their tasks.

But fear not, there are a wide range of project management platforms that make managing your team and tasks easier for any project.

The list below is just a handful of the platforms available. I selected the five below for a few reasons: I have personally used them to manage a project; they represent the wide range of options available on the market; and all 5 – AsanaBasecampMicrosoft ProjectEvernoteInsightly – improve project transparency and collaboration. Make sure to research your options as one of these other platforms might be a better fit for you.

 

ASANA

Best For: Teams that want a straight forward way to track project tasks, and monitor progress. You’re the type of person that doesn’t want all the fancy ‘bells and whistles.’ You want to know what’s due when, and who is involved. You also likely love making to-do lists as the interface feels akin to an old-school, paper-based to-do list.

Snip20150810_8

 

Key Features: I personally enjoy Asana’s interface, and focus on a few core features. It prevents you from feeling overwhelmed. Or, like your platform isn’t helping you to do the one thing you want it to do – manage a project – because it’s too complicated to use. It does take a little time to get used to some of the options – like commenting on tasks, etc. but once you have the hang of it, it’s easy to use. The activity feed bears a similarity to Facebook (unsurprising as it was created by a Facebook co-founder), which makes it easy to start using. Project permissions are also a great feature, allowing you to limit who has access to each project.

Pricing: Free for the basic package. If you want to upgrade to premium, prices start at $21 per month for 5 users, up $750 per month for 100 users.

Integrations: Dropbox, HipChat, Slack, Harvest, WordPress, GitHub, GoogleDrive

 

BASECAMP

Best For: Are you looking for a simple, aesthetically pleasing tool, that still offers a solid range of features without overwhelming you? Then Basecamp is a great choice. It’s important to note though that Basecamp, while providing some excellent features, doesn’t provide everything you might need to effectively manage your project. A wide-range of separate services exist that integrate with Basecamp, but it will get expensive quickly.

Key Features: Although we didn’t have to use, the support from Basecamp is supposed to be excellent. You can easily customize your project view (list, snapshot, snapshot w/summary); and you have the ability to display projects in all sorts of formats: calendar view, open tasks, project progress. It’s also easy to view everything currently assigned to you in one place – just click the “Me” button in the header. The view “Everything” option is helpful too, as you can view things like “Browse Every Discussion” or “Read All Text Documents” with one click.

BaseCamp Everything

Pricing: 60 days of unlimited use for free. Prices range from $20 per month for 10 active projects, with 3GB, and unlimited users, to their Unlimited package which costs $3,000 per year.

Integrations: Harvest, Cyfe, cloudHQ, LucidMeetings, and many others.

 

MICROSOFT PROJECT

Best For: Projects with strict timelines, loads of dependencies and buckets of cross functional interaction. You should also have experience using Microsoft Project previously. It’s a wonderfully robust tool, that can do amazing things, but it’s very easy to start abusing the tool’s features if you don’t have experience using the platform.

Snip20150811_22

Key Features: Where to even start? The Gantt charts, which visualizes your project timeline, can help you determine at what points your team members are over-extended. The ability to create dashboards on project progress is extraordinarily helpful if you will frequently be presenting to project status updates to leadership or executive teams. The templates Microsoft Project offers may decrease the time you might otherwise spend building out the structure of your project.

Pricing: The pricing for Microsoft Project varies wildly depending on how you want to access it and how robust you want the features to be. It ranges from $7 per user per month, to a one-time $1,159 bill.

Integrations: Skype and Sharepoint depending on the package you select.

 

EVERNOTE:

Best For: Projects without hard deadlines, and lots of dependencies. It’s a great platform for creative-driven projects where you might be constantly snapping photos of concepts or potential ideas to review later. It’s also a great platform if you frequently need to brain-dump as it’s search capabilities are marvelously powerful (search by tags, notes, notebooks, keywords, etc.). But if you need to stick to hard deadlines, and have a rigid task process, Evernote is not going to cut it.

Key Features: Evernote doesn’t immediately come to mind when considering potential project management platforms, but that’s only because we’ve underestimated just how powerful Evernote can be for the right type of project. You can share notebooks with your teammates, use Evernote’s chat feature, set reminders, and tag your notes to make searching easy. If you’re constantly on the go make sure to take advantage of Evernote’s new auto-capture feature for all sorts of documents (whiteboards, post-it notes, pages, etc.), and its voice capabilities. And they recently launched their new web clipper tool, allowing you to easily save anything you find interesting on the web.

Snip20150810_15

(source Mac Update)

Pricing: Free for the basic package. The Premium package is $49.99 a year, but features a number of worthwhile features such as offline access, the ability to annotate PDF attachments, and unlimited uploads.

Integrations: So. Many. Options. RedBooth and SmartSheet (two other project management platforms not covered in this post). Expensify (save and manage your expense reports – amazing!), CollabSpot, EasilyDo, Pocket and so many others.

 

INSIGHTLY

Best For: Smaller teams and projects with a limited number of dependencies. Also, fans of Google Apps. Insightly plays well with the entire Google Suite. You will likely need to invest some time up front in customizing Insightly to suit your project needs – I wouldn’t recommend using this platform, unless you plan to also use the CRM platform (see the note on pricing), so this platform may be best suited to marketing or sales teams.

Key Features: The ability to customize the project form with your own fields to meet your needs. Similarly, you can create project pipelines and stages which is useful for projects that have similar steps. The linking feature is another helpful component, allowing you to link any project to a contact, company, or opportunity.

Insightly New Project

Pricing: You can’t access the Project function as a stand-alone, as it’s part of Insightly’s larger CRM platform. That said, the pricing for the entire platform is very reasonable. Insightly offers multiple packages, from the Basic package which is free, to an Enterprise level offering running $99 per user, per month.

Integrations: MailChimp, Quickbooks, Google Apps, Dropbox, Box, EverNote and many others.


Jenny Couch

This post was written by Jenny Couch. Couch is a project management consultant, and Providge’s Business Development Manager. She loves efficiency, to-do lists, and delivering projects on-time and on-budget

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