Points: More Together

This is a quick blog about my initial impression of Points. And while I’m an employee of Points, all of the opinions and impressions shared here are mine and do not necessarily reflect that of Points. Now that I’ve got the legal stuff out of the way, on to the blog ๐Ÿ™‚ Although it’s with sadness that I leave Canpages, I’m quite excited to be starting at a new adventure. I’m pretty excited to have landed at Points.com. Points.com is a Canadian start-up that went public (TSE:PTS) in 2004 and is located on Queen and John in downtown Toronto. Although a public company, it still hasn’t lost its start up edge. As an example, I was greeted by Erika, the VP of HR, with mamosas at 10 am in the morning. Granted, it was to celebrate the move to our new office space. 

There were a few things that impressed me before I joined Points:

1) Focus on Quality
A lot of companies talk about desiring quality in the delivery but often times there is little more than lip service to the concept. In all of my conversations with Points, there was a strong emphasis in bringing on senior managers who would advocate quality delivery, which more or less translated to automated testing. I’m a huge advocate of the concept where product quality is not the responsibility of one member or a particular team but rather anyone who is part of the product delivery process. This concept is shared and advocated by everyone of the management team whom I’ve had an opportunity to speak with about product quality.

2) Clear direction
Excitingly enough – there is a five-year plan. I have to be honest here. I was a bit skeptical when I started. Often times in interviews, companies often talk about having plans of some sort but few have actually materialized after I was hired. I was given preview of Points’ five year plan late last week and I have to say that I’m very excited to be a part of the anticipated change. While the details of the five-year plan are confidential, I was particularly impressed with the detail in which it went into.

3) People oriented
The motto of Points.com is “more together.” From a business perspective, it implies that points are worth more when it can be consolidated. From a people perspective, it also means that we can accomplish more as a company of people rather than individuals. Although it’s only been a couple of weeks, there are so many great things from a people perspective here at Points. The first are the simple things such as free pop (or soda for you American folk). I love the fact that there are shower facilities and places to lock your bike up. There is the weekly beer cart that goes around with beer, wine and snacks. This will be the first time in years when I’m not buying snacks for the team out of my own pocket, which is nice :D. But more than that, there are certain HR policies which I connect to such as all my benefits are paid for by Points. I’m more accustomed to having my benefits subsidized and having to pay for the rest. I love the fact that sick days aren’t officially tracked here with the belief that people won’t abuse it. It’s awesome to find a company that trusts its employees because trust is a two-way street. This is especially important to me because in general tech folk tend to work crazy hours. Frankly, I’d rather have a team member take the day off and not worry about using up sick days than coming in and getting more people sick.

Here’s another amazing story for me to tell. I had a special occasion this week with my wife. Being in IT for more than a decade, it’s pretty normal for me to be late and often times even canceling out. My family is used to that. Sure enough an emergency came up, and Dave, the CTO, and I worked through the issue. It took me only an hour longer than I was expected to leave and I still got to my dinner which I quickly postponed. I didn’t think much about it until we got home on Saturday where Dave had sent flowers to my wife apologizing on my behalf. It was a really thoughtful gesture. My wife was quite impressed.

flowers

Another distinct characteristic of the organization is its sense of humour. Everyone who works here seems to have one. Laughter is very common in our scrums and personal interactions.

4) Down-to-earth
Although we have ample space in the building, only a handful of people have offices while everyone including VPs and the CTO have cubicle space and are proud of it. One of the most interesting moments that I had an opportunity to observe was the COO and CTO huddle at the CTOs cubicle to work on something. No one seems hung up on titles and everyone wants to get the job done. People are both passionate and dedicated about their jobs. The constant theme in my conversations with the tech team is ownership. There is the fundamental belief and desire that we own our technology and that we drive our destiny.

Although I’ve only completed my second week here at Points.com, I have to say that I’m looking forward to my time here. The two weeks have gone by quickly and it’s been quite exciting already.

Minor problems with Evernote

One of the problems of trying new technology is sometimes things fall apart in the attempt. I’ve been trying to use Evernote as the primary means of writing blog entries but I’ve run into some issues doing so. You can bet your money that Evernote is in one of my upcoming posts. Overall, a good product idea but with some minor issues partly because of how I use them. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to catch up over the next few days. I’d like to try to top the number of entries from December. From a non-blog perspective, we’re on a full court press at Zoocasa. We’ve got some big plans for Q1 2009. It’s so weird writing that year still.

Busy, busy, busy

That's sung to the tune of Money, money, money… It's even more
unfortunate when it doesn't translate to more money for me. LOL. I've
had a bit of a slow down in terms of writing blogs as it's been
incredibly busy coupled with the unmitigated disaster that has been my
personal IT infrastructure. I had an outage of a couple of days because
of it. Thankfully it is up and running now.

On a work front, work has turned out to be really busy. We have had
quite a few last minute changes in the last few iterations and we're
paying the price of it in our schedule. Hopefully with the Christmas
break, it'll give me a chance to reset the cycle and catch up.
Internally, I'd like to change how we approach our development to help
increase the quality of our releases. Frankly, the next few iterations
are going to be rocky.

After being at Zoocasa for almost 3 months, I have to say that my
feelings are mixed about it. On one hand, I work with an awesome team
of developers. For the most part, they are talented, well rounded and
quirky of course. Some of them are already excellent leaders and I hope
they continue to grow in that manner. Some of them are cowboys that I
have to constantly steer but frankly, they do awesome work. I just have
to make sure that we are aligned. Sometimes I align them and sometimes
they align me. The downside of this job is that the days are extremely
long and it takes me away from my family a lot more than I would like.

I look forward to the Christmas break as I'll be spending it with my
"kids" whom I also haven't had much time to spend with in quite a while.

Sent from my HTC Touch Pro®

Not a huge fan of the Blackberry Platform at the moment

Today is the first day of work where I will be without my Windows
Mobile and on my work given Blackberry and already I feel very lost and
stressed. My PDA has always been a source of very rich Personal
Information for me. It's how I manage my life daily. It has long
extended beyond just a storage of just contacts and calendar. I use it
for email, blogging, reading and communicating. While the Blackberry
does all these things, it doesn't seem to do it as well. And my Blackberry crashes just as often as my WinMo when I'm doing the same things on it.

Before I owned a Blackberry, my friends always teased me about the
WinMo crashes and how the built-in software has always been poor. What
they often fail to mention is that you have the option to replace most
of the built-in software with third party options. Most of them for
free. I haven't found this to be as true for the Blackberry. For
instance, there are at least 4 different types of browsers you can
download, at least 2 major calendar replacement and more than a handful
of contact replacements. I am yet to find a decent implementation for Twitter and the
implementation for Newsgator actually really sucks when you don't have
network connectivity.

The one thing that the Blackberry has done exceptionally well is the
idea of consolidating all communications into one big folder. It works
well when you want to respond to people. However, still not so easy if
you want to initiate communication. Pocket Outlook, the Windows Mobile
email is usable and does everything an email should but there is
nothing that stands out. I have to say that I do like Windows Mobile's
implementation of SMS a lot better though. Not only can I respond from
an SMS thread, I can also initiate an SMS from the thread.

Another thing that I like about the Blackberry is some elementd of its
hardware. It is pretty. I am using an older model – the 8820. It's
relatively thin and very slick looking device. And the battery last
forever when you compare it to Windows Mobile even when it is
constantly connecting to the internet. That being said, it's not
running on 3G so it's not necessarily a fair comparison. The negative
things are that I hate the keyboard form factor. It's great for one
handed use but already my hands are feeling "stressed" from blogging on
the keyboard. The landscape keyboard works so much better for my hands.

I am sure that the Blackberry works for some. For me, knowing there are
alternatives to the Blackberry, it has been quite frustrating to use.

Sent from my BlackBerry device on the Rogers Wireless Network

Check out what I do for a living and have a chance to win something

There are a lot of fun things I like about working for Zoocasa and one of them is that it is truly a start up. It has all the challenges of a start up (crazy busy schedules) but also all the perks as well (web 2.0, mashables) and there is never a dull day at work. Also, another cool thing about Zoocasa is that the roles are always loosely defined. While my primary role is to head up technology, I am also involved in most parts of the business. Lately we've been doing a marketing push and it's been very interesting learning how marketing plans are developed and executed. One of the ideas is our Discover Zoocasa contest.

If you haven't checked out Zoocasa yet, here's a chance to check it out and have an opportunity to win an iPod Touch, $100 or $50 gift card from Home Depot. All you have to do is enter your info.
You can increase your chances of winning if you invite other friends and they sign up as well. While you're there, check out the site. Any feedback, thoughts or comments would be greatly appreciated ๐Ÿ˜€

Oh yeah – one last thing; check out the contest details and rules too… There are some restrictions that I can't remember off the top of my head.

Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.

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Settling in at the Zoo(casa)

Let's just start this by saying that the opinions I'm about to share is not necessarily of my employers. They're simply thoughts about my job and what makes me excited about where I am.

So, for those of you who don't know, I currently work for a company called Zoocasa. It's a start-up that is fully funded by Rogers. While I know I can't share why Rogers has decided to do this, it makes a lot of sense in a positive fashion. So a month ago, I was hired on as Head of Technology/Technology Lead of Zoocasa. I'm responsible for all things technical such as technology operations, development, QA and architecture. The team is a good size – approximately 10 people large with a good range of skillsets and experiences.

The business value in itself is extremely interesting. Zoocasa markets itself as Home Search in Canada with Smarts. When I look at the site, it feels like a natural way of searching for a home. I can search by neighbourhood, try to pick out the nearest LCBO (yes, I've become an alcoholic in the past few years), the nearest restaurants and the nearest shops. It's got things like a gas mile calculator – personally I haven't used it since I'm a big transit person in general. There has been a lot of focus is trying to come up with not only features that users might find useful but also data to support those features. Definitely a lot of cool things that I like about the site.

It's been a while since I last worked for a small company like this. While it's associated with Rogers, we use very little of Rogers infrastructure (i.e. networks, mail servers, etc). It's truly a start up in most sense of the term. Where we can, we rely heavily on open source technologies, web services and web APIs. The results on the front end is a mashup of sorts. The culture here is definitely one of go-go-go. My first day here consisted of starting at 8:30 am and going through all the way to around 6:30 with a 30 minute break in between. And that was an easy day. There are no fiefdoms here – everyone does what they can to help and everyone is usually more than happy to accept the help.

There are definitely opportunities here and it'll be interesting to see how the next few months turn out.

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Swamped

I'm
into week 3 here at Zoocasa and I've been swamped! Such is the life of
working at a startup. The technology is interesting but there are
definitely growing pains. At least the work is challenging. I'll
hopefully have the time to write more about my thoughts on Zoocasa over
the weekend. In the mean time, I've completed a more complete review of
PockeTwit. Just need to do some screenshots of the app. I am getting
around to do a review of Newsgator and Bright Kite. So more to come in
the next few days.

Other randomness that's going on in my tech
life: for the life of me, I can't seem to fix the 404 error redirect on
BlogEngine. It's also I haven't had time to sit down to figure it out
either. Also put together a mini (not micro) machine. I wanted to put
together a VMWare sandbox at work. Maybe I'll write about that too.

Sent from my Windows Mobile® phone.