Happy 2010

Happy 2010 or specifically, Happy Twenty Ten. Apparently, this is the proper way of calling this year. It IS simpler to say admittedly. 2009 went by really fast but with some major changes in my life both personally and professionally.

Personally, we welcomed David into our lives in late October. I usually don’t talk that much about my personal life on thekunit.com for personal reasons but David is a massive change in my life. It’s really easy to understand why babies are called a “bundle of joy” because they simply are. They love so unconditionally and falling in love with your child is the easiest and most natural thing to do. However, they do require a lot of care but as parents we do it with so much joy because they are that worth it. Since David has been in my life, free time isn’t as readily available and between work and caring for him, there’s very little time for extra-curricular activities.
Professionally, I’ve left Zoocasa for Canpages.ca. I leave Zoocasa with a heavy heart because there are a ton of really good friends I’ve left behind like Saul Colt, Jason Lewin, Angelo Berios, Gerry Power and Tanzeeb Khalili who have all made huge impacts on me personally and professionally but I look forward to the new challenges that come in my new role. Canpages has traditionally been a phone directory publisher but it has designs to be something more. As an example of this, it’s recently purchased start-ups like ZipLocal and Gig Park. Canpages is a relatively unknown company in Ontario but it’s quite renown in the Vancouver area. I’m quite excited to be joining Canpages and look forward to the year that’s ahead of me. 
While I’m not necessarily a fan of New Year’s resolutions, I typically like to set goals for myself. For 2010, here are some of the things that I hope to do.
Blog less and more
I’d like to blog more frequently but probably not as many long blogs. The truth is that I do write a lot but very few blogs make it to the site because they are never in the state of completion in my mind. Given that I no longer have the hour commute to work, my blogging time is reduced greatly. But I still would like to blog as I explore new tools, technologies or thoughts. So I’ll try to shorten my blogs and make them into a series of blogs tied through a topic or tag. I still hope to blog at least 12 times a month. That’s the goal and we’ll see how well I do on that.
Be more present
One of the big differences between my role at Zoocasa and my role in Canpages is that I see more of an opportunity to explore other technology opportunities for Canpages. In my role at Zoocasa, my role was mostly limited to just trying to execute development. While it’ll be my primary role here at Canpages as well, I’ll also be able to try to explore other technologies and potentially form partnership with other organizations as well. I’m quite excited about this. So I’d like to be more present for start-up events. It’s also a great way for me help build the Canpages tech brand which I’m actually quite excited to do.
Be more social
I seem to have shrunk into a corner socially after March of last year. I think it’s time for me to re-engage the social media universe. 
With that, happy 2010 everyone!

PeopleBrowsr – a serious Tweetdeck competitor

Even though Tweetdeck revolutionized Twitter use in my mind, the Twitter desktop client of choice for me is PeopleBrowsr. Tweetdeck did a similiar thing that the iPhone did which was to revolutionize the Twitter desktop clients. I now describe Twitter as an office and the group concept is similiar to different water coolers in the office. It allows me to hang out at particular watercoolers depending on what is going on or what I’m interested in at that part of the day. When I first used PeopleBrowsr, it was a web version of the already very popular Tweetdeck but it was extremely buggy to say the least but even then it had quite a lot of potential. I like the idea of having a web based version of Tweetdeck because I’m not always on the same computer all the time. Since then, PeopleBrowsr has quickly grown to be a very powerful Twitter client and is currently my default Twitter client.

 
Groups
The concept of groups was revolutionized by Tweetdeck. PeopleBrowsr has taken it one step further by creating the concept of public and private groups. For instance, I’ve created public groups for Zoocasa for people who want to follow the Zoocasa team members on Twitter. This would have been useful when we first started using Twitter on Zoocasa and it would have been easy to just give people the group name and they would have had a default “water cooler” to join. While #followfridays are an interesting concept, I find it more interesting to assign certain ids to groups. For instance, I created a group called #ftgrcoolproducts so that I could follow products that I thought were really interesting. For industry reasons, I also recently created a group called real estate canada.
 
View Conversations
Tweetdeck has recently added this but PeopleBrowsr was one of the few clients (the other one being PockeTwit) that had the ability to see the thread of a conversation. I personally found it really powerful expecially when I wanted to see the context of a conversation. Peoplebrowsr’s inline conversation view is quite useful as I don’t have to be scrolling around to view the conversation.
 
Collapsed DM+Replies+Sent
One of the things that I really like about PockeTwit was that it put all of my replies and DMs into one column because all messages are directed at me. With PeopleBrowsr, you can take it one step further by adding your sent messages in a single column.
 
Helicopter view
The helicopter view is quite useful as well. It’s a summary view of all your groups at once. This is useful if you have a lot of groups and just want a quick way to glance what is the most recent tweet at that point.
 
Other Social Media Platforms
PeopleBrowsr also allows you to consolidate quite a handful of other social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Identi.ca, FriendFeed and Flickr.
 
Adobe AIR Client
PeopleBrowsr does have an Adobe AIR Client which is essentially a dedicated web browser for PeopleBrowsr. I’ve found it to chew up lots of memory eventually and at some point, it doesn’t poll Twitter properly. That can always be fixed with a restart of the AIR client.
 
PeopleBrowsr also boasts of other products and features which I haven’t had a tonne chance to play with. When you log on to www.peoplebrowsr.com, it has products like search, marketers, hot lists, news and conference. 

Wired Wednesday – May 10, 2009 [Call to Action]

I love Wired Wednesdays. It was the first taste of a start up meetup in Toronto. It’s amazing to see how vibrant the startup culture is in Toronto. This time around was no different. I haven’t been to one since the first one and the event has grown since then. The May Wired Wednesday Toronto featured Spreed, Homestars and Zoocasa. Spreed is a white label news app, Homestars is a review site for trades people and Zoocasa IS THE BEST PLACE TO SEARCH FOR HOMES in Canada.

The reviews of the various start ups is always cool, especially Canadian startups. Even though I wasn’t born here in Canada, I am proudly Canadian. It is what I identify myself with. There were a couple of highlights of that night. The big one for me was Saul’s call to action. The one thing that we don’t do well in Canada is to highlight our Canadian startups. I think naturally Canadians are reserved. We like to remain low key and consistently humble. However, for us to be successful, we have to drum up more support for the various ideas we have here in Canada.

The second highlight of the night was Stuart Macdonald’s point that everyone in your company is the marketing department. It’s similiar idea as everyone in the company is responsible for quality of the product. The point here is that we have to be evangelists for our companies. It’s probably one of the most critical things that we can do.

For my part, I am going to spend some time after each event to play with each product and dedicate at least one blog to review the product. I’ll also be more proactive about talking about some of the internal workings of Zoocasa without revealing company secrets.

Also – directly from the horse’s mouth, check out Saul’s own blog post on his call to action for us.

Follow Friday – May 15, 2009 (aka the I LOVE LEWIN post)

One of the best suggestions someone (I think it was @flyingspatula) made about Follow Fridays is to actually suggest fewer but give reasons why. While there are very, very many people I really enjoy following, I wanted to keep this list small so that I could spend a little bit more time on highlighting why I follow each of these folks listed.

@Zoocasa – this is where I work! Primarily managed by Jason Lewin, this is the quickest way to find out what’s new and exciting about Zoocasa. I personally believe we have an awesome site if you’re looking for a home. Personally, we have a phenomenal team that makes this happen from day-to-day.

@JasonLewin – marketing guru extraordinaire. More importantly, an all around nice guy. Jason is the hardest working person on the team. He’s in early and out late. Well connected and always willing to share and introduce to others. Always willing to do anything that helps out the team or a team member out. A really classy guy. He had the ingenius idea of having me tweet something at the Realtor Quest show that ripped big benefits for our team but didn’t bother to take credit for it.

@saulcolt – the smartest man on earth. Saul is smart, witty and charming. There’s no wonder that he’s such a ladies’ man. What Saul doesn’t want you to know is that he’s really genuinely a nice guy. Despite the claim of having an enormous ego, he is humble, open and honest. Saul is all-kinds of awesome.

@flyingspatula – I share much of his views on management and leadership. It’s hard for many people to do either well. Management is getting the job done but it takes leadership to get the job done right. Getting the job done these days involve making sure the right things are done for the right reason and it’s a fine balance of people, objectives and technology for the most part.

@flexilis – Flexilis is a security product that I use for my Windows Mobile but they also tend to tweet about cool Windows Mobile news whenever relevant. I’ve used it many a time to save my bacon. Ironically enough the one feature that I use the most is Scream because I’m always leaving my phone somewhere.

@PockeTwitDev – I <3 PockeTwit. I don’t heart many things but I truly heart this app. If you use PockeTwit, be sure to follow @PockeTwitDev. It’s the fastest way to get support and feature requests for this app.

Paper over Programming

I'll be the first to admit that being a developer in my previous life, I have the tendency to pick or build an application as my first reaction to solving any problem. Often times, the best solution is the simplest one. One of my greatest challenges when I came to Zoocasa was to figure out how to effectively and efficiently manage my new team. When I started, the team had only recently implemented Scrum. We had stickies printed with stories and we put them on the wall for stories that were checked out. The major benefit was that we could always tell what features that were being developed. However, as an individual and manager, I'm someone who loves data. I always describe myself as a data monkey at heart. I like to have quantitative data to tell me where the current sprint is and how we are improving from sprint to sprint. In that method, we lost a lot of key management data.

We decided to use an application called Pivotal Tracker. We saw one of our vendors use it and I thought it could work. Within a week, I started to realize that this wasn't going to work. Not because the product was bad but it wasn't the nature of the team. This team consisted of people who were development focused outside of 2 members on my team. It was not first and foremost in their minds to update a project management tool. More importantly, we lost the ability to literally see what was going on during the sprint.

Working Wall

So we've moved back to our board and added a whole series of boards as well. Our current board process is significantly more comprehensive then our previous iteration and it is also more efficient than even our application process in terms of tactical management. Today it is easier to see if we're on track. One downside is that historical capture of data is manually I'll go into more details for the purpose of each board in a future post.

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Slow blogging week

Due to personal circumstances, it is going to be a slow blogging week for me as I've not been taking transit to work the past week and this trend will continue for another week or so. The one thing I do have to say is that it is pretty amazing to realize how much I miss those train rides to and from work. For me, that time is my personal down time where I get to use it to catch on things that interests me like reading my rss feeds and blogging. While I haven't had time to read, it doesn't mean that the week hasn't been eventful. Here are some of the very brief highlights for me.

We've actually been working on the iPhone application for a few months now and the code was actually ready probably in late November or so. What we had trouble with was getting approval for an account to publish under. Once we had that, we were good to go. The first iteration of the application is a simplified version of our web application and we have a tonne of ideas that we want to put on over time. For those of you who read this in Canada, please feel free to check out our application in the iPhone App Store.

I'll officially become an official employee of Zoocasa on Monday. For me personally, there are a lot of good things that are implied with this change for me and Zoocasa in general. Zoocasa is now no longer just an "idea" of Rogers but rather confirmation and commitment to the success of the project itself. It's full steam ahead now for us here. 

From a tech perspective, I played with the VMWare VCenter Converter tool. It proved to be a really nifty tool to convert physical machines to virtual machines. Most useful for Windows environments. I decided to convert one of my "dying" machines to convert. It took well over 5 hours to convert but when I turned it on in VMWare Server 2, it worked with minor tweaks to the system. 

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®

Twitter use in real life for me

Most of my friends have always been puzzled by my fascination with Twitter. The question most frequently asked is what can I do with Twitter. I think there are very many practical uses with it. Two of the more famous stories are that the news of the earthquake in china and the Mumbai attacks were first heard on Twitter across the world. Another use of it is that it is a way of getting a pulse on a distinct segment of the population. I remember when Rogers first launched the iPhone plans and people on Twitter were screaming bloody murder. I've often wondered if Rogers could have managed it better if it leaked the info on Twitter to gauge a reaction of it.

Given that Zoocasa is a web start-up, we are quite fortunate to have someone as web savvy as Jason Lewin to focus on Marketing for us. Very early on, Jason set up a Twitter account for the company and has quickly become active on it. I tend to observe from the outside by having a RSS feed for the keyword of Zoocasa. I've always found it to be interesting to watch the conversations on Twitter. I came across a frustrated tweet that Friday morning and eventually had a chance to chat with @TelfMaynard at the end of the day. The conversation was comfortable as Telf understood what Zoocasa was – a search engine for real estate – and that certain things were not in our control. He also had constructive feedback for the product and ways he thought that we could fix his concerns. Fortunately, we had some of the items already in our current roadmap and in the midst of being developed in the current development cycle. For the parts that I couldn't fix in the near term., he understood that technology doesn't get developed overnight. All in all, he was a patient user who understood that Zoocasa is a start up that was still working out the kinks but was frustrated because the feedback loop was broken.

For me, what made Twitter relevant was that it helped by giving Telf a venue to alert others of a potential concern. It helped me as a member of the Zoocasa team be aware of the potential concerns and address it where and when we can. All in all, it was a win-win situation in my mind. Over time, I am hoping that Twitter will give us another avenue to interact with the users and be another means to build more relevant features for our user community.

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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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