Author Archives: Catalin Podeanu

How to build and grow an amazing UX team

A couple of weeks back I’ve went to DevTalks – an event for the romanian IT Community – to talk about “How to Build and Grow Amazing User Experience Teams”.

In short, this were the key points of my presentation:

1. Hire wisely.

When you hire, try to overlap the skills of your team members so that everyone has a little bit of knowledge about what others do.

For example: a UX professional should have very good design skills and medium to good HTML/CSS skills. Of course, some JavaScript wouldn’t hurt. A designer should know some UX parts and also how a front-end developer does his thing to implement the designs.

2. Prototyping and feedback.

Great teams don’t work in the shadows until they finish a project. They try to prototype and get feedback as soon as possible for everything they can.

3. Delivers often and quality

Every UX team should be focused on delivering top quality work in a fast paced environment. Sometimes we feel the need to cut the quality because we are on a tight deadline, but maybe we could break the task in little pieces so that we can deliver quality faster.

4. They Pause

From time to time it’s good to leave the work aside and go experience things for yourself. Go and interact with new things and new people. Go and see new places. A lot of good things may come from a break. How else could you facilitate experiences for others if you don’t get enough experiences for yourself?

5. Choose wisely when to collaborate and when to isolate

This one is pretty simple: sometimes we need to collaborate with others so that we can get things done and sometimes we need to go in a quiet room so that we can think and analyse our gathered data. The trick is to know when to work with others and when to isolate yourself.

6. They talk about the net effect of the product

This is what drives an amazing UX team. The change a product brings in the lives of it’s users. Does it save lives? Does it save time? Or, maybe both?

Users like products that look and work very good. But they love the products that look, work and bring some magic into their lives.

Working hard and playing hard

Since day one at XL TEAM I have been introduced to a lot of great mottos. I didn’t pay special attention at first, but I had soon discovered they are  really deeply rooted in our company’s culture.

The motto

In the stressful and rapidly changing world of IT, promoting the virtues of hard work is next to impossible without providing a healthy counterbalance at the workplace. Injecting a dose of play in the work day was the best and most engaging balance I have experienced.

From the very beginning, “Work hard, play hard” is one of the greetings each of us receive in the warm welcome to the team.

Along the ride, this motto went well outside the workplace, and the playfulness become part of our lifestyle. We’re not only co-workers, but real friends. For the International Women’s Day, Rares dared to organise a party to celebrate our respect and appreciation for our women colleagues. It couldn’t been easier! We discussed with the team, which supported us to rent a bus and surprise the girls. The party afterwards… a one to remember :)!

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#yolo

We proudly support Goedmarkt.nl

If you are stuck in a traffic jam on A13 in The Netherlands, the highway that links Delft to Rotterdam, or maybe you are driving on A4 between Amsterdam and Schiphol Airport, there is a high chance to see us on a billboard.

Goedmarkt business case is focused on helping companies to donate products and/or services on a webshop and increase the donations value by ensuring a seamless buying process. Once a purchase is made, the money resulted from the buying are further sent to charities and good causes, cherry picked by Oranje Fonds and Natuur Monumenten. In this way, Goedmarkt.nl is considered an unique CSR (Company Social Responsibility) and marketing tool, with great results from the moment of launch.

XL Team was proud and happy to help and assiste the Goedmarkt team with the design, software development and launch of the platform.

XL Team invited by the Permanent Mission of Romania at the United Nations in Geneve

Last week we have travelled again, this time to Geneve, Switzerland. Her excellence Marinela Ciobanu, the ambassador of the Permanent Mission of Romania at United Nations has invited us to present the Gropometru app. This year, Romania held the presidency of the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) council  - more information here.

2 banners and the video presentation for Gropometru

Our mobile application, Gropometru  has attracted attention, since it was in line with one of the subjects that ITU has had in 2013 – “ICTs and Improving Road Safety“. We had a presentation and 2 banners, which explained the concept and the results of the last 2 months.

Gropometru banner 1 ITU Geneve

It was an honor for XL Team to be next to the leaders of United Nations and ITU and have our effort recognized. On a large scale, we believe that Gropometru can save lives, by ensuring that drivers are more careful when driving. Also, we believe that giving the right information about the car, the roads will be safer by having the dangerous cars out of the roads.

Our experience at Social Media Summer Camp 2013

This past weekend we have participated at Social Media Summer Camp, organized by Biz magazine. The main focus of the camp was Social Media and what are the best practices and strategies to use social media as a marketing tool. The organizers managed to have big companies, famous agencies and most influencing Romanian bloggers.

Even if we are an IT company, specialized in developing mobile & web applications, social media is on our agenda and it was an experience to listen on how to prepare and embrace social media as much as possibile in the daily activities of a company. It was great to see how tense, but at the same time relaxed, is the relation between agencies and bloggers, which depend on each other in order to prove the promised KPI’s to the clients.

A great talk was give by Ionut Munteanu about “Online Marketing Centered on Performance”.

It was an intense event, with interactivity and team work, as stated on the official website of the summer camp (read more), but overall a good opportunity to meet influencers, decision makers and possible partners, all due to social media.

“Romanian IT industry has been busy with the ideas of others”

“The creativity and the technical preparation of the Romanian educational system are the strong points of the Romanian developers”, we stated during Ziarul Financiar Live business show. The statement is in line with the what we as XL Team have seen in the Western Europe where companies struggle to find capable technical resources. Next to this, there are less and less youngsters that go for a business & administration education, in the detriment of technical universities.

Some of the other statement expressed during the TV show:

  • XL Team is focusing on Western Europe, with a special interest in The Netherlands, UK, Germany and Belgium.”
  • “The problem of the Romanian IT is that it is focused on developing and working on the ideas of others. XL Team is motivated to develop our own concepts and ideas.”
  • “We as a company believe in execution, not only in ideas. What we have learned is that ideas need to be shared and confirmed by the potential users before being developed.”
  • Gropometru app is counting the potholes from the road. We have found a solution that can notify the user about the potholes, so they can save their suspension. We realized that we can use the accelerometer from the smartphones to calculate the oscillations generated by the potholes. The app is doing this automatically, you only need to place it next to you and leave it to do its work. When in front there is a dangerous pothole, we are notifying the user about it.”
  • “At the moment we are not earning a penny from Gropometru, but we want to get to a point where we can forecast when parts of the user’s suspension need to be changed. This information we think that is valuable for the car parts importers and insurance companies.”
  • mysnooze is an application where travelers can share their preferences in regards to hotel stay. This create the unique opportunity for hotels to personalize the services they offer at individual level.” 

In essence, we at XL Team are keen to provide the best software development services in the most Agile way, and this is confirmed by the growth we are registering month by month.

If you understand Romanian, the full interview can be seen here.

Enhanced Yii and image administration extension

This project started out as an Yii extension for image administration. Tired of creating administration for images on each new project i decided to make an extension that does just that.

However i soon realised that i need another extension to handle image resize and another one to handle file uploads. So because of the many dependencies i decided to keep adding all the things i would need to build a small web application (image administration, e-mail management, user management, and so on) from scratch and put the whole thing on github (except for the Yii framework folder itself since you can get that from the Yii oficial website).

I also have to give credit to the authors of all the extensions i used:

 You can find more instructions on how to use the image extension in the README file found under modules/imageAdmin

Without further ado here is the github link https://github.com/andreivlad/EnhancedYii.

Sample image extension on an article administration.

Adding a new image:

Reordering the images:

 

The KISSING Booth at Internet & Mobile World

In February 2012 we have opened our Romanian branch, which grew from a team of 2 into a team of 25 currently. We are still growing and innovating, focused on increasing our business, not only on the Dutch market, but also on the Romanian.

How can you increase the business? Awareness is the answer. But how do you get awareness? You create an awesome and funny app, like Gropometru, which caught the media attention and puts a spotlight on you, as a company.

The next natural step is enforcing your status as web & mobile professionals. Therefore we decided to have a booth at Internet & Mobile World, that took place last week in Bucharest.

We think we managed to pull it off again, with a simple idea (thank you Ruxi), we had a booth that stood from the crowd : )

We had a few options, some more tasty than others, but we marched on the fact that we need to remove the barriers and befriend with the visitors. Also, coming from The Netherlands means we kiss 3 times, which is not the norm in Romania : ) This is how the kissing booth idea got shape and how we, hopefully, remained in the mind of the visitors.

Beside the looks, we came with the content. We managed to convince 2 Dutch speakers to come on the stage. Marc van Gent, our CTO and Jaspar Roos, our Chief Inspiration Offices (yeah, we have that as well ; )

Marc talked about the evolution of the CIO in a company, whereas Jaspar has talked to his audience about the importance of humor in daily job, where he came with studies and proof that humor can increase the level of innovation and inspiration in a company.

XL Team partnering with Stackmob

We are happy to announce that we have established a development partnership with Stackmob - www.stackmob.com, a company that helps us to easily build scalable apps for any connected device. We have used Stackmob for several apps we have developed for our clients and also for us. The advantage always come from minimizing the development effort for the project, next to having a reliable backend solution.

XL Grid – Easy to use, semantic grid-system

We always strive to optimize our front-end workflow either by using the latest frameworks and productivity tools or by creating our very own.

Why creating our own tools?

Creating tools might seem wasted time since there are a bazillion community backed ones. Sometimes using third party libraries can become a burden since most of them become abandoned in a matter of months, even before 6 month projects that are using them since scratch are being finalized. We all love to give back to the community but sometimes there isn’t enough time to go through thousands of lines of code and issue patches.

xl-grid

XL Grid is our very own front-end grid system written in LESS. It takes a very simple column/gutter approach with easy to use column nesting. In the near future we’ll be adding fluid width support and responsive helpers. You can view a demo here and download it from XL GRID repository.