Tech in 2: Machine Learning
Machine Learning algorithms can vastly improve business insights from the huge amounts of data passing through your organization. In this Tech in 2, Principal Consultant Hoke Currie explains how these algorithms will help you process information more quickly, handle larger amounts of data, and truly supercharge your understanding of what's happening in your organization. DISCOVER MORE
Software Development Trends for 2021
As we welcome the start of a new year, we also welcome the excitement that comes with new technology on the horizon. This is especially true in the world of software development. We talked to some of our developers to learn the latest updates and trends that they’re excited about for 2021, and what those improvements will bring to our clients. “I’m excited to see the .NET framework and machine learning coming together. ML.NET (machine learning in .NET) is a ‘neural net in a box’ we can apply to many potential applications to bring the strength of neural net processing to our client applications. It’ll empower our clients to make better business decisions.” - Kenn, Fort Wayne Development Center “I’ve been helping a client transition to using Elixir/Phoenix for their codebase for the past two years. There are changes coming up in 2021 that should improve the speed of code running with the Elixir Virtual Machine. There are also more developments on the horizon within the Elixir community that will make it easier to troubleshoot errors in the codebase. I’m excited about the possibility of us gaining additional expertise in Elixir, and Rural Sourcing utilizing it as a solution for more clients.” - Matt, Albuquerque Development Center “Snowflake has really taken off lately! I’m excited about how it could help our database colleagues offer a more Agile or extreme datawarehousing approach to our clients.” – Margret, Albuquerque Development Center “Deno as the next generation of Node. It’s doing a great job of addressing the security concerns associated with Node applications, and will help prove to any Node naysayers that the technology is mature enough to adopt, even for enterprise level applications.” - Devin, Albuquerque Development Center “A big trend right now is API-first development. I think this is exciting for Rural Sourcing, because it gives us the opportunity to call attention to the contribution that QA can provide for our clients. QA can ensure that the foundation of a complicated system is a solid one and protect a client's brand by providing a reliably positive experience for those who are consumers of these APIs across a variety of platforms.” – Andrés, Fort Wayne Development Center “The new .NET Core means we won’t be working with two divergent stacks any more. The improvements they've made to how their platform works are really exciting.” – Eric, Oklahoma City Development Center “Kibana is a new open source dashboard that provides search and data visualization capabilities within Elasticsearch. The project we’re utilizing this technology on helps our client better understand how their data is being used, what problems are occurring, and how often. I look forward to getting to use this tech stack with more clients in the future.” – Brandon, Jonesboro Development Center DISCOVER MORE
Our Mission in Action: Bill Combs
Our guiding force at Rural Sourcing is our mission: to create high-quality technology jobs in Middle America cities where talent is often overlooked. Our Mission in Action showcases Rural Sourcing colleagues who represent how this mission impacts individuals and the communities in which we operate. Bill Combs’ love for technology began at the age of 13 when he received his first computer. After discovering BASIC and learning a few commands, he was hooked. Despite discovering this new hobby, however, it would take a few life changes before he was able to pursue a career in tech. The path to Rural Sourcing In 1999, Bill joined the Navy as an Aviation Structural and Hydraulics Mechanic. After leaving the military, he began a career in manufacturing and construction, and while he always took pride in his work, he didn’t find it fulfilling. After years of taking on solo development projects on the side (and a serious injury on the job), he finally decided to go all-in down this new path. After many late nights and weekends, Bill received his software engineering degree. Finding the right fit After receiving his degree, Bill started to apply for full-time developer roles. Despite having worked on solo projects for much of his life, he didn’t have experience working on a professional development team or in an Agile environment. His application was rejected almost immediately at many of the companies where he applied. Rural Sourcing seemed different, though. Bill researched the company before applying and, from the outside, it seemed like they’d be willing to take a chance on people who were new to the industry if they had the drive to learn. He was excited to be brought in for an interview. An opportunity to grow After meeting with Bill Rose, Director of Rural Sourcing’s new Development Center in Fort Wayne, Bill knew that he’d found the right place to start his career in tech. He soon discovered that the culture was all about supporting and mentoring colleagues who come from different backgrounds. He says, “Rural Sourcing has a culture that doesn’t restrict you. If you want to learn a new technology, the tools are there to help you do it.” In fact, after his initial project finished, he was asked by Bill Rose, “What do you want to do next?” He answered .NET because, despite working in web, he’d always had an interest in it. That pivot sent him on an adventure that he described as “the most challenging and rewarding thing I’d ever done as a developer.” Helping others While Bill is still pushing himself and his technical abilities, he’s also focused on helping new colleagues. “There were colleagues in my first few weeks at Rural Sourcing who were extremely gracious with their time, and now that I’ve been here a while, I try to be just as helpful as others have been to me.” DISCOVER MORE
Our Mission in Action: Brandon Avant
Our guiding force at Rural Sourcing is our mission: to create high-quality technology jobs in Middle America cities where talent is often overlooked. Our Mission in Action showcases Rural Sourcing colleagues who represent how this mission impacts individuals and the communities in which we operate. As he was entering his senior year as a computer science student at Arkansas State University, Brandon Avant was looking for an internship that would set the tone for the rest of his career. He’d already spent much of his childhood educating himself on the latest in technology, so he wanted an employer that would support his passion for lifelong learning. After meeting with Rural Sourcing and connecting with our mission and his potential colleagues, he decided to join our Junior Associate program as a programmer analyst. The opportunity to grow Ten years later Brandon is now a successful Principal Consultant and Technical Lead where he’s worked with clients in many industries, including agriculture, medical, and transportation. He says that being at Rural Sourcing has given him many opportunities to grow his professional skillset, and has enjoyed being able to mentor younger colleagues. Brandon shares, “Ever since I was a child, I’ve been interested in software development; I consider designing and writing code more of a hobby and less of a job, which is why I write software during my personal time as well. My career here at Rural Sourcing has allowed me to take what I enjoy and make a career out of it; for that, I would like to thank Rural Sourcing.”
Leading an Agile Team? Here Are the Top Three Metrics to Track
In professional services, a fundamental responsibility that we have to our clients is that we accurately and honestly provide factual data to support the status and performance of our team, and the effort towards our planned goals. But how do we measure performance to get factual data that is relevant? What are the best metrics to track? What tools can I use today that weren’t available a few years ago? Read on to find out. What are the “best” metrics to track? At first glance, this seems like a pretty straightforward question, but let’s dive a little deeper by using this example: our stakeholders have imposed a deadline of February 9th for the project to be complete. How should we track our status regularly to get a complete understanding of how we’re doing? You might think to yourself, “Simple, we’ll measure our percentage of the complete body of work every two weeks and that’ll be our key indicator that we’re on track.” The same can be said for the budget. “If we have ‘X’ amount of money budgeted towards the effort, how complete will the product be when we run out of money?” As anyone in professional services or product development will tell you, however, it’s rarely this easy. Primarily because the data to support whatever the percentage complete value that we derived is inherently flawed, because we don’t have a basis for how fast our team can complete the work. That’s why we need to shift our thinking from what’s needed to reach the deadline, to how we measure to accurately forecast project completion. If we can be accurate in our reality, then we have data to support decisions that’ll make February 9th a reality, too. Velocity What is it? I use the term velocity because my teams at Rural Sourcing are almost completely Agile in our approaches to application development. For those of you that use a different methodology in your approach, just think of velocity as the amount of work that can be completed by the team in a measurable (preferably iterative) timeframe. Velocity is going to be the primary metric output to measure performance, and will be impacted by all other key performance metrics (KPIs). Outputs Using Agile, velocity is usually measured by the number of Story Points completed per sprint. In a Waterfall approach, you may compare the number of task items completed in the Project Plan every week or assign a Level of Effort value to each item, and measure how much effort is routinely completed in the defined timeframe. Tools and Tech Products like Atlassian Jira, Azure DevOps, and SmartSheet are project management tools that use ticket-based workflows that are formulated around assigning levels of effort on tasks. And if you don’t want to use a licensed product, you can manage the base velocity metric simply by getting your team to add weight, level of effort, or story point values to tasks and tracking how may are completed in a set schedule. Quality What is it? So, we have our base velocity number and we’re tracking. Great! The only problem is we’re not getting as much work done as the numbers indicate. What impacts can cause a lower than expected value for work completed? The first and most obvious is quality. How much rework are we doing? If our velocity isn’t taking into account the bugs, defects, or unusable product we are creating then we are going to overestimate how much our team can accomplish. Outputs We can measure the number of bugs or defects that occur in our products or code. This number needs to be accounted for in the velocity number whether the level of effort for each bug is estimated with the same value type as the velocity and subtracted from the velocity value, or the total number of that work tracked against the velocity to determine impact. Tools and Tech The same tools we use to track velocity can come into play here and are very effective. Adding bug tickets or stories labeled as defects can allow you to generate reports to see what impact quality is having on your overall velocity. Tools like Plurasight Flow can really up your game. Because Flow tracks the software commits by the developers, it’s monitoring how much actual rework is done, how many errors are introduced to the code, and other areas that are impacted by the code that was created. Efficiency What is it? This is where we’re able to increase our velocity and help determine just how fast we can go. Do we need more team members to get more work done, or is the team actually capable of doing more? This is one of the hardest metrics to gather, but has the most impact on velocity when opportunities to increase efficiency are realized. It’s difficult to identify areas that have an opportunity for improvement without trying it out via a proof of concept or trial period to see if the changes have a positive impact. We can again turn to new tech to gain valuable insights to directly identify areas to increase efficiency. Outputs The metrics on efficiency can vary greatly depending on where the inefficiencies were found. The final outputs will be recognized via an increased velocity of the team. Tools and Tech Commit-tracking software like Plurasight Flow can give you direct insights into the efficiency of your developer’s code. This allows detail for tracking this metric like never before. Here’s an example: you can see two of your developers are doing 45% refactoring of code daily in a certain area because of a previously completed effort that is negatively impacting your team’s ability to reach their target velocity (but would otherwise be unknown.) Perhaps you determine that giving the responsibility of refactoring old code to a single team member can increase your efficiency by 25+%. Can you imagine that kind of efficiency gain without a trial and error approach? Measuring the velocity of a team and how much they can gain if they’re performing efficiently is fundamental for any forecasting, planning, and decision-making. Like the Zoom meetings and other technologies that we now rely on more than ever, we can leverage new applications to better track, manage, and report our team’s performance like never before. Three simple metrics can change how we measure performance and status in a whole new way. About the Author Chris Simmons is a Principal Consultant in our Augusta Development Center, and has been an evangelist for Agile methodology since its inception into mainstream IT. As a leader in the project management space for over 15 years, he’s managed and enhanced efforts for multiple Fortune 500 companies’ applications, including projects in the manufacturing, fleet management, financial services, and professional services industries. Chris lives in South Carolina with his wife and newborn son, and enjoys golf, guitar, hiking, and travel. WATCH CHRIS SIMMONS' TECH IN 2 VIDEO
Making Accessibility a Priority
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When the ADA became law in 1990, it prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, and transportation. When the law was passed the internet was merely a tool to allow research professors to share notes. The law dealt largely with the physical world we lived in, not this virtual world where we shop, work, and play online. While the passing of this bill was certainly long overdue, I believe that employers, especially today, have an ongoing responsibility to improve the opportunities afforded to those with disabilities, and create an equally accessible world for them to succeed. As the father of two sons with special needs, equal accessibility for those with disabilities is something that I’ll always take a stand for. 61 million people The CDC reports that 1 in 4 American adults (that’s 61 million people) live with some sort of disability in the categories of mobility, cognition, hearing, vision, independent living, or self-care. That’s a large group of people with a wide range of skills that we as employers would be irresponsible to ignore. Through Rural Sourcing’s partnership with Georgia Tech Excel, a four-year college program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, we’ve had the opportunity to recruit some seriously talented junior associates in our Atlanta office. I’m also proud to serve on the Board at Ventures ATL, a non-profit organization that provides meaningful employment opportunities for adults with Autism or other developmental disabilities. It’s estimated that 80-90% of adults with Autism are unemployed, which is an unfortunate statistic considering so many of these individuals are extremely detail-oriented, logical thinkers, and have a strong technical aptitude – all sought-after skills that any employer would value. The Walgreens standard Randy Lewis, a former VP at Walgreens who’s also the father of a son with special needs, pioneered a disability employment model in the company’s Anderson, SC distribution center that has truly set the standard in accessibility hiring. His model resulted in more than 10% of Walgreens’ distribution center workforce being comprised of people with disabilities. Lewis said, “The performance was the same. The safety was better. [The distribution centers] had better retention; they had less turnover. We also found better culture across the company.” Doing our part At Rural Sourcing, our human resources and recruiting teams, along with our Equity Inclusion & Diversity (EI&D) Council, are working hard to make sure that we’re an attractive place to work for those with disabilities. Some of the steps we’re taking include ensuring we’re using inclusive language in our job descriptions, having quiet individual workspaces in our development centers for those who need fewer distractions, and we’re training our developers on how to make software applications that are accessible to all audiences. I’m excited for us as an organization, because I know these efforts are going to introduce us to many talented colleagues with disabilities; people who will enrich our business in a profound way. The supportive and inclusive culture at Rural Sourcing is something we are really proud of, and by making accessibility a priority in our hiring practices, we’re making our culture a priority, too.
Creating Raving Fans
Seeing clients succeed is something that’s always fueled me. With over 20 years of experience as a Client Executive focused on software development services, solving clients’ biggest challenges, while also learning about Agile principles and Scrum methodologies, has become a passion of mine. Having had the opportunity to start the Agile PMI Forum in Atlanta, be an early and regular contributor to Atlanta Scrum Users Group, an organizer of the first ever Agile Day in Atlanta, then working in the early start-up days with LeadingAgile, I’ve dedicated the better part of my career to Agile efforts. I found myself asking, “What Agile principles and Scrum methodologies can be applied to the selling process?” The parallels always converge on creating better business outcomes. Beyond the deliverables Two clients that we’re proud to work with are ParkMobile, a consumer application with over 20 million users worldwide, and BetterCloud, a security and management platform for SaaS applications. In ParkMobile’s recent client showcase, Chief Technology Officer Matt Ball said that he enjoys working with our team because we challenge their ideas and push them to think outside the box. In my opinion, this is a big reason why we’ve had such a successful relationship. To us, it isn’t about our quota, our issues, and our goals, it’s about thinking beyond the deliverables to ensure our clients are set up for long-term success. In BetterCloud’s recent client showcase, Jim Brennan, BetterCloud’s Chief Product Officer said, “We’re also looking for a partner from whom we could learn, so we’ve been able to bring back some of those things into our own practice and in many ways make our team stronger as a result.” When we’re empathic, respectful, curious, and caring with sincere intentions, we become not just a partner, but a member of their movement, and an integral component of their success. Owning the outcome Recognizing the parallels between Agile and Scrum practices and relationship management has helped our team understand the integral role we play in our clients’ success. Barry Hodges, VP of Software Development at ParkMobile, mentioned how important it was to have a team that “acted like they were full-time employees.” Jim Brennan of BetterCloud also echoed that statement saying that Rural Sourcing is “a true partner and somebody that’s aligned with our values, and it’s only served to further our resolve that we’ve made the right choice in terms of who to choose as a partner.” This means we don’t just own the work, we own the related business outcome; it drives us to be client-centric in everything that we do. Focused on success “Create raving fans” is one of Rural Sourcing’s core values for a reason. It not only encourages us to take ownership of every aspect of a client engagement, but keeps us 100% focused on their success. After all, anytime a client succeeds, I can’t help but feel like we’ve succeeded too. DISCOVER MORE About the Author With over 20 years of experience, John Kosar has helped some of the Southeast’s largest corporations with digital engagement and transformation across technology, process, people, and infrastructure. His teams have focused on all things Agile from Enterprise and Mobile Application Delivery, to DevOps and QA, and Cloud Solutions. As a certified scrum master, product owner, and Agile marketer John not only understands the value in delivering quality but he is also always uncovering better ways to improve business outcomes.
Tech in 2: Pluralsight Flow
Pluralsight Flow is a cutting-edge tool used to measure the performance of software development teams as they’re developing code. Principal Consultant Chris Simmons explains how it works, and why it’ll positively impact your team’s speed, efficiency, and quality. DISCOVER MORE
Is Offshore Outsourcing Really Cheaper?
Offshoring software development has become a common practice for many companies, having gained immense popularity over the last 10-15 years. So much so, that in India alone, outsourcing is now a nearly $150 billion industry. Why? It’s simple: offshore labor is much cheaper. But in reality, the hourly rate that you pay is just one factor when it comes to determining the actual cost of offshoring. Read on for four areas of potential hidden cost that may make you think twice about considering an offshoring investment. Project Management Costs A critical component to ensuring a successful outsourcing engagement is the ability to manage the project effectively. Time zone differences, frequent and fast-paced requirement changes, plus the inherent nature of agile software development means additional management and oversight needs can pop up unexpectedly. This leads to the possibility of teams getting stretched too thin while trying to coordinate communication among developers and stakeholders, across multiple time zones. Often, additional management resources must be put in place, which means additional cost. Resource Ramp-Up/Turnover Rates Depending on the offshore provider and your ability to command their attention, it may take much longer to ramp up the right resources necessary to meet your requirements. Unless you are a very large enterprise, you may have to wait in line for the best people. Additionally, if you’re working with a smaller or midsize offshore company, retaining top talent can be a problem which causes project delays due to the variability of resources being used on a project. Cultural and Communication Barriers The ability to communicate effectively with your outsourced development team has a direct impact on the timeliness and quality of deliverables. Cultural differences or misunderstandings can also affect how well teams work together, and sometimes cause unnecessary friction. In fact, in some cultures, maintaining positive relationships with clients is so important that in order to avoid any sort of tension, sometimes overseas colleagues will simply say what they think the other person wants to hear, instead of the true state of affairs. This is in stark contrast to the United States, where employees tend to value being straight forward and specific in order to get the job done as efficiently as possible. Additionally, a lack of understanding of how business is conducted in the U.S. or unfamiliarity with regulations can slow processes down. There may be less application of best practices and fewer innovative ideas as a result. Geopolitical Risks Economic, social or political strife can cause additional risks (and costs) when you’re offshoring. We’ve seen trade disputes between the US and China, more stringent H1-B visa restrictions in the U.S., terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and most recently political tensions in Belarus. In other countries, health crises, ongoing violence and petty crime may make you less inclined to send employees to these areas, reducing important local training and vendor management time, and adding risk to service delivery. While there’s no doubt that the offshore model for software development has been an effective resource for many companies, it may not be the right fit for every organization or for every project. To determine your true cost of offshoring (TCO), use our free TCO calculator to help understand which outsourcing option may work best for your organization. TRY OUR TRUE COST OF OFFSHORING (TCO) CALCULATOR
Our Mission in Action: Jeanne Schmidt
Our guiding force at Rural Sourcing is our mission: to create high-quality technology jobs in Middle America cities where talent is often overlooked. Our Mission in Action showcases Rural Sourcing colleagues who represent how this mission impacts individuals and the communities in which we operate. Jeanne Schmidt has had an impressive career in tech. For many years, she worked at PeopleSoft in Silicon Valley, where she watched the company grow from only a few hundred people to over 10,000 employees. She learned a lot during her tenure at PeopleSoft, and really enjoyed the culture, but after Oracle’s acquisition of the company, certain things changed. The culture she had come to love was no longer in place, and frequent meetings at Oracle’s headquarters meant a much lengthier commute. As the mother of two young daughters, Jeanne wanted to make a change to support a better work/life balance for her family. Heading east With the high cost of living in the Bay Area, Jeanne and her husband decided to start looking for jobs in more affordable areas, preferably on the east coast to be closer to her family. After her husband got a job in Augusta, Georgia, Jeanne enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom for a few years while her children were still young. Eventually, she wanted to return to work, and spent a couple of years at other organizations, before getting a call from a recruiter at Rural Sourcing in 2013. Challenging but rewarding Working at Rural Sourcing presented an opportunity for Jeanne that otherwise might not have existed in Augusta: the ability to work for “an impressive list of clients” while living much closer to family, and with a higher quality of life. Jeanne says, “Since I started at Rural Sourcing, I’ve been able to watch the company grow and maintain its fun, positive culture. I’ve been impressed with the type of project work we do and the list of clients we have. This is challenging, rewarding work that has allowed me to grow in my career and mentor others.” DISCOVER MORE
Tech in 2: Automating the Developer Experience
Software developers are constantly under pressure to quickly produce high quality code to solve business problems. In this #TechIn2, Principal Consultant Wes Dollar explains how automating routine developer tasks can increase speed and efficiency, allowing the developer to focus on what’s most important – developing better code and more features for users. DISCOVER MORE
Our Mission in Action: Natascha Thomas
Our guiding force at Rural Sourcing is our mission: to create high-quality technology jobs in Middle America cities where talent is often overlooked. Our Mission in Action showcases Rural Sourcing colleagues who represent how this mission impacts individuals and the communities in which we operate. Before starting at Rural Sourcing, Natascha Thomas worked for companies where many young developers have dreams of making their mark one day, including EA Games and Disney. With the exciting subject matter, however, came some drawbacks. Natascha’s work-life balance was basically non-existent, and she had become defensive and untrusting of her colleagues due to the competitive nature of the office. Plus, she wasn’t able to achieve her savings goals because of the high cost of living in Los Angeles. From the ocean to the gulf Natascha and her family decided to move to her husband’s hometown of Mobile, Alabama where she accepted an offer at Rural Sourcing. Here she found a much more collaborative and supportive culture: “I’m never ashamed to ask for help, and have never had anyone say to me, ‘you should know this.’ I can tell my manager if I’m feeling ‘underwater’ or have too much assigned to me without fearing that it could negatively impact my career advancement.” A better quality of life Natascha took to living in Mobile right away: “I think the things that really drew me in about Mobile compared to Los Angeles were the low traffic, clean streets, and polite folks with cool accents.” And while she hasn’t exactly grown fond of the “most massive insects I’ve ever seen,” Natascha feels as though living in Mobile and working at Rural Sourcing has truly given her the space to thrive. DISCOVER MORE