The work and times of the app development team at Steamclock.

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Allen Pike • May 10, 2019

Wanted: 2 App Developers

While our growth at Steamclock is typically slow and steady, we’ve had a record spring season with a lot of interesting client and internal projects on the go.

Given that, we have openings right now for two – two! – app developers here in Vancouver:

  1. A Senior iOS Developer (Swift)
  2. An Android Developer, Contract (Kotlin or Java)

In both cases we’re looking for folks who have experience making nice native apps apps, and care about the human side of software development. If you’re an experienced app developer in Vancouver that shares our values of creating great experiences, continually iterating, and investing in people, then get in touch!

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5.10.19.108

Brady Valentino • March 29, 2019

Making the Most of Wednesdays

There are advantages to working in the same office as your team. Sometimes it’s great to just walk over to a coworker’s desk and answer a question or hash something out. Still, there has been a slow and steady shift taking place: more and more companies are moving towards remote work. Before joining Steamclock last year, I experienced this first-hand: I worked from home full time for more than a year. Toward the end I was given a chance to summarize my thoughts on this working setup:

Working remotely allows the freedom to set my own schedule and to work in the environment best suited to my workflow. Some days it’s my home office, others it’s a coffee shop, and once in a while it’s on the couch with Grey’s Anatomy on in the background.

This still rings mostly true; although I’ve since switched from Grey’s Anatomy to The Sopranos. However, it does brush over the downsides that can come with remote work – in my experience, distractions and losing focus.

Although we mostly work in the same office at Steamclock, we do observe Work From Home Wednesdays™. It’s a special day of the week where most of the team chooses to work remotely. Based on that experience, I’d like to share my preferred approach of working from a home office, and how you can make it awesome.

So Fresh and So Clean (Clean)

The key question when working remotely is: “How do I stay fresh and limit distractions while working untethered?”

Enter Brady’s Code for Surviving Your Home Office:

  • Optimize your workspace
  • Limit distractions
  • Keep healthy eating habits, and
  • Practice mindfulness

Let’s take a look at these one by one.

Optimize Your Workspace

It’s important to be aware of what kind of workspace works best for you. Try completing this sentence: “My workspace should be x, y, and z.”

For me, my workspace should be simple, functional, and bring joy.

Let’s break down what makes a workspace optimal for me:

Simple
I keep my desktop to just the basics of what’s needed to accomplish my tasks — simple and free of clutter.

Functional
The cleaner your desktop is, the more space you have for the items you actually need to be productive. For example, a designer may need space for a drawing tablet, or a writer may need space for a large clickity-clacky keyboard.

Bring Joy
Many people use this as an opportunity for a photo of a loved one. For me personally, it’s some juggling balls and a cute piggy succulent planter — but feel free to choose the cute succulent planter that works for you.

Limit Distractions

An obvious goal, but how should you go about it?

Take a moment to name the things off the top of your head that could pull focus from your daily tasks. TV? A game console? Spouse? Pets? Lack of a Bill Lumbergh type peering over your shoulder to ensure you’re working hard?

Reducing these distractions my be easier said than done, but I’ve found that noise-cancelling headphones and plenty of natural light help me stay focused on my display rather than being drawn towards the Apple TV remote or Xbox controller.

Eating Habits

There are plenty of scientific studies showing that light snacking throughout the day is better than eating several large meals at pre-determined times. While this may seem obvious for your health, it also does wonders for mental clarity. Keep it light and healthy as much as possible. Set aside the chips with soda combo, and instead reach for some fruit with water.

My go-to snacks at home are mandarin oranges, or carrots with hummus. A little goes a long way.

Mindfulness

Don’t be afraid to step away from your desk. Keep your head clear and your mental acuity will stay sharp. I like to use a variation of the Pomodoro Technique:

  • Focus on a task for 45 minutes
  • Step away from my desk to grab water or a light snack
  • Dance to some music, catch up on tweets, or watch a short YouTube video

The official Pomodoro technique recommends working in bursts of 25 minutes, with a short break after each burst, and then a longer break after 4 bursts. Personally I’ve found myself to be more productive when working in bursts 45 minutes with 15 minute breaks.

It will take a few tries to find the balance that works best for you, but the key thing is not to underestimate the importance of giving your mind a break.

Closing Thoughts

While it’s important to give yourself breaks, it can be all too easy to brush your tasks aside when surrounded by the comforts of home. Staying mindful should help you keep not just a positive headspace, but a productive one too.

So follow my code: use your workspace as a canvas for self expression, focus on being the best you that you can be, get a cute succulent planter, and watch as your productivity reaches new heights. Of course, in the immortal words of Captain Barbossa:

The code is more what you'd call guidelines, than actual rules.

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3.29.19.879

Allen Pike • February 21, 2019

Navigation Should Be Boring

In what could have been a Steamclock blog post, I recently wrote an article on why for new apps, navigation should be boring:

With a delightfully boring navigation scheme, users don’t need to learn how to explore your app. Their “attention span budget” can thus be spent considering how your new thing can fit into their lives, rather than trying to recall how many fingers they’re supposed to drag from the left side of the screen in order to pull out the Alternate Quick Access Wheel.

As fun as designing novel navigation schemes may be, there a lot of better ways to make a new app distinctive and appealing.

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2.21.19.112

Allen Pike • January 7, 2019

An App Called Quests

Today we’re launching a new Mac app called Quests for tracking issues and pull requests in your menu bar. Here’s how it came to be.

Quests Screenshot

At Steamclock, we work on a variety of projects at once. Between client projects, open source libraries, and internal labs projects – across iOS, Android, Mac, and the web – we have quite a few repositories and issue trackers going around.

We’re also fans of code review. That means team members sometimes review pull requests for projects that they’re not otherwise working on. Code review is a great way to improve quality and reduce the “bus factor” of projects, but it definitely creates more pull requests and issue traffic.

As a result, our pull request and issue notification emails can get rather noisy. Each of us works across multiple repositories, and often even multiple issue trackers or source control systems. At a certain volume, issues or pull requests can get lost in the shuffle, which can really sap a team’s velocity.

So, we thought it’d be nice if you could easily see the pull requests and issues assigned to you. Maybe right up there in your Mac’s menu bar. So we built that, and turns out: it is nice. We called this little app Quests.

Quests Logo

At Steamclock we love to iterate, refine, polish, and add to a product until it’s beautiful and exceptional. With Quests, we challenged ourselves instead to ship it, and then polish it to its full potential beauty.

So we have plans for how we’d like Quests to look, and future subscription features that would let us add additional source control and issue tracking systems beyond GitHub.com and GitLab.com. But today, Quests is useful. Almost everybody at Steamclock uses it already.

So today, Quests is available for free on the Mac App Store. If you think it could be useful to you, try it out. If it is useful to you, let us know!

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Try Quests today.

Download on the Mac App Store

1.7.19.336

Allen Pike • December 17, 2018

A New Look for Steamclock

Last week, we launched a totally redesigned Steamclock website and branding. We think it’s neat, so here’s a bit about it.

The Braaand

It’s easy to go overboard on value statements and brand visions. “Our mission is to optimize synergy for shareholders,” sure great – very inspiring. When it comes to doing design and branding work though, it is really helpful to lay out what the message is. What is Steamclock about?

In their briefest form, here are the 3 adjectives we built the Steamclock brand around, and the three “guardrail” terms we wanted to stay cautious of:

  • High quality, but not corporate.
  • Playful, but not wacky.
  • Nice, but not fancy.

With these in hand, it was a lot easier to discuss proposed designs, colours, fonts, and the like. If you’re in the position of being a founder that is involved in design work, it’s super important that your team has design goals that aren’t just “the founder likes it”.

Nicer Teeth

The previous Steamclock logo was designed by me, back in the early days. Protip: If your CEO designed your logo, it is highly likely that there is room for improvement.

Steamclock Logo Comparison

In particular, the new logo makes three big improvements:

  • Its details are much clearer at small sizes
  • A clock has 12 hours, so a gear clock should have 12 teeth, obviously
  • Its execution is nicer and has more character

We also modernized our font choices, and picked a colour palette that felt playful and distinctive – a far cry from the corporate blue that our previous branding had slowly descended into.

Steamclock Brand Guide

As it happened, we chose coral as one of our colours, which has since become an iPhone color and was just named Pantone Color of the Year 2019. We’ll need to keep an eye out that it doesn’t look “soo 2019” in a couple years, but for now we love it.

Tying the Room Together

Brand in hand, we filled the new site with bold colours, bold fonts, and nice illustrations. Illustration has become a big enough part of our work that it deserves its own post, but it’s proven an excellent way to communicate – without indulging my habit for excessive wordiness.

We’re rather proud of how it all turned out, and all the hard work that Erica and Brady did here to design and launch it. Of course, if you have any feedback or thoughts we’d love to hear them!

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12.17.18.427

The work and times of the app development team at Steamclock.

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