Odopod Developers: A Special Breed

The last 12 months have brought huge opportunities and complex challenges to the Technology team here at Odopod. We have produced some amazing work and our development services seem to be more in demand than ever. Staffing to meet this demand is one of my biggest challenges. I spend roughly 25% of my time recruiting developers with the necessary skills, work habits and personality to match our culture. The competition is fierce for developers in this job market. What's more, we insist on some unique qualities in our programmers that add to the recruitment challenge.

I don't know if every Director of Technology thinks their developers are special, but I certainly do. Very few resumes make it past our talent scout and into to my inbox. Fewer still are invited to interview. This isn't because we're looking for particular schooling or insist that candidates have experience working with big name clients or companies. However, we look for candidates with qualities that you might not associate with developers. There isn't an exact formula, but here is a bit more about these qualities beyond technical aptitude that exemplify the typical Odopod developer.

Passionate Technologist
More than anything, I look for developers who are passionate about technology and the work they do. For these folks, technology was a hobby long before it became a profession. They are voracious learners who tap the online community for information on tools and methodologies. They follow thought-leaders on Twitter, read blogs, and spend time looking at relevant websites to stay in touch with the community. They attend conferences, take classes, and usually have a personal project happening on the side. They share these learnings with other developers and the rest of the company, contributing insights from their experiences and code they think others can use.

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Using NFC with Arduino: Odopod library available on Github

In our work related to Connected Objects and the Internet of Things, we've built a few different devices capable of reading Near Field Communication (NFC) tags.

NFC is a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology that allows two devices to exchange messages while in extremely close proximity.

We're developing new service experiences based on the ability to add inexpensive NFC tags to physical objects and recognize them when placed on or next to connected objects that are embedded with NFC readers.

For this, we've used a few different NFC readers that are compatible with Arduino micro-controllers.

The readers we've used include:
1. The Adafruit PN532 Controller Shield
2. The Adafruit PN532 Controller Breakout Board
3. The Seeed Studio PN532 NFC Shield

Since all three boards use the PN532 NFC chip, they respond to the same command set and can read all common NFC tag formats. Depending on the application, each of these readers has it's advantage. For example, the Adafruit breakout board runs at 3.3v, making it ideal for use with the Arduino FIO.

The libraries available for each reader are largely similar, but not completely interchangeable. Additionally, the libraries don't easily support all the features we need, especially in regards encoding and decoding NDEF messages.

To simplify the process of switching between readers and tag formats, we created a single library that supports these three boards, I2C and SPI communication, and a variety of NDEF message formats written to Mifare Classic and Ultralight tags.

We've posted the library on Github in hopes that others will find it useful and help add features to it. If you are an Arduino developer working with NFC, have a look and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Guerrilla Branding for Entrepreneurs: A Prototype Class at the d.school

Pictured above:
Fig. 1: A card-carrying Cardinal (who still roots for the Cal Bears).
Fig. 2. Studio 2 in building 550, the best class room at the d.school.
Fig. 3. A student creates the mind map of her homepage concept.

A little over ten years ago founder David Kelley and Executive Director George Kembel tapped me to help to them articulate and launch the Institute of Design at Stanford University. It was a true privilege and an honor. Over the years I’ve stayed involved, be it lightly, advising and guest lecturing for classes.

However, this last summer, I conspired with Caroline O’Connor, a former d.school fellow and current lecturer, to develop and teach new course curriculum.

The driving idea was to create a series of classes specifically geared to aspiring entrepreneurs, providing design training and frameworks that they could immediately apply to their own budding ventures. Dubbed “Founders Studio”, our mission is to offer hands-on experience (and tools) for some of the most pressing needs facing new businesses — everything from brand strategy to user experience design.

Authentic to the d.school’s ethos, we begin by developing a prototype to test our idea, and ran a three-evening class in the fall called, Guerrilla Branding for Entrepreneurs. Each night was a three-hour intensive workshop that featured a series of mini-lectures, followed by group and individual exercises for the students. Additionally, each class had special guest advisors, to help guide the students.

We started by introducing a concept stub — a germ of a product concept, specific enough for the class to quickly grasp the idea, but open enough for their own direction and interpretation (see the course ‘teaser’ below for the details).

Day one focused on research and need finding for the target audience. Day two focused on positioning and articulating the brand. And finally, day three focused on bringing the brand to life and expressing it on a prototype home page.

Yes, from product concept to testing homepage designs in three nights. That’s a lot. Perhaps too much, but the prototype absolutely served its function. It was clear the students got a lot out of the studio, and in the process, the whole teaching team learned a ton from the students. Learnings that will certainly be applied to develop future Founder Studio classes. So, look out for more in 2013.

DjangoCon US 2012

This September I had the immense pleasure of attending DjangoCon US, the annual official conference on the Django web framework.

After three consecutive years in Portland OR, the conference was held for the first time on the East coast, in Washington DC. This new location attracted a new crowd and it was great to both meet old friends and see many new faces. The attendance reached its highest number yet, with 420 Djangonauts, which demonstrates how popular Django has become throughout the continent.

I was fortunate to have a talk selected as part of the official program. The topic of my talk was on Vagrant, a free open-source tool facilitating the manipulation of virtualized environments, and how it may benefit the development of Django applications. This talk was aimed at Django developers of all levels who were interested in getting an overview of the great possibilities Vagrant offers to support teamwork and quality assurance.

I wrote a summary of this talk on the Nurun blog. Check out the video here and the slides below.



The conference program was rich and diverse, covering a wide range of topics from the integration with database backends like PostgreSQL and Redis, to the building of real time applications, or the integration with mobile client frontends.

Automated testing, a topic that I'm quite passionate about, was well represented in particular with excellent talks by David Cramer and Erik Rose. It was also really interesting to see several talks about design, which is extremely relevant to the work that we do at Odopod — I recommend in particular viewing Julia Elman's talk, Is Django for Designers?. All the talks were video-recorded and published online so I encourage anyone interested in Django and Python to check them out!

Like at Pycon earlier this year, I also participated in sprints for two days. This was an opportunity for people to gather and make code or design contributions either to the Django project itself or to other open-source applications from the Django ecosystem. Personally I worked on the djangocore-box, a Vagrant virtual machine that I created to facilitate the execution of the Django core test suite. I also helped other people get started with their first contributions to the Django codebase and I reviewed and committed several patches.

DjangoCon was an absolute blast. It was really exciting and inspiring to meet so many incredibly smart people. Next year it will be in Chicago and I already can't wait be there again!

Prototyping iOS Apps with Storyboards

A great thing about working at a digital agency like Odopod is the variety of projects that come our way. With new types of projects come exciting opportunities to explore new tools and workflows. For example, mobile projects continue to evolve and their unique requirements are driving the evolution of our internal process in interesting ways. More than ever, our projects demand a high collaboration between disciplines and a nimble, iterative approach. For this, we love using prototypes to bridge the gap between UX design (usually in the form of wireframes) and having a functioning application.

At Odopod we’ve always been big proponents of prototyping as an intrinsic part of the work we do. We continue to look for ways to make prototyping part of the fabric of our process and this seems especially helpful when designing mobile applications. It’s a fertile territory for innovation but it’s also a relatively new field which means less experience to refer to and infer from.

Additionally, our relationship with mobile touchscreen devices is very intimate. There’s something visceral about how it feels to directly interact with them. It’s challenging to visualize these experiences on paper. Touch input is still relatively new as are the fast-evolving mobile form factors. The quicker you can get something in your hands to react to and iterate on, the better the end result will be.

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Volunteering in SF: Ten places to put your skills to use

You are not here merely to make a living.
At least that's what Woodrow Wilson said. And I bought it.

Volunteering has been a recent topic of discussion at Odopod – what we're doing individually, and how we might make it a larger part of our culture. To some, the mere thought conjures up images of ladling soup and picking up litter. Such duties are vital and good, but there are plenty of ways to apply specialized skills in fields you're excited about.

I've rounded up some volunteer opportunities that are, for the most part, relevant to those working in digital – storytellers, designers, developers, et. al. These are specific to San Francisco, but I bet you'd find no shortage of options upon digging in your own backyard.

826 Valencia
826 Valencia is a free writing and tutoring lab founded by author/publisher/philanthropist Dave Eggers and veteran educator Nínive Calegari. Beyond tutoring, 826 assists with in-classroom projects, hosts bookmaking, screenwriting, and poetry field trips, and empowers kids to become creative writers – with a good possibility of getting published. (If that's not enough, it's also a pirate supply store.) There are lots of ways to help out, mainly during or right after school. 826 also has chapters in Brooklyn, LA, Seattle, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Boston, and DC.

Good for: Storytellers, writers, illustrators, educators, natural born tutors, fans of kids.

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A New Look for Fitbit

We're thrilled to work with world's biggest brands and the Bay Area's most innovative startups. Fitbit is one such company. Over the last several months we've been collaborating closely with their team to refine the company’s positioning, website and product interfaces.

Fitbit enables people to lead healthier lives with technologically advanced fitness devices that track health and nutrition. Users achieve badges for their progress and can connect with friends to see who's ranked highest and taking the most steps each day.

Alongside the launch of two new trackers, the Zip and the One, Fitbit launched a fresh new website and dashboard with a bold, bright, and more approachable new visual language designed by the team at Odopod.

Let us know what you think! www.fitbit.com »

Fresh Launch: UnlockCoke.com

We're thrilled to announce our ongoing relationship with the team at Coca-Cola and their agency partners, Wieden + Kennedy on the launch of unlockcoke.com.

Unlock Coke is a place for fans to explore the exciting breadth of snackable, social content created by Coca-Cola including videos, announcements, Tweets, campaign info and updates all in a modular, always-changing, always-fresh portal.

Over the last year, Odopod has been working with Coca-Cola to introduce a more contemporary design language in digital channels-one that encompasses visual design and interaction design as well as content and social strategy. Unlock Coke represents the first platform that takes on this new brand expression, strategy and design.

We look forward to continue working with this iconic brand and their partners to create playful, social experiences across multiple platforms.

Four Internet of Things trends.

The Internet of Things is comprised of networked objects with sensors and actuators. These objects observe their environment and share the data they collect with each other, Internet servers and people. This data is analyzed and the results are used to make decisions and affect change. Change may come from a connected object making adjustments in the environment, or it may come after the collected information is analyzed further by a person.

Odopod has several clients involved in the Internet of Things space and we've worked with them in a variety of ways including brand and marketing work, product and service development and connected object prototyping.

We recently lead a workshop with one of these clients, exploring ways that their household products could benefit from being connected to the Internet. Several of their products are already connected to each other and the Internet, we helped them uncover new opportunities to push these products beyond pure utility and to find ways to do and say something new.

To get things started we reviewed four themes that come up most often in Odopod's work around the Internet of Things.

1. The quantified self.


At this year’s Planningness Conference, Guthrie (Director of Brand and Strategy at Odopod) and I lead a session on Connected Personal Objects, where we explored how the Internet of Things can drive a virtuous cycle of learning and change based on the collection and analysis of data.

Tracking performance as a guide for change is not a new idea. Companies use data to improve business processes as well as product marketing. Athletes and medical professionals collect biometric data to optimize performance and patient treatment. What's more, an increasing number of non-professionals are collecting information about themselves, looking for patterns in order to positively impact their lives. In all cases, the mechanisms employed range from pen and paper to high-tech devices coupled with data mining.

There is no question that the Internet of Things makes it easier and easier for us to learn from our actions. Many products provide customers with direct access to the information from which they can draw their own conclusions. Increasingly, these products will be bundled with services to perform more detailed analysis and deliver simple, actionable recommendations.

For example, most services that track athletic performance such as running collect data and report extensive information about current and past runs. Future services will take things further. Based on deeper analysis, these services will be able to set optimal diet and workout plans as well as provide real-time coaching based on your individual training goals and performance history.

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4 Tips for Working with Your Digital Innovation Shop

We see more and more big companies seeking out firms like ours that specialize in digital product and service innovation.

These engagements usually focus on conceiving and creating one of two things: an extension to an existing product or service or an entirely new line of business. In either case these companies are looking for a new and uniquely digital perspective on their business.

Odopod has successfully completed a number of these collaborative innovation engagements. Along the way we've learned a few lessons that may help you avoid common pitfalls to get more out of these collaborations.

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Same Team, New Name

It's been thirteen years since we started Odopod.

We've always wanted one thing: to do the best work of our lives. Along the way, we have been joined by an eclectic and exceptionally talented bunch of people who wanted the same thing. Together, we've built a company we love.

Two years ago, Odopod was acquired by Nurun.

The acquisition was a validation of everything we had built. It was also a catalyst for some big changes we wanted to make. We began to tackle bigger, thornier problems and to work all over the world. With Nurun, we've had a series of huge wins and have been producing our best work yet.

That's why we recently decided to retire the Odopod brand, formally adopt Nurun as our name, and take the reins of Nurun's US operations.

We're all still here—same team with the same appetite for great work, only now with different e-mail addresses and more frequent flyer miles. And we're growing, so send your talented friends our way.

Keep an eye out for new work from Nurun. It will be our best yet.

Tim, Dave, Jacquie, JT & Guthrie


The best way to reach us

For new business, contact Stacy Stevenson
stacy.stevenson@nurun.com

For general inquiries, contact us at
sf@nurun.com

For more about Nurun, visit
www.nurun.com