Setting sail again

Posted by Patrice Neff Fri, 12 Dec 2008

Today is my last day at local.ch.

I have been involved with that company since the beginning of 2005 with the initial prototypes. After my time in Peru I then started as a full-time employee in May 2006. That was a few days after the very first version of local.ch had gone live. So I spent close to four years involved with the project and of that two years and seven months as an employee.

Now it’s time to sail to fresh territory again. Beginning first of January I’ll be working on Nektoon – a startup I’m co-founding with some friends. I’m not disclosing too much about it’s purpose yet. Just this: your information will become very fluid soon… I’ll stay in Z├╝rich – we’re renting some spare rooms from Liip.

I want to thank all the people at local.ch for the past years. It’s been an exciting trip to build that site from zero. I got to know many outstanding people and have formed some great friendships while working there. Also I advanced a lot professionally as I was able to work with and learn from true masters in various fields. I’ll always be thankful for that privilege.

"Quiet time" at work

Posted by Patrice Neff Sat, 20 Oct 2007

Intel is doing a quiet time pilot with about 300 people. In that pilot they disconnect for Tuesday morning. No mails, no IM, no phones, no person allowed to walk in to the office. The pilot has launched end of August, but I only learned of it today through another story on the same blog: No Email Day (via NZZ). On Friday they now encourage not using email but instead talk directly face-to-face or use the phone.

I like the idea of quiet times a lot. In fact at local.ch we’re implementing something similar since a few weeks. Every morning from 10:00 to 12:30 no interrupts are allowed – at all. There is the exception of Thursday which is our meeting day because most of our partners are around on that day. But for the other days it means that you can’t walk in to co-workers during that time, our Skype clients are switched to “Do not disturb” and many people shut off their mail clients. Skype is by the way quiet intelligent about it’s “Do not disturb” mode – any message that comes in gets queued. While you can access them if you need to, they are not pushed into your face.

The times are not arbitrary. Most of us come to the office at 9 in the morning. Beginning the quiet time makes sure that everybody can start gathering the required notes and feedbacks needed for the morning work. Then when people switch into quiet mode at 10, they hopefully have all they need to get their work done. The end is defined by our lunch break which usually starts at about 12:30.

The other idea Intel is implementing doesn’t sound very interesting to me, though. While the concept of “no email” sounds good their motivation stucks me as strange. Walking in on people or using the phone steals a lot more of the attention then sending a mail. You can turn off your mail client or switch off the alerts. And actually I’m doing that. I check my mail only about every second day. The rest of the time my mail client is turned off.

local.ch is looking for you

Posted by Patrice Neff Mon, 04 Sep 2006

As you may already have seen on our blog, we at local.ch are looking for new co-workers. If you want to be part of a team of geeks working on one of the most exciting Web projects in Switzerland, join us.

We’re looking for exceptionally talented geeks. The currently open positions require Java programming, so you should already feel comfortable with that. You top it off if you already know Spring and Lucene – but that’s not required as we’re looking for people who learn quickly.

Behind the scenes of local.ch there is a lot of data crunching to be done. While creating a phonebook may not sound like much of a challenge at a first glance, there are some exciting problems that have to be solved. And the currently available slots phonebook and guide are just the start. Also we don’t only offer you exciting work but also a job with a future. There is a solid business model behind local.ch and we are here to stay.

See the official job descriptions at our blog. You can write me at patrice [at] local.ch if you have questions or to send in your CV.

TestXSLT on OS X

Posted by Patrice Neff Tue, 30 May 2006

At work the templating is done with . I have the Bitflux freaks to thank for that.

Currently I'm writing a really tricky XSLT template (for me), so I was investigating a tool for getting things done quicker. And Marc Liyanage is my hero. He has written an OS X application called TestXSLT to quickly test an XSLT stylesheet against some XML file.

It accepts an XML and an XSLT file and gives you the parsed output. You can look at it in text mode, HTML mode (exactly what I need) and even XSL-FO (which I have never used).

Started at local.ch

Posted by Patrice Neff Thu, 11 May 2006

On Monday I officially started my new job at local.ch, the search engine for every village in Switzerland.

We currently offer access to the phone book but will add other services in the future. I'll keep you posted of course! There is also the local.ch Team Blog where I'll contribute to.

I'll mainly be working in system administration (we run a small server farm mainly on Linux) and programming (starting with PHP frontend work). I'll also be responsible for the community part of local.ch. We have a few ideas about contributing back to the Swiss blogosphere and that will be my job.

Thanks to the local.ch team for the great reception. I'm very excited to work on this project, especially knowing it since its first days.

Career advice 5 - Publish your projects

Posted by Patrice Neff Mon, 03 Apr 2006

Software developers can be judged best by their work. A CV or even an interview can never really be trusted. While I try to very honest in my CV I have seen some CVs that will make me double-check every claim an applicant makes in his CV. Some of my classmates of my apprenticeship would write they had a "good" understanding of C++ while they just barely knew that it was some object oriented programming language. And I have gotten requests by friends where they asked me to define some terminology. It later turned out, that they needed that to put into the CV. "Ouch" is all I can say about that.

But how can your potential employer ensure that you actually know your stuff? Recommendations are important. Can they call your former coworkers and ask about your performance? This can also be dangerous though if you left the job with sour feelings. The company may give you bad ratings because you criticised the company strategy a bit too loudly. I haven't had that experience myself but have friends who did.

What nobody can influence though is the quality of the projects you publish. An extensive software project shows your creativity, problem solving skills, communication skills, code quality (if you publish the source code). And it shows that you are actually able to deliver and know the programming language you are using. All things that your employer will want from you.

There are several ways you can do that. The most obvious is to implement some idea that's floating around your mind and publish it as free software. Or you can put out some Web project. Be aware that this requires quite a time commitment, though. Something not everybody is able or willing to do.

The second option is to participate in an existing open source project. Found a bug? Fix it. Have feature request? Build it. All of that is visible as well and gets an URL. Document the work on your Web site (as you now have one, don't you?).

And the third option is to make the work of your current job public. Are you working on something that could be bundled as a product? Publish it as free software. Of course, that's not your decision but has to be approved by your boss. If you need a case study, point your boss to Ruby on Rails. Published by David of 37signals, that company is now extremely well known and produces a lot of buzz on the Web. Rails was originally created as part of Basecamp and then extracted and made public.

No matter which way you choose, make sure that the code you publish is of good quality. Take pride in your code and see it as a piece of art. Actually you should always do that no matter whether the code is public or not.

To some extend I have taken all three routes. I have published a lot of projects (blog directory, Swiss weblog statistics, Media Manager, Bookmark Manager, though I'd like to remove that code from the Web because it's horrible). Also I have contributed patches to some open-source applications. And I was able to publish a research document I did at namics (Web application security).