January 16, 2015

2014 Year End Review

In 2014 our plan was twofold; Help small business's dreams come true and to be a model for how we'd like our industry to operate. In 9 months we came close to achiving everything we wanted to. Close enough that I don't think we were ambitious enough.


In March 2014 after hanging out with the Flatiron BK-000 class for 4 months, I did an open call for applicants. I was starting a new dev shop and I wanted them. My theory was that I could teach them a strong processes to help shape their junior skills and provide them with enough time and feedback to make good software. I did a big interview with whoever showed up. (Too many people at once.) After a day long group project, some individual interviews, and a bunch of coffees. I had a team of 4 developers eager to get started with new projects.

I would be amiss if I didn't point out that Amy is self taught and did not go through a boot camp.

We started with some intense training with regards to processes, app structure, testing and teaching the team. We had one internal project to get the hang of things. We set a low rate and started looking for client work.

Our first client was the wondrous One Month. They were short on developers and happened to be a coaching client of mine. After a few months helping build out their platform to support their ever growing list of online classes they leaned heavily into finding their product fit. This meant refining what they offered and how they offered it. I'm really excited to see them prosper.

We took a few prototype projects after that. Since the companies haven't yet brought them to market we can't share too much. One was in the "social goods" space and I hope to see them launch this year. Another was with a large tech company who wanted to improve their web presence.

The Winnower was a "rescue project" that turned into a partnership. Their mission is to fix academic publishing by turning it into an affordable open processes. Their platform however suffered from all of the most common mistakes you can make when building a new platform from scratch. We spent a lot of time rebuilding the core areas and sticking tests on the features that weren't worth rewriting yet. The Winnower now commonly appears on the top of reddit's science section. They are also soon to release a set of blogging tools to help people bring citability to the work they self publish. We're really happy to be a part of developing their platform and watching it take traction.

We're currently working on some longer projects. One is an upcoming SaaS app for the food industry (we've learned a ton about food) and another is a maintenance project for a startup that's in the middle of a complete rewrite.

In the non tech side of the business, we spent a lot of time refining our inception and proposal processes. Probably too much time. We've tried several approaches and are still not 100% happy with the results. This may be a mismatch with our expectations or the resources of our clients, which usually keeps us from devoting too much time to research before a project. Communicating the value of a research and design period is something I'd like to work on for 2015.

We also left a few really exciting projects on the table. Since there are only a few of us we weren't always available. This was incredibly frustrating as we'd love to see more of these projects come to life.

We aimed at startups and social good focused organizations and made an impact. I couldn't have hoped for more.

As for being an example of how a development team should run? I think we knocked it out of the park and can't wait to keep improving. It should be noted that we're small, only 3 people. I've noticed most problems with development teams happen around 5+ people. So maybe we have it easy.

We started with five people and are now three. Hannah Nordgren playing to her talents is now at ESPN in a frontend focused development role and Gustavo Guimarães was asked by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to join the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to do research into online education. They're continuing to do good work and we're proud of them both.

We did "lunch and learns" for half the year, and have brought it back for this year. We kept our 20% free most weeks and had to actively stop each other from working on those days so we could go learn something. Amy started teaching HTML, CSS and JavaScript at Girl Develop It and was joined by Armando to TA her classes. We're planning on developing course work for them this year. I started running the NodeBots NYC chapter where we teach people programming through robotics.

Armando recently got covered by Business Insider. They wrote about how he changed his life by learning to code. It reminded us how rare stories like his can be, even if it's not exactly rare here at Wizard Development.

We started our first open source app, which helps people find their local farmers markets in NYC. We're working with Megan Taylor and Vico Zabel on that project and hope to launch it in a few weeks. We chose to help Megan build off of an app she had designed for a local meetup and to challenge ourselves. Could we build a useful app in a day? No, not yet. We were pretty happy with how much we accomplished and it was a great use of our 20% time.

Our team

I'm damn proud of what we've accomplished last year. It makes thinking about our plans for this year even more exciting. We decided to grow, change our focus, and keep doing the things that we love. We're really excited about it. More on that in the coming days.

- Francis

Header photo of the Lower East Side by Douglas LeMoine

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