SpiceWorld London

We just arrived back in New York after a few days at SpiceWorld London 2014 – we had a blast! If you’re not familiar with Spiceworks, it’s a network management tool for IT Pros, providing everything from network inventory and monitoring to help desk software, mobile device management, cloud detection services and more. The tool itself may be helpful for IT Pros, but the community created by its users, employees, and other tech vendors is what makes a SpiceWorld Conference worth crossing the pond for. Twice a year the Spiceworks online community gathers in-person to swap IT knowledge at breakout sessions, happy hours, and a full-fledged party.

Attendees enjoyed a Spiceworks party Tuesday night sponsored by Microsoft.

Aside from the free drinks (kidding!) the best part of SpiceWorld was getting to speak directly with the IT Pros for whom we’re designing our storage software, AetherStore. We were able to pick their brains about everything from feature requirements to preferred support methods, and can report back to our development team with some invaluable product feedback that’s come straight from the source.

As a vendor we attended breakout sessions where Spiceworks team members shared their expertise and panels of IT Pros explained what gets their attention when it comes to tech marketing. We learned that webinars and podcasts are preferred methods of content consumption, and that whitepapers, while educational, aren’t as widely read as marketers may hope. IT Pros also shared preferred contact methods (unsurprisingly, cold calls were a strong “don’t”), and explained the challenges they’re presented with on a day-to-day basis that make vendor interruptions a nuisance.

A panel of IT Pros answer marketing questions for vendors.

Some of these sales tips may seem like common sense, but hearing them directly from our target customers has sharpened the focus of our marketing plan. As we near the AetherStore launch, the knowledge gained at SpiceWorld London will have a real impact both on the development and sales sides of our product.

If you’re in the enterprise or SMB tech space, it’s hard to find a reason NOT to get involved with the Spiceworks Community. With 15 million IT Administrators as Spiceworks users spending 5.7 Billion active minutes in Spiceworks annually, there’s no other forum exchanging such an expansive collection of IT know-how. And as cheesy as it sounds, Spiceheads don’t just swap knowledge, they share laughs and anecdotes that make the Spiceworks community as enjoyable as it is educational.

A panel of IT Pros answer marketing questions for vendors.

We’re already all set to attend SpiceWorld Austin 2014! We’ll have a booth to exhibit AetherStore and are currently brainstorming some awesome giveaways for the Spiceheads there – any suggestions?

NY TechDay 2014

We’re still gathering all of the business cards, free goodies, and great ideas we took away from NY TechDay yesterday, where we exhibited AetherStore and spoke with hundreds of attendees . Pier 92 was packed with tech companies showing off what they’re working on – everything from dating apps to enterprise software. With hundreds of start-ups and over 10,000 attendees, NY TechDay proved there are a lot of exciting things happening in Silicon Alley.

A special congratulations to Atmospheir, an AetherWorks portfolio company that took home the NY Tech Day award for “Best in Social Media.” They’ve built a social address book that’s available for download now!

atmospheir2

We had a blast running the AetherStore booth, where visitors stopped by and learned how to turn unused workstation hard drive space into a valuable storage resource. We even put visitors to work, polling opinions on some AetherStore taglines and other copy to see which marketing materials they preferred. With so many start-up experts in one place, we couldn’t resist a chance to get their feedback.

We didn’t let those that stopped by the AetherStore booth leave empty-handed, though. We came armed with 300 orange donuts and had almost polished off all 25 boxes by the day’s end.

donuts3

The AetherWorks team had an awesome time at TechDay 2014. We can’t wait to follow up with everyone we got to connect with there and see what’s next for New York Tech!

St Andrews Programming Competition Winners

As we recently announced on the blog, AetherStore sponsored the St Andrews Programming Competition 2014 on April 7th at the University of St Andrews. Seventy-five participants including undergraduates, postgraduates, and even staff members competed to solve a series of coding problems in three hours, using a programming language of their choosing. £200 cash prizes were up for grabs in the subhonours, honours, postgraduate, and individual student categories. Congratulations to all the winners!

Overall Champion: 

Head of School: Steve Linton

Postgraduate Champion: 

Team: SKI Instructors (Matus Tejiscak, Christopher Swaab, Adam Barwell)

Postgraduate Runner Up: 

Team: Kmp (Daniela Grijincu, Mihai Pitu, Radu Floroiu)

Honours Champion: 

Team: TwoGingersAndAnAsian (Alex Field, Luke Borwell, Ivan King)

Sub-honours Champion: 

Team: Missionary (Kestutis Vilcinskas, Austeja Elvina)

Sub-honours Runner Up: 

Team: Stack Overflow (Tom Dalton, Emily Dick, Neil Wells)

Best Individual Student: 

Nathan Blades

Here are some shots from the competition:

Congratulations to all of the participants, and thanks to the St Andrews computer science department for putting together a great competition!

Brainstorming Blog Ideas: Why you probably already have the material you need

“Start blogging.”

It’s probably the number one piece of advice given to marketers looking to up engagement online. If you put out the right content, the right people will find you. Yet companies (us included!) don’t blog as often or as effectively as we’d like because putting out the “right content” is so much easier said than done. We know first-hand it takes time and serious brainpower to identify the topics where your expertise and your audience’s interests intersect.

As a brainstorming tool, I’m breaking down three of the categories that successful blog posts seem to fall into – based on my own experience and other blogs I’ve read. You’re already familiar with the categories, but I’ve included some questions and examples that may be of help if you’re ever asking (like we often are) “What should we write about this week?”

1. The How-To:

There’s nothing like Googling “How to…” to realize that whatever your problem is, you’re not the first person to look for an answer to it. Tutorial posts are a no-brainer when it comes to creating content that’s valuable to your audience. We’re a software R&D firm, so some of our most successful posts have been written by our developers detailing solutions they’ve found to particularly challenging or interesting programming problems.

Tutorials don’t need to be advanced. I recently needed to make some changes to our AetherStore brochure in Adobe Illustrator, a few of which required Illustrator skills that weren’t in my wheelhouse. I posed my “How-to” questions to the web and found tutorials that gave me the exact tidbits of advice I was looking for. In this case, I didn’t need an expert’s overview of the software, I needed specific instructions that were actionable for someone of any skill level.

2. Reviews & Comparisons

If a blog’s purpose is to unite your insight with your reader’s interest, a knowledgeable review is a great way to get there. From which software to buy to which conferences to attend, peer opinion carries a lot of weight, specifically when your organization doesn’t stand to benefit from the review. There are few decisions made today that aren’t pre-researched online.

Blog reviews can be even more helpful when they compare two things directly. At various moments we’ve found ourselves deciding between Jira and YouTrack for task tracking, Optimizely and Unbounce for A/B Testing, even Paychex vs. ADP to handle our payroll. We almost always consult blogs that compare and contrast as part of the research we do make an informed decision – as does the majority of the web. If you’re experienced with a product or service or well-versed in how two different ones stack up – someone may be searching for your opinion.

3. New Ideas

One of our most popular posts was written by one of our engineers, called “The Waiting Game: Fast-Food Queuing Theory.” This post applied our specific skillset, computer science, to a very common problem, long lunch lines. Programmers could study the code, and everyone could appreciate the proposed solution.

If you’ve been musing on a solution to an everyday problem or have ideas on a new way of doing something, why not propose your theories to your blog audience? Whether or not your solution holds up, it could be a great conversation starter.

Per those categories, here’s a list of questions to use as a jumping-off point when trying to brainstorm blog ideas:

  • What problems have you solved recently?
  • Have you learned a new skill, shortcut or technique? (Think beyond tech, too. Did you restructure a meeting format to make it more productive? Send a thank-you email that received a great response? Come up with some great interview questions?)
  • Did you read another tutorial that didn’t answer your question or find one on which you could expand?
  • Have you started using any new software or hardware recently?
  • Have you attended any conferences or events that you could review?
  • Have you switched products or services recently?
  • What daily annoyance drives you crazy? How would you propose to fix it?

We’re always striving to improve the quality of the AetherWorks Blog and reach new audiences. Not every post resonates, but it’s worth keeping a frequently-updated blog to help hone in on what does interest readers. If you put out the right content the right people will find you. And if you put out enough content, you have a better chance of putting out the right content.

St Andrews Programming Competition

We’re excited to have AetherStore sponsor the upcoming St Andrews Programming Competition 2014! The AetherWorks team has plenty of St Andrews graduates. Our six alumni have a collective ten computer science degrees, nine of which came from St Andrews, so they’ve logged a lot of hours in the department and look forward to being part of the event.

The programming competition is open to students of all levels and with any amount of programming experience. Teams of three will have three hours to solve a set of programming problems and win £200 worth of prizes. Here’s what the St Andrews School of Computer Science Blog had to say about the competition:

“Generally, programming competitions are aimed at the best programmers, this is a first-of-its-kind competition where students from all levels with any amount of programming experience stand a chance to win a prize. Another unique aspect of this competition is that it has also open to members of staff from the School of Computer Science, making this a fun experience and a bonding opportunity for staff and students.”

The competition will be held Monday, April 7th from 2pm-5pm GMT, and AetherStore will also be providing refreshments. Click here for more details and registration information. Best of luck to all of the participants!

st a compsci
A photo from back in the day: Angus and Greg in the computer science lab in 2010

Meet the IT

It’d be difficult to develop software that makes life easier for IT Pros without understanding what they’re dealing with, so we appreciate every insight we can get into what a day at the office looks like for an IT Administrator (as it turns out, no two days at the office really look the same). Throughout AetherStore‘s development we’ve had the opportunity to speak with some awesome IT Pros, and one of our Spiceworks beta testers agreed to let us publish some info on what makes him tick so everyone can share his insight.

Meet Shuey, a passionate IT Pro with a unique talent!

Name: John Schuepbach (“Shuey”)

Role: Network/Systems Administrator

John Schuepbach

Can you briefly describe your role as a Network/Systems Administrator?

“I support a staff of approximately 250 users, and my IT team consisting of 6 people. Pretty much anything that has to do with IT (hardware, software, networking, printers, servers, etc), I support it. Heck, some staff even think that ‘IT’ also means ‘building maintenance’, ‘janitor’ and ‘free home IT support’ LOL.”

What’s the breakdown of a typical day for you, in terms of tasks or areas of focus?

“What’s really cool about my job is that no day is ‘typical’. On my ‘best’ days, I may only get one phone call during the entire 8 hours I’m on the clock. And those are the days that I dig into projects and keep charging forward to get as much done as I can, because… On my ‘worst’ days, I’m so busy putting out fires that I’ll have one person on-hold, one person I’m talking to, and another person calling in! And it’s next to impossible to dive into anything on days like that.”

What’s your biggest pain point, what makes your job most difficult?

“Politics!! Whether it’s users who think that THEIR problem is the ONLY thing I have on my plate, or finding a way to help upper management understand what’s REALLY going on in the IT department, or conveying the importance of the need to spend money in order to maintain and effectively grow IT infrastructure, it always seems like political red tape is the biggest hurdle.”

What’s the most helpful tool in your IT arsenal?

“Having a strong ability to remotely troubleshoot and fix problems. This might seem like a simple answer, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen IT staff who either 1. Don’t have a strong enough foundation to know how to remotely support staff, or 2. Don’t think to use it. When a user has a problem, and their success depends on how quickly you can troubleshoot and fix the problem, leaving your ‘battle station’ to physically deal with the issue often takes extra time that ends up turning into wasted time. Plus, it never seems to fail that when you leave your desk to go take care of something, that’s when another user calls in and needs help; but now you don’t have access to all your ‘IT Tools’ because you’ve left your battle station!”

What’s your favorite part of your role?

“Things I really enjoy working on are big projects that take several hours over the course of a few days, to as many as hundreds of hours over the course of a couple of months. Especially things that involve revamping something to make it a lot better, or building something from the ground up (cleaning up an existing group policy implementation, setting up a WSUS server, creating scripts to simplify tasks, and documenting procedures and policies; to name a few).”

Hidden Talent:

Shuey is world-famous for his Tetris creations (check them out here)! His videos have been featured on TV shows in Japan, Australia and the UK, as well as on popular websites like joystiq.com, kotaku.com and geekologie.com. Here’s an interview he did for HardDrop.

He has also been a self-proclaimed Hardcore Video Gamer since the age of five, and before selling off a large portion amassed an impressive game collection during his 36-year run.

Shuey’s “How-tos” and More:

January Cleanweb Meetup At AetherWorks

We’re excited to be hosting this month’s CleanwebNYC meetup at AetherWorks! The event kicks off Tuesday, January 28th at 6:30pm at the AetherWorks office, located at Bryant Park in Manhattan. We’ll have pizza and beer, and anyone is welcome! RSVP here.

If you’re not familiar, Cleanweb leverages technology to tackle resource problems in energy, water, food, waste, transit and beyond. Check out the CleanwebNYC meetup page for more information on their monthly meetings and how you can get involved, or cleanweb.co to see how the Cleanweb initiative is addressing resource challenges on a global scale.

There will be two presentations Tuesday on solutions that use computer hardware resources more efficiently:

AetherStore

  • We’ll be presenting the storage software we’re developing, AetherStore, which turns unused space on machine hard drives into a shared storage network. AetherStore requires no new hardware and allows organizations to use their existing storage space more efficiently.

Revivin

  • Revivn re-purposes unused technology for social and environmental impact, creating “a new and greater purpose for unused computers.” They use outdated electronics from companies to build out various initiatives helping people gain computer access.

It should be a fun night, so join us to see what’s going on in the CleanwebNYC community – and of course to enjoy some free food and drinks! RSVP now! 

Secret Santa’s Little (Software) Helpers

We decided to do Secret Santa this year at AetherWorks, and we were all pretty excited about it. We put everyone’s name on a piece of paper, threw them in an empty granola bar box, and everyone picked.

I chose last, and in an unfortunate twist, chose my own name. Undeterred, we threw the names back in and tried again. This time Mike picked his own name. It wasn’t until the third drawing that we all managed to pick someone else, and by then we were frustrated by how difficult a simple Secret Santa exchange was for us to execute. How many software engineers does it take to pull off a gift swap?

Set on absolving the world of the inefficiency that is drawing names out of a hat, the development team told me they could “easily” write a program to perform this task. Each of them wrote a program in a different language that assigned gifters and recipients at complete random, such that no one would be buying for themselves.

Most of them didn’t get it exactly right.

You can find all of our solutions on our GitHub page here. 

Our Solutions

See what they came up with here, and read on for Mike Zaccardo’s explanation of where the others went wrong. Use Mike’s code at the end of this post (the one that does it right!) to set up your own gift exchange and save yourself the frustration of a flawed Secret Santa drawing.

“At first, we each implemented solutions like this:

  1. Randomly shuffle the list of participants
  2. Each participant receives a gift from the participant that precedes them in the shuffled list
  3. Each participant buys a gift for the participant that follows them in the shuffled list

Unfortunately, this algorithm has a flaw – it is unable to generate every possible valid combination of assignments. Specifically, the algorithm cannot produce assignments with loops (where person A has to buy for person B, and person B has to buy for person A), as each participant receives a gift from the preceding participant in the shuffled list and gives a gift to the following participant.

After some thought, I implemented a solution that requires more iteration than my colleagues’ but is able to generate every possible valid combination with a uniform likelihood. The algorithm can be generalized like this:

  1. Copy the participants into two lists: buyers and receivers
  2. Randomly shuffle receivers; do nothing to buyers
  3. Check the value at every position in buyers and make sure that the corresponding value at the same position in receivers is not the same (the buyer is not buying for him/herself)
  4. Go back to step (2) if the check in step (3) failed; otherwise we’re done!

Step (2) is equally likely to produce each of the possible permutations, but (3) filters them to only the permutations where each buyer does not buy for him/herself. These types of permutations are known as derangements. The algorithm is therefore equally likely to produce each of the possible derangements, the valid sets of assignments!

As I studied the concept of derangements, I discovered that when choosing Secret Santa assignments, regardless of the number of people involved, there is approximately a 63.2% chance that someone will choose him/herself. To see the derivation, click here. Given that probability of failure, it now makes total sense that we needed three attempts to successfully choose assignments.

When you really think about it, my algorithm is fundamentally the same as what our office did manually, just performed really quickly on a computer – pick randomly until a derangement is found. So I guess it turns out that the correct method really is to just pick from a granola bar box!”

Mike

You can find all of our solutions on our GitHub page.

AetherStore Spiceworks Beta

This past Tuesday we launched a beta with Spiceworks where we have 29 Spiceheads testing AetherStore and reporting back to our private panel.

If you’re not familiar with the Spiceworks community, it’s 4 million IT pros and tech vendors swapping IT knowledge. Spiceworks also provides a service through which you can conduct a private beta with a number of IT pros that are interested in your technology. The Spiceheads on your panel test and provide feedback in a private forum on basically every aspect of your product.

This beta is a big milestone for us, and already the feedback has been really helpful. Once the panel is complete we’ll post an update to share what we’ve learned. In the meantime, whether you’re part of our Spicepanel or just want to learn more about AetherStore, here’s a look back at a few blog posts we’ve written that explain some AetherStore Beta fundamentals:

Or if you’re looking for a slightly more technical read:

Stay tuned for an update on our AetherStore Spiceworks Beta in a of couple weeks. We’re also looking forward to getting this release out to our Early Adopters who have been crucial in getting us this far! If you’re interested in testing AetherStore for yourself, check it out here!

Lessons Learned as a Start-up Intern

For my final contribution to the AetherWorks blog, I thought I’d share some thoughts on what I’ve learned during my past two and a half months interning at AetherWorks.  In addition to learning more about the software and data storage industry, I had a handful of personal goals for my internship that concentrated on my own professional development.

  1. Ask questions.

    There is always an opportunity to learn. Whether it was asking the developers tech questions or impromptu lunchtime conversations about life after college, people tend to be pretty willing to answer questions.  I found that to be a valuable resource and tried to tap into it frequently. To me, part of being an intern is trying to absorb the entire experience.

  2. Don’t be scared to speak up.

    It can be intimidating to contribute during a meeting or to ask for help, but I did it anyway. I also learned how to share and present my own ideas.  One of the last projects I worked on was an industry specific analysis of data we received from surveying hundreds of IT experts.  My involvement was a direct result of me bringing up that idea and then offering to take on the project. The results will influence the direction of the AetherStore beta, and I’m proud to have that project to call my own.

  3. Embrace the agile work environment.

    Job descriptions are really just a starting point for start-ups.  As the goals and priorities of the company evolve, job responsibilities might change, too. That requires you to be flexible and willing to adjust along with that. Understanding why and how to best align your functions with those new priorities is critical to working at a start-up.  Plus, if you speak up, you can influence the direction of your internship and be sure you are working on things that you find interesting and are productive for the company.

  4. Take on different types of projects.

    Internships are unique because they give you a chance to try out different types of roles before the real thing. I hadn’t done much with market analysis or competitor research before, so I was excited to take on those projects and gain exposure to that side of a start-up. In addition to that, I was able to work on more typical marketing and communications projects, as well as business and customer development.

  5. Brush up on CS knowledge.

    While I want to work on the business side of the tech start-up world, this summer taught me how valuable it would be to have a stronger technical background. The ability to communicate well with developers and engineers is definitely a necessity, so I hope to find some time in my senior schedule to take another CS class or two to facilitate that.

I’m headed back to Providence this weekend to start off my senior year, but before I go, I’d like to say thank you to everyone at AetherWorks for making my summer in New York so valuable and fun!