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The Importance of Creativity as a Software Engineer

At its core, software development can seem like a very mechanical process. There are formulas, processes, and structures, making it all appear to be very rigid. Typically, there are rules to how programs are written and, if you don’t follow them, you don’t end up with a functional end product. 

However, creativity is essential if you want to be an exceptional software engineer. Creativity gives you the ability to assess a situation from a variety of angles, ensuring that your chosen approach isn’t just functional, but ideal. 

If you want to understand why creativity is so important as a software engineer, here’s what you need to know. 

Published in Recruiting

5 Critical Skills That Every DevOps Engineer Should Have 1

 

DevOps engineers are uniquely positioned in most companies. Typically, they straddle development and operations, allowing them to speed up the delivery of software by bridging those two worlds. 

In order to be a successful DevOps engineer, certain skills easily qualify as must-haves. If you want to further your DevOps career, here are the ones you need to bring to the table. 

Published in Recruiting

Call Center

 

To say that call center agents spend a lot of time on the phone is an understatement. In most cases, their entire shift is dedicated to helping callers by answering questions and resolving issues. As the day wears on, it can be hard to maintain a level of enthusiasm, especially when the calls are some repetitive in nature. Additionally, fatigue makes it more difficult to judge the emotional state of the caller, which can be harmful.

 

Now, a software program called Cogito is looking to improve the call center experience for agents and customers alike. Here’s how.

 

Cogito Voice-Analysis

At its core, Cogito is software that analyzes the tone and pattern of the speaker’s voice, making adjustments based on word choice and even the length of time the line goes silent. It does this through robust algorithms supported by machine learning, allowing it to use data from other voice records to assess the status of a call as it progresses.

 

Cogito Call Center Software

When Cogito notices that a call participant, including agents or customers, has a voice pattern that suggests a potential problem, it alerts the call center representative.

 

For example, if it determines the agent's tone isn’t as cheerful, a notification that looks like a little cup of coffee pops up on the screen. This lets the representative know that their mood has changed, giving them a chance to refocus and correct it.

 

Similarly, if the software detects that a customer may be experiencing heightened emotions, either positive or negative, a heart icon displays. When they see the heart icon, the agent knows that the caller is having an emotional reaction and can adjust their approach if necessary.

 

 

What Does This Mean for Jobs?

Ultimately, Cogito isn’t designed to replace people in call centers. Instead, it functions in a support role, helping them assess how a call is going more quickly and efficiently so that quick action can be taken should the need arise.

 

The goal of software like Cogito is to provide customers with a better experience by bringing things to the attention of representatives that a person may have a more difficult time ascertaining. While an employee can certainly notice a heightened emotional state in a caller, they might not be as aware of their own tone. Additionally, the software may recognize changes in mood and cadence used by the customer more quickly than the agent, allowing them to intervene more rapidly to diffuse tense situations.

 

Some similar software offerings, like one from State Collection Service, can even display congratulatory messages to agents when it believes that a customer was satisfied with the interaction. These quick moments can help boost morale and confidence among agents, allowing them to be more effective at their jobs. Additionally, it can provide helpful tips, like steps to calm an upset customer, as soon as a potential issue is detected, giving the representative guidance when it is needed most.

 

In the end, software like Cogito isn’t going to replace workers, only give them new tools to help them be more productive and effective in their roles.

 

If you would like to learn more, the team at The Armada Group can help. Contact us today to see how our expertise can benefit you.

 

 

Armada Nov Comment Trolls Can They Be Stopped

Companies engage with customers in more ways than ever. These engagements are more public than ever, too. Previously, the business controlled the public content, through ads and marketing activities. Interactions with consumers were private.

Today, though, social media makes interactions with customers public. Sometimes negative comments on social media are legitimate customer complaints that merit an investigation and corporate response. Sometimes, however, they're trolls who simply enjoy provoking, or, worse, want to damage the company.

It's difficult to manage trolls; simply shutting down a forum can also lead to negative publicity. Companies can use the following strategies in responding to trolls instead.

Don't Respond at All

Sometimes the best thing you can do with a troll is to ignore them. They are intending to provoke a response; when they don't get one, they're likely to go away. Don't send automatic replies, which just prolong the interaction.

Find the Funny

If the complaint isn't about a serious situation, find a way to make a joke about it. Humor helps defuse online anger as effectively as it does in the real world. Just make sure the joke is a funny response to the situation. Making light of the situation or making fun of the commenter won't have the effect you want.

Keep Them Hidden

You don't want to block legitimate gripes, but you own your social media outlets and you don't need to approve every comment for display. On some sites, you can review comments before they're publicly posted. You can also define standards of behavior and hire moderators to enforce them. Commenters who repeatedly violate standards can be banned from the forum.

Don't Allow Anonymity

Trolls are much more likely to operate when they can keep their identities secret. Requiring posters to provide real identity information, even when not displayed on the site, helps ensure civil behavior.

Investigate and Respond

Not all negative comments should be ignored or buried. If there is truth to the complaint, acknowledge the facts of the situation and find a suitable resolution. Your biggest detractor can become your biggest booster if you correct a problem.

Systems Integration Engineer

If you like taking the big view, working as a systems engineer may be the right career choice for you. Systems integration engineers focus on the entire system, not just a single piece of it in isolation. They're responsible for making sure the hardware, software, and network function together with appropriate performance and security.

Succeeding as a systems engineer means being well rounded technically, as well as having good interpersonal skills. Here are four skills essential to your success.

1. Understand computer hardware, software, and networking 

Systems integration engineers typically have a degree in computer science, computer engineering, or other technical disciplines. Solving system integration problems requires the ability to understand all the different components of a deployed solution. Because integration issues often arise when older technology must be coupled with newer technology, systems integration engineers should enjoy constant learning.

2. Enjoy both analytical and hands-on work to solve problems 

Systems integration engineers have to untangle difficult interoperability issues that arise when different application components are developed, at different times, by separate teams. This can require analysis of application and network logs, as well as writing middleware code to make components work together. Systems integration engineers often are involved with testing the system, including unit testing of middleware and complete end-to-end testing of the application.

3. Communicate well with customers and other engineers 

Because they solve middleware issues, systems integration engineers should be able to participate in technical discussions with other systems integration engineers and their software engineering and network engineering colleagues, to discuss application and architectural issues. They should be able to develop technical documents to propose alternative solutions, document the implemented design, and define test cases.

4. Bring a focused attitude to work with a strong attention to detail 

The solution to systems integration problems often is found by understanding the fine points of the application. Systems integration engineers should have the persistence to methodically work through a problem and multiple potential solutions to identify the best approach for resolving it. Systems integration engineers may need to switch focus from thinking about long-term design issues to solving an immediate application issue, so the ability to switch between tasks without losing focus is key.

As computer applications and the environments they run in become ever more complex, there's no end to the challenges systems integration engineers need to solve, making this an exciting career for technically oriented thinkers who thrive on variety.

Published in Recruiting

 

What is Beacon Technology - And How Are We Already Using It

A relatively new type of technology is making its way into businesses and organizations across the country. Some are referring to beacon technology as “GPS for indoors,” and in effect, that’s what these devices do — though the potential applications for beacons go beyond offering locations and directions.

What are beacons?

Beacons are small, inexpensive pieces of hardware that connect via Bluetooth, enabling them to transmit data directly to mobile devices. As usual, Apple is setting the popularity trend with its iBeacon, but other companies — some of which have been using beacons before Apple launched their version — are already making waves with this technology.

How can beacons be used?

Through the combined use of beacon hardware and specialized software, beacons can be used to locate mobile devices indoors and transmit messages or prompts according to a set of targeted criteria. This enables real-time, segmented in-person marketing for consumers with mobile devices.

The most obvious applications for beacon technology are in retail. Beacons can target shoppers in certain areas of a store and send personalized deals, product information, and more directly to their smartphones or tablets. This technology can also simplify the shopping experience, allowing customers to use a completely contactless payment system that’s tied to their mobile device.

But retail isn’t the only possibility for beacon technology, which has potential applications for enterprise, event organizers, transit systems, and even educational institutions.

One potential barrier to widespread adoption of beacon technology is the required permissions. Retail locations can’t simply send messages to any mobile device that happens to be inside the store. Generally, customers have to enable Bluetooth, permit location services on the relevant beacon app, and opt-in to notifications from the store.

Who’s using beacon technology now?

Apple’s iBeacon is already being used for personalized shopping experiences through a partnership with marketing platform Swirl, which is used in several stores throughout the United States and Canada — including Lord & Taylor, Timberland, Alex and Ani, and Kenneth Cole.

A Silicon Valley-based shopping app called shopkick has used beacon technology since 2009, rewarding users with “kicks” or retail points just for entering certain stores. The shopkick beacon platform is currently used in stores like Target, Best Buy, Old Navy, JC Penney, American Eagle, and more. Brands like Ritz, Levi’s, and Oreo also use shopkick to send alerts that draw customers to their product locations inside stores. Macy’s recently announced an expanded partnership with shopkick that represents the largest beacon deployment to date, with the technology to roll out to 4,000 Macy’s locations — bringing the total number of locations using shopkick to 7,500.

Several other companies are also getting involved in beacon technology. Both PayPal and Qualcomm tend to roll out beacon hardware of their own to compete with the iBeacon, and vendors similar to Swirl, such as Estimote and GPShopper, are offering beacon management and consulting along with software platforms.

With the prevalence of mobile devices, beacon technology provides a convenient new way to direct people — shoppers, students, travelers, and more. To learn more about this technology, or how it pertains to your company, contact the IT experts at The Armada Group today.

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5 Tips for Defending Your Systems Against Security Breaches

Every modern business has to worry about security. The threat of hackers and damaging attacks hangs over everyone with an infrastructure — as Boston Children’s Hospital discovered this spring, when hackers claiming to represent Anonymous hit them with phishing and DDoS attacks.

Fortunately, the hospital was prepared to fight back, and patient data remained secure during and after the attacks. Here are five tips from Boston Children’s Hospital’s handling of the situation that can help you safeguard your business from security breaches:

Take an active learning approach to digital security

The best defense is a good offense. Be proactive in your security measures, with preventative strategies that include:

  • Active, real-time surveillance for emerging threats
  • Risk-based modeling and analysis that considers key security factors, including risks, threats, and information systems vulnerabilities
  • Effective regulation that ensures both privacy and safety without creating excess burden

Understand your system resource dependence

In order to mount an effective defense, you need to know which systems work internally, and which rely on external Internet access. Systems connected to the Internet are at risk for security breaches and attacks — for example, the hospital’s EHR (electronic health records) system was spared in the attacks, but its e-prescribing system that connects to pharmacies online was not.

Have an email alternative

In the interests of being prepared for the worst, have a secure access and communication system in place to guard against the possibility of compromised email during an attack. At Children’s, when DDoS attacks increased beyond what the hospital’s internal IT solutions were capable of handling, they were able to shut down all websites and email, and use a secure text messaging application to communicate internally and access patient records.

React when you see smoke — don’t wait for fire

Don’t hesitate to push the button on extreme security measures, such as shutting down websites and email. If you have the right precautions in place, you can avoid business disruption — and the ability to take swift action could save you millions in damages if cyber attacks are successful.

Don’t neglect teleconferences

Phone communications are equally at risk for security breaches. Never include conference passcodes in the body of a calendar invitation — this could get your call recorded and posted online before you even hang up. Instead, send passcodes securely through email or text applications.

Hackers pose a growing threat to the safety and security of information in every industry. Not even a children’s hospital is safe from cyber attacks. Stay up-to-date with the latest security measures, and make sure you’re protected with a proactive strategy that fights back against hackers. If you need help implementing a proactive security plan for your company, or need dedicated IT specialists to handle these threats, speak to the IT experts at The Armada Group.

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5 Tips for Becoming an Outstanding IT Leader

What makes a great leader? There are nearly as many definitions as there are leaders in IT, but certain characteristics tend to stand out when you consider outstanding IT leaders. And if you’re aspiring to greatness as a leader in your field, emulating these characteristics will help you improve your own performance as well as your team’s — and place your career on the path to success.

Here are five tips that will help you understand what makes an outstanding leader, and how to implement best practices in your own leadership career to achieve greatness.

1. Communicate effectively

Do you assign tasks or projects to your team, only to find that the end results are far from what you had in mind when you implemented the project? Does your team ask you a lot of questions that you feel they should know the answers to? Are there frequent disagreements among your team about how, when, and with whom work should proceed? If these problems are present, you may have communication issues.

Great leaders are able to describe what they want done succinctly and clearly. The key to effective communication is considering not only what you’re saying, but how the people you’re addressing will receive your message. If you can’t communicate your vision, your team won’t be working toward the same goal — and the end results will suffer.

2. Embrace delegation

Some people in leadership positions subscribe to the philosophy that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Unfortunately, this is the opposite of what leadership is all about — motivating and inspiring others to perform to the best of their abilities.

The ability to delegate is an essential quality for a great leader. You can’t do everything yourself — and you shouldn’t, because your team will suffer. Failure to delegate tasks (without micromanaging the implementation of the tasks you’ve assigned) demonstrates a lack of trust in your team, which leads to a breakdown of loyalty and motivation.

3. Generate confidence

Outstanding leaders know that confidence breeds confidence. This means remaining confident in the abilities of your team when things are going right — and when they’re going wrong. One small crisis can set off a chain reaction of issues and problems, especially in IT. If you react negatively to everything that goes wrong, you’ll create an atmosphere of uncertainty and doubt that will severely impact productivity.

Maintain a positive attitude, and remind everyone on your team — including yourself, if necessary — that setbacks are natural and expected. When you remain calm and confident through a crisis, you help to keep everyone on track and working toward the common goal.

4. Walk the walk

When making a distinction between bosses and leaders, it’s common to point out that bosses talk, but leaders walk. The very best leaders are those who lead by example — you can’t expect your team to turn in their best performances, unless you’re putting forth your best efforts too.

Commitment is a vital quality for outstanding leaders. You need to demonstrate through your actions that you’re committed to producing great work right along with the team — in other words, you need to be the person you want to lead.

5. Hone your sense of humor

One of the easiest ways to spot a great leader is to observe the workplace environment. Are the employees excited and engaged? Do they show up every day with a positive attitude, and look forward to tackling the challenges ahead? If this is the case, you’re sure to find a leader with a great sense of humor at the head of the team.

The ability to find humor in struggles and challenges can transform your work environment, creating a happy and healthy space that your team will enjoy coming to every day. Learn to laugh at yourself, even in the midst of crisis, and you’re well on your way to becoming an outstanding IT leader.

If you need more help distinguishing these characteristics in your management team, or yourself, contact the recruiting experts at The Armada Group today. We know what it takes to cultivate a strong leadership team, and have a wide talent network of top candidates who exhibit the five traits mentioned above. 

CareerNavigatorNewsletter

 

Published in IT Infrastructure
Thursday, Oct 16 2014

Big Data Gets Big Results

 

Big Data Gets Big Results

The buzz about Big Data continues to grow, but are companies that have already started working with it seeing any returns on their investment? According to a new study from tech consulting firm Accenture, an overwhelming majority of executives who’ve launched big data projects are pleased with the power and effectiveness of this new digital tool.

Big Data is consistently valuable

The Accenture study looked at big data projects and installations implemented by CIOs, CFOs, COOs, CMOs, CDOs (chief data officers) and other senior IT leaders across seven industries, in 19 different countries. Responses indicated astonishingly high rates of satisfaction and ROI from big data investments:

  • 92 percent of executives were satisfied with the results of their big data installations
  • 89 percent said big data is “very important” or “extremely important” to the digital transformation of their business
  • 82 percent said big data provides significant value to their organization

The research and observations from senior executives point to big data as not just a passing fad, accessible only to a small percentage of huge, multi-million dollar corporations, but a truly effective strategy that delivers actual benefits like streamlined operational efficiency, an expanded base of loyal customers, and increased revenues. With effective use of big data, businesses are able to develop a competitive advantage in an increasingly crowded online market.

Big Data pinpoints new sources of revenue, enhances customer experience

One of the most common ways businesses are using big data is to find new sources of revenue — and this area is also delivering the most tangible benefits. According to the Accenture study:

  • 94 percent of executives use big data moderately or extensively to identify new revenue sources — and 56 percent report extensive tangible benefits
  • 90 percent use big data moderately or extensively to retain current customers and acquire new customers
  • 89 percent use big data moderately or extensively to develop new products and services

While bringing in new customers creates new sources of revenue, organizations are also using big data to improve customer relations. Of the executives surveyed, 47 percent report extensive, measurable benefits from winning and keeping customers through big data, and 51 percent say enhancing the customer experience through big data has achieved measurable gains. Considering the next five years, 63 percent of executives believe that big data will have the largest impact on their customer relationships.

Challenges to big data implementation

As with any relatively new technology, using big data comes with some challenges and concerns. Accenture found that security is the greatest challenge, with 51 percent of executives citing security as the top issue — particularly as the number of big data users in their organization expands.

Other major challenges facing big data include:

  • Budget (47 percent)
  • Lack of talent for big data implementation (41 percent)
  • Lack of talent to run big data / analytics on an ongoing basis (37 percent)
  • Integration with existing systems (35 percent)

Flexibility and a willingness to experiment with approaches and strategies has been the most effective means to overcoming the challenges presented by big data. Accenture states that it’s vital for organizations to recognize that no single big data solution will fit every situation.

Tips for success with Big Data

With the increasing accessibility and cost-effectiveness of big data technology, companies of any size in every industry can take advantage of the benefits big data provides. Accenture’s key recommendations for capitalizing on big data include:

  • Start small. Attempting to accomplish everything at once with big data can, and typically will, result in a scattered focus and little to no return. Instead, choose a single business area to target first, and launch a proof of concept or pilot program to prove value before implementing wider strategies.
  • Stay flexible. The technologies that drive big data are still relatively new, and in a constant state of change. Companies using big data must remain nimble and alert to the opportunities presented by these evolving technologies.
  • Focus on talent. In order to capitalize on big data, companies need a workforce that’s able to implement strategies effectively. One solution is to offer training for existing employees to build big data skills — a strategy 54 percent of executives said they are currently implementing.

But don’t rely on your in-house team alone — only five percent of executives said their company uses solely internal resources to develop, implement, and manage big data strategies. Outsourcing IT talent for big data is a fast and effective way to start reaping the benefits of the latest technologies for your business.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of big data, or find staff who are already well-versed in big data implementation, contact the recruiting experts at The Armada Group today. 

CareerNavigatorNewsletter

 

 

The Evolution of Software Engineering  Skills

Technology may change in the blink of an eye, but the basic job of a developer or software engineer remains the same: to produce code. Writing code is the heart of every developer task, from debugging and maintenance to creating brand new software.

However, many of the tools, resources, and skills developers use to crank out code have evolved along with technology, particularly with the emergence of the cloud. Here are some examples of the ways modern cloud developers differ from software engineers before them — and a few things that haven’t changed.

Source code control systems

This type of system isn’t new — in fact, developers have used them for decades to store and track codes, versions, and revisions. All source code control systems have the same basic components:

  • A repository where code is stored
  • Revision control tools to manage copies of the master code
  • A version system that keeps track of releases

For the modern developer, the difference in source code control systems is awareness and mastery of adaption. Working with these systems in the cloud requires the ability to manipulate code for a widely dispersed workforce. The distributed git system, made popular by the collaborative developer website GitHub, is the most widely used, but centrally controlled systems like Microsoft Team Foundation Server and Apache Subversion are also commonly used in cloud development.

Agile development methods

There is increasing pressure on modern developers and software engineers to push products to market faster. This has led to the creation and practice of smaller, faster, and more flexible methods for producing code — and speed increases are often achieved through collaboration over a git system, with developers who may be located in diverse geographic areas.

For example, one method many developers employ is called a “sprint.” Sprints are periods of time, usually a week or two, when a team of developers does nothing but produce working software.

Platform as a Service

A lot of end users are familiar with the cloud term Software as a Service (SaaS), a time-saving and cost-effective method for using programs and applications that are hosted on the cloud rather than on workstations or servers, and accessed with an Internet connection.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) is similar in that it delivers large, expensive components developers use on a hosted platform, without hefty overhead or upfront investment. PaaS is a cloud computing layer that provides infrastructure build, integration testing, and software deployment — removing overhead for the developer and allowing coding to happen faster.

Multilingual flexibility

For a long time, developers could build a career by becoming proficient in a single programming language. Today’s cloud developers need greater linguistic capabilities — as least in the languages they use to talk to computers. Most programming languages are decades old, but modern developers are combining them in new ways in order to work with all the domain-specific languages that can go into a single software product.

For example, a system developer might be fluent in Perl, BASH, and Python, while a front-end developer must speak JavaScript, CSS, HTML, and XML.

All factors considered, speed is the primary difference between previous generations of software engineers and the new breed of agile cloud developers. What once represented a year’s worth of output can now be created in a matter of days, and the process can be repeated week after week.

But at the end of the day, developers deal with code. And that will never change.

 

The Armada Group knows what modern skills developers need to cultivate and maintain in order to be at the forefront of their industry. To speak with one of our recruiting specialists, or to find a top IT candidate, contact our team today.

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