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7 UI Design Trends to Make Your Software Stand Out

By Kristen Vogler, Posted on April 16, 2020 at 5:48 am

Kristen Vogler

Create a useful, beautiful, and easy-to-use system

What approach did you take when creating your application? Did you focus solely on functionality and figure you’d worry about the user interface and experience later? Did later never come? Because developers often need to develop or add additional functionality to products quickly, the role design plays in the creation of applications is often forgotten. Don’t make the same mistake. The visual appeal of your application is your first opportunity to make a lasting impact on your users. Let’s take a look at some of the user interface design trends that will allow you to make the most of that first impression and stand out from other applications.

1. Microinteractions

While overlooked by many, microinteractions play an essential role in a user’s experience and are the perfect proof that details really do make the design. You’ll notice these interactions in almost every major app and website you visit. Facebook’s “Like” feature is a great example. Hovering over the Like button will display animated versions of the different types of a “like” a user can give. Microinteractions are subtle and you may not notice them, but if they’re removed, you’ll feel like something important is missing.

Tab bar active animation — Aaron Iker

2. Skeuomorphic Design

Skeuomorphic design refers to the creation of elements in a realistic style. While this type of design was put to rest years ago, the popularity of VR/AR technology is welcoming it back, albeit with a modern twist. When done correctly, the results are absolutely stunning, but you should consider the time, effort, and incredible focus on details needed before diving head first into this trend. The excessive amount of work can make the style not worth it for an application that is constantly changing and evolving.

Skeuomorph investing app dashboard — Jordan Hughes

3. Asymmetrical Layouts

It’s time to release your grip on those perfectly tidy and traditional grid layouts and say hello to overlapping elements. Asymmetrical doesn’t mean random; rather it means you’ve placed your elements in an unusual way that is still aesthetically pleasing. Choose images, text, and other elements that your users will respond to and place them in a way that guides users through your design. You’ll also want to include a generous amount of white space to be successful.

Chef – Asymmetrical Card — Oxygenna

4. Simplicity

Minimalism comes and goes in the design world, but right now it’s in. While not exactly a trend and more of a group of principles to follow, the focus of a simple design is functionality. In this style, you’ll notice bold typography, minimal color palettes, and plenty of white space. Simplicity requires a thoughtful and deliberate approach. Because of the style, there won’t be many, if any, places to hide a design mistake. However, the results are worth it, offering an elegant and high-quality feeling that can be hard to match.

Travel App Home Screen UI Design — Gleb Kuznetsov

5. Responsive Colors

Your branding is important. I’m sure you have a list of fonts, sizes, colors, and ways to handle your logo and other image assets. This isn’t a new trend, but brands are now adopting it more and more. Instead of owning a single color for your brand, allow the color to change in the context of what part of your brand it represents. Try putting together a number of predefined colors that can be assigned to different parts of your environment.

Handoff from marvelapp.com
Prototyping from marvelapp.com

6. Typography

Large text makes a statement. And an interesting change in user interface design is the gradual return of serif fonts. Previously, screen resolution was so low that a font with serifs was considered too difficult to read. With screen resolution improving year after year, that excuse is out the window, opening the door to use thousands of beautiful new typefaces.

Design & Life – Oprah House — Daniel Mcleay

7. Dark Themes

No, not ominous undertones—we’re talking color palette. These themes have been around for years, but when Apple recently added one in their Mojave update, the style took off. The key to designing a successful dark theme? Don’t start with a full black background and white text. Begin with darker grays in the background and lighter grays for text, saving white for something that really needs to pop. A side bonus for this style is that with less bright white to stare at, a dark theme can lessen eye strain for your users. 

Sales Manager Dashboard — Fireart Studio

The best UI trends are not only fun to look at, they also improve the overall experience and usefulness of a product. As more and more brands adopt these trends, they shift from being a trend to a design standard. Take a look at your applications today to see which of these trends you can apply—and then take your interfaces to the next level.

If you want to modernize your UI, Synergex has tools and other resources to help you get there. Learn more about our open-source Harmony Core solution, or contact an account executive to find out how our software development consultants with our Professional Services Group can assist you.


Who Invited the Dog? Tips for Business Meetings While Sheltering in Place

By , Posted on April 7, 2020 at 10:19 am

Jacklin Garcia

Many of us now find ourselves unexpectedly working from home. Maybe you’ve always worked remotely, like my spouse who has recently lost 50% of his home office space to me. We’re all living in a state of some uncertainty, with conferences postponed and opportunities to connect fewer and farther between—yet work still needs to get done. Are you, like us, now attending or hosting more video calls and webinars? It’s wonderful that we have the technology to help bridge the distance between ourselves and our coworkers or customers while we are all remote. In fact, we’ve found that our meetings start and end on time more often now that they’re all remote! But this new normal comes with its own set of challenges and different etiquette than face-to-face meetings, so here are a few tips to make you a virtual-meeting pro!

Embrace your new co-workers.

What (equipment)

There are so many different brands of virtual-meeting software. In fact, Synergex uses more than one to meet our needs as a company. Most have generally the same features, but if you aren’t familiar with what your company uses, you should take the application(s) for a test drive. At the very least, learn how to properly adjust your webcam and microphone settings and use the mute and screen share options (more on all these later). Pro tip for working from home: Depending on how your network is set up, you will likely want to use this software outside of your company’s VPN!

If you can, make sure you have a decent camera and microphone. A good headset seems to be the preferred way for many webinar pros to mic up, but a lot of us are just making do with what’s built into our loaner laptops for now, and that’s OK too! Pro tip for working from home: Sometimes using a phone line or the software’s mobile app to dial into the meeting might be a better option for your audio.

Where (setting up the meeting space)

In an office setting, you might have a choice of meeting rooms that are already equipped with the technology you’ll need. At home, you may not have that luxury. Find a space with the fewest distractions for you and in your background. I think we are all getting used to seeing a cat or dog (or even a small toddler in my case) walk by in the background of a meeting by now, but to whatever extent possible, try to minimize this for the duration of your meeting. This may be tough if your workspace is in a common area. Pro tip for working from home: Try setting expectations with your partners, kids, or roommates about when you will be in meetings so they know to make themselves scarce during those times.

Steve Ives shows off his setup.
Oliver Chu uses a simple setup

How 

Share your camera. Communication is more than 50% non-verbal, so being able to see those you are meeting with or enabling them to see you while you’re making a point is hugely important. Try to check out what your camera will pick up before sharing with the audience. You can usually do this through the meeting software itself, but some computers also have a built-in camera app that you can use to do the same. If possible, make sure your camera is at about eye level. Pro tip for working from home: It’s ok if you don’t have a pretty way to raise your laptop to get the camera to eye level. We won’t see the pile of books propping it up. Another working from home pro tip: Network issues seem to come up more at home where we don’t have an IT department to manage them. Go ahead and turn off the cameras if anyone in the meeting is experiencing audio/video delays or choppiness. We’ve found that seems to stop most issues.

Not all of us have ideal backdrops in our makeshift home offices. I know I can’t be the only one with a pile of clean laundry lurking just out of view, but these things can be distracting to our audience. If you can’t physically hide the distractions, try changing the angle of the camera slightly. Pro tip for working from home: It’s totally acceptable to use the blur or background image options to hide distractions digitally.

If you want to go above and beyond, you can set up a greenscreen like Marty and pretend you are back at the office. 

While meeting from your computer can have its perks, it can also be fraught with distractions. Close any email, chat, or other unnecessary applications that have notifications. Many of these applications have both auditory and visual cues that can be disruptive to the meeting, especially if you’re sharing your screen. Pro tip for working from home: Many of us are using personal computers, so be even more vigilant about tidying your desktop so nothing shows that you may not want to share with others if you need to share your screen.

Use the mute button when appropriate. I was in a meeting a few days ago, and I could clearly hear a lawn mower in the background. Life happens and we can’t control everything around us, but if you have ambient noise and you aren’t currently leading the meeting, it’s OK to use mute until your turn to speak.

Have an agenda. This should be true for all meetings, but it’s especially important for remote ones.

Bonus tips: Remote presentations

If you were planning on making a presentation in person but are now trying to translate it to the digital realm, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

You need to engage with your audience in a different way than if you were meeting in person. Experts suggest that you engage the audience every four minutes! That’s at least seven times in a 30-minute presentation. How do you fit all of that in such a short time period? Throw out calls to action for the audience and use whatever tools are available to you, such as polls, hand raising, chat, or a question box.

Use more slides with fewer words than you would for an in-person presentation. The audience can read what is on the screen quickly. They don’t want you to read it to them. If you do, they will likely put your presentation in the background and start to browse email. So, keep the slides light on content and keep them moving to ensure your audience stays attentive. 

Staying connected

While many in-person gatherings have been cancelled or postponed for the foreseeable future, Synergex is still here for you! We’re offering several webinars throughout this year on topics ranging from web services to unit testing to debugging. We’ll also continue to host our regular OpenVMS remote customer meetup and our Harmony Core office hours.  Keep an eye on your inbox for upcoming invitations.

We invite you to comment on this post to share any additional tips you may have for remote meetings and presentations. You can also join in on the conversation about general working from home tips in Community.

We hope to see many of you in person in Sacramento in May 2021 for the DevPartner conference, but in the meantime stay home and stay healthy!


CodeGen 5.5.2 Released

By Steve Ives, Posted on March 19, 2020 at 12:47 am

Steve Ives

Apologies for being only a few days after the last CodeGen release, but we’ve been hard at work and have added some really cool new features, and we wanted to share them with you as soon as possible. We have added support for complex expressions, which allow you to use AND, OR and NOT within expression tokens, and also allows you to use parentheses to explicitly define precedence. Here are some examples:

<IF expression_1 AND expression_2>
[code]
</IF>

<IF expression_1 OR expression_2>
[code]
</IF>

<IF NOT expression_1>
[code]
</IF>

<IF NOT expression_1 AND expression_2>
[code]
</IF>

<IF expression_1 AND(expression_2 OR expression_3)>
[code]
</IF>

<IF expression_1 OR expression_2>
[code]
<ELSE expression_3 AND expression_4>
[code]
<ELSE>
[code]
</IF>

We hope you’re as excited as we are about these significant new capabilities.


CodeGen 5.5.1 Released

By Steve Ives, Posted on March 16, 2020 at 10:04 pm

Steve Ives

We are pleased to announce a new CodeGen release that includes a significant new feature named Complex ELSE Clauses. We have some big plans to further enhance IF/ELSE expressions, but for now this initial new feature can be used to simplify complex template file expressions. Here are the full release notes for the new version, which can be downloaded from https://github.com/Synergex/CodeGen/releases.

  • We added support for Complex ELSE Clauses within expressions, which allow multiple expressions of the same type to be evaluated within a single template file construct. We have future plans to extend the capabilities of expressions even further, but for now this new capability can be used to simplify template file code.
  • We improved the error checking that occurs when a processing a Harmony Core Customization File.
  • When using the CodeGen API we have added the ability to specify lists of file overrides at the TaskSet level.
  • We corrected an error that was causing the <HARMONYCORE_BRIDGE_PARAMETER_TYPE> custom expansion token to return incorrect values for structure parameters.
  • This version of CodeGen was built with Synergy/DE 11.1.1c and requires a minimum of version 10.1.1 to operate.

Call to Action for Windows UI Toolkit Developers

By Steve Ives, Posted on February 25, 2020 at 5:06 pm

Steve Ives

In recent months several customers have reported significant slow-downs in their Windows UI Toolkit applications when upgrading to Windows 10 or Windows Server 2016. We’ve been researching this issue, and we believe that much of the slow down resulted from alterations that Microsoft made in the operating system to mitigate the Windows Spectre-Meltdown issues.

In an attempt to mitigate these performance changes, and working in conjunction with one customer that had reported the issue to us, we have been working on various performance optimizations in the Synergy runtime related to low-level window creation, and for the Toolkit file-stack routines when using large lists. The new runtime also has UI improvements related to scaling of fonts on high-DPI monitors, most notably when moving a toolkit application between monitors with different DPI settings in Windows 10. This work is now complete, and we believe it has resulted in significant improvements in performance, which we hope will largely restore previous levels of performance.

We have performed as much internal testing as possible, and the customer we have been working with has also reported good results when testing the new runtime. We would like to be able to ship these improvements in the next Synergy release in the May timeframe, but before we can do that, we need to have several other Windows UI Toolkit developers validate that the changes do not cause any other unforeseen issues in their applications.

What we are asking you to do is to install your application onto a Windows 10 or Windows Server 2016 (or higher) that has Synergy 11.1.1c installed, apply a special runtime patch that we will provide, and test your application. There is no need to re-compile your code; just run your application in the patched 11.1.1c environment and look for any UI issues. You would be looking for any visual anomalies in the UI Toolkit user interface, regions not being painted or cleared correctly, etc.

We believe that our recent runtime changes can deliver significant runtime performance improvements for a lot of users, but because of the significant nature of the internal changes, we need help validating those changes in real user scenarios.

Can you help? If so please contact us as soon as possible, either via Developer Support or through your Synergex Account Representative.


SDI Developer Build 2704 Now Available

By Steve Ives, Posted on February 21, 2020 at 2:04 pm

Steve Ives

We are continually working on improvements to our Synergy DBL Integration for Visual Studio (SDI) product, and we are pleased to announce the release of a new developer build #2704, which is available for immediate download.

This release contains some important improvements in the debugging environment, and also contains some enhancements to IntelliSense related to indexed groups and indexer properties. We also made some improvements in the category options in the new project dialog in  Visual Studio 2019.

If you are running an earlier version 11 release of SDI then we recommend you upgrade immediately to take advantage of these improvements, and if not then you should consider doing so, at least for your development tools. Remember that you can use runtime version targeting to produce binary software for older runtime versions if you’re not ready to upgrade your customer or production systems yet.



Help Us Help You!

By Steve Ives, Posted on February 9, 2020 at 3:51 pm

Steve Ives

As many of you already know, after a little over twenty-two years working as a Senior Consultant in the Professional Services Group, I recently transitioned to a new role as Product Manager here at Synergex. I’m excited about this change because it means that not only will I will have a much more significant role in determining the future roadmap for Synergy/DE and related products, but I also get to continue working directly with our customers.

One of the primary driving factors for some of the recent role changes here at Synergex is our desire to become more market-driven when it comes to determining future product enhancements. In part, we will achieve this by continuing to pay close attention to what the industry as a whole is doing. But a large part of our strategy going forward is based on working more closely with our customers when building new feature lists and future product roadmaps.

Product management is an entirely new area of expertise for me, and it will take some time to become fully competent in my new role. To help me with this transition, I was asked to attend a two-day Product Management conference, which I must say was an interesting and informative experience. I learned a lot, not least of which was that I learned how much more I have to learn!

I don’t want to criticize the event that I attended, which was on the whole very well put together, so I’m not going to name the event, which was attended by product managers from some large organizations that everyone would immediately recognize. It wasn’t an unusually large event; I estimate there were perhaps 200 people in attendance.

In the spirit of honesty, here comes the sales pitch! I have been attending Synergex conferences since the early 1990s, first as a customer, then as a partner, and later as an employee. I can honestly say that nobody does it better when it comes to offering an environment with such abundant learning opportunities AND the chance to network with peers. The conference I just returned from cited peer networking as a benefit also, but in reality, it didn’t happen. For whatever reason, many delegates didn’t seem to want to interact, but also, the event schedule and venue didn’t promote that valuable interaction either.

The 2020 Synergex DevPartner conference is being held in Sacramento, CA this year, and we all hope to see you there. If you have attended one of our events in the past, then you already know what an excellent opportunity it is. If you haven’t joined us in the past, I encourage you to not miss out on this unique opportunity this year. For additional information check out the conference website.

As I settle into my new role, you’ll be seeing more blog posts introducing things we’re considering, and some of you will hear from me directly as I try to extend existing relationships and build new ones. My point of contact with your company will be with some specifically nominated person, but I want to hear from all of you! If your life is in any way touched by Synergy/DE, or by related products such as Harmony Core, and you have something to say, good or bad, I want to hear it.

One way for you to provide feedback is through our Ideas forum, but if you prefer to contact me individually, that’s OK too. I’m not going to post an email address here because I don’t want to deal with a thousand replies from BOTs, but try first name dot last name at synergex.com. That should put us in touch.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Synergy/DE 11.1.1c Released

By Steve Ives, Posted on January 29, 2020 at 6:23 pm

Steve Ives

Important quality improvements for REV11 licensing

A new patch release for Windows and Unix is now available to download on the Synergex website. All customers are encouraged to update to 11.1.1c for important quality improvements.

This update includes new versions of the following products:

  • Synergy/DE (32- and 64-bit)
  • REV11 licensing upgrade package (32- and 64-bit, delivered in one installer on Windows)
  • Synergy DBL Integration for Visual Studio
11.1.1c includes quality improvements for the following issues:
  • IMPORTANT: Previously, in REV11 licensing environments, an expired license error could occur if a license allocated by a program expired while the program was running. Even if new keys had been delivered and installed, if the license server had not been restarted since the new keys were installed, the error could occur.

    It is important that all customers using subscription licensing in a REV11 environment install the 11.1.1c patch (for version 11 systems) or apply the 11.1.1c version of the licensing upgrade package (for version 9 or 10 systems).

    If for any reason you are not able to do so, you should ensure that your license server is restarted as soon as possible after your new subscription keys are delivered. Long-running processes are resilient to a license server restart.

  • In versions 11.1.1a and 11.1.1b, if an attempt to rename a remote file (via xfServer) resulted in an error being generated, in some cases xfServer could fail with a segmentation fault.
  • In versions 11.1.1 through 11.1.1b, using the isutl utility to re-index a large multi-key ISAM file with an index exceeding 4,294,967,295 bytes caused a corrupted index to be created.
  • In versions 11.1.1 through 11.1.1b, when running xfServer in Secure or Trusted mode, a client using the RUSER mechanism to provide login credentials to the server experienced a “Bad username, login rejected” error.
  • In versions 11.1.1 through 11.1.1b, in some circumstances when opening a remote file via xfServer when that server did not already have other files open, the xfServer process could fail.
The patch also includes the following enhancements to Synergy DBL Integration for Visual Studio:
  • We significantly enhanced the Visual Studio build system for Synergy .NET projects by improving the dependency-checking algorithms. Previously, any change in the code of, for example, a class library caused all projects that reference that library to be rebuilt. With these changes in place, dependent projects will only be rebuilt if changes in the dependency library result in the signatures of externally visible items being added, changed, or removed. This will result in a significant reduction in elapsed build times in many cases.

  • We improved the hover-over information (QuickInfo) displayed for type declarations for variables, fields, properties, etc. We added simple colorization and documentation comments (when available), and in some cases, type names are now fully qualified.

See the release notes for a complete list of 11.1.1c changes. See the Synergy/DE 11 page for information about the latest Synergy/DE features.

Visual Studio Adaptive Formatting

By Steve Ives, Posted on January 24, 2020 at 4:32 pm

Steve Ives

In Microsoft Visual Studio version 16.4 a new feature was, I was going to say introduced, but snuck in might be more appropriate way of describing things. There was no mention of the new feature in any release notes that we can find, and an internet search for the name of the new feature currently returns no useful matches!

The feature is called Adaptive Formatting and apparently what it does is allows code editor windows to “heuristically determine if the current file should use tabs or spaces for indentation”. Previously this behavior was determined by a language specific setting, and those settings are still present, but if Adaptive Formatting is enabled (which it is by default by the way), then it wins!

So if your code is indented with tabs, and suddenly Visual Studio decides to start using spaces instead (or vice-versa) then it’s probably Adaptive Formatting getting it wrong! Thankfully this new feature can be disabled by going into Tools > Options > Text Editor > Advanced and un-checking the Use adaptive formatting option.

Happy coding everyone!



SQL Replication – Significant New Features

By Steve Ives, Posted on January 16, 2020 at 8:10 pm

Steve Ives

In recent weeks we have been working on making improvements to our SQL Replication environment, which demonstrates how to easily replicate your Synergy data to a SQL Server database. Some of these changes were undertaken in collaboration with a customer that uses the environment extensively, and we thank them for their input and support. Other changes have been on our road-map for some time and we think you’ll be excited about what has been achieved. Here’s a summary of the changes:

  • Synergy 11 introduced a new SQL Connection API capability which calls the ODBC API function SQLDescribeParam behind the scenes to improve performance and avoid excessive cache memory thrashing for SQL statements that have I/O parameters when accessing SQL Server (VTX12_SQLNATIVE). Synergex recommend setting SSQL_PERFORMANCE_SQL to yes (or setting the SQLPERFORMANCESQL environment variable. We have updated the environment to do this, which should result in improved performance when running in Synergy 11 or higher environments.
  • We have added the ability to run multiple instances of the replicator process side-by-side, within a single data set, and to divide up the replication of different files between these multiple replicator instances. Each instance is assigned a unique instance name and has its own associated instruction queue file, the name of which includes the instance name, as does the log file produced by each instance. In a multi-instance environment developers can chose on a file-by-file bases which data files are replicated via which queue file, and therefor via which replicator instance. It is important to understand that in this scenario there is no synchronization of the sequence in which changes are applied to the underlying SQL database between the multiple instances of the replicator.
  • We have added the ability to exclude certain fields in a record from being appearing in and being replicated to the associated SQL Server database table. It is important that fields associated with keys not be excluded, unless those keys are also excluded (see the next item). Generally the fewer fields/columns that are replicated the faster the replication will be.
  • We have added the ability to exclude certain keys from processing, so that matching database indexes will not be created in the associated database tables. Generally the fewer indexes that exist on a table the faster the replication will be.
  • We have added the ability for the replicator to detect some kinds of database failure, caused by network errors, or the database being shut down or otherwise unavailable, and allow it to gracefully disconnect, and then attempt to reconnect, with a configurable number of retries and retry interval. This should make the replicator processes more robust.
  • We have added the ability to change the database datatypes of fields. The main use case envisaged is transforming decimal fields into implied decimal fields (adding decimal places in the database data), but there may be other use cases, such as transforming Y/N fields into Boolean true/false fields, etc.
  • We have also corrected an issue that could occur if replicator encountered an unexpected error and was configured to use BATCH COMMIT mode. Is some circumstances, if there were uncommitted changes at the time on an error any uncommitted changes could be lost because the change records were deleted from the instruction queue one by one before the batch was committed. Now any instructions related to uncommitted changes remain in the queue file until the batch is committed, and are then all deleted. When the replicator is restarted it will then attempt to reply the changes to the database again. This should help prevent the database getting out of sync if there is a replicator failure.

We’re excited about these new features in our SQL Replication offering and looking forward to hearing your feedback. By the way, many of these new features rely on using the latest and greatest version of CodeGen (5.4.8) which was also released today. If you’re already using an earlier version of the SQL Replication environment, or if you are interested in getting started and would like some assistance, don’t hesitate to contact us through your Synergex Account Representative.


Harmony Core Office Hours, December 2019

By Harmony Core Team, Posted on December 17, 2019 at 4:26 pm

Avatar

Jeff and Steve give an update on Harmony Core development activities over the last six weeks, which included the following.

Traditional Bridge has been updated to use the new system.text.json parser and writer. This reduces overhead when running traditional Synergy methods, resulting in significant performance improvements (a full order of magnitude from what we’ve seen). This enhancement is built on the version 11 Synergy/DE runtime, so it requires version 11 on the traditional side of the bridge. Traditional Bridge still works with prior versions, but these versions can’t take advantage of the built-in JSON libraries that make the performance improvements possible.

We created a prototype with EF Core 3.1 support. Microsoft has completely reworked the model for providers, so this prototype took quite a bit of work. The reworked model is an improvement; it makes query analysis requirements more explicit, so the Harmony Core EF Provider does not have to do as much pattern mapping for optimization. We will continue to improve this support, and we’ll transition the project from prototype to production.

We also made several improvements to project templates. The metadata that is injected into data models has been extended, and some data models have additional attributes that improve the fidelity of generated documentation. These attributes provide additional information about the HTTP responses each operation endpoint can generate, along with the shape of the data that is returned by each operation. This should provide much better information for Swagger documentation. These changes will be checked into the Harmony Core Github repository in the next couple of days.

Finally, we fixed a customer-reported bug that caused duplicate items in multi-leg joins (issue 131), and we continued work on Harmony Core Generator, a utility designed to replace regen.bat and display relations.


Another Synergex Hackathon Is in the Books

By , Posted on November 18, 2019 at 11:56 am

Jacklin Garcia

This October we hosted our second annual company-wide hackathon at Synergex. While our first attempt last year yielded better results than we expected, this year we outdid ourselves. From the quality of the projects to the logistical execution, this event was a home run. We’ve decided to adopt the hackathon as an annual tradition, because it’s proven to be the most successful team-bonding experience we’ve had, and it fits well with our corporate values of learning and initiative. If your company would like to join in on the fun, continue reading to find out more about our process, some of this year’s projects, and the things we’re still working to improve.

Opening Pitch

A week or two before the hackathon, we started with an optional brainstorming session, using a shared Google spreadsheet to capture all the project ideas that came out of the meeting. (I’ve found that sending an email with the sheet isn’t as effective for gathering input as getting everyone together. When there’s a dedicated time for this event, people show up and put their energy toward generating ideas. Plus, when one person explains their idea, it often sparks another from someone else.) We kept the sheet available for anyone to add ideas after the meeting as well.

The next event, a pitching session, took place about a week before the hackathon. The floor was open to anyone who wanted to lead a project from the ideas list or to suggest a new one. Participants raised their hands to express interest after each pitch. At the end of the session, we went through the list again and asked everyone to select their top project choice so we could start forming teams. This part was a little like herding cats, and not all projects that were pitched got picked up. However, we walked out of the room with teams decided.

Starting Lineup

A few days before the big event, we had a one-hour pre-hackathon workshop for teams to get together and plan. This was the time to download software, set up source control, and determine if any additional equipment was needed. By dedicating this preparation time, all teams could come into the hackathon ready to hack!

Our hackathon lasted roughly eight hours, plus time for meals and breaks. We started with breakfast and a quick presentation about logistics, and then the teams were off to start hacking. We largely left the teams alone, only announcing when lunch and snacks were available and giving a few time warnings before the clock ran out. Once hacking ended, the presentations and demos began. Each team had five minutes to share what they’d created.

After the presentations, everyone got to vote, and we asked that they not vote for their own team. Finally, we awarded prizes for the best hacks, and one team got to take possession of the coveted golden grabber arm until the next hackathon.

This Year’s Home Runs

We’d call this event a success regardless of what projects came out of it, simply due to the cross-team collaboration and energy that would be hard to replicate in any other way. BUT this year’s projects were also quite impressive, and we plan to implement several of them in whole or in part by the time next year’s event rolls around.

Team 1 worked on a proof of concept for online documentation for one of our products. This product previously had only paper manuals!

Team 2 put together a proposal for a corporate volunteer and giving program.

Team 3 researched a new collaboration tool and demonstrated how it could be set up for our company’s use.

Team 4 researched a new business line and created a commercial to promote the new business.

Team 5 created an API to access and print data from one of our productivity tools.

Team 6 made a proof of concept for a new UI for one of our products.

Team 7 had a plan for getting involved at local universities to increase our footprint in the greater Sacramento area. This included sponsoring their hackathons!

Base Hits and Foul Balls: Recommendations for Your Hackathon

You can do this too! Here are final dos and don’ts to consider when planning your own event:

  • Do have fun! For 2019, we themed our event (baseball!) and had that dictate food, team names, shirt design, and awful puns in pretty much all presentations and this blog post.
  • Don’t wait until the day of the hackathon to decide on project ideas.
  • Do explain logistics, including time limits for presentations/demos, up front.
  • Don’t wait until the end to take a group picture. Two years in a row, participants have left before we got the group photo. The start of the day might be a better time, or while votes are being counted.
  • Do have the hackathon open to all employees. Hacks don’t have to be technical! Our best projects seem to come from teams with mixed professional backgrounds.
  • Do have the WiFi password visible in all rooms, and test logistics prior to hack day.
  • Don’t make voting overly complicated.
  • Do host a fun social event after the hackathon. We’ve traditionally done this off site, but keeping it in the office allows teams to keep working on their project if they’d like to.

Reach out to the Synergex education team if you’d like some additional help getting started—or check out the Careers page on the Synergex website to join us for our 2020 hackathon!



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