How to Win Friends and Influence Global Viral Catastrophe

MeetMe is always offering its employees opportunities to better themselves and to have fun. From having a game room to providing everyone with a subscription to Lynda.com, it is quite apparent that skill development and enjoyment are key to the company. Other than the retreats and team building activities that upper management and HR organize, there are also clubs that some employees have taken upon themselves to form. As a female with some social anxiety working at a tech company, it can be hard to come out of your shell. But having activities and clubs which are supported by the company can really make a big impact. I recently joined in on a couple of these and found the positive results to be quite substantial.

Book Club

The first one is the book club. This had been tried in the past, but fizzled out due to the chosen books only being relevant to a small percentage of the company. This time around it was decided to focus more on general skills and self-improvement. The first book chosen was How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, an updated version of the book originally written by Dale Carnegie. We met for one hour per week to discuss what we had read in the specified chapters. Since this book was a more general topic, there were people from all different parts of the company interested in it. We had participation from the Engineering, Advertising, Management, and Member Services teams.

 LindsayA lot of the discussions that take place are people sharing personal stories. Whether you want to or not, you’re going to get to know these people better, and depending on how much you share, they’re going to get to know you too. This definitely helps to make it less awkward when passing in the halls or waiting for your coffee to brew in the kitchen, especially when it comes to people you don’t work with on a regular basis (or at all). At one meeting, there was even a diagram drawn of the appropriate distance to say “Hi” to someone when walking towards each other down a long hallway. It was nice to hear that other people tend to overthink these situations the same way I do.

Since the books we’ve been reading are generally about self-improvement, it seemed like a great time to work on bettering myself. I tend to be rather quiet, especially when it comes to talking in groups of people. While I definitely felt reserved at the first meeting, I soon realized I had relevant things to say and started contributing to the conversation. It was a small group of people all with the same interest of discussing a book we were reading, which made it seem less intimidating.

After already discussing one book with generally the same crowd, my comfort level was slightly elevated. We had a meeting before starting our second book, Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin, and when asked if anyone wanted to lead a discussion, I volunteered. While the thought terrified me, the obligation would force me to face those fears.

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I have always enjoyed reading, but don’t do it as often as I would like to. While being a part of the book club forces me to read more in general, there was definitely once or twice that I hadn’t completed the required reading before the weekly discussion. Whether it was an extra busy week, or I just couldn’t pull myself away from binge watching Daredevil on Netflix, the item that usually got the boot was the reading. However, knowing that I was leading the discussion disciplined me to read even when I didn’t want to. And not only read it quickly to get it done, but take the time to understand it. I have a hard time concentrating when I read a book and my mind tends to wander, so this was forcing me into the practice I needed. I took notes as I read, which really made me pay attention and absorb what I was learning. I found it to be quite amusing that I was reading a book about deliberate practice, while deliberately practicing.

The discussions themselves are always interesting. Everyone has their own point of view, so it’s compelling to see where they intersect and where they diverge. Everyone has something engaging to contribute, whether it’s a deeper thought about a topic, or an exemplary anecdote from their own life. After much sweating and nervousness, I made it through leading the discussion and I felt proud for putting myself out there. All my effort had paid off and I had successfully accomplished doing something I never would have imagined doing even a year ago. I have since continued to lead discussions for the book club and it has absolutely helped me to feel more comfortable when it comes to speaking in groups of people and sharing my thoughts.

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Board Games

The other group that I joined was the group of people who play board games during lunch. Prior to this, my knowledge of board games had been along the lines of Monopoly and Scrabble. My mind was blown that there was a whole other world out there to explore. I knew there were people who did this, but I always assumed the games were long and confusing and difficult for a newbie to learn.

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Then one day I ended up talking to a couple coworkers who were about to play a game during lunch and they invited me to join. I accepted the invitation, and it was the start of something big. We played Dominion that day, which is played with cards in which you buy skills and try to earn the most points. Not only was it easy to pick up, I thoroughly enjoyed playing it. In the following days I would play it again, purchase it, and continue playing other games including Splendor (which I now have the app for on my phone), and Pandemic (which I also now own).

It all started out as just a fun way to spend time during lunch, but I soon started seeing there were other benefits. Much like the book club, I was interacting with people that I normally wouldn’t get the chance to connect with. Playing board games with people helps take the pressure off of having a conversation. You have something to focus on, and silence is understood as people plan their strategy. You don’t have to desperately be trying to think of things to keep the conversation going. For someone like me whose brain immediately goes blank at the prospect of having to come up with small talk, this is perfect. Usually discussions start up, or stories get told, but nothing feels forced. Conversation is not the focus.

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Sure, they have the word “game” in the name, but board games can also be quite a practical tool. You’re not only having fun, but you’re working on problem solving skills, team building, and thinking outside the box. Pandemic is one of my favorites, because everyone playing is on the same team. It’s the people vs the game. You have to work together and come up with the best way to save the world against four viruses that threaten to annihilate the global population. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but either way, you do it as a team. You celebrate together, and you commiserate together. It’s also great for people who are apprehensive about learning a new game. There isn’t any pressure on them to make the right move, because you’re basically all deciding what to do together. The first few games I played, I was more of a spectator than a participant, but once I started understanding the rules and picking up some strategies, I was able to start suggesting tactics along with everyone else.

catan2Sometimes you’re stuck in a rut trying to solve a work problem and the best thing for you to do is walk away and clear your head. Playing a board game gives you something completely different to focus on. Instead of rehashing the same thing over and over, your brain is exercising itself in an alternate way. Many times that break is all you need to figure out where the problem in your code is. Maybe you even win the game, and your defeated mood has now turned into a much more positive one, and it was the boost that you needed to get over the hump. Board games can provide a distraction just when you need it the most.

One of the biggest things that I have really enjoyed is being able to share this newfound love of board games with other people. I have either bought or borrowed many games to play at home with my husband. He has enjoyed them just as much as I have and it has given us something completely new to do together. While we both enjoy watching reruns of The Office, it’s always fun to do something new. Just as it helps team building with coworkers, it also helps team building with significant others. Also, having friends over for game nights allows us to still be social while not having to go out to a crowded bar where we drink overpriced beer and can’t hear each other talk (yes, we’re getting old).

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It’s great when you can combine having fun with building skills, and these two groups are excellent at doing both. Working at MeetMe has provided me with these great opportunities to learn new things, challenge myself, and get to know coworkers better. From providing the books for the book club and giving us company time for the discussions to designating a room specifically for board games, MeetMe will do what they can to bring to life your interest or idea that will benefit employees.

I wanted to share my experiences, because I was pleasantly surprised at how two things that seemed rather inconsequential ended up having such a positive influence on me. Sometimes you have to take the initiative to get the most out of it, but it’s well worth it in the end. I hope other people will try them out or find something else that has a similar effect for them.

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HACKD 11 – Illegal amounts of fun

Every quarter, MeetMe holds a 48-hour hackathon called HACKD. Though it is heavily focused on coding, we are proud to say that we differ by allowing all departments to participate and to “hack” fixes/improvements into their daily lives at work. Projects in the past have gone from cleaning up documentation to building a ping pong table to building a completely anonymous chat platform.

We just finished our 11th HACKD and I’m happy to say that it’s one of the best we’ve had.

Before we even get started hacking, one of the things we do is come up with a theme for HACKD to make it a little fun. They have all revolved around movies, and this one was no different:

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(inspiration)

Once November 12 hit, the teams were free to start hacking! Here’s a look at what MeetMe built at HACKD 11.

Meet Cast

Similar to the apps Periscope/Meerkat, the team of David, Jason, and Bryan tinkered with a platform where people can livestream their own video with a group chat component built in. We were really impressed by the work they did and what they learned in a short order of time!

We’re Under Attack!!

We have a fairly large company and the thought from Corky, Louise, and Bobby here was to hack office relationships, building a game that acts as an icebreaker for people in different departments to come together. Why not do it as a fun game by saving the MeetMe offices from a school of sabertooth sharks?

Office Overhaulers

There were a few improvements that could have been made around the office so Kate and Jamie took it upon themselves to do so. They revamped our kitchen area to organize all of our coffee and build a bar for more people to sit at.

New kitchen bar!
That organization and extra work space…
Looks great, Kate!
Looks great, Kate!

MeetMe has a good amount of people interested in photography, so one of the more personal touches that they will soon implement is to have some MeetMe employees’ photos be on display around the office.

Browser Push Notifications

One of the major ways that web is lagging behind mobile is in the ability to send push notifications. Google Chrome now enables browser notifications, so Bill and Sandeep took it upon themselves to test out how they work. We’re encouraged by what they showed and are impressed that they were able to get it to work on a production environment in two short days!

Amateur Hour

Our VP of Product, Jeremy, worked to build optimizations to our project flows. Over time, our code changes have become less and less legible, so he reformatted all of these emails to make them much easier to read. In addition, he also took our integration of JIRA and built out a completely customizable project pipeline page that makes our lives much easier in order to find out the status of all projects and to be able to change project priorities on the fly.

i18n Automation

We have automated scripts that regression test our apps but currently we’re limited to English only. Joe and Lindsay worked together to automate some of the key actions in other languages on Android.

Your HACKD project earns you a thumbs up!

This is just a sample of what teams put together for HACKD 11. I’m so proud of what everyone accomplished and can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with for HACKD 12!

(If you have any ideas for a movie theme for HACKD 12, please leave a suggestion in the comments…we’re going to eventually run out of movies here.)

Reflecting on Node 2015

mohonk-sceneryAfter an information-fueled three days, our team has returned from Mohonk Mountain House, where we held our sixth annual internal engineering conference, Node.

While Node started out as a development-only retreat, it has since become an engineering-wide conference consisting of our development, data science, product, quality assurance, and operations teams. As everyone in the technology industry has experienced at one time or another, it’s hard to find time to get to know peers, learn new things, and stay on top of organizational objectives when one is heads-down on a project; this is why we created Node.

Node is designed to provide our organization with a dedicated event, away from the office, to share knowledge, learn something new, and get to know each other in a collaborative environment. The first, knowledge-sharing, is accomplished via conference-like sessions and workshops presented by our own internal colleagues.

This year, we had a number of internal, team-oriented, tracks. Within each track was a presentation or workshop related to that technology or team. As an example, Corky Brown and Bill Sykes gave a kick-ass workshop on development with our new client-side rendered web code, Phoenix. Likewise, our new Director of Data Science, Anton Slutsky, Ph.D., presented, “Data Science @ MeetMe,” a session designed to give everyone a basic understanding of Data Science, Big Data, its importance, and its role in our organization. In addition to learning more about the work other teams are doing or how to use some of our new tools, we also bring in external speakers, who provide us with experience and insight outside of our day-to-day work.

seb-imgAs Node is composed of individuals with varying degrees of technical depth, we try our best to attract external speakers who provide experience and content beneficial to everyone. Oftentimes, these speakers are aligned with either a task or a technology we’re working on, or one we plan to put into effect in the coming year. Given the significant effort our engineering team has put into Cucumber this year, we felt it imperative to spend a considerable amount of time focused on quality. For that reason, we invited Seb Rose, co-author of The Cucumber for Java Book, to spend two days with our team.

Seb covered agile development concepts, BDD/TDD, and detailed aspects of feature/scenario development with Cucumber. Unlike other presenters, who lecture for hours on end, Seb’s group-oriented hands-on approach was well-received and left many with a better understanding of not only the concepts surrounding Cucumber, but also the best ways to use the technology itself.

Alternatively, for those who wanted something a little more technical, we asked William Kennedy, author of Go in Action, to give us an overview. Bill crammed two days worth of Go programming language training into only eight hours. To accomplish this, we skipped the hands-on examples.

node-2016-dinner2In addition to the content, we spent the remaining hours sleeping or in spontaneous team-building activities. Whether it was sitting together watching the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys game, hanging out at lunch, laughing at dinner, sightseeing, group photography, relaxing in the lounge, playing Heads Up!, or participating in a highly-competitive game of Texas Hold’em, we spent a good amount of time getting to know and collaborate with each other. This was especially useful for our new team members.

Lastly, every Node is a learning experience and improving it is an iterative process. What did we learn this year? For one, programming language trainings should be less intense. Some thought the Go training pace was fine, while others felt it was a bit too rushed. Likewise, everyone wants a little time after lunch to explore the venue we’re at. We’ll be sure to take that into account next year.

All in all, it was another great experience for the team. I’d like to thank everyone who attended, presented, and helped make it happen. Specifically, on the engineering side, with input and feedback from multiple teams, Node was planned primarily by our own DevOps Lead Architect, Jason Lotito, who did an outstanding job. With everyone reinvigorated, on the same page, and understanding what our 2016 goals are, I’m excited to see what we will accomplish!

What MeetMe is reading this month…

featured:

jobsSteve Jobs

by Walter Isaacson (available on Audible)

“Steve Jobs is an incredible genius, more influential than I’d imagined any technologist could be. The author was specifically commissioned by Jobs to do this biography, but pulls no punches. Sure, Jobs was an enigmatic, arrogant, billionaire hippy jerk visionary, but his biography is also a lesson in what you, as a human, can actually do. I like watching video game speed runs, because, over the years, people master the routine parts and find glitches that they exploit to shave off time. Steve’s life is a speed run in human achievement. He’s able to spot holes in industries, vulnerabilities in personalities, the core aspects of design and desire, and shortcuts in shaping technology and building teams. The story also has an amazing supporting cast of Bill Gates, Bono, Larry Ellison, and John Lasseter, to name of few of Steve’s friends, and the main character has enough quirks to feel fictional. I didn’t expect to get many takeaways from this biography, but there are a lot of lessons about building quality products and meaningful coworker relationships.”


Brian Herbert

 


 

dockerThe Docker Book: Containerization is the new virtualization [Kindle Edition]


“Deep dive into Docker and how to configure it. Gives great examples on how to get started as well as techniques and suggestions for best practices.”


Jeremy Stinson

 

startwithwhyStart With Why

by Simon Sinek (available on Audible)


“Start With Why is about the importance of focusing your vision, and connecting with your customers, on a much deeper level than just what your final product does.  The book suggests that the “why” of your business: why you do what you do and why your customers should care, are much more important than just providing your customers with a laundry list of features.

Most businesses start with what they do and how it sets them apart, then some go further to explain how they do what they do, and finally some go further to the why of it all.  Simon Sinek suggests that this is backward, and the most successful companies start with the latter.  Using Apple as an example (very, very frequently throughout the book), Sinek posits that they are successful because they have a clearly defined mission of “challenging the status quo” and that all of their decisions originate from that mission.  Because Apple has relentlessly and successfully upheld this vision their customers (who also desire to challenge the status quo) feel a strong loyalty to Apple and its products.

Overall, I like the theory set forth by the book, but it tends to get repetitive after a while.  Sinek’s TED talk is a better place to start before jumping into the book: http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action


Matt Kemmerer

 

All Tomorrow’s Partiestomorrow

by William Gibson (available on Audible)

“The final book in the Bridge trilogy (including Virtual Light and Idoru), ATP wraps up Gibson’s series about the commoditization of counterculture and exploration of interstitial communities.  While the Bridge trilogy isn’t quite as famous or beloved as his other works, ATP is considered the best out of the trilogy as Gibson wraps up the plotlines and ideas presented in the previous two books.  Though written in 1999, the world is more of an alternate future rather than a possible future since the way Big Data, emergent AI, and 3D printing are presented makes it sound like it could be something that would happen if our recent past had proceeded differently.”

John Spivak

onesummerOne Summer: America, 1927

by Bill Bryson (available on Audible)

“When I read Bill Bryson, I feel like all my history classes were broken. He’s able to zoom in on these interesting vignettes, giving the real people their real foibles and eccentricities, then zoom out on the broad landscape of history and show where you just were as a patchwork in a complex quilt of events. I always disliked history books, with their lists of names and numbers, one dimensional characters, episodes with little context, and, above all, the ability to make even the craziest wars incredibly boring affairs. One Summer focuses somewhat on Charles Lindbergh, but also seamlessly weaves in the stories of Al Capone, Babe Ruth, the emergence of “talkies”, the foundations of the stock market crash, Herbert Hoover’s ruthless work ethic, and a hundred other relevant bits of history, rendered with entertaining context, full of hilarity and interesting facts that force you to go find someone and read the passage to them. It gets a tad long-winded, particularly when discussing the New York Yankees, but read this, even if you don’t like historical books. Especially if you don’t like historical books.”


Brian Herbert

Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion

by Sam Harris (available on Audible)


“I found it to be an interesting book. A point brought up early is what does spirituality really mean? It’s something people say but there doesn’t seem to be a clear definition for it. Harris’ position falls in line with more Eastern philosophies that the goal in spirituality is to dispel the illusion that the self is separate from everything else. Another question is “who are you?” The argument in the book is that you are not the sum of your thoughts; thoughts and feelings are something you have rather than something that defines you. You can watch your thoughts passively and not be ruled by them. To do this in a deliberate way is meditation. In a meditative state where your mind is still, you become more aware and have the opportunity for direct spiritual insights. Whatever it is that is “behind” the thoughts, the person that is observing the thoughts, that’s the “real you”.

Most people move through life chasing pleasure and avoiding pain, but the teachings embraced in this book are that nothing is permanent and any pleasure will end and no pain can be avoided forever. Therefore real happiness is achieved by embracing the present moment, for its goods and its bads, and changing your perception rather than constantly changing the external forces around you and pinning your happiness to that.”


Bobby Fiorentino

 

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by Dale Carnegie (available on Audible)


This is a classic for a reason. Really changes the way you perceive daily interactions with others. I think no one wants to admit to loving hearing their name spoken or enjoying the sound of their own voice, but it is a fundamental part of human nature. Basically, everyone wants to feel important. If you can genuinely make someone feel that way, you will have lots of friends.”


Diana Shkolnikov

What MeetMe is reading this month…

The lost post for September…

 

golem

The Golem and the Jinni (Google eBook)

by Helene Wecker

“This is a beautifully-written debut novel by Helene Wecker set in New York City of 1899.  It features a great mix of richly-developed characters, a vividly rendered turn-of-the-century setting, a plot that is both well-imagined and well-executed, with just the right amount of mysticism, action, and humor mixed in.  This is one of those rare books that is welcome in literary circles that was also nominated for a Nebula Award (from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America).”

Drew DeNardo


by Christian Rudder (available on Audible)
“This was the first book I ever pre-ordered. Working in a social media company, Christian Rudder’s okCupid blog posts (all 3 of them) are relevant, surprising, and interesting to read, so I was eager to get more. I tried really hard to love the book, but ended up barely liking it. The author just cannot decide if he wants to be an academic data analyst, a social scientist full of entertaining trivium for dinner parties, or that professor who is profane and mocking just so students think he’s cool. From the blog posts, Christian manages to come across as a colorful scientist informed by rigorous study; in the book, he jumps between interesting demographic stats (what common phrases white guys tweet, men think 21 is the ideal age for a woman, aesthetically), then spends twice as much time explaining that he’s not racist or sexist or ageist or a mathematical hack. And on the Kindle, the book ends at 57%. A whopping 43% of the book is notes and references! Christian tries to be clinical with his whimsical observations, then occasionally tries to point them in the direction of social statements (why are black men less desirable to black women than they should be on okCupid), but in the same breath takes jabs at low IQ demographics. He makes a mess for himself by creating charts that could be presented neutrally, but he also wants to be a witty and cutting guy, so now the charts look like flamebait. So he has to explain his motives at every step, and then he explains himself again for the last half of the book. If you’re in the social media business, or if you want fuel for conversations that are incredibly dicey and questionably helpful, slog through it. As a side note, Christian writes with exactly the same style and obtuseness as Tycho (Jerry Holkins) from Penny-Arcade.”
Brian Herbert

history

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

by Tom Standage  (available on Audible)

“A History of the World in 6 Glasses takes a reader through the history of 6 of the world’s favorite beverages: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca Cola.  This makes for both an interesting history lesson in the drinks themselves, and also an interesting dive into the lives of people of the times.  The story of each drink not only details the history of the drink, but also its importance and influence on people of the times — such as beer being used as a form of payment in BC times.  Even if you have no strong interest in the drinks’ histories, you may still find the book compelling for the larger insights into past civilizations and their stories.”
Matt Kemmerer

maze_runner

The Maze Runner: Maze Runner, Book 1

by James Dashner (available on Audible)

“It’s young adult fiction, akin to the Hunger Games.  Since the movie is coming out, I figured I’d give the series a shot.  It’s an enjoyable book.  It is young adult, and you can tell but the phrasing and points of view, but it’s also an easy listen.  If you are looking for something a bit different, and are on a “young adult dystopian future” kick, check it out.”
Jason Lotito

whatif

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

by Randall Munroe  (available on Audible)

“If you already read XKCD, or Randall’s “What If” posts, then this book contains exactly what you would expect. For those who do not, the subtitle gives it away. This collection of questions and answers explores some imaginative ideas, while attempting to stay grounded in what we know from science. Each is short and fun enough to enjoy sharing with your children, though the reality of some may be a bit gruesome, so it may be best to read ahead first.”
Bryan Emmanuel

fivedisfunctions

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

by Patrick Lencioni  (available on Audible)

“I wish this book had a different name, since reading it is like an indictment on my workplace. This is a short lesson on teamwork best-practices delivered in a story. At first I thought it was kind of silly to author a play rather than just lay out the dysfunctions, but late in the book, the author switches from a narrative to a lecture, and it was way harder for me to pay attention. So the first thing I got out of this book was that the power of story telling applies to me, at least with an audiobook. The rest of it felt like common sense, but a couple good lessons that stuck out were the need to have open, productive debates and the importance of identifying and leveraging strengths and weaknesses on a team. I’m just not sure how to go about making debates more mainstream without endangering my job. A lot of the practical advice, and even the story, is targeted at top leaders.”
Brian Herbert

trending:

bookAmazon

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

by Brad Stone (Audible)

“I listened to this book after Brian gave it a favorable review last month.  As an Amazon junkie, I found the book incredibly interesting and insightful.  It’s amazing to consider the breadth of Amazon’s endeavors and the often cut-throat approaches it takes to help achieve its vision.  The audiobook weighs in at 13 hours, which is probably a few hours longer than the average book I listen to, but the story remained fresh and engaging throughout.”
Matt Kemmerer

happiness

“The Amazon story gave a teaser into Zappos’ origins, so I took the bait. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, narrates the book and shows his brilliance even in leveraging the audio format. There are several sections of the book that defer to the experience of other employees, and many quoted emails. For those sections, the actual author or authority on the subject reads the passage. It creates a very sincere, engaging effect. Like many stories about the rise of a company, this one contains some great nuggets of advice on being humble, focusing on the customer, etc., but the overpowering lesson on Zappos’ success is that Tony Hsieh is a superfreak genius with the additional powers of extreme emotional intelligence and business daring. His ACM (programming competition) team at Harvard took 1st place in the world in ’93, a fact that he doesn’t even plainly state. I was inspired by the incredible focus on company culture and disregard for industry status quo, but the real first step to fast-tracking a billion dollar startup is to be Tony. There were some great stories on the ups and downs of Zappos and Tony’s earlier business adventures, and pep talks on reaching for the stars. There’s also a strong spiritual theme. By the final chapters, there were so many new agey references and discussions of oneness and ultimate happiness that I couldn’t help but think of Siddhartha, and that comparison was brought home when the book ended with a quote from Buddha. In all, it was a very fun read, and provided a ton of practical advice for businesses. I just think Tony’s attempt to stay humble and personable detracts from role his anomalous intellect plays in Zappos’ business success.”
Brian Herbert