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  • Vim: 5 Tips to Survive Your First Week

    Some months ago I organized a workshop at Springest to share the basics of tmux and Vim with the rest of the team. I already wrote a post about tmux. And now it’s time to say something about Vim!

    I will be splitting the content of the workshop into different posts, this being the first one where I will focus on how to survive your first week!

    It goes without saying that as software developers, our jobs depend on continuous learning. It’s therefore incredibly useful to jump in as a beginner on new tools and subjects from time to time. So why don’t we all give Vim a try today? Here are 5 tips to help you go through your very first days.

    Vimtutor

    Vim comes along with its own interactive tutorial: Vimtutor. Following the tutorial takes about 30 minutes, where you will learn your first Vim commands: how to create and open files, make changes and save them, etc.

    Open up a shell, type vimtutor and you are ready to go!

    Avoid too much configuration

    Vim allows you to configure and extend its behavior almost without boundaries. Be careful here, since it is recommended to spend your first weeks getting to know Vim’s core behavior and its default key bindings. Try to stay away from any type of customization or configuration. I promise that when you look back in the future, you will thank yourself ;)

    However it is totally allowed to borrow some basic configuration from a friend. Personally I learn things much better if my screen looks nice (I guess because of my design background), and the default vim colors were not so appealing for me. So some configuration was needed in my case. Back then, I borrowed Mike Coutermarsh’s configuration. But you can check out my .vimrc as well if you prefer.

    If you encounter any issues when using my configuration, ping me on twitter and I’ll help you out.

    Build up a cheat sheet

    There are some very good cheat sheets out there when starting to learn vim, like this one, that can serve as a great reference. However it is very important that you build up your own while you are learning.

    For those of you familiar with Asana, I created a single project when I started learning: Mastered Vim. I was regularly adding new tasks (following different topics, like motions and moving, windows, tabs, etc.) and writing down all related key bindings in the task description. Every morning before jumping into Vim, I would review all of them and mark any task that I could already remember as completed!

    This method worked great for me, and I encourage you to do the same.

    Ask for help

    There will be moments in which you need to ask for help. In this case, you have several options:

    1. Vim’s Built-In Help - Great resource when you know exactly what you are searching for. Open up vim and type :help <vim-command>. From there you can follow any tag under the help by typing Ctrl + ].

    2. Vim Wiki - Visit this site when you have other more general questions, like how to re-indent a whole file.

    3. Friends - At Springest there are other people that use Vim too. We created our own #vim channel in Slack. I love it when I go there with a question aiming for a very direct answer and see others starting a discussion about the different ways in which it can be accomplished within the Vim world!

    Stick with it

    Last but not least, you need to make a commitment to yourself - keep going when the landscape gets dark. Normally it takes about a week to feel productive again. From there on you can only continue getting more and more efficient, which is something that definitely helps you grow as a developer. Enjoy the journey!

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  • Vacancy Senior Ruby on Rails Developer in Amsterdam

    Link to Dutch version

    Springest wants to become the largest source for learning in the world. From books and e-learning courses to onsite trainings, we help our users discover, compare, and book everything they need to reach their personal and professional learning goals.

    We have a strong product focus in which everything revolves around the users of our Dutch, German, UK, and US sites. Next to that, more and more organisations are using our SaaS tools to stimulate and manage learning for their employees.

    Working at Springest

    We are looking for senior Ruby developers to join our growing engineering team. We don’t have managers at Springest, but processes, and we feel that individuals taking responsibility is very important. At Springest, you will work in close collaboration with product owners, marketing, and sales colleagues. You are also a member of our development team where we discuss architecture, infrastructure, and keep a close watch on security and performance.

    Our main application runs on Ruby on Rails backed by Postgres, Redis and Memcached. Next to that we rely on Elasticsearch to power our search which is a big part of our product. We also have some smaller Go and Elixir projects in production.

    We are hosted on AWS and make heavy use of their offerings like RDS, CloudWatch, Elastic Beanstalk and EC2 Container Service.

    Next to our main application we build internal tools whenever necessary to help ourselves and our growing Learning Advisor team. It is extremely rewarding to see small development projects make a big impact for other Springeteers, which in turn can result in more of our visitors being helped of course!

    Hackdays!

    We do a regular internal hackday every month where we drop everything and work on something completely different, which we feel is super valuable for coming up with new ideas. We might give a new programming language a shot, try out an idea someone’s been toying with for a while or hack on some actual hardware (that’s our temperature sensor above in its beginning stages!).

    A lot of hackday ideas actually became super important for our company, its a great chance to experiment with something that could grow out to become a key factor of our business.

    Check our recap of the most recent hackday to read more about why we organise them.

    Your New Colleagues

    At Springest you will work with around thirty colleagues (that’s not all of us and no we’re not always in full cowboy gear, this was our Western themed SpringFest!) who all are very skilled at what they do and all of them have a healthy dose of nerd skills that we really value. Our Product Owners also regularly ship code!

    Springeteers are a happy bunch and we often get together outside work to enjoy free time as well. Our office is a cosy place where anything goes and where we all take good care of together. If you’re not good at ping-pong yet, you have a good chance of becoming good here as well! 🏓.

    We are all active organisers and members of Meetups and other forms of knowledge exchange (learning is our hobby!) and we participate quite actively in the Amsterdam startup ecosystem. In addition to that we get a lot of attention for Springest being the poster boy of how Holacracy and GTD can work for an organisation, which in turn is due to our organisational structure without managers and other unnecessary overhead.

    What we expect from you

    • You work well in a team, and want to make the team greater than a sum of its parts.
    • Engagement in what it is that you are building and who you are building it for. We want you to feel involved and come up with ways to make Springest better.
    • The drive to improve yourself and our organisation and deliver high quality work.
    • You have a broad interest and deep knowledge, certainly not just in/about Ruby. We are all about learning and sharing knowledge.

    What You Get From Us

    Apart from Springest being the coolest company you will ever work for, there are a few extras:

    • We are very remote friendly.
    • At least a € 1,000 education budget per year to spend on training, courses, and conferences.
    • Stock options after 2 years.
    • A cool workplace in the center of Amsterdam with height adjustable desks that you can sit and stand at, table tennis, a massage chair, and balcony with a barbecue.
    • A Macbook from us or upgrades to your own.
    • All software and hardware you need to do your job and have an optimal workflow.

    Contact Mark Mulder (mark@springest.com) for questions and applications. Please include links to your Github and LinkedIn profiles.

    Checkout these links to get to know more about us:

    Read more
  • Springest June Hack Day Recap

    An Inside Look at Our Awesome All-Company Hackathons

    everyone

    Hack Day has long been a tradition on the Springest team. We’ve built some amazing prototypes in ridiculously short timeframes — some of which have gone on to become real product features.

    Uniquely, we also don’t limit Hack Day to the development team. From marketing to sales and customer support, everyone at Springest takes part in our monthly all-company hackathons.

    Why we hack

    We have a few core goals for each hack day:

    1. Innovate: Work on something not on our usual roadmap.
    2. Learn something: Try out a new coding language, service, or skill.
    3. Have fun: Whatever you do, it should inspire you.

    Preparation

    All month long, Springeteers are encouraged to keep track of inefficiencies in their workflow and brainstorm possible solutions.

    Is there a boring, repetitive task taking up way too much of your time? Let’s find a way to automate it. Is there a key metric that takes forever to compute? Let’s write a script to calculate it for you.

    For coders and non-coders alike, there are plenty of awesome tech tools to hack your way to a more productive workday.

    For high-tech solutions, developers are brought in for cross-team collaborations, which often produce the most interesting results. For example, our grumpy Smooth Operations team ended up with a Raspberry Pi hooked up to a temperature sensor, complete with on-demand Slack notifications.

    Execution

    Hack Day starts at 9:30am with an all-team meeting. We each present our ideas to the group, which often involves convincing other skilled team members to join in on a big idea. Afterwards, we’re all free to choose what we work on, and we turn on some music before settling into our projects.

    Result

    5pm is demo time. While some still hunch over our computers making final tweaks, the rest of us crowd into the kitchen to see whatever working (or almost-working) prototypes made it out the door.

    While we don’t have prizes or accolades for “winning” ideas, there is always plenty of beer and applause to go around. 

    And what exactly did we achieve this month? Here’s an inside look at this month’s Hack Day projects:

    Revenue Wall of Fame

    ewout

    Hacker: Ewout Meijer, Director of Corporate Partnerships

    Problem: We hit revenue records all the time, but we have no easy way to see whether a high number is our true ‘record’ without looking it up. That’s lame - we should know when to celebrate!

    Hack: Display the “Revenue Record” output of our Google Sheets metrics on a giant screen, so everyone can see it and get stoked.

    Gym Class Line Jumper

    liz

    Hacker: Liz Hubertz, Software Developer

    Problem: Gym classes are always full, and you have to be SO fast to register when a “you’re off the wait list!” email is sent. This decreases workday productivity, because you’re always looking out for that email.

    Hack: Used Zapier to trigger a webhook when the email is received, then built a small Rails app to handle the automatic login and registration process. Classes are thus instantly booked upon receipt of the “you’re off the wait list!” email.

    SSL Quality Slack Notification

    tim

    Hacker: Tim Flapper, Software Developer

    Problem: We currently have no way to easily and conveniently monitor our SSL setup. Wouldn’t it be awesome to get a notification right in Slack? Yes.

    Hack:

    SSL checker

    Learning Advisor Booking Scoreboard

    midas and merel

    Hackers: Midas and Merel, Learning Advisors (Customer Support)

    Problem: An important part of measuring the success of our Learning Advisors is knowing how many bookings they achieve per week. This data therefore needs to be easy to find and visible for everyone.

    Hack: By linking Slack with Google Docs with Zapier, they made an automated scoreboard that keeps track of how many bookings were done by Learning Advisors and how many were done by users themselves on our site. The scoreboard will be displayed on the TV screen in the Learning Advisor corner, so they can always see how they are performing that week.

    New Springeteer Onboarding Program

    Hackers: Debbie van Veen, Smooth Operations Lead and Anne Nynke Jansma, Learning Advisor

    Problem: Our current onboarding process feels like it can be improved, but we don’t have any data to back up how or why!

    Hack: Next to partially rewriting our onboarding help articles and making clearer tasks, they also created a survey for new Springeteers to track how often our tools are used and what people think of the program / what they miss.

    onboarding

    Automated Inbound Lead Email Flow

    sofie

    Hacker: Sofie Angevaare, Marketing

    Problem: We lose out on a lot of useful leads by not using smart enough filters on our inbound flow.

    Hack: Brand new automated e-mail flow that identifies whether our users should be followed up on by our provider sales team, plus a Slack notification whenever a key user is identified.

    Polish ALL the Things!

    rik

    Hacker: Rik Matena, Product Owner

    Problem: Rik has been working on an internal customer support tool called Scoutest for awhile, but there are always improvements to be made. As a technical guy in his own right, he also helped out non-tech folks with their hacks.
    Hack: Awesome UX improvements and a working and beautiful display for Ewout’s Wall of Records hack.

    Scoutest

    ASQ API

    dennis

    Hacker: Dennis Paagman, Product Owner and Developer

    Problem: We want to use data from our internal tool ASQ in external applications, which generates key metrics based on saved SQL. This allows us, for example, to automate filling in KPI metrics in our Google Sheets.

    Hack: Built the API! Awesome!

    Pldealio

    Hacker: Dennis Paagman, Product Owner and Developer

    Problem: It would be nice to visualise our corporate sales pipeline, but deals take a long time to go through - making it seem like not much is happening.

    Hack: Pldealio deal pipeline timeline!

    Learning Advisor Reviews

    Hackers: Zoe van Dantzig and Maarten Butterman, Learning Advisors

    Problem: Our product focuses on quality reviews, so why don’t we let our users review our customer support team?

    Hack: Created Springest trainer accounts for each Learning Advisor. Customers can now rate our customer support team in the same way that they rate trainers on the Springest website. 

    Notifilter API & Slack Bot

    mark

    Hacker: Mark Mulder, Software Developer

    Problem: Mark built an awesome internal tool called Notifilter that would be super useful with an API, because that would allow us to grab statistics and re-use these numbers in Sheets, post them to Slack, etc.

    Hack: Notifilter API and Slack Bot is now live!

    Final Thoughts

    I hope our examples give you some inspiration to try out your own all-company hackathon. While not all of our hacks will survive the test of time, Hack Days promote inter-team communication, collaboration, and learning. Plus, it’s a great way to ultimately boost employee happiness and productivity — not to mention an excuse to drink beer during work hours. ;-)

    P.S. Think Hack Day sounds awesome? We’re always hiring talented developers, and you can contact us on Twitter @SpringestOps or by email at mark@springest.com.

    Read more
  • Lessons from ITEA 2016: 4 Myths About Tech Startups

    ITEA presentation

    Last week, I was invited to speak to an audience of international students at the 2016 International Talent Event Amsterdam (ITEA). The goal of this event is to help young people figure out how they want to start their careers, and my job was to give them an idea of why they might (or might not) want to pursue life at a tech startup.

    Startup Q&A

    I presented alongside Ruben Nieuwenhuis of StartupAmsterdam and Mariette Ruggenberg of Upstarter, both Dutch natives and veterans of the Amsterdam startup community. My story was a bit different, as I’m an American who before now had only worked in Silicon Valley. I’m also an engineer, which is a very different perspective from life as a startup founder.

    My Background

    As for my story, the first part of my career focused on huge enterprise organizations - we’re talking corporate behemoths like McAfee, Microsoft, Intel and VMware. The second was focused solely on early-stage startups - companies you’ve probably never heard of working out of a tiny co-working space in the Mission district of San Francisco.

    So, what is my advice for students considering a startup?

    Find out what founding or working for a startup really means

    Myth 1: Funding comes first

    Q: I have an idea. How do I get funding to build my business?

    A: By building your business.

    Unless you are well-known to investors or are a serial entrepreneur, you will need a prototype up and running and your founding team put together before you ask for funding. This is the time where you rent out your mother’s basement, survive on ramen noodles, and work your ass off for free until you have something that makes an investor think, “ok, these guys are at least worth a shot.”

    Sure it’s hard work, but so is anything worth doing.

    Myth 2: You don’t need to be technical

    This one isn’t necessarily a myth, but think of it this way: You have two choices. You can spend months or years searching for that special someone who will build your dream for free (and possibly never find them), or you can spend a few weeks teaching yourself a bit of JavaScript.

    If it were up to me, I’d learn that JavaScript. Being “technical” does not mean that you need a PhD in compiler design. You can hire experienced engineers to clean up your mess once your idea gets off the ground. And for that, all you need to learn are the basics - just enough to get a working prototype out into the world.

    Myth 3: You must be a designer, coder, or growth hacker

    A couple of law students asked this question during our panel: “I’m a lawyer, but startups don’t really hire lawyers. Should I learn to code?”

    This struck me as an odd question, seeing as every startup I’ve ever come into contact with has in fact hired lawyers. They just haven’t hired full-time lawyers on staff. (Though I’m sure legal startups like fixed certainly do.)

    If you’re not looking for a career switch, don’t feel like you need to change paths just to fit into the “startup box.” Broaden your view to the entire ecosystem that thrives in places like Silicon Valley to support the growth of small business.

    Are you a lawyer? Check out firms that specialize in helping small businesses get off the ground. Are you a marketing professional? Plenty of agencies contract with tiny startups before they’ve grown large enough for an internal marketing team. And of course, if you’re a recent MBA, you can always try your hand at the venture capital game.

    Myth 4: Startups are better than big companies (or vice-versa)

    The awesome and irritating part about this is that it’s 100% up to you. To figure out which is “better,” you just need to figure out what you want from your next job.

    Both startups and big companies come with pros and cons, and you’ll need to weigh those options against your current career goals. For example, big companies are known for offering generous salaries, growth opportunities, and senior mentorship - but also for prohibitive bureaucracy and skill stagnation. A startup, on the other hand, will give you the opportunity to take on new roles every day, and there’s no question that your work will make an impact. But with that usually comes a drop in salary, free time, and job stability.

    TL;DR: Your career is what you make of it

    Startups and large enterprise companies both have their place, and eventually one will morph into the other (hello Google and Facebook). So students, stop stressing! Building your career is a lifelong process, and you have time to pursue both worlds. In fact, I’d argue that the more experience you have in all sorts of career environments, the more valuable of an employee (and human being) you will be.

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  • tmux configuration from scratch

    I started using vim together with tmux a couple of months ago. After surviving my first week, I organized a workshop to share what I learned with the rest of the team and convince the resistors to switch. :)

    This post will focus on tmux, but stay tuned for a follow-up post about vim!

    tmux

    Basic setup

    First things first, so what’s tmux? Well, taken from their own documentation:

    Tmux is a terminal multiplexer which lets you switch easily between several programs in one terminal, detach them and reattach them to a different terminal.

    Which basically makes your terminal look like this:

    tmux basic setup

    Now you might be wondering, what’s the difference between tmux and what I have now?

    For many people, the main reason to use tmux windows over tabbed terminals is that with regular terminals, if the window manager crashes, you’ll lose the terminals as well. However, this won’t happen with tmux, which keeps the terminals running in the background. You can re-attach a new terminal to them at any time. What I also like about it is that I can create sessions for each of my projects. This keeps them organized and makes it very easy to switch between them, so you can find projects exactly where you left them. ;)

    Awesome! To start using tmux you need to install it first. If you are already using Homebrew to manage your packages, you can just run:

    $ brew install tmux

    Below I will guide you through some changes in the configuration to make it behave in a more intuitive way. These changes need to be done in the ~/.tmux.conf file, so if you still don’t have that file, go and create it now:

    $ touch ~/.tmux.conf

    Meeting the “prefix”

    First of all let me introduce you to “prefix” because every time that you want to “speak” to tmux you will need to use it. Its default value is Ctrl+b, but it can be changed to any keybinding that best fits your fingers. ;) In my case, I decided to bind it to Ctrl+s:

    # ~/.tmux.conf
    unbind C-b
    set -g prefix C-s

    At this point it can also be quite useful to remap the Caps Lock key to Control. If you are using Mac you need to go to the section Modifier Keys under your Keyboard preferences and select Control for Caps Lock.

    Finding a friend

    While I was hunting for some inspiration before deciding to give tmux and vim a shot, I came across this talk by Mike Coutermarsh in which he shares some very good tips. This is one of them: copy the configuration file from a friend. He is referring to vimrc, but it also counts for the tmux.conf file. You can have a look at my configuration here, which is a modified version of Thoughtbot’s and Mike Coutermarsh’s.

    Reloading the configuration

    Whenever you find yourself making any changes in the configuration, don’t forget to reload it by running:

    $ tmux source-file ~/.tmux.conf

    Which I have bound to <prefix> r:

    # ~/.tmux.conf
    bind-key r source-file ~/.tmux.conf \; display-message "~/.tmux.conf reloaded"

    tmux objects overview

    Before we move on with some other configuration tips, let’s talk briefly about some important concepts that will help you understand how tmux works.

    Session

    The first concept to be aware of is sessions. A session refers to a named collection of one or more windows. Typically I will create one session for each of my projects and give it the name of the project.

    sessions overview

    Window

    Next comes windows. A window refers to a single screen within tmux, similar to tabs in terminal applications or browsers. Remember that at any given time, a client will be attached to a single window.

    Pane

    Last but not least, we find panes. A pane refers to a portion of a window running a single process, e.g. vim, rails server, rails console, etc. Panes can be oriented either vertically or horizontally and resized as needed.

    windows and panes

    Now you might be curious about what my screen looks like with so many possibilities between sessions, windows and panes.

    As a Rails developer what I found to be working for me is to have vim in a first window along with a right-side pane for committing code to Github or running tests. Any background process, like the rails server, workers or Elasticsearch, is running in an additional window, together with the rails console.

    Some commands to remember

    Below is a list of the most important commands I use on a daily basis. It might feel overwhelming at first, but you will get the hang of it sooner than you think. Believe me!

    Sessions

    # create a new session
    $ tmux new-session -s {name}
    # list out sessions and a brief summary
    $ tmux ls
    # kill/delete session
    $ tmux kill-session -t {name}
    # list out sessions and switch easily between them
    <prefix> s
    # disconnect/dettach tmux client while keeping the session alive
    <prefix> d

    Windows

    # create a new window
    <prefix> c
    # go to next window
    <prefix> n
    # go to previous window
    <prefix> p
    # go to last window
    <prefix> l

    By default, windows will open in the directory of the current session. This will allow them to open in the directory of the current pane:

    # ~/.tmux.conf
    bind c new-window -c "#{pane_current_path}"

    Panes

    You can create and split panes in a more intuitive way by adding the following configuration, making sure that it remembers the current path as well:

    # ~/.tmux.conf
    bind-key - split-window -v -c '#{pane_current_path}'
    bind-key \ split-window -h -c '#{pane_current_path}'

    Which turns on these key bindings:

    # split window vertically
    <prefix> -
    # split window horizontally
    <prefix> \
    # kill pane
    <prefix> x

    Adding the following configuration allows you to navigate your vim splits and tmux panes at the same time by using the keys Ctrl + h/j/k/l, so no more need for the prefix with these ones:

    # ~/.tmux.conf
    is_vim='echo "#{pane_current_command}" | grep -iqE "(^|\/)g?(view|n?vim?x?)(diff)?$"'
    
    bind -n C-h if-shell "$is_vim" "send-keys C-h" "select-pane -L"
    bind -n C-j if-shell "$is_vim" "send-keys C-j" "select-pane -D"
    bind -n C-k if-shell "$is_vim" "send-keys C-k" "select-pane -U"
    bind -n C-l if-shell "$is_vim" "send-keys C-l" "select-pane -R"

    You can resize the active pane with Shift + L/R/D/U (which refers to each of the arrows keys). The related configuration to enable those is:

    # ~/.tmux.conf
    bind -n S-Left resize-pane -L 2
    bind -n S-Right resize-pane -R 2
    bind -n S-Down resize-pane -D 1
    bind -n S-Up resize-pane -U 1

    I find it also very useful to focus on the contents of a single pane temporarily and unzoom as needed. The <prefix> z command acts as a toggle to both zoom a pane and unzoom. Try it out!

    Wrapping up

    Now it’s your turn! After these notes, I think you are ready to start playing around with tmux, which might be hard at first. My best advice is to not think about it too much - just go for it and stick with it!

    Read more

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