We are very excited to announce that we recently won a 2015 American Web Design Award, an annual competition hosted by Graphic Design USA (GDUSA).

In collaboration with Kansas Leadership Center (KLC), we were awarded the prize for our work on “Your Leadership Edge” – a portal that gives future leaders access to the Kansas Leadership Center resources and teachings, both online and in-person.

The GDUSA Design Awards recognize the work of designers and celebrate the contributions of graphic design to business and society. We were happy to receive a Certificate of Excellence for our work with KLC and are ecstatic to be featured in GDUSA’s 2015 Web Awards print issue.

Check out the site that won the award this year at YourLeadershipEdge.com and check out previous winners at GDUSA.

Onward and upward!

 

In the late 1300s, the Medici family came into power in Italy. Whether due to temperament, environment, or chance, they became the family who godfathered the Italian renaissance, and helped spark the many revolutions in science, art, and politics which formed the world we live in today.

Since then, many people and cities have aspired to recapture that magic. Can one city launch a new revolution in human culture? Can one era kick off a new level of creation and innovation?

Today, San Francisco is the primary claimant to this role. As the epicenter of startup culture itself, they aspire to cultivate the kinds of innovation which will reshape the world at every level. And in many ways, they have. With Facebook, Twitter, and Paypal, San Francisco has helped launch products that have changed the way we interact with each other. Even our concepts of friendship and family have been impacted.

But even San Franciscans recognize that one startup city is not enough. Each city brings its own history and culture to the table, and fosters the kinds of ideas that simply don’t occur elsewhere. If our technological culture rests entirely on San Francisco, it will be a culture that lacks depth and resilience, and misses touching on key parts of the human condition.

But what can a city do to unlock its potential, and create a startup culture all its own? What circumstances are needed for the latent DNA of a city to break out into a fertile startup ecosystem?

1. A culture that encourages risk-taking

In a lot of ways, startups are the machinery of bold risk. Peter Thiel defines a startup as a company attempting to scale exponentially. That entails risk: any business model which is known and proven may be safe, but it is unlikely to be able to scale by orders of magnitude.

So the founders of startups have to be people who are comfortable going against the grain, and against the proven ways of doing things. They have to be willing to take on enormous odds, chasing an idea they believe in.

Frontier communities probably have a head start in this area. San Francisco is fairly young, and retains some of the frontier spirit of its founders. But the older a community is, the more difficulty it will most likely have in reconnecting to this spirit.

What can be done to lead the way?

A culture of risk-taking requires people who are willing to take risks. Ideally, this starts at the level of investors; instead of looking for “safe bets”, the capital in a city needs to get into the mindset of taking deliberate long shots, placing bets on unproven ideas pursued by passionate and driven individuals.

2. A network of resources

As a startup grows, it needs to be able to scale quickly, tapping into resources to match the obstacles it encounters along the way. Those resources can be anything from database servers to growth marketers.

In this regard, it’s important for more traditional, “old growth” businesses to be available for leadership and guidance, as the startup enters “uncharted areas” that the city’s business community already has a lot of embedded knowledge about.

It’s also incredibly important to put the “community” into “tech community”. With local conferences, interest groups, and mentorship opportunities, both startups and the people who work in them can tap into knowledge and experience far beyond what they’d otherwise have available.

The most pressing need, though, will always be human resources.

3. A dynamic workforce

Startups need a pool of developers, designers, freelancers, marketers, and strategists to pull from. And this, in turn, means a community of learning, growth, and experimentation.

Is the community training new developers? Is it actively drawing new participants into the field? Is it continually upgrading the skill-sets of seasoned members of the development community?

Is the community conducive to freelancers, small business owners, and independent workers? Is there infrastructure and community support for non-traditional working arrangements?

It may seem counter-intuitive, but if the community wants to encourage experimentation and risk-taking, it needs to support fluidity in its workforce. This can mean everything from revisiting local legislation to providing hubs for developer interaction, to paving the way for new workforce education initiatives.

Most significantly, though, it means listening to non-traditional workers, to discover the blind spots the community may have to their needs. By uncovering these blind spots, the community can pave the way for an influx of new human resources, jumpstarting a growing and generative development community.

At any office in our country today you are going to hear people talking about work/life balance. Actually, at any kitchen table (or fast food restaurant, if you don’t have the time to cook) you’ll hear the same conversation. How do we achieve a work/life balance that can be lived out in an authentic and meaningful way, given these two competing priorities in our lives? We need to pay our bills, but we also need to have lives. If we don’t work, we don’t eat; if we only work, we don’t live.

Central to Centresource’s answer to this question is ROWE – the much-revered Results-Only Work Environment. At Centresource, ROWE means that you have clear, winnable objectives by which you are measured. You also have the freedom to work on those ‘results’ remotely, and, by and large, in the hours that you are most productive. This means there is tons of flexibility for the balancing act of modern life. If you need to get new tires, take your kid to daycare, or go spend time with your in-laws so your wife lets you get that motorcycle, totally cool. This kind of fluid approach accounts for the reality of our lives while not shorting either responsibility.

The darkside of ROWE is if you tend towards finding your identity in your work (i.e. you are a workaholic), you can just keep going. There is always another challenge, another problem to solve, and if that is what you focus on, there is always more to add to your plate. But the balanced individual learns to know the rhythms of their life and draw boundaries. If you know you are most productive between 7-11am, make sure you’ve got the space to be heads down at that time each morning. If you need to check out each day between 4-6 to take care of your personal life, make sure you maintain that border. Be an adult. We need work. We need rest. Do both better!

For the last six years,  we have opened our doors at Centresource to the Nashville community for our mixers. We welcome our friends in the technology, marketing, startup, non-profit and business communities to join us to connect with old friends and meet new ones. We invite our past and current clients to join us and get to know us outside of the working day. We extend an invitation to our Germantown community, which gives us a great chance to meet our neighbors. We drink a lot of beer, we eat some good food and we normally leave a big mess to welcome us Friday morning.

Our team is proud of our mixers. We love showing off our house and giving people a behind-the-scenes peek into how we work. But for us, it’s less about showcasing all things Centresource — It’s about providing the opportunity for our community to meet like-minded professionals, reconnect with past colleagues and have some fun while doing it. It’s about giving the technology and marketing communities the chance to talk shop, share a beer and a laugh and meet new people. It’s about celebrating the good work going on in this town and fostering a culture of community.

We realize there are a whole slew of networking events going on in Nashville on any given night, so we are always excited to see such a large group at our mixers. We’d like to thank the loyal folks who have been joining us year after year. We never tire of seeing you. We’d also like to thank the newer faces we have seen this year. Hope to see you again soon.

Our final mixer of 2014 is Thursday, November 13th. We are partnering with the Corner to Corner McFerrin Park Reading Program to help benefit their after-school reading program. We are asking people to bring a book or two for the center or donate a few dollars to the cause. As usual, we’ll be providing good beer and good eats. All we ask of you is to bring the good times and to meet a few new folks next Thursday.

To learn more about the Centresource Autumn Mixer, visit here:
http://mixer.centresource.com/

 

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the Centresource Spring Mixer on March 27. A good time was had by all! We welcomed over 200 people to the house to join us to celebrate all the good things going on in Germantown. We were thrilled to see old friends and make so many new ones. This is the sixth year of our mixers. We really appreciate those folks that keep coming year after year to touch base and hear about what’s going on at Centresource.

A special thanks to two fine organizations, the Skillery and Nibletz. They both played a huge role in making this event such a huge success. We are big fans of these two organizations and admire the difference they are making in our community. We look forward to partnering with them again soon.

We would also like to thank our friends at 312 Pizza Company and Big Al’s Deli for providing such delicious food for our event. Germantown is growing every day and we are excited that they are part of the neighborhood. We hope the next time you are in our neighborhood, you will stop by and eat at one of their restaurants.

The Centresource video team captured the fun we had and put this video together to celebrate the Spring Mixer. We hope you enjoy it as much we have. Thanks again for everyone that joined us, it’s always great to see you! Hope everyone can join us for our Summer Mixer on Thursday June 19th. Hopefully by then we will be able to pick up all of the glitter and stars that are covering our office, the lab and our parking lot. But it’s not likely.

The Centresource office recently made a collective shift over to Slack, an extensive messaging application that just launched in February of this year. We’d previously relied on a handful of tools and good ol’ email to keep people in the know, keep projects moving ahead, keep track of decisions made, and so on. Despite our best efforts, however, this cobbled approach left a lot to be desired: pieces of information slipped between cracks, stakeholders weren’t getting cc’d, and knowledge was getting siloed. Simply put, it kinda sucked.

What we were missing was a single gathering point that allowed us to collate our individual notes, project documents, off the cuff questions and daily communications in an organized and structured way. Enter Slack.

Why it Works

I think a key step towards success from our end was the almost wholesale adoption of the application by our office in a short amount of time. We were asked by senior management to give it a thorough test run and people happily complied. We had fun kicking the tires (Slack is a good-looking app) and we were really pleased to see how it could handle our varied needs.

What stood out to most of us immediately was the categorization of communication, the search feature and the multitude of 3rd party integrations — all creating a complete (and pretty kitted-out) dashboard.

Communication Categorization

As opposed to using several tools to handle the sliding scale of communication every office has, Slack provides three distinct tiers right out of the box. These delineations are great for funneling information to the proper destinations, that can be parsed as needed.

  • Direct Messages: for the wide range of person-to-person conversations that we all have every day

  • Private Groups: for conversations among a specific group of people with invite-only permission. We use private groups on a project basis, bringing in the team members directly working on the project

  • Channels: for company wide conversations that users can opt in or out of. We have a general channel that’s reserved for must-know information and company-wide announcements or reminders. We also have channels tailored to the various departments and points of interest (UX, Dev, Content, etc.) that anyone can hop into

You can also upload a file, create a text snippet or create a category-specific posts (complete with nifty markdown) within any of the messaging tiers.

Search

Slack allows you to search for a term across entire conversation chains. You can then filter the results by a specific user, channel or group. The amount of time spent hunting down an comment or document is greatly reduced, making this feature fantastic for increased productivity. And the search isn’t restricted to Slack-specific content:

Slack indexes the contents of every file, whether you upload them directly or through integrations. That means you can search inside Word docs, Google Docs, PDFs, Photoshop files, commit messages — anything you add to Slack.

(from slack.com)

Which brings me to the next great feature…

Integrations

The broad range of 3rd party tools that integrate with Slack is really impressive: Trello, Google Drive, Google Hangouts, MailChimp, Pivotal Tracker, GitHub… the list goes on.

The most helpful integration, to my mind, is Trello (a great project management application, by the way). By linking a project’s Trello board to the correlating project-specific private group in Slack, we get alerts any time a comment is made or an action is taken in Trello (by the client or one of our co-workers). We maintain the internal conversation around any project in Slack, while incorporating the client-facing conversations in the communication thread for easy reference. It’s comprehensive and awesome.

Slack is constantly adding to the list of integrations and is looking to its users to help them prioritize which 3rd party tools should be brought in next.

The benefits of Slack were clear within the first day of our testing and our adoption rate was practically breakneck. Sure, you’re still going to need email to communicate with clients, but Slack has become pretty essential to the structure and organization of our interoffice workflow.

Do you have a favorite work organization or management tool in your arsenal? Tell us about it in the comments!

I would not be where I am today without mentors. I am lucky that I get to do what I love for work and I am lucky I get to do it at Centresource. I am not one of those uber-geeks you hear about. I wasn’t building an intranet at 11 or cracking government databases in my early twenties. I played sports (badly), I played guitar (badly), and I chased girls (even worse). I didn’t know anything about development until nearly my thirtieth birthday.

One night, not long ago, I bought an old friend a beer. I told him about this idea I had to build a website to help audio engineers and producers make more money. Ever the pragmatist, my friend sat there and listened to me talk for a while before completely tearing my idea to shreds. It really wasn’t even that the idea was that bad, but it was pretty clear from question one that I had no idea how to build a website. Like many would-be entrepreneurs, I thought the web stuff was for someone else to build. Being a good friend, however, my pal decided to talk me through some basics. By a few beers later, he had laid the foundation for what would become my career. He now sits in the office next door to mine.

After those beers wore off, I found myself thinking more and more about development. I thought I’d give it a shot. I Googled and Googled. I bought a subscription to Lynda.com and tore through tutorials like it was my job. I thought I was the bee’s knees. Increasingly proud of myself, I told another old friend about my progress in my new hobby and he suggested I look into something called the Nashville Software School. It turns out he and some people he knows decided to do something about the shortage of tech workers in Nashville; so they started a school to teach people development and I (with a little help from my friend, I would imagine) got accepted into the first class. That friend is now my boss.

The Nashville Software School was a great opportunity for me. I got a chance to get extensive, hands-on training in a number of web development technologies while not going completely broke. More than the hands-on-keyboard stuff though, the best part of Nashville Software School was the access to mentors. I couldn’t believe it; developers (and tech people of all kinds for that matter) donated their time to fledgling developers like me. Looking back at it, it wasn’t even the troubleshooting that was the best part of the all– it was the sense that there are kind-hearted people out there who are willing to help out that really made the whole thing great. I got to gain experience from and befriend people who work for companies like Mozilla and Github (not to mention Centresource) and so many more. Even as a total novice, the developer community embraced me as one of its own.

I drink beer every Thursday with a group of developers and tech folk whose combined years of experience in the field must be somewhere in the triple digits. Whether they know it or not, I consider them all mentors of mine and I’m lucky to know them. I look around that table and see what I hope I can one day become.

Now I am a working developer in Nashville. I get to write code all day, solve problems, and create things. I actually love what I get paid to do. Here at Centresource, I am surrounded by a number of senior developers who offer their mentorship everyday (with a healthy dose of sarcasm, mind you). I’m not sure they know how much I appreciate it– even the sarcasm. And so I am tasked to go out and pay it forward. There’s been a new cohort at Nashville Software School. There’s been a new group of people like me, only on a six-month delay. Though I may not be an experienced-enough developer to have been a great asset on the technical side, I hope I taught them something. For them, for future developers,  and even non-developers I hope I can give what I have been so fortunate to receive:

A mentor (or twenty).

I’m pretty new here at Centresource; I’m pretty new to development in general and Centresource took a chance by hiring a Junior Developer. I’m glad they did–I like it here. I like it for a number of reasons: the people are great, the space is comfortable, ROWE is sweet, and the work is challenging. More than anything, I love the culture of learning.

Every Wednesday morning, we have a Development Team meeting. When I first heard about this practice, I must admit I was a little wary. I don’t know anyone (especially of the developer stripe) who gets excited at the thought of a weekly meeting. I was relieved to find that these meetings would not only be painless, but that they would become something I actually look forward to (and blog about).

Our weekly meeting consists of each member of the team doing a quick blurb on what he/she has been working on and what he/she has learned in the past week. Lately, we have even been encouraged to throw onto the projector for all to see what we have learned or written recently. This is so fascinating to me for a number of reasons.

Experience Through Osmosis

Since my experience level is so low compared to my peers, it is a chance for me pick up a lot from a wide range of talented people. I have never bothered to tally up the collective years of experience in that room, but it’s certainly in the decades range. It’s safe to assume that the people in that meeting have forgotten more about development than I have learned at this point. And I get to sit there and soak in as much as my brain will hold. Even if I don’t use any of what I learn today, tomorrow, or next year, it’s in there somewhere.

The Learning is Never Over

It serves as a reminder that even the senior level devs still spend most of their days learning new things. One of the best thing about the development field is that it is constantly changing. The technologies we work with are fluid. New features for existing tools and new tools altogether make it an exciting space to work in. When I am in the dumps and feel like I’ll never be any good at development, it’s nice to know that ours best devs still learn new things. The Wednesday meeting serves as a reminder that, in software, “you never know enough” (and that’s a good thing).

You’ve Gotta Have Something for Show-and-Tell

I like that I have to have something to share every Wednesday. If the work I do for Centresource ever becomes so routine that I don’t learn something new each week, I have to go out and find something to learn. As a member of the Development Team, it is my duty to find something to bring to table for all of us. It causes me to think about where my weaknesses are and to keep a tally of new things I learn. In a job where the most seemingly minor task may require multiple Google searches, I think it’s important to not lose sight of how much I learn day-to-day.

Like I said, I’m pretty new to the field and to Centresource, but I love what I do and where I get to do it. What I love most about this place is the emphasis that is put on learning. We are not a culture where you don’t want to expose how little you know for fear of being canned (which would be a real concern for me elsewhere, I imagine). We embrace learning on the job and growing as a developer– and, dare I say, growing as a person.