What did we do in 2017?


It’s been a crazy end of year back in December, stress, tight deadlines, team trip and many other stuffs which took me away of having a few relaxed days to gather thoughts about last year’s retrospective. In 2016 it was a nice surprise and success when we published our team journey for 2016. Looking back to what happened, what we managed to accomplish, what were the top moments of the year, it’s a warm feeling. Many things got forgotten by the time but when we do this summary it is a confirmation of the hard work we did.

So, let’s dig in 🙂

We planned a lot of things for 2017, especially a lot of improvements to make your (as customer) and our lives easier. We planned challenging research projects, code review, documentation writing, recruiting new colleagues, internal testing, Agile methodology improvements, to have fun, to travel, etc. One thing is for sure, we haven’t had the chance to get bored.

In February, we built our dream terrarium, you can read more about this here. The beauty of this thing is that this got even nicer than last year as since then it continues growing and it’s clearly visible that it’s a healthy green corner of the office which enlightens our everyday life. Since we are some incurable lovers of nature and environmentalists we continue this year too to make our office even more eco friendly. We will install a big aquarium with real fishes…so far, we ordered 2 times the aquarium from the internet and in both cases, it got broken till it was delivered to us. But we don’t give up, we will order it again and again…till it will get safely here. We will tell you the whole story on this blog when the micro ocean will be ready in the office. Don’t worry, there won’t be sharks in it.

When Spring was on the corner we started implementing OR B2B Vrijwaren routine on HELGA. This was a crucial service to be offered inside HELGA. In 2016 we did the simple B2C Vrijwaren routine which improved a lot the business transactions of companies and customers. Last year we focused on implementing the routine for/between companies. For readers who are outside of car trader market, Vrijwaren routine means that you stop being responsible for the vehicle having no further obligation in terms of road taxes, insurance, etc. Through Vrijwaren routine you avoid paying monthly taxes while the car is no longer in your possession.

We implemented this routine for both, incoming and outgoing cars inside HELGA. Companies are now able  to send request to each other for initiating the Vrijwaren routine. Incoming requests are sent towards my company from other business entities for cars bought from them. Outgoing requests are sent by my company towards other companies to whom cars were sold by my company. This B2B transaction makes it possible to accept or reject a Vrijwaren request in case mileage report is not OK. Kentenken card request is possible too for cars which will be exported outside of The Netherlands. Outgoing transfer relies on simple steps like selecting the car, selecting the company to which you would like to do the transfer, setting the RDW (official car institution in NL) number (checked via VWE), filling in the meldcode if missing and checking out km counter in case this is not available for the vehicle.

In first part of the year we worked hard on preparing Indewal’s new website for being launched. One of the innovative items implemented were the 360° images pulled in from Sirv server, an external service provider for 360° rotation of car put together from static images uploaded by customer. They are specialized on image management for product presentation on websites and webshops. They have a detailed API documentation helping technical team on implementation. All you need is the images of product and the discipline of naming the files on Sirv server for integration. There are plenty of similar tools on the market for 360° product presentation. User experience becomes nice, easy and smooth thanks to the super speed of image delivery (almost real time) and the photo resize done by Sirv.

One of the main goals in 2017 was to improve HELGA’s marketing. We spent around 12,000 hours this year on extra HELGA development but somehow, we missed to build a proper commercial image for this SAAS (software as a service). This is a huge product, we are super proud of what we managed to accomplish so far. Last year we started building step by step the HELGA brand too. As a first step, we filmed a commercial for the product. We won’t share too many details again as we already did a full blog article on this initiative…you know, the story with the Devil 🙂 Every time when I go to the Theater and I see the actor who was our face in the commercial, I think of 2 things: 1. he is super talented as an actor, 2. he is our HELGA guy, the typical Dutch face of our business, and we were lucky to have him on the project.

Beside the commercial we improved a bit the layout of frontend website HELGA.eu (we will build a totally new one in 2018), we started sending regular newsletters on things implemented in the system, Autofactor participated together with IndeWal in a public event for the official launch of HELGA. And further commercial improvements are in progress to be launched, you will see these shortly in your mail boxes.

Along with the HELGA commercial we shoot another commercial for the Biddo technical inspection app. You can read more about this in the same blog article with the Devil. According to urban legend from Zwolle this was a great success when launching it. Happy to hear this, hope it serves the business productively.

Many of our customers have innovative ideas and services which make your life easier. Another client for who we work, VDS has his own environment of handling paperwork for getting back rest-BPM of exported cars. Since they launched HELGA for their business, we needed to connect the customized environment of VDS with our system. Two technical teams set down and came up with an API connection which communicates between the two systems. The rules are pretty simple: user must have accounts in both environments, document transferring routine can be initiated from HELGA by hitting the “export” button and sending information along with car documents towards VDS Portal, data transfer goes in the background so user can smoothly continue using HELGA during the process. Regular status updates will be provided back by VDS to HELGA to keep users up to date on how the routine of refunding rest-BPM goes. When paperwork is ready with tax offices, VDS sends the final rest-BPM document to HELGA user.

When Spring was here the development team ran away for a short city break to Warsaw. We only spent a long weekend in the Polish capital but had a great time. Traveling always relaxes us so this was a real fun. We visited really great places, being shocked of their Royal Palace, Army Museum, Copernicus Science Center, the old town and a few nice pubs of course. And as we are always lucky and find extra nice things during trips, I met Winnie the Pooh…thanks Mateusz for the tip 😉 The Copernicus Science Center was the Heaven on Earth for developers, physics, math, algorithms were all over the place, finally a location where the human mind is challenged. That’s a place where we could have spent 2 full days if time would have let us but anyhow spending a half day gave us a nice inside to a lot of interesting scientific stuff.

Getting interested in history’s mystery

Winnie the Pooh, sweetest creature ever

Admiring Science

Taking risky photos…Zsolt, we need you on Biddo!

This year we boosted up advertising possibilities with the one towards Mobile.de. We contacted them with this initiative and managed to setup an API connection to send cars’ details towards their portal. The connection is direct, no 3rd parties involved and data synchronization is in real time, in case your car gets sold on HELGA, this is removed from Mobile.de instantly. Everything is set automatically though the genius idea of running events on HELGA.

It was a few months’ work with several rounds of testing till everything got sorted out and accurate data was sent back and forth. This is another thing which opens the door through HELGA for your business to the international car market.

For all our customers who are car traders transportation of cars is a crucial part of their business. Before start using the HELGA system, many of our clients already had a setup for work flow with transport suppliers, the majority of these were already automatized so adaptation to HELGA was by default an expectation from their end. Some leaders of this business model are IndeWal and Beernink & de Bekker. Luckily both of them have transport suppliers with a technical team in the background so it was relatively easy to put knowledge together and build a connection between the parties. Several rounds of tests were performed till connection got sorted out through the flying XMLs, timelines of transport were set correctly, statuses got synchronized back and forth between environments and confirmation emails were sent out. A significant part of the transport routine is covered through automatic events in HELGA and order status is always up to date and visible in our system. Transport tasks overview helps HELGA users to always keep track of all ongoing transports.

In case of IndeWal transport synchronization is bidirectional, data is sent towards HELGA and their frontend website. Customers who are buying cars from them can see status of transport on the frontend website too.

So if you are our customer and do not have yet (!) an automatic setup for your transport routine, do not hesitate to contact us, we have the knowledge in-house and the expertise to optimize your business.

While the time was flying in 2017 we started to recruit new experts in our team. Basically, what we did is that we doubled Zsolts and Zsuzsas in our office, we get two new colleagues, one extra Zsolt and one extra Zsuzsa. Beside them we got Jack in our team as delivery manager and József as developer. All 3 developers have several years of experience in software development. We set our technical expectations pretty high so we accept only experienced candidates to keep the quality of our knowledge. We gladly teach junior developers too but when it’s about joining our team, you need to have the necessary skills and experience to take you into the team. While writing this blog we got the great news that on Valentine’s Day again we will have an extra colleague joining us!

Senior developers programming as a team 😉

New colleagues had an on-boarding process to get integrated in the team. Getting familiarized with all the projects we develop and handle is a time-consuming thing. Products built by us are complex so helping new ones to learn the code is a basic principle in our team.

On boarding József

In the middle of the year the Autofactor management team had a short trip to Tallinn, the Estonian capital, to get aligned on a few crucial management stuff. Between two meetings they had some fitness time to keep the body and soul healthy. Look at Mateusz’s face…it’s worth everything. He put up a nice green CEO style shirt and he ended up on bicycle…what can I say, life is a bitch tricky sometimes. Csaba is smiling although he is the one who plans to start running for more than a year now. Keep up the planning, you never know, at some point you will actually start jogging around your house.

On the 1st of July we launched Indewal’s new website along with HELGA. All of us were involved in this project, having daily calls, thousands of emails exchanged, meetings, and lots of duties to put together this website. Edward, Joris, and way more colleagues, all of them were managing things under the pressure of deadline to make this setup turn into a well-functioning product. Since time was our no. 1 enemy, all of us were working till late hours to finish the requirements. Transition from old setup to the new setup needed to be planned carefully, data migration of existing customers and current stock were performed to make sure that all data remains accessible in the new environment too. Exports of old database were provided to us for importing it into HELGA’s database. Cross testing of data was required to avoid messing up information.

In the same time with Indewal’s big launch, we were working on the HELGA setup for another customer of us, Beernink & de Bekker. Edwin thanks for the co-working on your company going live too. Planning a smooth transition from old system to HELGA by using both environments during soft launch helped us a lot of excluding stress of data migration and switching to production environment of HELGA from one day to the next.

Meanwhile a few of us had some great and sunny Summer holidays.

My holiday was at the French see side in Arcachon bay, one of the greatest tide I have ever seen…sea water disappearing in a few hours leaving behind only mud.

Our Biddo expert, Zsolt needed a relaxing environment where silence is the king.

Zsolti had a family time up in the Austrian mountains. You can never start too early to teach your kids to love nature.

Csaba’s vacation was mostly dictated by this small beauty from the left-hand side.

Mateusz went to Białowieża National Park, the biggest natural reservation of Poland where you can find bisons in a forest untouched by humans. Next time please let us know that you go, we would gladly join you on this trip…of course if you are willing to tolerate us during your holidays too 😉

Ferenc went to a camp to learn to do a handmade lira music instrument. This is how far he got with this project, a bit different from software development.

As you can see we all ran away in nature, no city lives, no civilization or computers. Our work makes us loving nature more and more. Sitting in front of PC all day makes us evaluate our free time differently, makes us to go back to Mother Nature.

One of the ugliest periods of the year was when we were struggling with HELGA’s strong growth. Those days were pretty intense. Heads were put together from the hosting company and from our team to find the right solution as we had to select the technical solution which can keep up the strong growth of the system, even if HELGA works with a tremendously amount of data. There are systems in this World working with unimaginable amount of data so we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. We were monitoring HELGA’s behavior day and night.

We ended up the challenge by migrating the database to Amazon Aurora DB, a relational database built for the cloud. This is 5 times faster than the standard MySQL database and it’s high-performance scalability offers a greater than 99.99% availability not to mention that we improved 150% the security of DB.

 

(Photo source: starwindsoftware.com)

Aurora was not the only improvement we did of course, we migrated all elements related to HELGA  into the Amazon cloud. Numerous discussions and consulting were on the table during weeks of very intense work on this topic till all optimizations were finished. We heavily worked on the migration strategy to avoid any trouble during the day when HELGA users are working in the system. And we are Proud with a capital letter on what we did here.

Beside this we configured a pre-production server for Helga. As you already figured out, we have a staging test server and a live server. So far things were tested on the staging server before published on live. To stabilize the implementation of new features, we configured a 3rd server which is an exact replicate of live server to be able to see how things behave on the same environment as production.

Between heavy stuffs handled by our team sometimes we resolve funny logical games to lighten up a bit the spirits in the office.

2017 was the year when we did major changes in our daily workflow. Many things needed to be re-evaluated to optimize the flows we did before. The first step was to install the Agile plugin in the Redmine system which we use in our work. Agile board made it possible to see cards on which each developer works, every card is equal with a task which is equal with a request coming from our customers. On the board, we have an overview as per each person, being able to see the status, the priority and the deadline of the task. This provides real time information based on the constant changes done by the team during work.

Beside this we started having daily Scrum meetings, every morning at 10AM we have a 15-20 mins meeting about 3 things: who is working on what, what did we do yesterday and what we will do today. This helps us harmonize the team work having the overview of tasks handled by others than me.

We stopped daily deployments on HELGA as we have big volumes in the system and stability is all that counts. We now do deployment 2 times per week to production in the early morning when no customers are working in the system. This means that publishing new stuff on HELGA got a bigger interval, and that interval will grow a bit more in 2018. Again: stability is all that matters to us, as that is what matters to our customers. For the ones interested in this particular subject: the infographic below gives the answer on what the interval will be :-).

We started doing code review in pairs. Every team member has a paired colleague; a person who is reviewing his code to eliminate errors and bugs. Curiosity and fun were combined to make sure the quality of our work increased even more. It’s been 6 months since we started having this second pair of eyes (and brains, of course) and it became a very valuable part of our routine. In the near future we will have pairs switching continously too.

We mentioned before that our team had the chance to participate at the Grill Masters event organized by IndeWal. The whole trip to The Netherlands was a real pleasure. You can read more about this here. It was nice to see how everything comes together on launching HELGA and introducing it on the Dutch car trader market. We believe that we built an innovative solution for car traders turning their business into something high performing. In the last 5 years since HELGA’s idea came up we’ve been working hard to make it a bullet proof system. Development hasn’t stopped on the software so further improvements will follow up in 2018.

Traveling is our favorite hobby, we’ve been almost all over on the European map. So, last year we tried to go more to the East. The management team traveled to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Different world, different culture and different cuisine too. It’s always challenging to try something new. In Azerbaijan there is almost no social event without tea sweetened with jam, I’m pretty sure our guys were desperate to find some beers instead of tea for 2 reasons: 1. they were not ill to drink tea, 2. the idea of putting jam into the tea is out of their comfort zone. Finally, a place on Earth where bread is sacred, right Csaba? These people show a big respect for bread, if they drop a piece of bread on the floor by mistake, when taking it up they kiss the bread to apologize.

For Csaba it seemed easy-peasy to adapt to this culture…because of the bread, on the other hand Hans needed to do some personal style updates to get more into the Arabic culture.

Just to make sure that life is not always about fun and travel, we do have several trainings. Training to improve our knowledge, to get better in what we do. Last year Jack, our delivery manager, did a training for us about gathering functional requirements. In many cases understanding and gathering the right information from customers saves us half of the time of implementation. Specifics are everything, setting up concrete expectations excludes misunderstandings and helps us to meet client’s need more easily. One of the goals of this training was to learn more about functional and non-functional requirements. By understanding these specifics it can make our daily work more requirement oriented.

One of the greatest improvements from last year was the license bought for PhpStorm. This is a commercial, cross-platform editor for PHP, HTML and JavaScript assuring automated refactoring of code, error reporting and better file versioning. Developers’ life became much easier, quality tool means quality code and quality work…

We closed the year with a pre-Xmas trip to Hungary, to Debrecen city. Since it was right before the Winter holidays the whole city was full of lights, Christmas trees and presents. This was a trip for the whole team, management and development staff together. During the days, we’ve been combining work with brainstorming and discussion on projects/features. We of course love our face to face meetings as next to seeing each other on a personal level we always also manage to get aligned on our priority list for the upcoming 3 months.

At nights we were having fun, nice dinners, drinks and chit chats. This was again a great opportunity to spend time together and get to know each other better since a few team members joined our team in the last 6 months.

Having a super nice dinner in a super nice restaurant

During the day having productive brainstorming

Christmas Ferris wheel…scarred out the shit of Mateusz while I’m like an iron lady 😉

It was a long and busy year full of ups and a bit of downs. Being busy is good, having new ideas is even better. Hopefully we can apply all the things we learned last year in 2018. Our schedule doesn’t look differently than the one from 2017 so further challenges are expecting us. Stay close to our blog as we will keep getting back here with updates on what is going on in our office 🙂

 

(Cover photo of Warsaw done by Ferenc)

 

 

 

Over Zsuzsa

Zsuzsa has joined Autofactor in the beginning of 2015 and we have been benefiting from her skills ever since. She’s taking care of planning in all of it’s aspects and makes sure that project managers, developers and customers deliver as promised. Her ‘gentle reminders’ also frequently go out to Hans, by the way.

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