Introducing: Mark (karate sensei)

Coming from a strong iOS background at both small and large companies, I was really excited about the idea of bringing my experience to a start-up like UrbanThings.

Since joining in April I’ve been mapping out a course to update the UrbanThings codebase so we can provide a more solid and flexible foundation for the company’s future aspirations. That’s the short version, continue reading for the longer. 🙂

 
The first significant piece of this process was to overhaul the publicly available open source iOS SDK within the UrbanThings Transport API. The result is a simple to use modern SDK that also provides a great deal of flexibility for those who want to do more with the code – you can see more on Github.

Version 2.0 of the SDK also coincided with Bristol API Hackathon 2, I played a key role at this event and introduced a number of developers to the SDK, the day also generated some great ideas from the community and our winners for the day blogged about their experience.

Since then, I’ve been refactoring the codebase into a set of frameworks, introducing abstraction through protocols, and configuration through dependency injection. We have set up a continuous integration server, increased the code coverage of unit testing, and are bringing in a formal QA process that includes automation testing. We are also moving the iOS codebase to Swift where possible.

All of these changes will improve UrbanThings’ speed and ability to introduce new features and designs to our customers, and will allow us to have more confidence in the reliability of these updates. We have some great ideas in the pipeline and I’m really looking forward to launching these – watch this space!

It has been a bit of a whirlwind these last two months, but I’m really happy in my new role and am part of a talented team with great ideas for bringing transport information to you through mobile technology… one app at a time!



Mark’s Top 5 Ways to Unwind

• Running around the country lanes of Berkshire
• Spending time with my wife, our new baby, plus keeping an eye on the grown up children
• Teaching and practising karate
• Playing guitar
• Travelling to other countries (see above for Al-Khazneh from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)

PAT: Helping end-user requests see the light of day

As UrbanThings expands, so does the number of great suggestions for our mobile apps. These come from end-users, beta testers and our own internal team – anything from great ideas for UI tweaks to full-scale feature additions. We love all this feedback and we don’t want to lose it.

Integrating feature and enhancement requests into our workflow posed an interesting challenge. We use JIRA to track our software development; filing new suggestions directly into a platform team’s JIRA seemed a little intrusive, but documenting them entirely outside of JIRA seemed disconnected from the process. We knocked around some ideas to help generate a process that would track these valuable ideas and PAT came to our rescue.

PAT is our newest JIRA Project, or to give him his fuller title, ‘Potential App Tasks’. Functionally, PAT exists as a ‘clearing house’ for ideas and suggestions that come from our end-users and development team.

PAT_v1
The full lifecycle for New Features and Enhancements is now, in broad terms:

  1. End-user support staff and developers generate enhancement and new feature tasks, and file these as issues within PAT. We use components to track the relevance of each issue to one or more platforms. We also integrate JIRA with ZenDesk to track any related end-user feature requests.
  2. The Product Manager periodically prioritises and approves key tasks. Approved enhancements are then filed as new issues in one (or both) platform-specific JIRAs, and linked back to their PAT ‘parent’ for tracking purposes.
  3. Development teams then integrate the enhancements into their regular sprint planning.
  4. The enhancements are completed and the apps are updated. At this point, any linked end-user tickets in PAT can be actioned and the users informed that their super-amazing suggestion has gone live.

And, of course, nothing says PAT quite like our choice of Project Avatar.

PAT jira description

Where can you use TripChecker?

The UrbanThings story began back in 2011 when we released London BusChecker.  Since then, we’ve expanded to more cities and launched more apps, with more than 2 million downloads to date.

     

We recently launched our latest app TripChecker, the app combines all the BusChecker locations into one handy package, and aims to be your take-anywhere transit companion.

Plus, we now support trains, trams, tubes, buses and even cycle hire!

               

Below is a list of the locations currently supported – keep checking our blog to see how the list grows.

• London
• Great Britain
• New York
• Washington DC
• Chicago
• Baltimore
• Santiago

And as always, download TripChecker now! 🙂

Google Play  |  iTunes

Introducing: Lara (tea drinker)

In the first of a series of blogs introducing members of the UrbanThings team, our newest starter Lara Ruffle Coles explains how she got into Android development and what she’s been up to in her first high-octane week.

After working in the media industry as a client and account manager, a desire to innovate and learn new skills led me to take a break from working. After considering what to do next, I began teaching myself Android app development, and have now released two apps on the Google Play store. Last week I took the next step and started my first role in the bright and shiny world of digital media as UrbanThings’ Support Technologist.

I have always been interested in new technology and first learnt how to use a computer – an Apple Mac, aged nine as my father worked in desktop publishing. He would bring home work computers for the family to use whenever his work computer was upgraded, and I spent many hours playing Solitaire and Tetris on a PowerBook Duo.

Moving forward to 2010, I began my Android journey with my first ever smartphone, the HTC Desire. It was a complete revelation and I was in love, and of course I was immediately infinitely cooler than all iPhone users. Unfortunately, at work, everyone has an iPhone, but I am rolling with the punches…

    

At UrbanThings I will be working closely with the whole team, and will be running app user support, coordinating our social media profile, and developing elements of our apps as part of my on-going Android developer training. My first week was quite busy as we were launching our newest app TripChecker on the Wednesday, but thankfully there was enough time for pizza and ice cream on my first day – the making of any great team!

In preparing for the TripChecker launch I got my head stuck into Google AdWords, sent out my first press release, and prepared for our launch party with a slideshow and some Spotify playlist suggestions – Queen was unfortunately vetoed. Boooo. Wednesday’s launch party was very successful, alcohol and pizza were consumed, and we had a few hours off the next day to rehydrate – read and see more here.

I finished my week with some blogging (in the unusually peaceful office), whilst the rest of the team travelled west for Bristol API Hackathon 2, before firing off a round of launch party posts. All in all it was a very satisfying first week.

Over the next few weeks I will be consolidating our social media profiles, starting a number of research tasks with our Head of Platforms, and dipping into the UrbanThings Android code base.

All is a go in East London’s Tech City – aka Silicon Roundabout, so please do keep following our blog to learn more.

          

Lara’s Top 5 Life Goals

• Visit Japan during cherry blossom season (ETA 2017)
• Keep singing in my two choirs until my voice is kaput
• Acquire one of the terraced houses facing Greenwich Park
• Look after two Scottish Fold cats (just like Taylor Swift)
• Develop an amazing award-winning millionaire making app to achieve number three

Mentoring at the Big Idea Challenge


I was invited to mentor at this year’s Big Idea Challenge, a competition for young business minds, held at the Natwest RBS Building in the City of London.

Students, graduates and staff from London colleges were selected via heats to pitch their business idea to win a share of a prize pot worth £30,000. Be it “a killer new business, a mind-blowing creative experience or a worthwhile social project”.

I mentored an energetic all-female group from Redbridge College, whose idea was the creation of a ‘College App’ that provides better communication between educational establishments and their students.

Throughout the day, we worked to develop their idea further, through discussion and the use of the Business Model Canvas. Following this, the group received some great pitching advice from industry experts Amplify.  The day culminated with the group pitching to an assembled audience; they did great, as you can see here:

Like what you see?  Please vote for them if you think the idea sufficiently deserving!

I thoroughly enjoyed my day; it was an invaluable chance to encourage tomorrow’s entrepreneurs to follow their dreams and share my own knowledge and experience gained from running UrbanThings.