Blog Posts tagged with: news

Feb 15 2012


More Creative Chaos

One of the best parts of working at Relevance is that things never, ever settle down. Name the task and if it has to do with software development, helping the customer or gathering the lunch order, there is probably some Relevancer hard at work trying to find a new (maybe even better!) way of doing it. Of course there is a limit to how much positive chaos a given number of people can inflict, so we are always looking to find great people to join us and inflict more.

Case in point is newly minted Relevancer Kevin Altman. Kevin began his great adventure in life with nothing but a pen and a stack of discarded printer paper. Kevin's overactive imagination made him a natural for a life of design. Kevin gets uncontrollably excited when presented with the opportunity to help someone turn their vision into something real. Illustration, animation, front-end development: these are all weapons he's been known to bring to battle. We have also caught Kevin venturing into the back-end depths of a number of applications. Kevin washed up on Relevance's shore at the end of a two year quest at EA Games. Completely blown away by the culture, the team and the free lunches, Kevin accepted his greatest quest yet: supporting the design team at Relevance.

Also new to the Relevance family is Jen Myers. Jen is a web and interface designer out of Columbus, Ohio. Jen is interested in the user experience, teaching innovation and using design as a tool for communication. She spends the rest of her time writing, watching good movies and raising a future geek girl (no pressure!). Jen also teaches HTML/CSS and organizes the coding education program Girl Develop It Columbus.

Along with Kevin and Jen, we have been lucky enough to land Brenton Ashworth. Brenton wrote his first program on a Commodore 64 to solve math homework problems. After getting distracted for 14 years by an obsession with surfing, he found his way back to his true calling, using computers to solve problems and create things. Brenton has written programs to do everything from predicting the levels of ethyl carbamate in wine to helping companies deal with U.S. Customs claims. Brenton worked on his own for eight years but gave all that up to join Relevance in spreading even more happy chaos.

We would also like to welcome Kat Goetz who, as our accounting manager, makes sure that we know where all of the profits of chaos are going. Good thing that Kat has more than 20 years of accounting experience in industries ranging from telecommunications and construction to public accounting. Kat first came to Relevance as a contract accountant in 2010 and, since she seemed extremely skilled at herding cats armed with credit cards, we just had to bring her on as a regular employee. Kat likes to upholster furniture (really!), read, sew and she spends a lot of time cheering for her kids at various sporting events.

We have also recently sent off a couple of our friends who have decided to try something new. Jess Martin and his wife Elizabeth are moving to Swaziland, Africa to serve for a year with a non-profit called Africa Revolution. They will be living on a farm designed to care for just a few of the 200,000 AIDS orphans in Swaziland. To read more about their journey, check out their personal site.

We have also bid bon voyage to Aaron Bedra who, when he discovered that Relevance was not actually Groupon, decided to give the real thing a try. Lucky for us it took Aaron four years to figure it all out. We did manage to get an interview out of Aaron before he left for the wilds of Chicago.

Jess and Aaron, remember we take the same attitude as the Marine Corps and certain organizations involved in the restaurant linen business: There is no such thing as an ex-Relevancer. Make us proud!


Oct 24 2011


Now with four more awesome

We may have stopped pretending to be Apple but we haven't stopped adding more awesome to our team: Naoko Chamberlain, Clinton Nixon, Russ Olsen and Jenn Hudson.

Naoko's personality drove her to project management/coach calling. She’s a planner and couldn't help that if she tried. She hugely appreciates the details. It comes naturally to observe and attend to her surroundings, and she truly enjoys teamwork whether at work, play, or playing ball. She also loves to organize everything -- even her sock drawer is organized by color and type.

When Naoko is not planning to-do's or organizing her sock drawer she expresses her love for wine, conversations, and sports. When all three are in one place she is in an extra good mood (except for when Boilermakers, Yankees, or Colts are losing an important game).

Clinton has spent the last 12 years all over the technology industry, from monitoring network security at Three Letter Agencies to hacking for startups to managing teams of developers. After discovering both Ruby and Durham, NC six years ago, he's been a huge fan of both. He's spent enough time at Relevance game nights and other events that he's felt like part of the family for a long while. He has perfectly normal, non-nerdy hobbies outside of programming, like playing Dungeons & Dragons and playing the ukulele.

Russ Olsen started his career doing that other kind of engineering, the sort that involves electricity, gears and getting dirty. Pretty rapidly the wonder of computer programming lured Russ away, which probably explains why most of his fingers are still intact today.

Since turning to coding, Russ has worked on everything from 3D design and image processing software to database query engines and workflow systems. Russ first discovered Ruby back in 2000 when he went looking for a simple programming language to teach to his son. The seven year old lost interest, but Russ never did and he has been building increasingly sophisticated systems in Ruby ever since.

Russ also spends a fair bit of time promoting Ruby via public speaking and he helped found RubyNation, a regional Ruby conference held each Spring in Northern Virginia. Russ has also written extensively about Ruby in the form of two highly regarded books: The first, Design Patterns in Ruby was published in 2008 and is a complete reworking of the classic Gang of Four patterns for a modern dynamic programming language. Russ's second book Eloquent Ruby is a guide to writing idiomatic Ruby. Eloquent Ruby was an instant hit in the Ruby and Rails community when it was published earlier this year.

Russ also has been secretly enamored with parentheses since a very early age and lately has been dabbling in Clojure.

Jenn has 20 years of accounting and analytical experience in a wide range of industries including software, alternative energy, legal, construction, retail and photofinishing, working with both small business and major corporation settings. She has extensive experience at managing an entire business including preparing strategic plans, implementing new programs and products, marketing and analyzing performance. While away from the office, she enjoys cooking and entertaining, travel to far away places and following her daughter's volleyball team around the country.

I'd also like to wish our alumnus Shay Frendt the best of luck with our friends at Chargify. We love you, we miss you.

We're still looking for more awesome. If you'd like to join this awesome team, introduce yourself.

Jun 03 2011


Relevance Welcomes Mike Nygard to the Team

It is with great pleasure that I get to publicly welcome our newest team member, Mike Nygard. We've known Mike for a long time, and have been attempting to brainwash him into believing we deserved to have him join for nearly that long. After years of #hbb, too-smoky-to-drink-Scotch, and adopting a new language to play with, we finally managed the task.

Mike's bio:

Somewhere in the mid-90's, Michael went from "young hotshot" to "grizzled veteran". He's still not sure quite when or how that happened. It might have been the beard.

It might also be that Michael has worked in many different kinds of software development across many different domains, starting with assembly in the 8-bit micro days up through Java, Scala, and Clojure for massive distributed systems. That experience includes massive companies like Unisys, Best Buy, 3M, and Target, along with two startups that grew from 30 to more than 100 people, plus three terms as an independent consultant. He's always looking for people who know they can do anything, and that describes Relevance.

His desire to teach others shows in daily work, in speaking engagements, and in writing. Michael wrote "Release It!"---about building large scale systems to survive the real world, rather than just passing QA---and has contributed to several other books. These days, he is devoted to improving the odds that a client's system will make money for them, through a deep understanding of time, uncertainty, risk, ignorance, and architecture.

He finds it astonishing that the most buzz-worthy technologies of the past two years are Emacs, Vi, Lisp, and batch processing (Hadoop).

We were unable to convince Mike that we were really LivingSocial during his "interview". We did, however, convince him that we understood how to use parentheses appropriately when coding, and this seems to have done the trick.

Welcome aboard, Mike!

Apr 20 2011


The one where we welcome two more to the family

Our Apple gambit paid off. Two poor, easily deluded suckers......I mean, two fine, intelligent and wonderful people have decided to join our growing chorus. Let me introduce you to:

Jamie Kite Jamie is passionate about creating elegant solutions to complex problems. After receiving her B.S. in Computer Science from UCF (University of Central Florida, or alternately "Under Construction Forever"), she stumbled upon a social media marketing start-up in Orlando, FL where she went from Front-End Developer to Senior Ruby Developer and Project Lead faster than you can say "cakeplow." Jamie is equally comfortable debugging Ruby code as she is reworking designs in Photoshop or writing poetic CSS. She lives her life by the "Under Construction Forever" mantra, always learning and eager to pick up new technologies and techniques to improve her craft. When she's not writing code or designing user experiences, you can find her presiding over wedding ceremonies, pulling weeds, or cooking and writing for her food blog.

Lynn Grogan Lynn arrived in Durham after a two month road trip looking for a new place to live. She found Relevance and lured them in with two lines in her cover letter which read: I have memorized exactly two jokes in my life, but they are inappropriate for a cover letter and I would have to meet you in person to gauge whether or not they are appropriate to tell during an interview. One of them involves Willie Nelson, the other one involves a runny nose. Clearly these were good jokes because they hired her on as an office manager. Prior to Relevance, Lynn was working as Director of Operations at VonChurch, Inc. a firm in San Francisco that specializes in recruiting for the video game industry. Prior to that she was doing lots of stuff that mainly involved art galleries and coffee. Lynn was born and raised in the fine state of Wisconsin and has a B.A. from UW-Madison in Sociology.

I think we can stop pretending to be other giant companies now. Sorry, Groupon and Apple. We're still hiring, though, so this time, if you are interested, I'll just let our awesome team speak for itself.

Apr 06 2011


When You Start, Define How You Will Behave

When you are starting a new company, there are a lot of things you are asked to announce at the start. What are you going to do? Why are you doing it? What makes you so special? Why is your social coupon FPS better than LivingDiscountKillzone? Exactly when do you reach the magical $12B valuation?

By all means, answer these questions. Each is important to some constituency, be it the employees you will try to attract, the investors who are clamoring to get in, the customers you hope to target, etc. The great thing about the modern world of “lean startups” and “the pivot” is that you are expected to throw each of these answers away after three months. After all, the purpose of a startup is to discover a sustainable business model. Your first guess is going to be wrong.

I’d suggest that, in addition to these ephemeral things, you also consider strongly announcing to the world how you are going to behave while you build this thing. This, however, is not ephemeral. It isn’t something you should pivot away from. It can’t be subject to A/B testing, and it can never be diluted through Series DD financing. It is the absolute statement of what you should expect of yourself, in normal times and in the face of crisis.

I recently had to craft a document for a new venture, and it includes the following paragraph:

I expect that we’ll create a company dedicated to the idea that you can be a capitalist, and still be a decent person at the same time. That we will treat employees, customers, investors and vendors with fairness, honor and dignity. We will empathize before we criticize, but criticize when it is important to do so. We’ll endeavor to understand our company’s externalities, minimizing the negative ones, accentuating the positive ones. We will, in all ways, act as if people actually matter.

Whenever the organization faces a tough decision, whenever it operates under stress, whenever it asks itself “what do I do now?”, it will have this statement as a guide. I guarantee that such a statement will eliminate a world of possibilities from the choice it has to make, and will draw a big Skitch-style red arrow at the right choice. You can pivot away from what you do, but you can’t pivot away from who you are.

Mar 02 2011


Relevance Turns 30 (people)

All that pretending to be Groupon the last time around really helped with recruiting (not to mention revenue, what with all the coupons we sold). As a result of all this gorging on awesome software development, we had to convince some more folks to join our team. Since last we spoke, we've been incredibly lucky to add:

Ben Vandgrift Ben Vandgrift has devoted himself to the cause of 'better living through automation' for the past 15 years. After completing a BS in Software Engineering (Kentucky), he entered the world of enterprise software development. He has since been recovering--despite a growing startup habit--by applying himself to progressively smaller and smaller companies doing bigger and better things. An entrepreneur at heart, Ben also dabbles in art and music as time infrequently allows.

Marc Phillips Marc went to Colorado College where students take one class at a time for three and a half weeks straight followed by the next one, with three and a half days off in between for the whole school year. That means geology classes are month-long camping trips, literature courses require a novel a night, and biology labs often result in the sharing of hopes and dreams with fetal pigs. After waking up one morning in Seattle he got his first job at Microsoft in 1997 by explaining his ride had already left and they might as well give him something to do. After 10 years in mobile devices and forgetting to cash in his stock options before they expired, he spent the next 4 years in emerging markets and technology incubation, moving into online services and managing teams inspired by rapid iteration and agile development practices. His passion for taking risks, making mistakes, and learning from them for the benefit of others was exhibited in its purest form when on a trip to the Costa Rican jungle he led a group through the trees after their jeep broke down, discovered a hidden mud hole by sinking in it up to his waist, then located and diverted a swarm of army ants that was preparing to raid their cabin with his bare feet while trying to clean his pants, all in under 30 minutes. While he now focuses his action-oriented iterative style on more technical projects, he still frequently does his best work without pants.

Michael Fogus Fogus started out as a philosophy major (with a focus on Nietzschian vs. Kantian philosophy), but finished with a B.A. in Computer Science from St. Mary's College and an M.S. in Computer Science from Johns Hopkins University (with a focus on A.I.). As a software developer with experience in RTOS development, distributed simulation, machine vision, code generation, and expert system construction, Fogus has spent significant time with C, C++, CLIPS, Common Lisp, Java, Jess, Python, Scala, and Clojure. Additionally, Fogus has been involved in the Clojure and Scala communities as the Co-author of the book "The Joy of Clojure", author of numerous Clojure libraries, and a one-time external maintainer of the Scala XML language facilities.

Luke Vanderhart From a young age, Luke has been fascinated by the possibilities of computation. Through highschool, he worked for a startup in Colorado, developing a distributed semantic network knowledge management product. He took a break from software development to get a degree in Philosophy and Linguistics from the College of William and Mary, only to discover that both are profoundly relevant to the art of creating software. After college, he worked as a consultant for several large corporate and government clients, doing enterprise-scale data management and search. During this time, he became fascinated with the beauty of functional programming, particularly Clojure, and ended up writing a book on it (Practical Clojure, published by Apress) with the help of Stuart Sierra. He lives in Annapolis, MD with his wife Hannah, who is a poet.

I think for the next round of recruiting we're going to pretend to be Apple. I hear they are doing some interesting things.

Feb 22 2011


The Legend of Team Iron Chef

This year, instead of holding our retreat the way we always have (holing up in the office for two days and pretending to discuss important things between Magic duels and Rock Band shenanigans) we decided to do something different. Since we're much larger now (28 this year compared to 11 last) and since a lot of folks are now remote, we decided to go offsite, and off-road, and holed up in Snowshoe, WV.

Now, you might think that a well-known ski resort like Snowshoe would have a lot going for it, and you'd be right, as long as you were thinking of things like nice slopes and good powder and relatively efficient lifts. If you were thinking of food, though, you would be sorely, sadly, and, alas, hungrily mistaken. Essentially, Snowshoe has a 7-11 with a Dominos Pizza built into it, and that's about it for food options. With 26 employees and a bunch of families around, we were going to be sadly limited in our comestibles without some heroics.

Enter Team Iron Chef. Before heading up to the retreat, we collected some volunteers to handle our cooking duties (2 breakfasts, 2 lunches and a dinner, all for 30 people). Our intrepid team of dupesHHHHHheroes consisted of Muness (@muness), Jared (@jdpace) and Michael (@parenteau). This wonderful crew sacrificed their sleep, their energy and their participation in parts of the retreat to keep our rogue band well-stocked with calories. And did they ever.

Breakfast consisted of an onslaught of french toast, mounds of sausage, gallons of scrambled eggs, mountains of potatoes, rivers of coffee. They had to rise at 7 to hit the stoves and slave away all through breakfast to keep the food available for the rest of us to shovel gluttonously down our gullets. Then we would head off to the business portions of the retreat.

Then lunch would arrive; on the first day, Team Iron Chef left the retreat a little early to prepare an Italian feast, essentially an infinite supply of carbohydrates. There was pasta, and bread, and lasagna, and bread, and mushroom calzones, and bread, and a stunning marinara, and bread. And comas. The second day, they left a LOT early, and Jared showed off his skills as a master sushi chef and wowed us with a rainbow of fish flavors. The immortal cry of "Volcano Rollllllllll!" will not soon be forgotten in the hills of West Virginia.

And dinner, oh dinner, Michael and crew crafted an Indian feast. Pots of stews, piles of flavors, bowls of chutney. And bread.

For a company that takes so much pleasure in feeding itself, Team Iron Chef completely and utterly knocked it out of the park. It was an unbelievable accomplishment, that was coupled with enormous personal sacrifice. It was the very embodiment of team focus, and the retreat was made immeasurably better through their efforts. When I am asked in the future for examples of people pulling together as a team, and for a team, I will scream "Volcano Rollll!" and think fondly of Retreat '11.

Feb 02 2011


Band Together Rocks -- You Should Help

For the past two years, we've been working with Band Together, a North Carolina non-profit organization with an incredibly cool mission. Every year, they throw one amazing party at which they raise money for a different North Carolina non-profit. Last year, that party was a concert featuring Michael Franti, The Old Ceremony, One EskimO and others, and they gave StepUP Ministry $358,000. That's big time.

And what a party we had last year. It rained like hell all over The Old Ceremony, which sucks because they are one of my favorite local bands, but it eased up enough for us to take the dance train to funky town as Michael Franti, my favorite artist anywhere, rocked the house.

This year, Band Together has launched a two-year fund drive to benefit Alliance Medical Ministry and Urban Ministries of Wake County. The goals are bigger, the concerts get better every year, and I encourage anyone who likes great music and crazy good ways to help the community to get acquainted with Band Together and check out the show this year. Relevance will be there, in force, in the VIP booth. Will you join us?

Jan 11 2011


And we grow, again.

Continuing a trend of both collecting truly awesome people and blowing right past any reasonable internal forecast of potential growth, we are enormously pleased to announce the following new additions to our team. Between them, they expand our corps of coaches, level us up at systems architecture, add a slew of awesome technical skills, and make us more likable and cuddly, to boot.

And here they are:

Maggie Litton: Maggie is a veteran project manager, scrummistress, and coach. After studying Film, Philosophy, and English at New York University and the University of Kentucky, she explored several career paths before falling in love with software development. Before joining Relevance, she spent the last several years scaling agile development practices for enterprise projects at IBM.

Sam Umbach: Most of all, Sam is passionate about the user! He finds not just the technology solution, but also the humane design to go with it. After several years of embedded systems work in network security and, most recently, video games, he is now addicted to closing the feedback loop, iteratively discovering and building what the user needs. When not at his computer, you'll probably find Sam at one of the many Triangle music venues, enjoying a concert and a beer.

Tim Ewald: Tim Ewald has 18 years of experience building distributed systems. Over the last decade he has worked primarily with web technologies. Tim is a pragmatic architect focused on designing effective solutions to complex problems. Prior to joining Relevance, he was VP of Architecture at SeaChange International, a world-leader in video-on-demand infrastructure for cable and telcos, where he worked on integrating Internet technologies with television infrastructure. Before SeaChange, he worked at Microsoft, where he helped design and build the first version of MSDN2 for delivering technical content to developers. Tim's primary technical interests include advanced languages like Clojure and Ruby and hypermedia service APIs based on REST. Tim holds a Bachelor's in Computer Science from Hampshire College and is a well-known conference speaker.

Craig Andera: Craig graduated with a master's degree from MIT in 1995, and has spent the intervening time working variously in C++, C#, and (most recently) Clojure. Specializing in large-scale web system implementation, Craig has written for MSDN Magazine and has spoken at conferences both nationally and internationally.

Bobby Calderwood: Bobby is half developer, half businessman, and all family-man. He graduated with a degree in Engineering and Economics from Dartmouth College. During his time in college he also played fullback on the football team and served a two-year mission for his church in Arizona. He has spent his whole career splitting the divide between business analyst and developer for small startups and large institutions alike, including being a technology consultant and developer for the FBI and the DoD. He, his wife, and their two small children enjoy playing guitars and singing together, participating in their church congregation, and chasing their dog, Wally.

Welcome to you all, I only hope that we live up to the fantastic expectations you must have of us after we pretended we were Groupon during your interviews.

Aug 31 2010


Come to Relevance and Be Excellent

Earlier, we posted that we were seeking some new PMs for the Relevance team. At that time, I mentioned that we were always looking for great technical folk as well. I think that deserves its own post.

Our team is growing pretty fast. Our combination of technology platforms and deep devotion to the people side of software is resonating really well with our customers and we want to encourage and enable that growth. So what are we looking for? I'm glad you asked.

Are you excellent at Ruby and/or Clojure? Can you work sitting next to somebody who is at least as smart as you, pairing on solutions to wicked problems? Do you want to work on open source or community projects 20% of the time? Can you jump back and forth between small apps for early-stage startups and giant systems for Fortune 100 companies? How good are you at ping pong? Can you demonstrate a history of having an impact on the projects you contribute to? Do you practice TDD and have strong opinions about testing frameworks (we have an ongoing war over Cucumber here, and we need more combatants)? Have you read Cryptonomicon, Daemon or The Black Swan? Do you like to speak at conferences or write awesome blog posts about cool technology? Are you comfortable getting direct feedback about your work? How many of the founders of GitHub can you name?

If you found yourself in the questions above, we want to talk with you. We're looking for full-time or contract technologists. We especially want people who can work in our Durham office, or who live in DC. Come be part of something growing, special and fun.

Drop us a line at

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