Tag Archives: engineering

Pi Day 2018: More Than a Circle Equation

Never again will the mathematical constant 3.14 be associated with long faces in a middle school classroom. Timmy the Talking Tree, the Pi Launcher, and Capture the Pi now deserve a chapter in math textbooks everywhere. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Geeks from all corners of the US celebrate Pi Day, March 14, for its numerical significance in geometric equations. Although not (yet) a government holiday, ReadyTalk and the national nerd community have used this date to build think-outside-the-sandbox projects honoring the universal language of math. Appropriately chosen, the Raspberry Pi computer is the development board used by ReadyTalk engineers on March 14. This year, 26 teams square off in a demo competition showcasing a range of real-world applications.

Raspberry Pi Hack

ReadyTalk invites all of its engineers to participate in a two-day long hackathon with the highly flexible $35 Raspberry Pi computer. The only catch is that all teams that join the hackathon have to give a company-wide presentation about their idea on 3.14. Nothing needs to be work related, and everyone is encouraged to make the most of the rudimentary Pi technology. That includes hardware adjustments like soldering, rewiring, and adding light fixtures to name a few. Since it’s a no holds barred, come-to-the-table-with-a-crazy-idea kind of event, those of us in the audience get a first-class Vegas show. Or at times, more like Reno.   

Nathan Thompson’s Capture the Pi idea won “Most Creative” for his use of a conductive thread and a unique voltage pulse signaling the transfer of a digital “flag.” The “Best in Show” award goes to team Pi Launcher. Their idea to make a plastic top launcher and turn the office into a makeshift frisbee golf course won with widespread support.

Timmy the Talking Tree (above) incorporated Google Home with the Raspberry Pi. Without much surprise this project was awarded “Best Looking” — he’s a handsome little sap.

 

Congrats to Adam Shamblin and Andrew Suderman for winning the “Best Coded” award. Check out their project presentation, Mesh Networks and Kubernetes.

Thanks to all of our awesome engineers for stepping up their Pi game this year! This is the fifth annual ReadyTalk Pi Day event and we’re always AMAZED at our team’s range of high-tech skills!

CloudTalk: Shred the WebiGnar

Carving through the epic trees at Vail you’ll find Connor McKeown — a self-proclaimed weekend warrior with a yen for the Colorado outdoors. On any given powder day, skiing is his full-time job. However, between snowstorms we have him and his team to thank for their steadfast engineering and infrastructural support of ReadyTalk. Here are his reflections on reaching a company milestone, plus the stand-out stories of the office we know and love.   

Q: Looking back at your time here, what was the most impressive moment for your team?

A: There are many that come to mind but one in particular I will never forget. Throughout 2015, we had a company goal of hitting 60,000 active ReadyTalk access codes in a rolling 30-day period. In other words, 60,000 individuals with ReadyTalk login credentials were using their accounts within a 30-day window. In November of that year, we hit our goal. It was exciting — both for the new guys like me and for the ReadyTalkers that worked so hard to achieve it. So, as you’d expect, we ended up at our favorite local spot to celebrate. The party fell on my first day at ReadyTalk — talk about a warm welcome.

Q: Can you think of a time when you had to react quickly to a technical problem?

A: Not long ago our engineering team had a scheduled boot drive upgrade for a subset of our production system infrastructure. That’s tech speak for “new hardware.” Even though it was on the calendar with plenty of attention and preparation beforehand, it did not go smoothly. A handful of us were up all night working though our contingency plans — several of which failed as a result of a third-party installation. Although this caused an overnight snafu at the time, it brought out the best in everyone from our team. When all hands were on deck during this unforeseen event, it definitely made me proud of my colleagues. We work with vendors that supply some of our infrastructure services; which are essential for ReadyTalk to run at full capacity. Sometimes the glitch is out of your control, but our engineers know how to pull through in a tough situation to keep our services operating at the level our customers expect.

Q: What makes ReadyTalk such a great place to work?

A: It’s true that we have a lot of fun while at the office, but we also like to do off-site events. Several teams find their way to Top Golf for team outings. One of my teams made 150 sack lunches to give out to homeless people and then we followed up the good deed with a Rockies game that afternoon. A common thread that ties our company together is the idea of getting to know each other. Not just someone’s “working self” but building actual friendships that strengthen our professional identities. It works very well and transcends our daily work responsibilities. On the engineering side, our systems that support ReadyTalk products are quite complicated, but my peers are great at explaining things clearly so that anyone in the business can understand. I truly love being associated with some of the smartest people I’ve ever known. Hopefully one of these days it rubs off on me haha.

CloudTalk: Bend the Ear of an Engineer

Nick Bitzer cut his teeth as a ReadyTalk engineer three years ago when he began on the Q/A and release team. Now, he’s responsible for maintaining backend reliability that makes our ReadyTalk products possible. He’s armed with an acute sense of our tech DNA, and a sleeve tattoo of a steamship anchor repping his Florida roots.

Q: What was your most memorable day at ReadyTalk?

A: The first day I got here. Haha seriously. It was a great introduction to the company culture and my whole team. Definitely a whirlwind of events that day. My first impression was how inviting and welcoming everyone was. Also, sometimes the formalities of meeting managers can seem awkward and forced on your first day. It was NOT that way at ReadyTalk. My questions were heard and answered, I was able to meet even the highest level directors and C-level executives. The access to people and resources was really an eye opener. I definitely felt the culture was dropped in my lap on day one. Plus, we crushed it at happy hour that evening, so that didn’t hurt either. It did hurt the next day.   

Q: What’s your most unpredictable type of work day?

A: The catch 22 is that the bad or difficult days are the most rewarding. Once in awhile, unforeseen production issues may cause a hiccup and I have to get up early to put out a fire. It just happens, as with any other service on the market. Even though these events are high pressure, I do enjoy solving the problem and identifying why something went wrong. I think that’s when I’m at my best because my teammates and I need a resolution ASAP.

Q: Even though you work on the backend in engineering, how does your work affect customers?

A: Since I’ve worked on a lot of our bug fixes and product enhancements, I enjoy acting on the concerns of our customers and delivering additions to our services. In this case, the engineering team works with the customer care department to remedy different components, or to stay competitive in the market by adding product features. This was especially true when I worked on the release team because we were building automation that verified our products. We pushed out the changes every six weeks so that definitely kept us busy. This relates to ongoing projects that reflect the voice of the customer, so it might not always impact my day-to-day flow. Rather, the bigger picture across the company as we get feedback about maximizing the user experience.

Q: I noticed that you have an exposed tattoo. Does that make it hard getting a table at a nice restaurant?

A: No. Absolutely not. It helps.

Man in the Pi Castle

Pi Day comes but once a year, but what the heck is Pi Day?

March 14th, or 3/14, is the day that all the nerds eat pie (both pizza and dessert), and celebrate our nerd culture. Specifically, we use a tiny inexpensive computer called a Raspberry Pi to build fun, sometimes useful projects. We see everything from weather balloons, to tiny loop pianos, to magic mirrors.

At ReadyTalk, we celebrate this day by giving our engineers two workdays to build these projects followed by the opportunity to demo them to our fellow geeks. Of course, we can spend more time than that on the project, and many of us do. The winning team gets to spend the year lording it over their fellow engineers by displaying this amazing trophy.

Man In The Pi Castle – A Chess Playing Robot

While there was only one named victor (and holder of the trophy), the real winners were everyone who participated. Pi Day celebrates more than just a single winner; it gives everyone a chance to work together and showcase technology in a really fun manner. Those who spectated rather than demoed learn something from the experience as well: a new way to tackle a problem or a new application for a certain aspect of software (and sometimes hardware).

I was part of the team, Man in the Pi Castle, that took the trophy this year with our attempt at building a chess playing robot. This may seem overly ambitious for a two-day project…and it was. The team spent a month of spare time and 200+ hours on three separate 3D printers to get where we did on this project.

While it may not have actually played chess, the robot arm was able to move a piece on the 3D printed board. In addition, it has an AWS hosted UI, and a microservice architecture. You can see a more detailed write-up of the robot and the software in this blog article. The team will be posting additional detailed articles, and you can check out their code on github.

Takeways

ReadyTalk has always taken great pride in its people and culture. The Pi Day celebration was one of the best examples I have seen of that since I joined the team. There were so many amazing projects and almost the entire engineering team participated.

I encourage other companies to consider having a Pi Day celebration. The level of excitement and innovation that it produced at ReadyTalk were unparalleled. Going forward, we plan to have additional days of innovation around other topics, but Pi Day was by far the largest success I have seen from an event like this.

As one of my co-workers once said about a hackathon, “You could cut the synergy in there with a knife.”

ReadyTalk Pi Day 2017

ReadyTalk has been hosting an annual hackathon to celebrate Pi day, 3.14, for the last four years now. Long enough to go through a handful of revisions of the Raspberry Pi, and for me to go from participant, to winner, and now to organizer.

Why March 14?

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Pi is the mathematical constant 3.14, commonly used in calculations for circles. You might remember the formula for the area of a circle πr2 from a geometry class once upon a time. Since Pi is such an important constant in many areas of math and science, nerds around the world (using an American calendar) celebrate March 14, as Pi day. ReadyTalk celebrates in our own special way with a hackathon involving the aptly named Raspberry Pi computer.

Whats a Raspberry Pi?

Since it’s Pi day we thought it only fitting to use one of the best low-cost development boards out there: the Raspberry Pi. While originally designed to help teach computer skills in schools and developing countries, the Raspberry Pi found another following with hobbyists and professionals alike. Since it’s humble beginnings, the $35 computer has been quickly adopted due to its flexibility.

The Raspberry Pi made headlines in February of 2012 when it was first released, which caused the initial spark of a hackathon idea.

The Hackathon

The prompt

The way Pi day works at ReadyTalk is pretty straightforward: any engineer who wants to take part in the hackathon gets a Raspberry Pi with the stipulation that you must demo a project involving the Pi. Other than that, there are no limitations. Everyone is highly encouraged to go wild, and projects certainly don’t need to be work related.

Compared to other ReadyTalk hackathons, the freedom of Pi Day allows engineers to flex their creativity. It is typical to use this as an opportunity to learn more about interfacing with the physical world, moving things, driving displays and taking measurements of the physical world.

This year we had 36 different people sign up: the best turn out in ReadyTalk history! Ideas ranged from weather stations, robots with Watson powered AI to a reincarnation of the mechanical turk.

The schedule

Historically we have given out the Raspberry Pis as late as March, but this year we decided to start a bit earlier. The Raspberry Pis were handed out the first week of February to allow teams a lot of time to work on their projects. Two workshops were held in February covering how to interface with various pieces of hardware and how to solder. Up next is the work day of the hackathon. This Friday, March 10, we will have a full work day dedicated to Pi projects, along with food and drinks. To finishing things up on March 14, half the day is dedicated to finishing projects followed by demos and awards in the afternoon.

The impact

Pi day has become an integral part of ReadyTalk’s culture. ReadyTalkers look forward to it months in advance, planning and brainstorming projects. Successful projects are celebrated and improved years after their creation.  Pi day at ReadyTalk is how we start every year off on the right foot, with innovation and creativity. Follow us on twitter with the hashtag #RTPiDay for updates.