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Girls + Data: A Positive Trend

#WeAreOmni Employee Ownership Culture Data Management

In 2017 I attended a mentoring opportunity sponsored by Girls in Tech, a global organization devoted to joining women in the tech industry. This event welcomed young women from elementary to high school, to the Milwaukee Public Library, to ask a panel of female tech professionals about their careers. The panel included analysts, developers, project managers, and more in different areas of tech, but I was the only woman representing data analytics. As the girls rotated through the panel members inquiring about education required, experience, salary, and personal professional backgrounds, it became painfully obvious that despite their interest in technology, there was great hesitation since they thought they had to be a programmer.

The Fidget Cube Craze Hits Omni

#WeAreOmni Culture Employee Ownership

By now, you have probably noticed the fidget cube or fidget spinner craze that has happened in our country. It has invaded our workplaces and schools. It also found its way to us at Omni. Back in September of 2016, someone shared the Kickstarter page for the Fidget Cubes on the #random Slack channel. I was immediately intrigued by the simple product. I’m a frequent fidgeter. The usual foot tapping, leg bouncing, pen clicking, paper clip ruining, stress ball squeezing, kind of grade A fidgeter. “Fidgeter.” Is that even a real word? Well, I’m using it.

A Day in the Life of a Solutions Consultant at Omni

Culture #WeAreOmni Employee Ownership

As a Solutions Consultant in our Milwaukee office, my time is split between 1) Meeting with our clients to help design the software we are developing for them 2) Working with my project teams to clarify requirements and technical issues 3) Software development 4) Internal initiatives It’s a mix of responsibilities that keeps me busy and engaged. There is nothing more exciting for me professionally than taking a bunch to scribbles on a white board to a system that our customers use...and that’s what I do. My days tend to vary, but here is what one of my days looked like earlier this week.

Dang Good People: How Omni Changed My Business

Culture #WeAreOmni Employee Ownership

In November of 2015, I talked to a friend I knew in information technology. He’s a talented guy and I wanted his advice on how to automate our Culture Analysis process at Utech Consulting. He scoped out the project and offered to do some of the work himself, but what he really recommended was that we work with Omni Resources. Two weeks later I had two Omni representatives, Tony and Pat, in my office. I don’t know what it is about Pat, but he just exudes trustworthiness. He’s a brilliant guy and I remember loving his ability to think though patterns “in the moment.” The guy has definitely got some skills. He’s also super nice, patient and down-to-earth.

The YNAB Philosophy

Culture #WeAreOmni Employee Ownership

The last time I talked about money, it was to discuss truly owning your money, in other words: budgeting. This time around I’d like to talk about a nifty little app called YNAB. YNAB stands for You Need A Budget. It should really be called You Really, Really Do Need A Budget No Matter How Much You Think You Don’t, but the acronym would have been unwieldy. YNAB is budgeting on steroids. It is both an app and a method to easily take hold of your finances. YNAB is a way to keep an amateur budgeter off spreadsheets… Being the Rogue One Sorry, I’m a Star Wars geek and Rogue One comes out this month... In the beginning of my budgeting career, I decided to go rogue. I thought, “Who needs budgeting software? Who needs to pay someone else whenever I already have Excel? Why would I do that?!” My intent: save money on software (read as: save my own pride) by creating a spreadsheet that could handle my finances. While this did save us money, it wasn’t really helping us budget correctly. To a certain degree, I could see where our money was going, but handling items like credit cards was difficult. Getting meaningful reports (without putting a ton of time into creating them) was hard. Having to manually enter every single transaction was cumbersome, to the say the least. A New Hope Enter YNAB. With its ability to easily pull in transactions from your bank and credit cards via something called Direct Import (more on that in a future blog), with its visual awareness of every transaction, and with its superb handling of credit cards, I was sold. YNAB allows you to easily keep track of your finances, knowing where every dollar is going. This was a bright, new hope for us. We could finally get a hold of our finances without spending hours behind a spreadsheet. Leave the plumbing to the professionals, right? The (Budgeting) Force Underneath the software lies the true budgeting Force (had enough Star Wars references yet?): YNAB’s four core rules of budgeting. These rules are: 1) Give Every Dollar a Job 2) Embrace Your True Expenses 3) Roll With the Punches 4) Age Your Money Let’s break down what these mean. “Give Every Dollar a Job” means that every dollar that comes into your possession should be given something to do. You could use that dollar to help pay down credit card debt. Perhaps you’re saving up for a cruise. That dollar could go there. Maybe you want to save that dollar for an Emergency Fund. That dollar could be put there. Wherever that dollar goes, give it something to do. The idea here is to not leave money around doing nothing. “Embrace Your True Expenses” is like accepting that Darth Vader is your father. There’s one in every family, right? Well, in every family there are also true expenses. These are items/services that you must pay for, such as rent/mortgage, insurance, food, gas, utilities, etc. And no, Star Wars Battlefront for your PlayStation does not count. You really can live without video games. But on a serious note, to successfully budget, you must list out those items that are necessary expenses. Failure to do so means that you don’t truly know where all your money is going. Moving on, rolling with the punches is never a fun thing to do. Like wandering around a boxing ring blindfolded, you’re going to get hit sooner or later by this thing called life. Things like home and car maintenance issues will arise. At some point, your toddler daughter will decide that a Barbie’s shoe should reside in her left nostril, requiring a medical professional to remove it (true story, although not mine). Bad Things will happen. That’s a fact of life. Being prepared for them financially…and rolling with them when they do arise…is part of the YNAB philosophy. It’s not easy to do, but it will lower your financial stress. Lastly, to “Age Your Money” is to give an age to your dollars. This means having enough savings built up so that you are living at least one month ahead. YNAB has a metric it keeps track of (“Age of Money”) that will tell you how “old” your dollars are. You should aim for at least 30 days, but the greater the better. This will not only help you “Roll With the Punches,” but will give you more peace of mind on a day-to-day basis. This will also help you get off of living paycheck to paycheck. The Budget Awakens Once you take to heart the four rules of YNAB, it’s off to the races. If you’re a numbers person like me, you will go completely OCD over the fact that you can see every single dollar and where it goes. Once I read up on YNAB and downloaded the 34-day trial version, I entered every institution (bank and credit cards), and started setting up various budget categories (Mortgage, Groceries, Restaurants, Fuel, etc.). (More on budgeting categories in a future blog.) I then let YNAB do its job of keeping track of everything. YNAB’s reports now tell us how much our children eat (spoiler: a lot), how much restaurants really do cost for five people (that’s a no-brainer), and how much we used to pay for TV (you don’t want to know). Bye-bye spreadsheets. It’s time to be a Jedi Budgeting Master! While it took some time to get used to how YNAB works, I have never looked back. It has helped my family and I tremendously. With its four rules and ease of entering and/or downloading transactions, YNAB is sure to become a permanent family member of your household like it has mine. I encourage you to try the 34-day trial and see if YNAB is a fit for you. May the YNAB Budgeting Force be with you!

What We're Thankful For at Omni

Culture #WeAreOmni Employee Ownership

With Thanksgiving this week, it led me to ask the team at Omni to share what they are thankful for. I gave them some examples of my own: I am thankful for cheese steak Fridays with the team, spending the holidays with family, awesome blogs that the team contributes, and all the lunches Omni provides. Of course I got this response via Slack from Software Engineer Travis Crowe. To Travis’ credit, he was right on. I love the one-liners and anecdotal responses I often get in return when I prompt the team with a question via Slack or email. I did get a few of those responses with this question, but I also enjoyed seeing the real honest and heartfelt replies and it made me realize how much we really do have to be grateful for. Hopefully these responses will put a smile on your face like they did mine.

Happy Hacking

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As any experienced coder knows, knowing everything is not possible. Learning new things is essential to keeping up with technology or you’re going to be left behind in its virtual dust. While there are many ways one can learn, from books to classes to online videos, I find the best way for me to pick up and remember new technologies is by hands on hacking with them. Here are few examples of the happy hacking projects I’ve recently done to inspire you to hack your way to learning something new. Hacking doesn’t make you a hack, but rather the opposite. This past summer a couple of coworker friends decided to spend an evening hacking on our Pi’s. A Pi is a small computer that fits in your hand, and where there is a computer there is potential for hacking! This hackathon was so fun we even did it off work hours on a Saturday evening! Dave’s project was to install the Amazon Alexa voice interface library on his Pi, so his Pi would respond to his voice. Steve’s project was to do the same thing with his Pi except using Google’s equivalent voice service. He also used some open source libraries on top to parse the audio input from the Pi’s microphone and find trigger words to respond to. My project was to get my Pi up and running and learn how to tell it what to do. My result was to get a LED light to blink. Though my project was much less impressive, I still had just as much fun as the other guys, helping them out and getting help from them. That night I’m pretty sure I learned more than them combined! What you hack together can be better together. A few weeks later I went to That Conference and attended a few classes that had hands on activities. These one-hour classes are the ones I remember the most and resulted in projects to show off and play with. Examples are coding a rock, paper, scissors computer game; making music compositions via a website; and creating an interactive Android app from scratch including deployment. If you are giving a technology presentation, having your audience code rather than showing and talking about code the whole time is way more effective. I am sharing the knowledge forward by presenting an Omni Tech Talk to fellow coworkers, giving a crash course on these mini hackathons I did at the conference. I can see future potential for also running workshops for kids to teach them ropes to hack like a pro. Hacking is an infinite loop of learning and teaching. Hack and pass it on. A few weeks ago I participated in a company sponsored hackathon. Even companies are seeing the value of allotting time for hacking one’s ideas out. Whoever signed up with a project got to hack on it for two days during work hours. There were no limitations on the focus of the projects, and they ranged from company product enhancements to creating websites for charity organizations in the community. For this event I teamed up with a coworker (hacking together) to implement various image recognition services to compare their accuracy and quality. I specifically focused on plugging in Microsoft’s cognitive services for image recognition. I got the idea to use this service from a different hackathon some other coworkers did to create a picture contest website (hack and passing it on). Specifically, I called into Microsoft’s Computer Vision API to generate metadata tags and then the Face API to recognize people in pictures. The Face API was more involved, as I had to train the service to recognize specific people by building a collection of pictures of them. Everyone presented the results of their projects at the end of the two days and my project was well received. There is even talk about it actually being researched further for actual implementation into the company product. Hacking is good a time and time well spent, on and off work hours. I look back at my hacking experiences as times when it was hard to distinguish whether I was working or playing. Either way, I was learning and growing to know more, be more, and provide more value. In this busy world we live in, there isn’t time to do everything, and we need to prioritize and do what is most important to us. Hacking is important! Hack your schedule to fit in some time for hacking.

Owning Your Finances - Budgeting 101

Culture #WeAreOmni Employee Ownership

October is Employee Ownership Month here at Omni. Employee Ownership means not only the physical ownership of the company, but a cultural ownership as well. It means having a say in the company. It means having a vested interest in it. The same investment should be made with your money. And not just a financial investment, but an emotional one. And I don’t mean stressing over what you don’t have, I mean truly owning every aspect of your money. A Sense of Hope I’ll be the first to admit that I used to stress over money…and I still do to some extent. But in the days before I used budgeting software, I used to stress a lot more over it. I had this vague notion that there should be enough money to cover things. Going out to eat again should be OK. Going to the movies shouldn’t break the bank. We can afford to buy the latest superhero movies without batting an eye, right? I had this sense of hope: hoping that the next purchase would be covered without negatively impacting our finances. …And all the while my conscience was throwing up red flags all over the place. I’m sure every one of us has been there at some point in our lives. You just hope that this month won’t be the month where you end up in the red… A Sense of What’s Really Going On The nebulous sense that you should be OK financially does not cut it. Not in the real world, where accidents happen (even if only fender-benders), surgeries happen (even if only minor), and, well, that pesky little thing called life happens (even if it only happens this month…wait, who am I kidding?!). The reality is that you should have a handle on your finances. This is where personal budgeting software comes in at. Not only do you have hard numbers that prove your financial situation, you have a sense of what’s really going on. $700 each month for groceries? Yup. Exactly how much did we spend on restaurants each month? Oh boy… How much did that Amazon.com escapade (let’s call it what it really is) cost me?! A Sense of Empowerment When you use budgeting software, you free yourself from the burden of constantly stressing over money. I’m not saying that you will completely remove all money stress from your life, but you will be more empowered knowing where your money is going and planning for the future. The old adage that “knowledge is power” definitely applies here. When you realize that, yes, you can pay down your credit card debt…that is empowering. When you realize that your student loan payback does have a light at the end of the tunnel…that is empowering. When you realize that saving for a vacation can eventually happen…that is empowering. Software That Makes Sense (and Cents) I used to use spreadsheets to manage our money. They worked well for a while, but there were more and more features that would have been nice to build into them, and it became too cumbersome. Enter YNAB (pronounced “why-nab”). YNAB stands for You Need A Budget. While there are plenty of other good budgeting software packages out there, YNAB stood out to me. More on that in a future blog, but suffice it to say for now, YNAB has empowered us financially. We now know what’s going on with our money. We now have the ability to predict what next month’s costs will be. My wife now has a way of preventing me from yet another Amazon.com escapade.  A Sense of Hope (The Good Kind) As I mentioned above, I used to hope that we had enough money to cover each purchase without really knowing for sure if we did. Since we’ve been using YNAB for the past 2+ years, we now have the good sense of hope: the kind where you have a positive outlook on your financial future, knowing that you have the necessary money to cover unexpected expenses. It’s the kind of hope where you embrace the fact that your mortgage might be higher than you want it, but you have a plan to do something about it. It’s the type of hope where you know that you can, eventually, get out of credit card debt. It’s the kind of hope where you don’t have to constantly stress over, well, everything. So yes, we now own our own money, but not just physically. Through personal budgeting software (YNAB in our case) we now completely own it. We own how our money gets allocated, and we understand what we can and cannot control when it comes to our finances. So truly own your own money by investing in personal budgeting software and fully understanding where your money goes. It will help alleviate your financial stress and better position you for success in the future.

The Great Game of Business: Key Takeaways

Culture #WeAreOmni Employee Ownership

This summer the Omni Book Club studied the book The Great Game of Business (GGOB) by Jack Stack and Bo Burlingham. We first heard about this book at the 2016 NCEO Conference in April. Both The Great Game of Business and A Stake in the Outcome were raved about at the conference. It was clear that SRC (the company that started the GGOB) was thought of as the poster child for employee ownership. We were lucky enough to even have Bo Burlingham as one of the keynote speakers. Many other companies were interested in getting behind the paradigm of Open Book Management and the GGOB. With the raving reviews and overwhelming interest, we figured we couldn't go wrong by choosing this book. Here's a breakdown of our top 10 key takeaways: 1. Ax Command-and-Control • Break out of the Command-and-Control model of running a business. • Build credibility within your business by being transparent with your financials • Being an intimidating manager doesn't work. • Managers don't and shouldn't have all the answers. Share problems and come up with solutions together. • Build confidence and instill the desire to win in others. 2. Always Be Celebrating (wins) • You can't do the job well unless you're having fun doing it. • Celebrate small wins and build on those to make bigger wins. • Give folks opportunities to win early and often. 3. Pride and Ownership • Never turn down the chance to get involved or compete in local and internal events (e.g. golfing, fishing, baseball, holiday parties, gift exchanges, etc.) These events help to instill a sense of pride, camaraderie, and a winning attitude among employees. • Invite families to company get-togethers so employees can feel proud of where they work. 4. Let's Talk Numbers • Communicate with fellow employees using the numbers from your financials. • Sharing the numbers and using them to make forecasts will help limit surprises. • Emphasize numbers that people have control over. 5. The Big Picture • The more employees know about the company, the better that company will perform. • People aren't going to care about the numbers unless they know the big picture - where they fit in and how their job impacts the company. • Understanding your own business will enable you to better understand your clients' business. • Let's face it, not everyone gets excited talking about the financials. Educate people on numbers by telling stories. 6. The Critical Number • Figure out the one number that has the biggest impact on what your business is doing and where you want to go, then build sub-goals around that number (mini-games) that you’ll use to drive the business forward. • Build a standard cost system - a breakdown of costs in every aspect of your business. 7. Show Me the Money! • First and foremost, ensure that you put the longevity of the company first before implementing a bonus program. • Once the health of your company is in order, you can put a bounty on goals (mini-games) which enable employees to drive the company towards its goals. • Give your employees a stake in the outcome for both the short and long term (bonus program and equity) 8. What's the Game Plan? • Come up with a financial plan for the upcoming year and stick with it. • Sales is the start of any business. Without sales you have no Income Statement. • When folks get to set their own goals, they usually hit them. 9. The Great Huddle • If nobody pays attention to what's going on in the company, people stop caring. • Keep folks engaged through frequent standup meetings (every two weeks) where employees are responsible for determining, reporting, and keeping score of the financials. 10. Own the Place • A company of owners will outperform any company of employees. • Offering equity to employees gives them a stake in the success of the business. This also removes the limits on what employees can do. In summary, if you want your employees and colleagues to be engaged with the company then give them the reigns to clearly make a difference. Once you have done that you will have created a culture of empowered owners who can tackle anything and drive your company forward. Not to mention you'll also have created a fun place to work! For additional resources on The Great Game of Business check out their Interactive Guide Resources. Do you want to get involved in a book club? Well, you should. A book club is a great way to get folks engaged in new ideas that often apply directly to their job. A book club at work also gives people the chance to engage with colleagues they usually don't get to work with on a daily basis. If you're not sure which book you should start with, here are some other books that we've studied in the Omni Book Club: • Pragmatic Programmer • Don't Make Me Think (Revisited) • JavaScript: The Good Parts