Distributed Teams: What You Need to Know

Distributed teams have been commonplace in many industries for years. With the recent uncertainties faced by companies in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, remote work has become a necessary adaptation for even more organizations. As many teams adapt to a distributed model in the short term, it’s helpful to consider some of the pluses and minuses involved. Fortunately, there's a lot to learn from teams do distributed work. Here’s what you need to know about distributed teams.  

What is a Distributed team?

A distributed team is a team that works together remotely across any distance. Unlike in traditional office models, they do not share physical office space. People in a distributed team can be located anywhere- they may be in the same city, or all over the world. 

Challenges

One of the most challenging parts about distributed teams is relationship cultivation. Without regular and spontaneous physical interaction like in an office space, it can be hard to develop and maintain rapport as a team. This can have a negative impact on spur of the moment clarifying questions, feedback, and general information sharing. One way to mitigate this is to schedule regular check-ins through a communication channel. A daily or weekly meeting can really help curb unnecessary delays in communication or misunderstandings.   Another challenge for distributed teams is related to boundaries. When people are working remotely, there is no shared sense of physical space and time. As such, it can be difficult to navigate expectations of when work should occur, where it is occurring, and the like. It can be especially tough to set boundaries between home life and work life for teams, especially if they are working at home. Further, if team members are working across time zones, work overlap can vary drastically.  It’s important for everyone to discuss time boundaries for working and communication. The relative degree of flexibility or rigidity required for different teams and team members should be explicitly defined up front. When everyone has a clear sense of their role, they can better adapt to challenges as they arise. 

Benefits

Despite the challenges, there are a few notable benefits of distributed teams. For one, if the team is distributed over time zones, around-the-clock work may be reasonable. If planned for properly, this can help lead to extremely efficient work timelines.  Remote work also allows a large degree of flexibility for teams. Team members may be able to easily work at times they normally wouldn’t in the office. This can lead to both high productivity and the ability to meet challenges on the fly. With the right balance of team overlap and individual flexibility, a team can truly thrive when distributed.   As an information technology company with many years of experience, we’ve helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to build distributed teams. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call and we can get the conversation started.

8 Amazing Ways Technology Has Transformed Business Over The Past 20 Years

March 5, 2020 / in IT Trends, / by Number8

Technology has changed significantly in the past 20 years and, as a result, has influenced every aspect of our lives. People rely on modern tech for everything from daily chores to complex tasks. Technology has had a significant impact on the world of business as well. It has disrupted several industries, abolished a few, and transformed how we work on an everyday basis. Here's a look at some ways in which technology has changed business.

Instant Communication

Instant communication, regardless of distance, has been one of the biggest influences on businesses. It allows different branches of a company to interact seamlessly, for multiple teams to work on a single project without any delays in communication, and so much more. Rapid communication has improved productivity and also influenced how customers interact with businesses.

Impact on Customers

Technology has changed the way customers shop. It has given them access to all the information they need so they can make informed decisions. People can now read online reviews, watch demo videos, and see ratings or testimonials before making a decision. They're also not hesitant about sharing their experiences online or approaching companies with complaints if a product or service doesn’t live up to their expectations.

Access to Data

Data is a gold mine for businesses. It gives them insight into customer mindset, competitors, industry trends, and the impact of cultural and political trends on the business. Entrepreneurs can then use this information to refine business practices and reach a wider audience.

Greater Access

Modern technology has made it easier for people to start ventures. Prospective entrepreneurs can open an eCommerce store or sell products on websites like Etsy or Amazon with very little investment. Even people who don’t have much capital can start their own business, which wasn’t as easy 20 years ago.

Digital Marketing

Digital marketing has proven to be an equalizer, helping small businesses with limited resources shine. Companies can approach customers through different channels with minimal investment. It is easier for entrepreneurs to advertise online, create effective digital marketing campaigns, and make content to draw people in. Even regular smartphones can shoot professional-quality marketing content like pictures or videos.

Global Reach

Many modern businesses have an international presence, regardless of their size. Technology has made it easier for a small business in Japan to then sell products to customers in the UK. It is easier to expand, get global customers, and communicate with them seamlessly. Social media helps companies connect with a broad audience too. Products go viral and draw attention from unexplored markets.

Transparency from Businesses

Modern customers hold companies up to a different stand compared to customers a few decades ago. For example, many customers care about personal products being cruelty-free or technologies being environmentally-friendly. They also expect businesses to follow modern ethics by providing an environment free of discrimination, racial bias, gender bias, and other oppressive factors. Technology has facilitated this- people online don't hesitate to raise their voices against companies that don't live up to these standards.

Influence of Influencers

In the past, companies would hire actors, musicians, and other such celebrities to promote their products through advertisement or other marketing content; however, modern technology and platforms like YouTube or Instagram have given rise to influencers, who are much more effective in promoting products than celebrities. These influencers are people entrenched in the industry. They test different products, provide opinions, and offer recommendations. Influencers can sway customer opinions, which makes them an excellent investment. These are just some of the many ways in which technology has changed the way businesses are run. As an information technology company with many years of experience, we’ve helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call so we can get the conversation started.

Facts About Data Security You Should Know

February 27, 2020 / in IT Trends, Tech Advice, / by Number8

As a result of increased data collection and data sharing by government institutions and companies, cyber threats have now become widespread and incredibly challenging to handle. Irrespective of the nature of your personal or business records, you can now quickly become a target of a hacker set on destroying your business. Here are a few useful facts that will provide you with a better understanding of data security.

Facts About Data Security You Should Know

Small Business Are a Target of Roughly 50% of Cyber Attacks

In most cases, a small business typically lacks the data security of a multi-million dollar business. This gives hackers a clear path to hack into a small business' affairs. Most small business owners often feel that they aren't vulnerable to hacking because they have nothing worth stealing. However, hackers often steal consumer information and personal data from businesses of all sizes. Roughly 60% of all businesses experience malicious hacks like DDoS attacks, phishing, and more.

Damages from Attacks Will Reach $6 Trillion By 2021

Based on data collected by Forbes, damages from hacking will amount to around $6 trillion in costs by 2021. For reference, this is a figure significantly higher than damages from natural disasters in the United States annually. This threat looms large in the future partially because of the easy availability of secure VPN services. Attackers can now hide their identity as well as their location, which makes it nearly impossible to track their activities online.

Bad Actors Use Bitcoin for Illegal Activities

Bitcoin has introduced a unique system of digital currencies. It has presented users with a quick transfer option, safety, and anonymity. However, as a result of this anonymity, bad actors are now using Bitcoin to carry out illegal activities.

Malware Attacks Have a Serious Impact on the Healthcare Industry

Malware attacks affected approximately 75% of the healthcare industry in 2019. This includes various health insurance agencies and other treatment facilities. Typically, the personal histories of patients are targeted by hackers. Additionally, medical research is often attacked and sold to the highest bidder. The negligence of data security by medical institutions and hospitals is the primary reason for these attacks.

Data Security Is Now Mandatory

Both small and large business owners are now focusing on protecting their data by investing in cybersecurity software. Any highly-effective antimalware software can verify and segregate threats from the system before a malicious attack.

It Takes About 5 Minutes to Hack IoT Devices

IoT devices like smart watches, smart cars, and home control systems can easily be hacked under 5 minutes once they're connected. This is because they cannot escape the internet when being used. This makes it nearly impossible for them to disconnect from the internet altogether. Today, hacking tool kits and software are easily accessible on the dark web for as low as $1. Third-party apps are readily available on the internet as well.

Pernicious Emails to Organizations Are Rampant

Recent reports have stated that public administration organizations now receive one malicious email per 302 emails. Although this number may seem small, there are a large number of public organizations. Each organization has numerous employees with company email addresses. This increases the chances of an employee falling into a hacker’s trap. Fortunately, there are thousands of data security tools available online and of them are free or low cost. Once you have a better understanding of the usage and implementation of these security tools, you will gain a sense of confidence in protecting your personal information. As an information technology company with many years of experience, we’ve helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call and we can get the conversation started.          

10 Things Desk Workers Can Do To Get Healthy

February 20, 2020 / in Careers, IT Trends, / by Number8

Desk worker health is a pressing issue. Individuals who work in office spaces are relatively less healthy than those who work at jobs that are physically demanding. Recent data suggests around 86% of all workers in the United States alone sit for the majority of the work day. This is a problem because of the negative health outcomes associated with high rates of sitting. These outcomes include an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and musculoskeletal disorders, just to name a few. However, there are several things that desk workers can do to get fit at work. Here are 10 things desk workers can do to get healthy.

10 Things Desk Workers Can Do To Get Healthy

Walk to Work

If your workplace is located close to where you live, consider leaving your car at home and walking. Although it might not be possible to do this every day due to bad weather or lack of time, walking will definitely get you fit.

Use a Standing Desk

Sitting all day is incredibly harmful to one's health. Health experts now say that sitting is the new smoking. If your job demands that you sit all day long, consider opting for an adjustable desk. This way, you can switch between standing and sitting when you are at your desk.

Use a Fitness Ball

Another great way to get fit is by replacing your chair with a fitness ball. You have to balance yourself on this ball while working, and although it looks a bit goofy, it's a great way to train the muscles in your back and legs.

Avoid Outside Food

Another major problem that several office workers face is that they cannot control themselves from eating food outside. Although it's convenient to pick out something from the cafeteria, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a healthy option.  An excellent way to stop eating outside food is to pack your own lunches and snacks every day.

Get Some Exercise Gear

You don't have to head to the gym to get exercise. You can always carry your own fitness gear and perform a few essential exercises during breaks. Keep a few lightweight dumbbells and elastics in your workplace. Perform exercises while reading notes or even while making calls.

Take Periodic Breaks

We always tend to wrap up our work as rapidly as possible so we can leave the office on time. But it doesn't mean you have to be glued to your chair all day long without taking any breaks to stretch. Those who avoid taking breaks end up feeling mentally inactive. Some believe that taking periodic breaks means they get less work done; however, that isn't necessarily the case. As a matter of fact, taking frequent breaks can be more productive. The idea is to take a short break to rejuvenate and get work done at a clipping pace.

Work Out During Breaks

Rather than sitting down during your lunchtime and other breaks, consider spending that time performing some basic exercises. If the weather permits it, you can also start going out for a walk as opposed to being cooped up indoors. Find a colleague to walk with you during breaks. Start doing this regularly, and you will feel healthier in no time.

Be Hygienic

While carrying out your daily duties, it may not be possible to get up and wash your hands each time you want to. However, you can always keep a hand sanitizer on your desk. This makes it easier to avoid infections that can spread from shaking hands with people that have a cold or cough.

Maintain Good Posture

People who use computers at work have to spend hours staring into a screen, and they're slowly drawn to it. This means they stretch their neck forward. Over time, this puts a considerable amount of stress on their spine and neck. However, you can easily avoid this by carrying out some basic desk exercises. It is crucial to remember that everything must be done in moderation. Just because you're keen on getting fit doesn't mean that you stop enjoying a beer with your colleagues. However, you must be watchful on how often you place one thing over the other. As an information technology company with many years of experience, we’ve helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call and we can get the conversation started.        

An Overview of CES 2020 

February 7, 2020 / in IT Trends, / by Number8

CES, or Consumer Electronics Show, happens every year in Las Vegas. CES is a grand exhibition of some of the most cutting edge upcoming technology. More than 4,500 brands showcase their products to over 180,000 attendees, a group made up of tech journalists, bloggers, influencers, and consumers. The event has 250 conference sessions and highlights everything from standard consumer electronics to prototypes of technologically-advanced products. Here’s an overview of what happened at CES 2020.

An Overview of CES 2020 

1. Sony Introduced an Electric Car

Electric cars have been steadily growing in popularity over the years, so it isn't surprising that different brands have started to develop versions of these vehicles. Despite this, Sony was a surprise entry into the market. They unveiled a sleek, beautifully-designed concept car packed full of Sony tech. The car is a compelling piece of technology, though it isn't for general consumers and won't even see a limited edition run. The car's expansive dashboard display is its most attractive feature. It includes a media and entertainment center, quad motors, 200kwh battery, and can go from 0 to 60 in around 4.6 seconds. Sony wasn’t the only brand to showcase its electric car at CES this year. Attendees also caught a glimpse of the Mustang Mach-E, which is available to customers for a starting price of $45,000 and will start shipping next year. Manufacturers also showed off the Rivian RT, which is expected to ship this year.

2. Samsung Introduced a New 5K Monitor

Samsung is always practical yet adventurous, and this year is no exception. Their 5K, 49" monitor is an excellent replacement for a dual-monitor set-up. It has a stunning display and is suitable for gamers, content creators, video editors, digital artists, and other related professionals. The monitor spans a user’s entire view and contains the latest display technology Samsung has to offer. That’s not all the company had to offer. It also introduced a new 8K TV with some of the thinnest bezels available along with an in-built sensor that helps it rotate with your phone. You can watch vertical videos at full resolution on the television screen.

3. Robosense and Blickfield Featured Autonomous Vehicle Technology

Autonomous vehicles are no longer considered futuristic, but few people consider them reliable. RoboSense introduced new sensors that use LiDAR technology to detect the space around an autonomous car. This combination of lasers and radar is more precise than traditional radio waves, which should mean fewer accidents. Blickfield is another company that is working with LiDAR to improve autonomous vehicles. They have introduced the Cube and the Cube Range sensors, which detect near-field and distant obstacles. These sensors will make autonomous cars safer for both city streets and long-distance travel.

4. Canon and Nexoptic DoubleTake Showcased Cameras and Binoculars 

Canon showcased its most powerful camera yet to an eager audience. The Canon 1DX MK shoots 5.5K 60fps raw footage. One drawback is that it doesn't have autofocus for raw modes. The camera is so powerful that autofocus would require some serious processing to handle raw content shot at 60fps. Nexoptic DoubleTake introduced a pair of next-generation binoculars that use camera technology to help users see everything with peak clarity. The device is also capable of capturing 4K video and has image-enhancing technologies built-in. These binoculars could be a great tool for explorers, but they are quite pricey. Other technologies introduced at CES 2020 include devices to improve home security, AI-powered displays, transparent car fronts powered by advanced image processing technology, brain-sensing wearable devices, and so much more. There was something new in almost every category this year. As an information technology company with many years of experience, we’ve helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call and we can get the conversation started.

7 Things About Microsoft You Might Not Know

Microsoft is a tech giant and one of the most influential companies in the market. While competitors like Apple or Google may seem more popular, Microsoft continues to have a strong presence. It is the third-largest tech company in the world, just a couple of steps below Apple and a step over Google's parent company Alphabet. While Microsoft has been around since 1975, there are still some things most people don't know about the influential company. Follow along for more details.

  1. It was First Micro-Soft

Before the founders registered its brand name, they used Micro-Soft (a combination of microcomputer and software) in their company communications. Fortunately, they decided to drop the hyphen during registration and settled on an admittedly cooler brand name. While the name has remained unchanged, the logo has undergone several transformations. Microsoft’s first logo had a stylized ‘O’ called a ‘blibbet’, which was also the name of a burger served in the company’s cafeteria.
  1. Microsoft Made a Lot of People Rich

Microsoft founder Bill Gates was the youngest billionaire of his time and spent a lot of time sitting at the top of the richest people list. But Microsoft’s stellar success didn’t just make Gates rich.  Thousands of millionaires can trace their success back to this technological juggernaut. People who bought this company's stock in the 1980s and retained it until the 2000s made a remarkable profit as well. Its stock price has increased by approximately 71,283% over the past three decades.
  1. Microsoft Saved Apple from Bankruptcy

Microsoft and Apple are some of the fiercest rivals in the industry. They have been competing against one another since their very inception. However, when Apple landed in financial trouble back in 1997, its rival stepped up to save it. Microsoft invested around $150 million to get Apple back on its feet. Not surprisingly, many people were not thrilled by this news, but if that support hadn't come in, Apple may no longer exist.
  1. A Long List of Code Names

Tech companies are notoriously secretive when their products are under development; Microsoft is no exception to this rule. The company always assigns code names to its projects, which keeps competitors from knowing much about it. The code names are also placeholders because developers often come up with a product name after it is fully realized Some of the more famous names include Chicago (Windows 95), Whistler (Windows XP), Yukon (SQL Server 2005), Longhorn (Windows Vista), and Milan (Surface). The list of codenames is extensive, probably containing dozens of code names.
  1. Microsoft is Serious About Art

The company has one of the most significant corporate art collections in the world, with more than 5,000 pieces from contemporary artists. Its collection includes works from relatively unknown artists as well as industry heavyweights like Takashi Murakami, Chuck Close, and Cindy Sherman. The art is scattered around Microsoft's 150 campuses and includes paintings, sculptures, photographs, multimedia works, etc.
  1. Microsoft Entered the Smartphone Game First

Apple launched its first smartphone in 2007, but Microsoft had been in the industry since 2000. Unfortunately, they didn't find much success and their software performance on smaller hand-held devices wasn't stellar. Apple's technologically sophisticated product revolutionized the industry.
  1. The Company Has Pet Rabbits

A few years ago, someone abandoned a few rabbits on the Microsoft campus grounds. This small group of rabbits bred at a rapid pace and grew in size; before long, the campus was swamped with these adorable but fast-breeding pests. To this day, they still have a thriving population. These are just a few of the many unknown facts about Microsoft. There are several fascinating stories associated with this company that you can explore in your spare time.

An Overview of AI – 2020 & Beyond

January 2, 2020 / in Computer Science, IT Trends, / by number8

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer a futuristic concept; it is a current reality. People use it every day to find information, automate processes, run complex calculations, and do much more. Because AI has such a significant influence on everyone's life, it is a good idea to keep an eye on its progress. We’re expecting many exciting developments in the world of AI in the months and years ahead. Here’s a brief overview of AI and what can you expect from 2020 onward:

Where Can We Find AI Today?

AI is more prevalent than many people realize, so much so that even people with little to no interaction with smart technology use it. Some of the most common uses of artificial intelligence include:
  • Google Maps AI-powered predictions recommend the fastest routes for any desired destination while also offering other route alternatives and live traffic data.
  • Ride sharing apps actively calculate pricing for different routes based on factors like distance, demand, traffic, etc.
  • Commercial airlines have been very early adopters of AI. This technology has powered airline autopilot systems for decades now. Modern day pilots fly a plane for only seven minutes on average, on a flight of any duration. The rest is handled by sophisticated autopilot systems.
  • Google uses AI technology to categorize emails automatically. All messages are sorted into spam, primary, social, or promotional folders without any user input. Google's AI is extremely precise; it filters 99.9% of all spam emails.
  • Many banks use AI and machine learning technology that let customers deposit checks through their mobile phone. AI recognizes handwriting, converts it to text, authenticates information before approving a deposit.
  • Smart assistants like Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, etc., are powered by AI and Machine Learning.
  • Online shopping platforms like Amazon use AI in search and to offer tailored product recommendations.
AI is also used in traffic control systems, communication, human resource management, credit management, and much more.

What Can We Expect from AI in the Future?

While people have long anticipated the development of AI, there have still been surprises along the way. Most assumed we'd have AI robots or machines, but this technology has taken a more indirect route. Based on current developments, experts believe we can expect the innovations mentioned below in the not so distant future:

1. Blockchain, IoT, and AI Coming Together

Blockchain, IoT, and AI are also disruptive technologies that have changed several industries. IoT can interact directly with hardware while collecting data for AI, and Artificial intelligence can analyze data before making decisions. Blockchain can ensure the system is secure, scalable, and protected from fraud.

2. Increased Penetration in Creative Industries

So far, AI hasn’t gone far into the creative industries. AI technology has only truly effected writing generic content for news media websites. However, that may change soon as AI starts delving into production, scriptwriting, story development, and even acting. CG technology has developed significantly in recent years. Movies use advanced graphics, de-aging technologies, and even AI for some imagery.

3. Workplace Automation

Many companies have already adopted automation for their regular tasks, but we will see increased penetration of technology in the future. According to Gartner, workplace automation will eliminate around 1.8 million jobs while creating about 2.3 million new jobs. As a result, this change may lead to people working on more engaging tasks for higher compensation.

4. Influence of Biased Data

AI and ML systems rely on data to provide solutions. If the historical data provided is biased, it can influence a system’s decisions. Unfortunately, using AI for hiring, credit scoring, or other such functions may negatively impact historically disadvantaged target demographics like women, POC, or people of different races. We’ll see increased penetration of AI and ML in fields like digital marketing, customer service, personal shopping services, etc. This technology is still in its early development stages. Who knows how far it will go? As an information technology company with many years of experience, we’ve helped hundreds of clients leverage technology to become more efficient and increase profits. Interested in learning more? Let’s connect. Send us an email or give us a call, so we can get the conversation started.

“Automated QA: Save time, use a web calendar handler!”

Number8's very own Derick Arzu was recently published on Medium. Read the article on automated QA processes below.

Text boxes, check boxes, radio buttons, and other elements of forms are fairly simple to deal with when it comes to developing UI functional tests for a web application. But what happens when you want to write a test that verifies that the UI for a web calendar is working?

You are probably thinking that it can be easily achieved with a couple of clicks and validations, which is not only true but also the approach that led to the idea of a handler.

Before you discover how to make your automated QA team very happy, here are some reasons why writing a simple function or just a segment of code that deals with ONE specific calendar is not as scalable. Imagine you are a QA Developer at a company who is developing the websites for airlines A and B and your team is requested to create the automated test suites. Sounds quite easy, you will use the same code in both projects, nothing will need to be changed; until someone shows you the designs of the two web calendars each airline uses in their website.

Beginning with the obvious differences, airline A uses two windows while airline B uses only one; that surely represents a significant change in the code of that first approach. Another difference you might not have noticed is that airline B has a dropdown to change the year of the calendar, so that would mean a slight change in the method used to get the text of the displayed year. Those are two visual differences that will affect the way your bot interacts with the calendar and the DOM will surely surprise you with more.

Now that you are interested, the coding begins!

This handler was implemented in Node.js and uses WebdriverIO as the test framework that interacts with the browser.

You will find out that the framework has two functions ($ and $$) to fetch web elements. However, a hierarchy of classes will be created to manipulate elements, later on you will learn this is so that the handler can easily be able to cover many web calendar designs.

The main class is Element. Here is where, the method to obtain the fetch function is implemented, it has two parameters:

    1. selectorObject (required) which refers to an object with two properties; the first named selector , is a string that specifies the selector that will be used to fetch the element. The second is index, which is an integer that must be assigned to the object if the fetch result wants to be treated as a single element and not as an array of elements.
    2. additionalProperties (optional) is an object with any property that wants to be added to the fetch result. The subclasses of the hierarchy use this to manage how some data is obtained from the web elements, you will learn this later on.

Read More...

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