Rubik’s re-imagined on Google’s Chrome Cube Lab

To commemorate 40 years of Rubik’s Cube and support Google’s timely Doodle earlier this week celebrating Ernő Rubik’s iconic brainteaser, our Nerds worked with Google to help build Chrome Cube Lab  with the intent of letting other devs use Google’s API to re-imagine Rubik’s Cube, and play with it in all new ways. Continue reading Rubik’s re-imagined on Google’s Chrome Cube Lab

Chrome Cube Lab marks Rubik’s@40 – and today’s Google doodle

RubiksIn an awesome act of creative collaboration (and a lot of sweat), The Nerdery helped Google this morning to launch Chrome Cube Lab to honor the 40th anniversary of the Rubik’s Cube (see today’s timely Google doodle). Originally created by Ernő Rubik, the Rubik’s Cube is a logic puzzle that has been a favorite of engineers and mathematical types since its debut.

Written in Google Go, Chrome Cube Lab provides a showcase for a fantastic rebuild of this puzzle inside of the web browser.  It leverages JavaScript, CSS3 and a whole host of awesome technologies to provide a real-time interactive spinning cube. Even cooler? It’s open to spin-offs and new interpretations of the cube. Continue reading Chrome Cube Lab marks Rubik’s@40 – and today’s Google doodle


Returning to his hometown of Minot, ND, to give a TED Talk, “What if everyone at your company was a Co-President?”, Nerdery CEO and co-founder Mike Derheim talked about the power of distributed leadership. Mike talked about his belief that if millennials feel entitled to autonomy and purpose in their work and lives, leaders should embrace this so-called entitlement generation by further empowering them. He challenged established leaders to consider engaged, emerging leaders as Co-Presidents, and encouraged everyone to make themselves Co-President of whatever it is that they’re truly passionate about, in work and in life.

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience.

Getting On The Lawn

This is a public shout out to our sales directors and development directors who left their cozy offices to carve out common ground right in the middle of The Nerdery. I’ve admired their unprovoked, bold move to blur the lines that separated their teams in order to improve our lines of communication. Instead of saying “Get off my lawn,” development and sales directors created The Lawn. Good call. It’s working.

No company can avoid people problems, and with 300+ people it matters more and more how we roll with changes. But organizational growth doesn’t have to mean more baggage and protocol, and we’re willing and able to reinvent ourselves in order to form a more perfect Nerdery. Our work is about overcoming challenges with technology, but technology can’t do this by itself – it takes people, relationships and trust to succeed. The business of custom software is very challenging. There will always be problems during production. We won’t pretend to have all the answers but we’re good at figuring things out – including nontechnical things of a more human nature.

The Lawn has become our fertile ground for cultivating relationships that allow us to handle problems as they arise. Eric Johnson, our director of project management, explains, “The Lawn provides Nerdery leadership with instant access to peers and interdepartmental leadership. We work collaboratively to solve problems and address company needs on a daily basis.”

The communication methods of our recent past were not keeping up with organizational growth, which introduced risk to employee experience, and, ultimately, customer experience and quality of work. Distributed leadership works well here because significant changes need not be top-down decrees. Territorialism is as out-of-place here as signs that say, “Get off my lawn.”

Instead of protecting their individual “lawns,” development and sales directors created a bigger, better lawn they could all share. The idea of leaving their comfortable existing workspace for something more collaborative was a sacrifice these Nerds were willing to take. Jon Pettersson, our director of software engineering, wasn’t exactly stoked. “I was very much opposed to moving to The Lawn at first. But after witnessing firsthand the efficiency of being able to simply get things done, I have been convinced of the benefits.”

Jake Trippel, director of our enterprise partner program notes, “I have had the awesome opportunity to get to know my colleagues better personally, as well as professionally.”

The simple, effective solution of physical proximity in The Lawn is a testament to the pragmatism and humility of our development and sales leaders’ ability to adapt to the needs of our growing company. Where they could have built new process, rules, or protocols, they opted for simple relationship building and physical collaboration. For years we have bragged to potential recruits that they’d never hear the phrase “read the f&#*ing manual.” I’m stoked to say that “get off my lawn” is not welcome either.

Chicago Nerdery moves/grooves to 300 N Elizabeth St. #500C

Chicago branch manager Dave Kam – the first employee hired by The Nerdery’s three founding programmers back in 2004 – has helped bootstrap our Chicago office since it opened in August 2010. We caught up with the Pentathanerd gold medalist as he reflected on moving his team into new digs.

Anything you’ll miss about the old place?
Probably the only thing is the quiet. We’re in a loft style office building now, so we can hear everything and everybody can hear us. So we’ve actually gotten complaints about the dogs.

Comparing our new space to the old, what are the biggest wins/coolest features?
We have an actual full kitchen. With a dishwasher, dining area, and even a stove!  We also have a theater that has a DJ area.

Did you rock-star the old place before moving out? Will we get our damage deposit back?
No, not really. And yes, we should totally get our damage deposit back. I actually patched up the holes left by the mounting screws. So really, the place is probably better than when we took it over. Also, Tommy O put in a classy sink in the bathroom so really, the landlord probably owes us money.

Any plans to spruce-up and/or nerd-out the place?
We’ve already started on this. We’re doing a MTV Cribs style video at BottleCap next week so you can see what we’ve been up to.  

How many nerds will the new space hold?
With the current layout, 26. If we re-arrange, about 32.

Are you actively seeking nerds now? What positions?
Yes we are: account directors, front-end developers, PHP developers,and iOS developers.  We’re probably going to be adding .NET/C# developers and an office manager to that list soon.

Moving can suck. Did it?
Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  But I think it’s because of all the pre-planning that Perry and Eric did.  Without them and their teams coming down to help with the setup before the actual move, there’s no way we would have been able to finish the move as quickly as we did.

In the Twin Cities, we’ve expanded our office space eight times in as many years. How long before we outgrow our new Chicago space, and what then?
Well, we’ve got six spots left open, so it’ll be pretty soon. We do have the option of expanding into our original space next door anytime we want. But ideally, we’re trying to hold out until May when we can move into the space right below us.  

Any ongoing need for a tweeting bathroom (* full explanation below)? Plans to get it going again?
I think we’ve seen the last of the tweeting bathroom whose hardware was re-purposed for another side project. Maybe as we grow and the need arises, we will bring back a version 2.0.

* Tweeting Biffy: A case study
The business problem: We had a dozen nerds – men and women – sharing one bathroom and the only way they could know if it was occupied or vacant was to turn the doorknob – ugh. The business solution: Finally, a bathroom worth following on Twitter – one that tweets its vacancy. Said Nerdery software engineer Dan S: “We discussed things like having some light somewhere, or other indicator saying what state the bathroom is in and then at some point Thomas said ‘we could have a bathroom that tweets and we all sorta laughed. Overnight I thought about how it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.’”

Not-so-bad ideas like this are taken seriously at The Nerdery, where we partner with big thinkers and creative minds to engineer and execute fancy web, mobile and social media projects. But beyond all that, Dan has considerably more to say about embedded systems in bathrooms (fair warning: fairly nerdy):

For development, mbed has a nice and easy to use online compiler. What this means is that you write your code in a browser and that code exists ‘on the cloud’ and when it’s compiled using their compilers, you get a nice .bin file that can be placed onto the mbed unit. The mbed development board is a micro-controller that has a set of API’s to interface with very low level hardware interfaces, IE, stuff that chips inside things like the iPhone, PS3, the computer you’re using, use to communicate with each other. There isn’t ethernet running between your computer’s processor and its RAM/Hard drive/sound card, etc. There are buses with defined interfaces into the processor. This mbed is the same way with just ‘lower’ level interfaces to communicate with things like sensors, or other integrated circuit chips (such as GPS, bluetooth, RFID, NFC, ZigBee, etc.). The mbed can be connected to a regular TCP/IP network, which is where the fun really happens. It allows you to build something that not only connects to a standard network, but can run code that you write to do nearly anything. Think of it as a mini computer with really good battery life at a huge performance disadvantage. The mbed runs at about 100MHz, which is ‘slow’ compared to today’s Core i7 processors, but 100MHz is more than enough to talk to a network and ‘read’ what sensors are sensing, or log read information to something like an SD card. There are hardware limitations, but there are also creative boundaries that have to be overcome to see ‘how can i achieve X?’. Other microprocessors use JTAG to be programmed. The convenience in the mbed is that the mbed gets mounted as a flash drive. This lets you drag the downloaded .bin file to the ‘flash memory’ of the mbed and press the reset button on the mbed to ‘reflash’ it, effectively putting your software onto the small board. This process is MUCH more streamlined than other solutions, which makes mbed a first choice in any smaller ‘quick, even possibly dirty’ way of getting things done™. Before (of after/during) software development, you will put the mbed onto a breadboard that lets you interface and communicate with the world outside of the chip. This is done through GPIO (general purpose input/output) or through peripherals (SPI, Ethernet, I2C, etc. RE: Comms between chips/digital world). For this particular project, ethernet was used to connect to the internet and a GPIO pin (input) was used to ‘read’ the door sensor’s value. The resistor is used as a means to force the GPIO pin to ‘ground’ (or logic of 0) whenever the sensor is not strong enough to move the input to 1. This pull-down resistor ensures that we should ALWAYS get a 0 in the input except in the case where something STRONGLY (not very strong, but you’re pretty damn sure) is a 1 (higher voltage).


How the software works: The code initializes the chip and then basically sits and waits. What’s it waiting for? A transition on the GPIO pin, which is a fancy way of saying when it for sure goes from 0 to 1 or 1 to 0. This effectively interrupts the microprocessor from whatever it was doing, and immediately starts a function that will read the logic level of the GPIO pin and then call to a server with the status (as well as the Oauth stuff for twitter. The post is made and then the mbed continues to sit and wait for the next interrupt. What it implies is fairly interesting as well, imagine any bit of information (literally, on/off, open/close, available/not available) could easily be streamed to twitter or some other service/individual. This includes conference rooms being available/not available, test hardware being checked in/out, tweeting pop machines – the sky’s the limit (and your imagination).


High fives all around for big Nerdery promotions

We’re happy to announce the promotions of two of our key leaders – Kris Szafranski and Tom O’Neill.

Formerly director of software development, Kris takes on the Vice President of Software Development role being vacated by Tom, who is moving into the newly created position of Chief Strategy Officer.

“One of the most important things that we’ve done over the years is to find great people (bad asses) and put them in a place to succeed (with their big ideas) – something that I think our company has been particularly good at,” said CEO Mike Derheim in a staff email.

Mike went on to call Kris a “rockstar” under whose leadership “our small group of programmers has expanded to almost six times its size and has become arguably the best interactive development team on Earth.”

In this move, Kris will take over the strategic reins from Tom as the primary leader of the development department, and also becomes a member of The Nerdery’s EC (executive committee) team. Kris started at The Nerdery in 2006 as a programmer and was promoted to software project manager before serving as director of software development. Last week, Biz Journal interviewed Kris when we made their Fast 50 list for the fourth consecutive year.

In Tom’s new role as Chief Strategy Officer, Mike said, “Tom will work with each of our leaders to ensure that their goals and objectives are in line with those of the company, and will make sure all of the pieces are in place for those goals and objectives to come to fruition.”

Tom began his Nerdery career as a programmer in 2004, when he was among our first employees. After spending the better part of the past year launching the Chicago office, he recently returned to the Twin Cities to take on his next challenge. “Tom’s ability to push initiatives forward and lead people toward a goal is obvious if you’ve ever had the chance to work with him, and this move will give him the tools he needs to do that across department lines,” Mike said. “If you see Kris, toss him a high five and a hells yeah – he deserves it. If you see Tom, no action necessary – he’ll probably throw out the high five/hells yeah on his own.”

Do you like bad asses with big ideas? Sweet! You should come work at The Nerdery. Head on over to the Jobs section where you’ll find more than 20 open positions.

Best Places to Work: Winner and Still Champion

Tomorrow’s Biz Journal contains today’s top Nerdery story: The Nerdery ranks #1 on the Best Places to Work list of medium-sized companies for the second year in a row. Yay, us (and please still buy a paper).

We’ve hastily stolen Nerdery front-end developer Frost Simula’s acceptance speech, lifted by permission earlier this summer from his personal blog.

Also well worth repeating is the late great Luke Bucklin’s famous “I told you so!” memo from when we topped last year’s list.

We take this cool-workplace thing pretty seriously. This is like winning the Super Bowl to us. Again. Somebody pinch me. More good-natured gloating to come.

P.S. We’re hiring.

Today is Thursday and Friday comes afterwards

Okay Internet, have you feasted your eyes on this?

Rebecca Black’s Friday on Rock Band from The Nerdery on Vimeo.

That’s a few of our Nerds playing the infamous Rebecca Black song on Rock Band. Pretty fantastic, right? So how, you may wonder, did this happen?

Well, The Nerdery’s Ken Sykora was about a bottle in to a wine.woot delivery when the inspiration struck.

“My significant other isn’t always as privvy to the viral videos that we nerds take for granted,” Ken said. “So I was sharing with her the greatness (ironic greatness I guess) that is Rebecca Black’s “Friday.” For some reason she must have also been living under a rock because didn’t quite understand the concept of ‘Rick Rolling’.”

It was during this YouTube education session that in the perfect drunken state of mind that Ken made a connection between “Friday” (the song), Friday (the day), our Bottlecaps, Rick Rolling, and our monthly-ish Rock Band sessions post-Bottlecap.

“It was this series of connections that made me realize what needed to be done,” Ken said. So Ken went to work.

“I yarrr’d the mp3 off of the interwebs, threw it in the Reaper (the official Rock Band Network editor), and just started making things happen,” he said.

“RBN files are essentially just a big midi file that maps perfectly with a set of .wav files,” Ken said. “Then I put it into a compiler called Magma which produces the files used to play a Rock Band track.”

The screen shot shows Reaper (left) with the the harmonies up, and the compiler on the right. This is not the first RBN track Ken has authored, but he said it is the first track he’s done with vocal harmonies.

Click the screenshot to embiggen

“I sent a proof-of-concept to the band (Gillian, Justin) [Editor’s note: you must click to see Jusin’s profile pic & title. Also, in the video Sara rocks the vocals.] with just the single vocal track, and they were both quickly and enthusiastically on-board.”

Ken said the hardest part of the whole project was getting done quickly while managing to keep it a secret before the Bottlecap.

“I had to keep myself from tweeting the videos to YouTube that I’d been making to show the progress,” he said.

“It was also fun, fun, fun, fun, trying to drop subtle hints on Twitter about how everyone was about to get Friday-rolled,” he said. “I tweeted the “Friday” video, and made a ton of references throughout the day.”

So how as playing it?

“It was on no fail mode,” Ken said, “Since I’m obviously not the author of the song, there was no way for me to split out the tracks in typical Rock Band style (where if the drummer screws up, the drums stop playing). So there’s no way we were going to fail and even if we did the music would still keep playing. It was basically a really glorified, epic, karaoke track.”

And what was The Nerdery’s reaction?

“It’s hard to tell from the video (the crowd is really dark and you can’t hear them), but everyone loved it,” Ken said. “It got huge applause at the end, people were shouting encore, and the actual team that was giving the Bottlecap were shaking their fists at me. When Matt Albiniak got up to talk he said to everyone ‘man… how do you follow that?’ Which was particularly great for me because if you know Matt, you know that he hates pop music, and is totally a music snob.”

Ken said this kind of project is a prime candidate for being done again, should the appropriate song come along and that he’s secretly hoping whoever owns the rights for “Friday” to give him the full quality tracks and let him submit this to the official RBN store.

Internal “I told you so!” memo leaked

A couple months ago I stayed up late writing an all-staff email. By the time I awoke it had been leaked, right here on this blog. Some of it somehow ended up in Twin Cities Business magazine. Psst, hey, WikiLeaks, my staff more recently found this in their inbox:


As you may have heard, we have been honored with the #1 ranking in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal‘s Best Places To Work awards project. This ranking is a result of your responses to a web-based survey earlier this year. Your survey responses earned us the #1 ranking in the “Medium Companies” category, which includes companies with 100-1,000 Minnesota employees.

Let me finish by saying, “I told you so!” But let me start by saying a bunch of other stuff that leads up to my dramatic finish (which is when I will say, “I told you so!”).

Over the past few years we have become players on the local and national Business Awards Circuit. It is true that we nominate ourselves for awards all the time. 40% of Mark Malmberg’s job is to keep redialing business magazines to try and win prizes, such as “Be our 25th caller and win # 1.471 in the Inc. 5000 List!” Many years ago, I was recognized in the Business Journal‘s prestigious “40 under 40” award thanks to a much younger Mark Malmberg’s redialing skills. Dialing a 1-800 number over and over using a rotary phone takes dedication and lubrication. That was back when Mark was youthful. Nowadays, the other 60% of his job involves him banging his cane on the ground and complaining about “those darn kids with their WiiTari games!” Please take no offense – that’s just an old man’s cry for help. And by “help,” I mean 16 individually-wrapped Werthers Originals candies in a small dish on his desk where a young person would normally keep an optical mouse.

Enough about Mark; let’s talk about us for a little while. We have grown at a rate that outpaces most business in the country. We have managed this growth organically, meaning we haven’t grown through acquisition or by means of investment capital. In our growth, we have been recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in Minnesota, as well as in the country. We should all feel proud for our growth achievements, but our growth only tells part of our story. Our growth is about dollars, not about people. The Inc. 5000 and Biz Journal‘s Fast 50 don’t measure us by how many jobs we have created, or how happy people are with those jobs. But those things are a priority for us over pure revenue growth.

As proud as I am of our revenue growth, and our recognition in both the Inc. 5000 and the Fast 50, our recognition as a “Best Place to Work” is a more significant accomplishment for all of us to be proud of. Though Mike Derheim will take credit for the black “Suggestions Box” in the lunchroom, this working environment has always been a collaborative effort and everyone here is responsible for our culture. You took the survey, and overwhelmingly gave your co-workers, your managers and the leadership high rankings. Furthermore, you took the time to provide positive commentary regarding the company’s strengths, weaknesses and food/beverage selection. As a result of your input, we were awarded first place in the project, and that tells a more complete story.

I don’t have a plan for your workplace enjoyment, and I can’t tell you how we will continue to be an awesome place to work as we grow, but that’s exactly how we got to where we are today. Pentathanerd, Light the Light Walk events, Game Night, Overnight Website Challenge,  user groups meetings, and Bottle Cap Talk (formerly Minh’s Friday Fiesta) don’t make for a fun, respectful and caring community – they are a result of it. This award is all about you and your Interpersonal Awesomeness, and you damn well better keep it that way as we grow or your whole nerdy community will become flooded with a bunch of gossiping, back-stabbing disrespectful Prima Donnas and when it implodes, I will stand upon the heap of social rubble that remains and yell, “I told you so!”

– Luke

Happy Thanksgiving

The Nerdery spent today celebrating Thanksgiving as it’s meant to be celebrated-with food, drink and timelapse videography.  Wanna see what it looks like when nearly 80 people descend on a 120 lbs of turkey, 60 lbs of potatoes and a literally bottomless basket of cornbread muffins?  Check it out below.

WARNING: if you’ve seen Paranormal Activity these videos might creep you out but don’t worry, there are no ghosts in The Nerdery (well, maybe a few).

Thanksgiving at The Nerdery from The Nerdery on Vimeo.

More Thanksgiving at The Nerdery from The Nerdery on Vimeo.