The Two Jakes, Part 5: How SD Operates (the Summer Hires’ Perspective)

Fortunately, during our summer experience, we have the opportunity to meet weekly with Jon Klonsky, SD’s Principal and Founder. During these meetings, we discuss our work and pick Jon’s brain about the company. Each week we bring a set of questions about the professional services industry, SD’s history, and how the company is managed. Here’s some of what we found compelling.

What are the easiest and hardest things about working in the professional services industry?

Relationships can be both. They make some clients easier to work with and others more difficult. SD relies on emotional intelligence, regular contact, transparency, and events to develop the bonds that forge long and trusting relationships. The effort comes with some risk. For obvious reasons, relationship-based businesses struggle when clients have internal staff or leadership changes. To manage the risk effectively, SD integrates processes that drive interactions (e.g., frequent check-ins, documented roadmaps, etc.). Solid processes should work with most points of contact, even if they change. In our first week, we learned about Jon’s “Triangle” that balances the 3 key elements to SD’s business: clients, employees, and profitability. If all three are kept in balance, SD is successful. To maintain the client part, staff are constantly engaging clients directly, attending to their tactical needs and advising on longer-term strategy. Additionally, SD hosts events that create opportunities to interact and build relationships with clients outside of a business context. By running a company in this manner, SD creates lasting relationships that propel the business forward.

Why start SEG (the Strategic Engagement Group)?

SD always offered post-launch support for their projects. More recently however, SD established the Strategic Engagement Group (SEG), which not only provides site monitoring, maintenance, and support; but also provides clients with strategies for growth. SEG is more than just the “plumber” who gets called in for an emergency fix. They are the accessible advisors, who always point the client in the right direction. In providing this unique package, SEG helps to form and maintain better company-client relations that are valued deeply at SD. And better yet, SD receives recurring revenue while doing so!

Why add QA to the SD Process?

SD seeks continuous improvement as part of their growth. In the last year, they added an internal Quality Assurance (QA) department to replace what was previously an outsourced service. The results are more efficient project processes, improved timelines and profitability, and higher-quality delivery. If you spend any time in SD’s Bryant Park office, you’ll become instantly aware of their emphasis on organization! Every process is meticulously detailed and well-structured. This adherence to better quality enables more efficient collaboration and better outcomes.

What’s the best way to accelerate your career as an SD employee?

SD expects a lot from its employees. The company benefits when workers are flexible, demonstrate leadership, and succeed in team environments. SD values team members who help train others, participate in business development, and exhibit the skills to deliver high-quality outcomes under the allotted time. As team members gain experience, SD expects them to develop in these areas and become more valuable to the company. Furthermore, we’ve heard time and again that it’s critical to understand the vertical market—how the client businesses operate—to ultimately thrive here. You can’t only code to succeed. You should find your role and understand how it contributes to improving the entire business if you expect to advance.

Working all summer in a real office was a totally new experience for both of us. Along the way, we’ve gained new skills, asked many questions, and learned so much about SD as a company. Whether you are a client, a prospective hire, or even an e-commerce enthusiast reading this post, we hope our perspective provides useful insight about SD’s values and operating techniques.

Be sure to stay tuned for Part 6 (the final post of the series) next week!

Written by: Jake Berkson and Jake Reifer

SD Office Hours: Ask us about Magento

SD is excited to announce that we will be bringing a new series to the West Coast – SD Office Hours, Ask us about Magento.

This live web based series will be held at 12PM PT/3PM ET and hosted by our resident West Coaster, Brian Lange. The first episode will be held on Thursday, September 7th and future episodes will be held bi-weekly.

This will give retailers, developers, and Magento connoisseurs the opportunity to ask questions about any issues they’ve had or are currently having with the Magento platform.

Are you interested in attending? Join anytime during the hour using this link. Make sure to add it to your calendar!

The Two Jakes, Part 4: The Bryant Park Lunch Experience for SD Summer Hires

Both of us are very excited because we finally get to write a post about our favorite part of the day: lunch! We’ve realized how lucky we are that SD is located at Bryant Park since there are many restaurants of all different cuisines within walking distance. We aim to give you a “taste” of what it’s like to dine around the SD office by putting together a list of our favorite places to eat.

Untamed Sandwiches

As the name of the restaurant conveys, their sandwiches are off the hook! For this very reason, we constantly find ourselves making the long trek to 39th St for these quickly served, tasty, and truly ‘untamed’ sandwiches.

 – Rating: 5/5
 – JB’s Favorite: The Butt — Cider braised pork butt, sharp cheddar, broccoli rabe, pepper jelly, dijon mustard
 – JR’s Favorite: The Hot Goldie — Beer braised beef brisket, red onions, sweet and sour cabbage, black pepper aioli

Tip: There’s not much seating inside, so order ‘to go’ and enjoy the delicious food sitting in Bryant Park!

Chopt

This chain has awesome customizable salads, sandwiches, and more. We liked the food so much we even hosted a Chopt catered lunch at the office last week!

 – Rating: 4/5
 – JB’s Favorite: Classic Cobb Salad
 – JR’s Favorite: Mexican Caesar Salad

Tip: The more the merrier when it comes to toppings!

Pret a Manger

If you want great food as quickly as possible, stop by Pret overlooking Bryant Park on 42nd St. Enjoy eating the pre-made sandwiches, salads, wraps, soups, and desserts while sitting in the park!

 – Rating: 4/5
 – JB’s Favorite: Chicken and Bacon Sandwich and chicken noodle soup
 – JR’s Favorite: Caprese sandwich and chicken noodle soup

Tip: Definitely include a cookie in your order because if there are two stuck together, they give you the extra one for free!

Szechuan Gourmet

This 39th St Szechuan joint is always packed out the door during lunch because of its tasty food. If you don’t mind the wait to get seated, there’s so much variety to choose from!

 – Rating: 5/5
 – JB’s Favorite: Cashew Chicken lunch special
 – JR’s Favorite: General Tso Chicken lunch special

Tip: It’s always packed, so get there early for lunch or you’ll have to wait to be seated!

Zest Szechuan

This szechuan restaurant, just down the street from Szechuan Gourmet, has some great, cheap lunch options. You’re always seated quickly even if the place is packed! One time, the hostess even sat us upstairs in their special party room when there weren’t enough tables in the main dining room.

 – Rating: 4/5
 – JB’s Favorite: General Tso Chicken lunch special
 – JR’s Favorite: General Tso Chicken lunch special

Tip: Wear a coat because it’s a little chilly inside!

Crisp

This restaurant on 40th st, which has generous seating, serves cuisines from all over the world, forming great burgers, salads, and flatbreads.

 – Rating: 5/5
 – JB’s Favorite: BBQ Burger — yams, BBQ sauce, and pickles
 – JR’s Favorite: BBQ Burger — yams, BBQ sauce, and pickles

Tip: Most people wait on the long line for the cashier to order, but you can skip the line and put your order in yourself on one of the touchscreens against the wall!

Pax Wholesome Foods

If you’re really not sure what to eat, stop by Pax Wholesome Foods on the corner of 40th and 6th since they have a little bit of everything. There are some awesome ‘make-your-own’ options, a variety of drink selections, and plenty of seating to enjoy your lunch.

 – Rating: 4/5
 – JB’s Favorite: Make your own burrito
 – JR’s Favorite: Make your own burrito

Tip: There are so many options, so look around all the menus posted on the walls before you decide!

Kobeyaki

Japanese-American Fusion: what is it? We still don’t really know. We do know that it was an awesome combination of cultures, though. In fact, while eating our burgers, both of us became immediately reminded of sushi.

 – Rating: 5/5
 – JB’s Favorite: Kobeyaki Burger
 – JR’s Favorite: Kobeyaki Burger and sweet potato tempura fries

Tip: You are given a buzzer to let you know when your food is ready. Hang out at a table instead of waiting by the counter like everyone else so you can snatch a seat!

Over the past 5 weeks, we’ve worked on many different projects, met many new people, and worked with various SD teams. However, there is one thing that has been constant throughout the summer: the great food in the Bryant Park area. If you’ve been following our blog series, you’re aware that we’ve gained many skills throughout the summer. We like to think that developing expertise as restaurant critics is one of these skills that will surely come in handy for the rest of our lives. We hope that this list is convenient for you if you ever find yourself at the SD office or in the Bryant Park area!

Be sure to stay tuned for Part 5 next week!

Written By: Jake Berkson and Jake Reifer

The Two Jakes, Part 3: Web Development Experiences Leading Up To Our SD Summer

Like any students starting their new summer jobs, we didn’t know what to expect from Something Digital. Having never worked in real offices before, we relied solely on our previous interactions with web development and computer science to shape our expectations for the job. Since we are now through our first 4 weeks as summer hires, we thought it would be compelling to compare the gig to our previous experiences and the expectations we had coming in. Hopefully, we can provide valuable insight about the experience for those who are interested in working at SD in the future.

JAKE B:

While working at SD, I am building on prior web development and computer science experience.

I started working in technology in 2008 as a volunteer at the Tourette Association of America (NY Hudson Valley Chapter). As a volunteer, I designed and developed websites to help promote the organization’s cause; I resolved technical issues, executed updates, and improved usability; and I set up video, audio, and text archives, making the organization’s content accessible and universally available. I also trained volunteers to interact with web technologies.

During high school, I became interested in more Web-specific technology and combined interests in technology and healthcare. I co-founded VideoHab, Inc. in 2012 and became the CTO and Web designer. VideoHab is an interactive Web application that delivers Web-based, personalized physical therapy programs to patients. I designed the marketing website, developed the app technology, and oversaw product testing. Our clients include a professional sports team that uses VideoHab for athletic training and injury recovery.

In 2015, my last year of high school, I created Biotic Wear, an online fashion retailer. I designed the ecommerce website, and the brand’s product lines. The creation of this ecommerce website contributed to my passion for ecommerce and my awareness of its complexity.

In my first year at New York University, in 2016, I created an ecommerce website platform as my final project for a web development course. The platform

featured a product catalog, user registration/login, and full-text search.

Working at SD has expanded and deepened my knowledge and interest in Web development.

While I have used some of SD’s standard tooling at school or at home, I also learn how to use several new tools, like Magento for ecommerce. SD also differs from my previous work in the way labor is distributed. Everyone collaborates with colleagues both in the office and remote locations. I’m meeting my expectations for learning new practices and methods. I have insight into new best practices for formatting and writing efficient code, and I am doing substantial on-the-spot learning. Surprisingly, I’m even working on real client projects and quickly on-boarding to standard SD procedures. The experience helps to shape my plans for future web development, including creating libraries for building and deploying static websites.

Jake R:

Already halfway through my experience, I see the comparison between working at SD and my previous endeavors in computer science/web development. For instance, I’ve noticed that while programming at SD, I sometimes run into code issues that I’ll need to fix before moving forward. Just like for college programming assignments, I’ll have to turn into an expert problem solver, spend time debugging, and use the resources around me to solve the issues in a few iterations before moving to the next phase of the project. At SD I’ve learned how to use important tools, such as Laravel, Git, and Github. They not only help to fix bugs in code, but also encourage more organized and concise code. On the other hand, the main difference I’ve noticed between computer science at school and at Something Digital is the distinct support systems. At school, if I’m having difficulty with a coding assignment and I’m in an extremely large class, it’s often difficult to get one-on-one help from a professor. Here at SD, I’m comfortable asking my manager or any of my colleagues for assistance; everyone is eager and willing to lend a hand to help out.

Learning is my most critical expectation for the summer. It was very important that I acquire new skills and real world applications for the topics that I cover in school. I’m relatively new to programming compared to some of my fellow computer science students at Northwestern (many have been coding well before they got to college). I’m eager to learn more, and I don’t want to feel left behind when I return to school in the fall. Fortunately, SD is meeting my expectations. Even in my first week here I started learning new languages, new techniques, and new aspects of the tech industry that I had not previously considered.

I’ve also had some pleasant surprises at SD so far this summer. For instance, I didn’t expect I would work on useful projects for the company. Many of my friends and classmates who have had tech internships weren’t able to work on projects and gain hands on experience until the summer after their junior year of school. However, at SD I was quickly assigned work that put my new skills to the test, giving me a taste of real work. Another surprise is how organized each process is. This is no accident, as I have undoubtedly become a better programmer having learned about the Github and code review processes. Now, on my own time, I’m using the skills and techniques I’ve learned to create a task manager web application so that I can stay organized at school. With the experience I’ve had at SD, my personal project shouldn’t be out of reach.

In only one short month, both of us have realized how well we’ve acclimated to SD. This summer has certainly been the perfect opportunity for us, as we’ve learned applicable skills and experienced the applications of topics we’ve learned about in school. We’re putting our skills to use for the company and even for clients. Because we are growing so much as computer scientists, it’s safe to say we’re receiving a great summer experience (all thanks to our colleagues at SD)! We still have a couple weeks left of the summer and are looking forward to more challenging work. Hopefully, we’re leaving a clear sense of work life for summer hires at SD.

Be sure to stay tuned for Part 4 next week!

Written by: Jake Berkson and Jake Reifer

The Two Jakes, Part 2: The Highs and Lows of Life as Summer Hires

After our first couple of weeks at Something Digital, we’re starting to get the hang of things. We have more company knowledge, understand more about our daily assignments, and need less help from our respective managers. Since we’re finally in the groove, we thought it would be compelling to convey our favorite and least favorite things about work at SD. To organize the topic, we put together Top-3 and Bottom-3 lists. Here’s our insight into being an SD summer hire.

Top 3

1. The Company Culture and Structure:
Even though SD is a small company, there are many benefits to working here. Whenever we need assistance with anything, we receive it quickly or rarely wait very long. Another benefit is the overall trust in an employee’s ability to get their job done. It creates an awesome community. Colleagues always have time for others and seem to enjoy helping one another. Because of this culture (reinforced by a work area without walls), we regularly interact with the team and now understand everyone’s role. We’re guessing that the openness of the staff goes hand-in-hand with the trust factor. As a result, even as summer hires, we participate in meetings every day and often learn about the business from the bosses themselves. Lastly, SD values long lasting relationships with clients, and we can tell that they have the same values regarding their summer hires. Lots of the team gives time to help us, which has supported our growth and development.

2. Learning:
For us, SD is a place to learn. We get hands-on experience with coding projects that serve the rest of the team and even clients. Since our first week, we have learned and applied new skills, interfaced with clients, and gained insight into the retail and ecommerce industries. This real-world experience is a perfect departure from our academic work. We basically get paid to do awesome stuff and learn things that people can’t learn in the classroom!

3. Location:
If you don’t believe us when we say that SD’s location is awesome, just look out the window! On one side of the office you see the top of the Empire State Building and on the other you see the entirety of Bryant Park. We’ve realized that the park is a great place to hang out during our lunch break. It’s one of the city’s most beautiful spots and we constantly find ourselves there eating, enjoying some shade, and avoiding standoffs with the usual gang of street pigeons. Furthermore, when it comes to dining in the area, there is an incredible selection. We can pretty much find whatever we’re in the mood for each day, whether it be fast food or sit-down options for whichever cuisine. In fact, some places have such good dishes that we keep going back. Lastly, the SD office is only minutes away by foot from both Penn Station and Grand Central, which certainly saves time for commuters.

Bottom 3

1. The Commute:
Since we’re from Westchester, both of us have obviously taken Metro North into the City many times before this summer. However, these relaxing off-peak trips with friends or family do not compare to the crowded peak trains going to and from Grand Central. In both directions, we’re extremely exhausted either from sleep deprivation or from a hard day’s work. And it’s especially rough when you’re unable to find an open seat. Furthermore, rushing to Grand Central in the summer heat after work, dressed in a button-down and slacks, doesn’t exactly result in a comfortable 45-minute ride when you’re on train with no working air-conditioning.

2. Sleep (or lack thereof):
As we discussed in last week’s post, we had both been home from our universities for around a month before we got started at SD for the summer. During that period, we consistently stayed up late and slept well into the afternoon. As a result, when we started at SD, we were not prepped to wake up early or deal with the stress of working hard on limited sleep. Unfortunately for us, even after a couple weeks on the job, we don’t have the self-discipline to abandon our late nights with friends or video games. And sleeping in on the weekends totally messes up our sleep schedule. Additionally, working in the SD office is different than attending a large lecture at our colleges. There is never a time to subtly doze off and catch some z’s (don’t tell our professors). We also take a financial hit, since a big chunk of our paycheck is spent on coffee each week.

3. Working Part-time:
One of our biggest gripes with SD is the limit on how many hours we’re allowed to work. As part-time employees, there is a legal limit to the hours we can work each week. We wish we could work here full-time and continue on our projects, even after we have to leave the office. Jake and I can’t wait to graduate and become immediate partners. See you soon Jon!

The benefits we’ve experienced thus far at SD totally outweigh the negatives we’ve had to power through. Additionally, we’ve noticed that the lows are really just the normal difficulties associated with work life in general (we’re guessing we have a lot to look forward to). All in all, we still have much to learn this summer, and we undoubtedly will experience more ups and downs, but we’re excited for what’s next!

Be sure to stay tuned for Part 3 next week!

Written by: Jake Berkson and Jake Reifer

 

 

The Two Jakes: Part 1, Jake’s First Day

For the first post of our series, we want to share our impressions of the first day at Something Digital’s Bryant Park office. Leading up to Day 1, we had been home from our universities for a little over a month. With no urgent tasks on our plates, we spent our weeks hanging out with friends, staying up late, and sleeping in almost every day. We knew once we started work that the routine would change. However, we really didn’t know what to expect regarding work life in general. To offer a taste of first-day impressions, I (Jake) interviewed my fellow summer hire (Jake):

Q: What first popped into your mind when you woke up the morning of your first day?

A: Well, honestly, my first thought was ‘Holy $%^& it’s early!’ I had been home from school since early May, and I hadn’t woken up during the AM in a very long time. Let’s just say I had a rough morning. But seriously, I was a little anxious and very excited. I didn’t really know what to expect. This was my first professional experience and I was nervous that I might not fit in. However, I ended up relaxing after a few hours and realized things would be ok. I even started making friends. The guy at the standing desk and I had an invigorating discussion about the pros and cons of sitting.

Q: What was the first thing you did when you got to the office?

A: Well, because I arrived before you, Jake, I had to make a tough choice right off the bat, which was to select my desk. I took the one on the right, which—as you see below—is much better than your desk (the one on the left). Then the entire office had a short meeting over some breakfast. The free coffee was delicious and much needed. I even impressed the boss taking it black, the mature choice.

Q: What was the best part of your first day?

A: Definitely the awkward lunch with the new hires and our new boss. Everyone enjoyed free food, and introduced themselves to the new employees.

Q: What surprised you the most about SD?

A: I was very surprised by the open layout of the office. There are a few conference rooms and an office or two for the owners, but almost everyone works together in one giant room. I came in expecting to see offices filled with nerds, but instead I saw one big room containing us all!

Q: What impressed you most about the SD office?

A: Several things impressed me. However, one that stood out was the model of the Waterfall process. It seemed to document every single part of each project stage. In fact, every process in general seemed structured at SD. And the entire staff was in constant collaboration with one another and with clients to get work done. Just from that first day, I could tell how important communication and teamwork are in this industry.

Q: At the end of the day how were you feeling?

A: Absolutely exhausted. And I rushed home to by far the best nap of the year. But I had a pretty good day. I met my co-workers, I learned lots about the company, got a little bit of tech training in, and was excited to come back and get to work the next day to impress the big guns.

So after one day, we both quickly got a taste of the challenges and the rewards of daily work life. We are definitely looking forward to a summer experience learning about ecommerce, adding new technical skills to our arsenals, and networking with colleagues and clients. And, of course, all the fame that comes along with being SD blog authors.

Be sure to return next week for Part 2 of this series!

Written by:  Jake Berkson and Jake Reifer

The Two Jakes: Summer at SD

We are Jake and Jake, two college kids from the NY area. While we never met before this summer, we both share a passion for computer science and one day hope to own our own businesses. As SD’s summer hires, this is our first experience working in a real office. This blog series conveys our varied impressions of the SD office. The objective is to share a slice of our lives working next to Bryant Park, recapping our learning experiences, and venting about the daily 9-5 grind. Catch our weekly post to get insights into life at SD and (hopefully) some occasional humorous commentary.

Written by: Jake Berkson and Jake Reifer

SD’s Max Chadwick Presenting At July Nomad Mage

We’re excited to announce that Max Chadwick, the development lead on Something Digital’s Strategic Engagement team will be presenting at Nomad Mage in July 2017.

The talk, which he’s calling “Imagining a World Without Caching”, is for technically-minded folks and covers the many types of caching that are involved with running Magento 1 and 2 systems.

Nomad Mage is a virtual user group where Magento developers share new and exciting ideas with the Magento community.

This is not the first time we’ve heard from Max on the subject of caching, nor is it the first time we’ve heard from him at Nomad Mage. He gave an in-depth technical presentation specifically on full page caching in August of 2016 which he later delivered at the New York Magento Meetup.

Tickets for the event are available from the Nomad Mage website.

Don’t miss the chance to level up your caching chops!

Building Tools For A Better Patching Process

On May 31st, Magento announced security patch SUPEE-9767 and Magento Enterprise Edition v1.14.3.3. These security updates address 16 separate platform vulnerabilities, 8 of which are considered high severity.

The patch notes call for manually updating a setting in the admin panel prior to deployment.

Before applying the patch or upgrading to the latest release, make sure to disable Symlinks setting in System > Configuration > Advanced > Developer > Enable Symlinks. The setting, if enabled, will override configuration file setting and changing it will require direct database modification.

Magento SUPEE-9767 patch notes

This step is required to properly implement the fix for the vulnerability identified as “APPSEC-1281”, which Magento has classified as high severity.

This setting must be set to “No” for patch to be correctly applied

As part of our patch assessment process we decided to build a small Magento module which automates the steps required to toggle this setting. Not only does this save us time as we roll the patch out across our client base, but, more importantly, it helps reduce the risk of human error during patch implementation.

We’ve made the module publicly available through GitHub. Hopefully this helps improve the process of patching across the entire Magento ecosystem.

Happy Patching!

Written by: Max Chadwick, Senior Programmer

Rolling Out MasterCard 2-Series Compatibility at SD – Part 2

In part 1 of this series we looked at the high-level process of how SD rolls out updates that impact its entire Magento client base. Specifically, the following questions were posed:

– Which versions of Magento are affected?
– What options are available to remediate the issue?
– What are the potential pitfalls developers will encounter when applying the required fix to the code base?
– How can we QA the fix to confirm it has been correctly incorporated into the code base?
– How quickly does this change need to be rolled out? (E.g. security patches need immediate response, changes such as Mastercard 2-Series compatibility can be scheduled in advance)

This blog post will answer each of these questions individually, using the example of the Magento 2-Series compatibility changes.

Which versions of Magento are affected?

The fix for 2-Series compatibility was incorporated into Magento 1 Enterprise Edition version 1.14.3.0 (Community Edition version 1.9.3.0) and Magento 2 version 2.1.3. Therefore, any client running Magento 1 less than version 1.14.3.0 or Magento 2 less than version 2.1.3 is affected.

What options are available to remediate the issue?

The issue can be remediated by upgrading the Magento code base to a version that includes the fix, or applying a Magento supplied patch dubbed “SUPEE-8967”. Something Digital prefers upgrading clients to the latest version of Magento whenever possible, but sometimes it is impractical, in which case patches may be applied.

What are the potential pitfalls developers will encounter when applying the required fix to the code base?

Magento is a highly extensible platform. This is a feature that makes it attractive to developers and merchants alike. However, with this flexibility comes the power to make customizations that lead to incompatibility with future Magento updates.

Specifically, in the case of the Mastercard 2-Series patch, there are the following risks (warning, technical jargon follows):

– validation.js, the JavaScript file which validates credit cards may be overridden in the local theme.
– The site may be using a custom payment method that implements its own validation logic, separate from the fix to Mage_Payment_Model_Method_Cc provided by Magento.

How can we QA the fix to confirm it has been correctly incorporated into the code base?

Given this risk, it is important to find a QA process that the can followed to ensure the fix has been applied correctly.

In this case, we can confirm the patch has been applied correctly by ensuring we can get past the “Payment” validation section of checkout. We can use a testing credit card number for this – Authorize.NET lists a couple. If the patch has not been applied correctly, we’ll see an error like the following.

If everything is OK, we’ll get past Magento’s validation and the transaction will be sent off to the payment gateway.

How quickly does this change need to be rolled out?

Sometimes, these types of changes need to be applied very quickly. For example, when the shoplift vulnerability was announced, SD worked to get its client base patched as quickly as possible.

In the case of the Mastercard 2-Series, there was roughly a one month window over which SD could review and roll out the patch.

Talk to Us

We’d love to tell you more or answer any question you have about Mastercard 2-Series compatibility, or our process in general. Contact us if you’d like to hear more. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

Written by: Max Chadwick, Senior Programmer