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Behind-the-Scenes posts:

Behind the Scenes: Harvest Visits 3 NYC Design Firms

Last week was our Harvest Summit, a time when our team, both near and far, gets together in NYC for a week of work, fun (read: karaoke and drinks) and learning. One of the activities this year was a visit to 3 of our customers’ offices. Being in NYC, planning the customer visit was simple. We have a large base of customers here to choose from. Happily, the nice folks at Alexander Interactive, Barrel, and Moment were kind enough to open up their offices and calendars to small teams of Harvesters.

I, along with everyone at Harvest, believe that a strong customer focus is critical to everything we do. It’s much easier to develop, design, support and market a product when you have a sense of who will be using it. When we debriefed on the visits, a few notable themes came up that I wanted to share with all of you.

1. Our customers (at least the 3 we visited) have been growing rapidly. As a point of example, Barrel has grown from 2 founders to 16 people in just a couple of years.

Harvest Developer Matt Beale and Peter Kang, Barrel Co-Founder chat in the Barrel office

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Harvest is Hiring – Spread the Word

Dear Harvest customers and fans,

This quarter, the Harvest Team has spent 3,214 hours on new features, system improvements and customer support. We launched two major features, with three more coming this month. We have also carried out several infrastructure upgrades to make Harvest even faster and more reliable.

But we want to do more. We want to make Harvest an even more useful and powerful service for your business. To do that, we need peoplesmart, talented, humble, and hard-working folks to join a small team that makes a world-class business application. More specifically, we’re looking for two Rails Developers (junior or seasoned), a Ruby Systems Dev, and an Account Manager.

We need your help to spread the word. If you know of any talented folks that fit the bill, please let them know that Harvest is hiring. You can also help by passing the word to your friends and colleagues on Twitter or Facebook. Please help us build our team, and we will make Harvest even better for your business!

Thank you,
Shawn, Harvest Co-Founder

How Harvest Is Made, Part Two

Last week I wrote about how developers at Harvest deploy code and own the responsibility of keeping our software quality high. Today I’ll touch on the tools and process we currently use to collaborate, stay in touch with customers and glean feedback from our infrastructure.

Developer collaboration

Harvest developers are seldom in the same building, let alone the same state or country. We work as a distributed team, yet we collaborate extensively. All of our code is hosted with GitHub, which makes this collaboration simple. For those familiar with Git:

  • Developers work in feature branches off the master branch, and master is always assumed to be deployable by anybody at any time.
  • Developers use GitHub Pull Requests all the time, and significant deployments are peer reviewed in this way prior to deployment.
  • Continuous Integration server constantly tests our code, and reports concerns to the team.
  • Development takes place locally, but we have multiple production-similar staging environments for testing and QA.

Infrastructure collaboration

We strive to have no ‘walls’ over which features or releases are thrown between team members. We share the responsibility of creating and supporting our software. As the ‘systems guy’ at Harvest, it’s important to me that every developer has the ability to manage systems configuration. It’s also important that if problems arise, the team who responds to these problems is not a siloed operations team, but includes the developers who wrote the code which is running in production.

To this end, we use Chef to transform our systems configuration into a collaborative effort. Every component of our infrastructure is controlled by Chef. This means that technical team members can view and modify production configuration and roll out systems changes. The beauty of Chef is that everything is protected by Git version control and enhanced by the power of Ruby.
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Quality Assured, Since 2006

Among the many principles we abide by at Harvest, one of the most valued for our product is Quality Over Quantity. All of the features and updates we deploy at Harvest go through rigorous quality assurance testing, and every Harvester participates. And we deploy a lot. Using the product ourselves assures that we are releasing a feature that is easy and accessible for our users, as well as catching and fixing any bugs that may have creeped into the code.

After the last few rounds of QA testing, we felt we needed to induct our quality assurance testing into Harvest history and celebrate our love for our product. And what better way than with more Harvest T-shirts!

Thanks to our internal illustrator, Kim Ku, for the drawing of the tractor – an idea we’ve been experimenting with lately. Another thanks to the font designer, Simon Walker, for donating his wonderful font Matchbook.

How Harvest Is Made

You may not realize it, but almost every day there are improvements being made to Harvest while our customers are using it. Transparency is a core value here at Harvest, and I’d like to take you through a little of how we work behind the scenes, in a series of slightly technical posts.

The new Harvest Status page

We’ve just released the beta version of a tool we will be using to promote transparency between Harvest operations and our customers: the new Harvest Status Page. Bookmark this tool to keep track of how Harvest is performing at any time.

Balancing priorities

I’ll briefly walk you through the software release process we follow, and in a subsequent post I’ll talk in more detail about the tools and methods we use. If you are familiar with DevOps and the concept of continuous deployment you’ll recognize these in our workflow.

Context determines your opinion on software deployment. Our customers naturally prioritize software stability and the addition of new features as quickly as possible. Customer acquisition, avoiding outages, using cool new technology, and striving for elegant robust code are a few other priorities held by my Harvest coworkers. A natural tension can exist between these priorities. How does Harvest balance this and retain our core focus on a good customer experience?

The simplest answer is: We take small steps quickly through collaboration.

Release cycle and deployments

What may be of most interest to customers is how we deploy new code to Harvest. Harvest changes almost every day, usually multiple times per day. In the time it took me to write this blog post, two different developers deployed five production releases of Harvest. Some might be concerned that a process like this promotes poor quality software. In reality, like many other companies, we have found that this iterative, constant change promotes high quality software, exposes and resolves unexpected issues quickly and allows a distributed team to work on different features concurrently. This means, in a nutshell, that when developers deem code ready to go to production, it goes to production. No artificial release schedule governs Harvest software rollout. There is also no manager whose job it is to ensure our software quality because that is the common responsibility of every person committing code at Harvest.

100% bug-free software is an unrealistic goal, but we strive for a bare minimum of issues by having structure in place to address problems quickly and efficiently:

  • All significant code changes are peer reviewed before deployment. In the next post, I’ll talk about how we do this.
  • Every developer, designer and sysadmin at Harvest is able to (and does) deploy production code.
  • Mondays tend to be the busiest traffic day of the week at Harvest, so we rarely release big new features on Mondays. Same goes for late on Fridays, when bugs could linger over a weekend.
  • We have an internal QA process and production-similar staging environments, where we perform extensive testing when required.

Some deployments warrant special care, such as releases which involve database migrations changing large datasets. Certain database operations could produce a poor customer experience while deployments roll out. We have in the past, and will continue to deploy these releases at times of lowest customer impact, although Harvest’s global customer base reduces this window constantly. We have a maintenance mode which we can employ to take Harvest offline briefly if we need to.

If you have seen Harvest in maintenance mode and we didn’t notify you, our customer, prior to this deployment, we made a mistake and you can be sure that the team is working on the problem with urgency. It happens, but we think Harvest’s uptime speaks to how infrequently this occurs.

Obviously, when it comes to software which has a third party review process, or runs on customer desktops, such as our iPhone App and the upcoming Mac App, our process to roll out change is a little different to the core Harvest software that runs on our own servers.

If this post was too technical (or not technical enough), the one thing I hope you will take away from this is: Harvest software changes all the time in small increments. This concept of continuous deployment isn’t new or revolutionary and it may not work well for every company, but it allows us to strike a balance between stability and agility and keep forward momentum as we build a fairly complex suite of software.

Next week I’ll touch on the tools we use to review code, communicate as a team and keep on top of our infrastructure performance. If there is something you’d like me to specifically discuss, let me know in the comments or directly at warwick@getharvest.com.

Do You Have a Favorite Brand?

If you’re like most people I meet, your favorite is not a Business to Business (B2B) brand. Generally speaking, it’s the rare B2B brand that inspires deep passion or devotion. That’s why when I was introduced to Harvest, and I discovered its passionate base of users, I knew that this was a company I wanted to be a part of.

As a long time B2B marketer who formerly worked at a huge company, American Express OPEN, I am excited to introduce myself as the newest member of the Harvest team. I have dedicated the better part of 10 years getting to know the small- and mid-sized business space. Specifically, I’ve spent a large chunk of my time meeting business owners, behind the mirror at focus groups, planning live events, creating content, and running and analyzing marketing campaigns targeted at business owners. I love this customer segment. I think you guys are inspiring. And I’m excited to keep working on solutions that make your lives’ easier.

About me: I’m a mother of two children, married to a tech entrepreneur, and I’m an avid business idea machine (business apps, healthy baby food, you name it). The reason I joined Harvest is simple: I wanted to work with great people on an amazing product that people love. As a marketer, Harvest has something else to get excited about: a creative and committed user base that has helped make this company what it is today, and is continuing to shape and promote the business. Just look at what people are saying about @harvest on Twitter and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

And here’s why: the reason the product is great becomes apparent on day one of working here – we all use it. To track EVERYTHING. I know how much time I’ve spent in meetings since I got here, how much time I’ve spent on emails, even how much time writing this blog post. I’m proud to share that in my first 5 weeks here I’ve only spent 7.9 hours in meetings. I did that each day at my last job. Turns out, when you track your time you spend it more productively.

Help this new girl out: if you were me, what would you do to spread the word about Harvest? What would inspire you, personally, to tell your friends and colleagues about Harvest? What tools do you need from us? Please let me know in the comments below, or email me directly at naama@getharvest.com. I’m excited to hear what you have to say and to get to know you all better, and thanks for using Harvest!

Chosen, a Select Box Enhancement Plug-in for jQuery and Prototype

In May, we released our improved detailed time reports, which included an improved interface for filtering the data included in your report. The filters are such a significant improvement over regular HTML select boxes that we’ve decided to share their code with the world. Today, we’re releasing them as a plug-in we’re calling Chosen (available for jQuery and Prototype).

When building an HTML form, select boxes are often used to present a long list of options because they don’t take up a lot of space. Once a select element includes more than a handful of options, however, they become difficult for a user to navigate. Typing into a field doesn’t always work in an expected way (and many users aren’t even aware of this option) and scrolling through dozens or hundreds of choices is slow and tedious. These problems are especially magnified when the order of options isn’t immediately clear.

Chosen aims to improve select boxes by adding search-based filtering. When a user clicks into a Chosen element, their cursor is placed in a search field. As the user types, options that don’t match the search terms are hidden, leaving only useful results behind. Users can select their choice just the same as a standard select element – highlight and click with the mouse or use the keyboard to navigate choices (up and down arrows change the highlight and enter selects).

Additionally, multiple select elements get an improved interface for displaying selected options. User-selected options are displayed as boxes at the top of the element and are always visible. They can be removed with a single click or using backspace.

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Dallis Bros. Teaches Harvest How to Brew the Perfect Cup of Coffee

Yesterday, we were very lucky to have Teresa von Fuchs, coffee & espresso consultant for Dallis Bros. Coffee in Queens, NY, in the office to spend some time with us talking and tasting coffee. A big part of Teresa’s job involves going into the cafes and coffee shops carrying Dallis’s coffee to educate them on preparation, freshness and general coffee know-how. She doesn’t normally do presentations to internet companies, but we asked so nicely that she couldn’t say no.

Teresa started by talking to us about how much work goes into each pound of coffee before it even arrives at their facility for roasting. Farming coffee is a very labor intensive process and each bean goes through human hands more than once. She encouraged us to take our time when preparing coffee and to respect the efforts of the farmers who’ve done so much with the beans.

Next, Teresa brewed three of Dallis’s offerings via two different preparation methods – french press and pour over. Sampling the various methods side-by-side helped us understand the differences in flavor that result from different brewing methods. After an hour with Teresa, she had us considering switching our trusty office coffee maker to a giant french press.
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Uniting New York City’s Technology Companies with Walkabout NYC

After hosting our second Walkabout NYC, an open house for technology companies, just over a week ago, I wanted to share with you why we here at Harvest organize this city-wide event. Harvest has always supported the entrepreneurial spirit (like with our New Founders Program). The goal of Walkabout NYC is simple: to create a connection between the tech companies and the community that surrounds, inspires, and supports them.

Danny Wen and Shawn Liu, the co-founders here at Harvest, have always enjoyed taking tours of creative and entrepreneurial workspaces. No matter what size, they found the spaces always fostered inspirational energy. From forming the company in a tiny shared office to Harvest’s current home in a Soho loft, Danny and Shawn recognize how instrumental those behind-the-scenes experiences were along the way.
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Ladies Learning Rails

Earlier this month, we hosted our very first RailsBridge workshop at Harvest HQ. The event focused on offering a full day of introductory Rails lessons for mostly women who have little to no experience with coding. By the end of the workshop, participants had built their own mini web applications from scratch and published them online.

Railsbridge at Harvest
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