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An interview with the team

Every workplace has its own unique culture. It’s been about a month since I joined PaperCut, and I’d love to share an insight into the way we do things here.

My background is in design. For someone like me, going into a workplace where code is essentially the second language used is kinda like fighting an army of technological lions armed only with an HB Pencil. In fact, I regularly finding myself nodding unknowingly at the office talk of ‘JavaScript’ to which I respond with the bent finger of the philosoraptor ; “what’s a java?"(refer to Diagram 1A. For the Gen-X’s in the company this is a Gen-Y internet meme ) This usually generates a few laughs from my co-workers, although I fear the day they actually figure out that I seriously have no idea.

PaperCut is a fast growing company and it was inevitable that somebody with the same name as an existing developer was going to join the team at some point. Unfortunately that someone was me! I was quickly dubbed “tom2.0” to avoid confusion, and the name has stuck.

I must admit the thought of my first blog post was daunting, so essentially I did what any other Gen-Y would; I copied someone else’s work off the interwebz. Luckily for me someone out there in the blogosphere recently interviewed us so half my work was done. We were interviewed by blogger Random IT Guy . He was looking for a glimpse behind the bright green curtain of PaperCut to see how we work as a company; we were more than happy to oblige. Here is an extract from the interview:

The folks down at PaperCut headquarters were nice enough to answer a few of my questions about their operations, as well as their products and initiatives.  Now that I have a glimpse into how they work, it’s no wonder they have a superb product. If you haven’t checked them out yet, see their site here .  Even if you don’t work in an enterprise IT setting, check out some of their free products here .

Q: What is the typical non-Friday day like at PaperCut headquarters?

A: You must be following our twitter feed ! Non-Fridays are quite different from Fridays :-) …more on that later. For us a typical day here in the Melbourne office is focused around two important core events. One is the 10:00am coffee run and the other is the 3:30pm coffee run! Coffee, along with print management is part of the culture here at PaperCut Software. As you’ll see from our blog, we’re all certified coffee baristas ! Most of us have espresso machines at home and even dabble a little in home bean roasting. All job interviews start with coffee questions and you’ll even find references around our website and manuals. We often say all we do is turn coffee into code !On a more serious note, our day normally starts with a dose of support. We have a policy where everyone starts out with some customer support (either technical support or sales support). Developers jump in for a hour or so at the start of the day. This approach ensures us developers have close contact with our users. Nothing helps turn ideas into applications more than being “in the trenches”. Q: Tell me a little about what you do on Fridays?

A: Fridays are quite different to other days. We try to make Friday the “ideas day”. The company puts in Friday lunch for the team. We have a “food roster” and rotate around a selection of Pizza, Indian, Chinese, Lebanese and Japanese Sushi (to keep everyone happy!). Often the food is complimented with some homebrew beer. Tom, one of our core software developers, is also our resident (and award winning) beer brewer . Tom assists us in appreciating the finer points of beer. We then follow up lunch with a “tech talk”. This is where we share our knowledge on all manner of geeky topics. For example last Friday we did a session on keyboard shortcuts for the Eclipse IDE, and this week Hendrik will be taking everyone through Linux filesystem management with LVM. Topics are usually “Geek factor 10”, however after some of Tom’s beer (or good coffee) they always seem interesting for even the less geeky in the team. :) To mix things up a little, we’ve also started a Friday darts contest. Of course, this has gotten the geek treatment as well and rules like “ending on a prime number” often get thrown in to mix!

Q: How do you choose what to add in releases? How has that changed over time?

A: We have so many ideas. It’s hard to make a call on which feature to work on next. To make it easier we try to leave it to our users to make the decision. We ask customers to vote, and also bounce ideas off the sites we work closely with. Recently we’ve done lots of work under our Adopt A Feature program, as many of our large university customers have specific requirements, and need to “jump the queue”. Recently we’ve got the feeling that we’ve been doing too many of these so over the next few months we’re focusing back on core highly voted features!

Q: Tell me a little about your Developing World License? How was that brought about?

A: The developing world license was an initiative introduced by John about 7 years ago. We were detecting quite a high portion of piracy (unpaid copies of PaperCut) from developing countries. We obviously frown on that, but we can understand why it was occurring in poorer regions. John thought it would be good idea to offer subsidized or sponsored licenses for schools and colleges in these regions. The program has been a great success and we have small schools in Africa running PaperCut on networks powered by generators! It’s a great program as we hear some very interesting stories about how PaperCut is making a real difference. In many cases the developing world license takes the form of a Western school sponsoring a school in a developing region. Often this does not mean money, but rather some IT assistance via email to help them set up PaperCut. Many schools don’t have full time IT staff and it’s the teacher doubling as a system administrator. We’re proud that PaperCut is helping education sites like the animal ranger school in Tanzania or the Mercy Ships mission into Benin in Africa.

Q: Prospective or new customers may not be familiar with your release schedule, please enlighten us a bit about your timelines and why you choose to do it that way?

A: We develop PaperCut under a “release often policy” and try to get a new version out every 6 to 8 weeks. This ensures we can get new features out as fast as possible. Having said that we don’t expect every site to upgrade PaperCut every time, however when you do upgrade, you’ll know that you’re getting the latest features fresh from our development team. Also on a pragmatic side the shorter release cycles take a little stress away from our development team. If a bug does slip through the testing net (which does happen from time to time!) we’re able to roll out a fix very quickly as we’re well rehearsed in quick turnarounds.As a side-note, some think it seems strange that a software company would highlight that their software has bugs. This is also an important part of our development philosophy. We work hard on transparency. All bugs are disclosed in our release history , and urgent bugs are pushed out immediately via our knowledge base here .

Q: We know that the folks at PaperCut promote being green, how do you put that in practice?

A:  A lot of what PaperCut is about is saving paper and being green and you’ll find features such as your organization’s environmental impact is very visible in the application. We also have a new idea on how to present this information and encourage even more savings so stay tuned for future releases!

Of course we also try to be green in our office. When we need to send out paper invoices or print marketing brochures you’ll find that they’re on 100% recycled paper. Ann, our office manager is also our “paper overlord” and she takes care to ensure that paper used for print testing is used more than once!

We regularly find that one of the developers is testing PaperCut on the office printers, which often results in ransomed print jobs, along the lines of “It says here your print job costs $4.00. Pay up and I’ll release it for you!”.

Recently we’ve donated to a non-profit initiative called the Paper-Less Alliance and their focus is to save paper in many shapes and forms across industry - not just running PaperCut but doing other things like encourage electronic invoices and bank statements.

Q: How does one become a part of the PaperCut team?

A: We’re a tight knit team of “tech guys and girls” and are a growing company, so we’re always on the lookout for like-minded people. We look for people who share our passion for technology, transparency, and of course our love of coffee. If you ever end up in an interview, be ready for a grilling on the last point! Seriously though, if you think you would be a good fit, get in touch and tell us why the team needs you.

Q: Do you guys have a mascot? Where can we get PaperCut bumper stickers or other memorabilia?

A: Great question! Going back many years, Matt and I started PaperCut out of the back room at our house. In those days it was just the two of us spending many hours writing code. I decided it was a bit quiet in the office, and to ramp up the energy we adopted a puppy named “Macchiato” - named after coffee of course! Matt’s wife saw the puppy on its first day “of work” and sure enough the next week Matt had one two! The two puppies were very loyal and accompanied us through the long days and nights writing the first version of PaperCut NG. After a few chewed power cords and a move into commercial property saw the dogs go into comfortable retirement. They are both known to put in an appearance in the office from to time and have their photos on the wall!

Q: What has been your largest deployment? Can you explain some of the hardships you/your customer faced?

A: We’ve had some very large deployments of PaperCut. We assisted in a project in Scandinavia to deploy PaperCut across hundreds of schools via a centrally hosted datacenter. There is an install at a large Community College in Florida with over 350,000 users running on a smoking hot cluster setup. And more recently we assisted in a project to push PaperCut across a prestigious UK university which had so many rules and policies that their team spent weeks writing print scripts to accommodate the requirements. All of these projects have had their challenges. The technical hurdles were overcome with good teamwork - the DBA, the server admins, and our development team, all working together. The harder issues are always the political ones. What print quotas should students get? How do we keep the art department happy with their plotters? We’re yet to find a “geek solution” to inter-department politics :-)

Q: Please feel free to provide any other facts/stories that would give a potential customer/green enthusiast/random IT guy some insight into PaperCut the company and your products.

A: My favorite story for tech guys is about “backups”! We received a call form one of our customers asking for assistance on restoring a database from a known backup. After a few minutes we had their system up and going and the chat turned to small talk… “So what happened?”. To cut a long story short, this system administrator managed the computers on a research station located on a small tropical island off the coast of Australia. University students would live on the island to conduct marine research. It turned out there was a fire. Unfortunately the fire was not confined to the lab, but spread and burnt down the whole island! In his words, “Tell all your customers to have a full backup plan… off-disk, off-site, and off-island!”.

For the full interview and some pictures of PaperCut HQ head over to Random IT Guy’s blog and check it out. Now that I’ve finished plagiarising my post I should probably get back to work on all this print management system stuff.

- Tom2.0


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