November 2011

Featured Shopify App: Accessify

by Joey deVilla on November 16, 2011

"Accessify": Computer keyboard with highlighted blue key with wheelchair symbol 

According to the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, there are about 50 million people in the United States with some kind of disability. We also have an aging population, who have their own accessibility issues. And finally, the odds are that sooner or later, most of us will have to cope with some kind of temporary or permanent limitation through illness or injury. People who fall into these categories rely on web accessibility and making sure that they can use your shop isn’t just the right thing to do; it also makes good business sense.

We’ve got over a hundred apps in the Shopify App Store, and Acessify is today’s featured app. It’s a handy tool for checking the accessibility of your shop and helping ensure that customers who use screen readers and other assistive technologies with their computer can use it. We asked Brian Getting, the creator of Accessify, and we’re sharing his answers with you.

What does Accessify do?

Screenshot of Accessify's settings page

Accessify automatically scans your Shopify shop each week for accessibility issues. When accessibility issues are found, it sends you an email report showing which pages had issues, what those issues are and links to more information about resolving them.

What are Accessify’s key features?

Screenshot of Acceessify's report page, showing accessibility warnings and hints

  • It saves shopowners time by automating accessibility scans.
  • It helps shopowners address accessibility issues.
  • It provides shopowners with records of their stores’ accessibility status.

Why should shopowners use Accessify?

Shopowners should use Accessify because there are tens of millions of customers with disabilities in the United States alone. Worldwide the number of potential customers that have disabilities affecting their ability to interact with a computer (visual impairments, broken hand, and so on) is staggering, and general the PWD (People with Disabilities) community relies on the Internet even more heavily than the average customer.

There’s also the matter of accessibility regulations varying from country to country, and Accessify can help with documenting accessibility efforts.

Tell us a little about yourself.

Screenshot of Terra Firma Design and Consulting's web page

My name is Brian Getting, and I operate Terra Firma Design & Consulting located in Newport, Oregon. We are also the people behind Chimpified, another Shopify app.

Where can I find out more about Accessify?

Icon for Acessify app in the Shopify App Store

You can find out more about Accessify on its page in Shopify’s App Store.

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Ruth Morton Asks: Can IT Pros Benefit from Agile Metholodologies?

ruth mortonOne of the people with whom I had the pleasure of working during my days at Microsoft was technology Advisor Ruth Morton, who’s based near Microsoft Canada’s headquarters just outside Toronto. While my audience was developers, hers is what Microsoft calls “IT Pros” – the people who set up the machines, install/deploy/update the software, set up and keep the network running and do all those other things that we who write code consider to be Someone Else’s Problem. In addition to showing IT Pros the latest and greatest Microsoft tech, she talks to tech managers about using technology in the service of keeping their businesses running smoothly, to women about careers in IT and to students about their futures in the field of technology. Right now, she’s in Vancouver at the TechDays cross-Canada conference, where she’s running the Security, Identity and Management track.  If you’re in the Toronto area and do sysadmin-y stuff or deploy Windows and Office for a business, you’d do well to get to know Ruth!

In her latest post at Microsoft’s IT Manager Connection blog, Ruth writes about applying agile methodologies in places beyond its original domain of software development. She asks:

Even though the Agile Manifesto was born of a desire to create a mechanism for better software delivery, I see applications outside of that world too. In life, keeping an eye on your goals while planning a little at a time allows you to adjust for change, take advantage of opportunity and be released from disappointment because The Grand Plan didn’t pan out exactly how you anticipated. In desktop deployment projects, applying elements of the Agile methodology should allow you to be more flexible, adapt as issues are discovered and respond to your client’s needs. Less documentation, more collaboration with the customer and being responsive to change.

Now, I’m not out there deploying Office and Windows these days, so I don’t have the opportunity to put my theory into practice. What do you think? Is it possible to be "more agile” in client deployments?

(You might want to take a look at the Agile Business infographic in my last blog post.)

If your line of work is along the lines of “IT Pro” or sysadmin and you’ve got an opinion, let Ruth and company know over at her AlignIT for Infrastructure and Development Managers LinkedIn group.

Go for IT: My “Last Lecture” at Microsoft

In her article, Ruth mentions a presentation I created titled Go for IT: How to Have an Awesome Career and Life. While working at The Empire, I gained a bit of notoriety for building offbeat presentations that veered away from the standard Microsoft template. That, coupled with the fact that I had a good rapport with students, was probably why one of my last assignments was to create a new presentation about career planning aimed at students in college and university.

In making the presentation, I read a lot of Daniel Pink, watched Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture and looked back at some twists that had taken place in my own life. These all served as inspiration for Go For IT, and I’m sharing it with you now. It comes with copious speaker notes; with only a little practice, you too can deliver this presentation to students thinking about going into a technology career and asking themselves “What now?”

If you’d like the original slide deck in either PowerPoint of Keynote format, drop me a line and I’ll send it your way.

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“The Agile Business” Infographic

by Joey deVilla on November 10, 2011

The folks at Gist, who make a manage-the-firehose-of-your-communications web application (I’m taking the beta for a spin) have created an infographic titled The Agile Business which covers how agile software development methods are being adapted for running a business today. Here’s a shrunken-down version:

"The Agile Business" infographic

The original infographic is larger and easier to read; you can grab it from the Gist Blog.

At Shopify, the biz dev team have taken the underlying principles of agile development – the focus on individuals and interactions, stuff that works, customer collaboration and responding to change – and applied it to what their work, which involves drumming up new partnerships and business collaborations. Business development processes, which I’ve seen stretch on for months at my last job (a Fortune 50 company; I’ll leave it to you to ratiocinate which one, and it’s not that hard to figure out) take only weeks and are sometimes even pared down to days at Shopify. Harley and his people call it “Agile Bizdev”.

One minor quibble – note the graphic used to depict the gathering of software developers putting together the Agile Manifesto:

quibble

I’m familiar with the story of how and where the Manifesto got put together. I’ve even talked with The Pragmatic Programmers’ Andy Hunt, one of the guys who was there, about it. They most certainly weren’t sitting at a round boardroom table; they were at a ski lodge. In my interview with Andy, I asked if the get-together where they drafted the Manifesto was anything like Hot Tub Time Machine, and he gave a quick non-reply and changed the topic. So I choose to believe it was!

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

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Featured Shopify App: Portable

by Joey deVilla on November 9, 2011

Large icon for the Portable app

If you haven’t visited Shopify’s App Store lately, take a look now! There are now over 100 apps there, each of which adds new capabilities to your shop. From apps that simplify the task of cranking out shipping address labels to managing your social media presence to rewarding loyal customers, we’ve got lots of ways to make your shop even better.

Portable is one of the currently featured apps, and it brings customer data to an application you can use any time and can access from anywhere: Gmail. It’s a great way to quickly get information about any of your customers and stay on top of your customer relationships.

We had a Q & A session with Justin Burdett, Portable’s developer, and his answers follow.

What does Portable do?

Portable brings Shopify customer details and brings your customers into where you’re interacting with them most: your email. Portable looks up any of the details about a customer using their email address. If the email address belongs to a customer, important details about that customer will be displayed, all within your Gmail window.

Portable currently works with Gmail through Rapportive, but we’re hoping to expand to other email software in the future.

What are Portable’s key features?

Screenshot of Portable working within Gmail

Portable brings the following customer details right to your inbox:

  • A direct link to that customer’s profile in your Shopify store
  • Lifetime value details like total number of orders and total spent, localized for your country and currency
  • Recent orders, including a direct link to the recent orders in your Shopify store, the order number, and the financial status, shipping status and order status
  • Primary address and phone details for that customer
  • Any notes you’ve entered about that customer

Why should shopowners use Portable?

Portable will save you time and effort by bringing customer details right to you when you get support requests. You will be able to provide faster support by cutting down on the time it takes to find the information you need and better support by gaining valuable insights into the customer.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a geek from Pittsburgh, PA. I’ve got a couple of different projects I like work on. In my spare time, I like to play disc sports like Ultimate and disc golf. You can find more about me on my website or follow my dumb jokes on Twitter at @jburdeezy.

Where did you get the idea for Portable?

I was thinking about opening a Shopify store for another project of mine and I thought that I’d like something like Portable. I found Shopify’s API and got to work. Boom! Portable was born.

How long did it take for you to build Portable?

It only took me a few days to get an early version of the app and spent about a week in beta testing.

Where can I find out more about Portable?

Screenshot of the Shopify App Store, with Portable as a featured app

You can find out more about Portable on its page in the Shopify App Store.

This article also appears in the Shopify Blog.

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The Shopify Fund, Explained

by Joey deVilla on November 9, 2011

"The Shopify Fund, Explained": stacks of $100 bills arranged into an "S" shape

Shopify, its API and the App Ecosystem

Every now and again, I get asked this question: “Okay, I’ve heard of Shopify, but what does Shopify actually do?” The answer I give depends on who’s asking:

  • The shortest, quickest, clearest, layperson-friendliest answer is something along the lines of “Shopify is a web app that lets you run your own online shop.”
  • I tell people interested in selling stuff online (as well as people whose inclinations are more towards business) that the stores for Angry Birds, Epic Meal Time, Evisu Jeans, Foo Fighters, General Electric, LMFAO, Penny Arcade and Pixar are all powered by Shopify.
  • And finally, for more technically-inclined people, I say “It’s an easy-to-use, themeable hosted ecommerce platform that’s extensible through an API.”

Let talk about Shopify’s API. It lets you write apps that add functionality to or extend the capabilities of a shop. Most of the things that a shopowner can do from the admin panel can be done programmatically via the API; the API also makes it possible for you to get information from a shop so that you can integrate it with other services. You can write an app that will be used only by your shop, or you can write one for use by any shop, which you can sell to shopowners at the App Store.

The API designed to be simple and straightforward. You can call it using either XML or JSON, and it exposes different parts of a shop – such as products (things you sell in a shop), orders (orders placed by customers) and collections (groups of products within a shop) – as resources, each with its own URL and you manipulate the resources using the HTTP verbs GET, POST, PUT and DELETE. We’ve made it as RESTful as possible.

Screenshot of the Shopify App StoreWhat sort of apps have been written? There are about 100 in the App Store, and they do all sorts of things. Apps that have been featured recently on the Shopify Blog and Shopify Technology Blog include:

The Fund

Last month, Shopify landed a sweet $15 million in series B funding, which we’re using to grow the company in all sorts of ways:

  • Some of it will be used to hire the best developers, designers and businesspeople out there.
  • Some of it will be used to fund strategic partnerships and make some acquisitions.
  • Some of it – one million dollars’ worth – will be used to create the Shopify Fund.

"Dr. Evil" from "Austin Powers", touching his lips with his pinky

That’s right, it’s one. Meeeellion. Dollars.

The purpose of the Fund is to encourage the development of Shopify apps. Apps make everyone happy:

  • Shopowners: because they extend the capabilities of their shops.
  • Customers: because when a shop is running well, they get the stuff they want.
  • You, the developer: because you write software for a living.

Joey deVilla on CTV News with the caption "Joey deVilla: Internet Software Developer"

Not only was I a software developer, I played one on TV!

Most of us at Shopify, myself included, come from a development background, and we’ve all done freelance and contract work. We know what it’s like to worry about where this month’s rent is coming from and to juggle and prioritize clients. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a nice big client that paid you enough to concentrate full-time on a single project?

We want to be that big client! We created this fund to create a mutually beneficial arrangement: you get paid enough to work full-time on a Shopify app for a few weeks without having to take on other contracts and still make a living, and we get apps that extend the capabilities of our platform.

How Much Money are We Talking About Here?

Jack Nicholson's "Joker", dancing in a storm of bills

We expect that most of the projects will range from a couple of weeks’ to a couple of months’ worth of work. We’re looking at a ballpark figure of about $5,000 – $10,000 per app. The amount will vary with the scope and complexity of your project.

How Do You Get In on Some of This Action?

Screen capture of the Shopify Fund page

There are two ways that you can get in on the Shopify Fund:

  1. If you’re a developer with an idea for an app and we think it’s a good one, we’ll pay you to develop it.
  2. If you’re a developer with the talent to build apps but no idea of what to write, take a look at our App Wishlist and see if there’s an app idea you’d like to implement. If you can prove to us that you can deliver, we’ll pay you to develop it.

If you fall into either one of these categories and would like to get funded, visit the Shopify Fund page and fill out the form. We’re accepting submissions until Wednesday, November 30th.

After the submissions close on November 30th, we’ll spend December and a little bit of January reviewing the submissions. App development and funding will start around mid-January.

What Happens If You Get Funded?

A scattered pile of $100 bills

I like to describe the funding as being "like the advances paid to book authors, but nicer".

Suppose your app gets selected (or you get selected to write an app) and we decide to fund your project with $5,000. Here’s what happens:

  1. At the start of the project, we’ll pay you the first half of the “advance”. In this example, that amount is $2,500.
  2. You work on your app. We’ll check in with you regularly during this time.
  3. When the app’s done, you’ll get the second half of the “advance” — the other $2,500.
  4. Your app goes into the Shopify App Store. For every sale of the app, the revenue share between you and Shopify will be 50/50; you receive 50% and we receive 50%. This 50/50 revenue sharing will continue until Shopify’s total of the 50% share equals the advance we gave you (or in other words, until your app rakes in a total of $10,000).
  5. Once our 50% share is equal to the advance we gave you, the revenue share changes to Shopify’s standard 80/20 ratio for sales in the Shopify App Store: you receive 80% and we receive 20%.

See what I mean by “like a literary advance, but better”? With a literary advance, you don’t earn any money until your sales have paid off the advance. With the Shopify Fund, you’re always taking in money, even while you’re “paying off the advance”.

How Do I Find Out More?

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to drop us a line at fund@shopify.com! We’d be very happy to answer your questions.

This article also appears in the Shopify Technology Blog.

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Toronto Techie Dim Sum - 11/11/11, a.k.a. "Nerd New Year" - photo of har gow in a steamer

This Friday, November 11, 2011, can also be written down as 11/11/11, which is why a number of people have declared it “Nerd New Year”. Seeing as that’s the designation for the day, and seeing as we’re slightly overdue for another Toronto Techie Dim Sum, I’m calling one for this Friday at noon, Nerd New Year, at our regular place: Sky Dragon at Dragon City Mall (southwest corner of Dundas and Spadina).

In case you missed the one in September, I took some photos and wrote up a quick summary here.

As with the Toronto Techie Dim Sums, this is just a lunch gathering of folks who like tech. There’s no agenda, no set topics, no presentations – just good people, good conversation and good (and inexpensive) food. You don’t have to be a developer to attend! If you take part in the activity ofwriting software, building web sites or cobbling together technologies, or if you just like hanging out with the very nice people who comprise Toronto’s active and vibrant tech scene, please join us for a Nerd New Year lunch!

As always, we all pitch in on the final bill. For the past several dim sum lunches, it’s never gone over $12 a person including tip, and it’s sometimes been less. You’re not going to find a better deal or a better crowd!

It’s an open event – invite people, friends and colleagues! If you and your friends are interested in joining us for lunch at Toronto Techie Dim Sum, please RSVP on the Facebook event page. It’ll give me an idea of the number of people who’ll be attending and will let me make the proper arrangements with the restaurant.

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.

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ClearFit’s Looking for a Rails Developer

by Joey deVilla on November 8, 2011

Clearfit [hearts] Rails, GitHub and Amazon Web Services

My friend Robert Nishimura’s looking for a Rails developer for his company, ClearFit, which is based in uptown Toronto. He sent me some details about the position he’s trying to fill; I’ve posted them below.

If you’ve got the skills and if the position sounds interesting to you, you should drop him a line at robert@clearfit.com!

Company Information

ClearFit is changing the way small businesses hire. Most people know that ‘fit’ is the most desirable attribute for employees and employers — that intangible sense that can’t be found in a resume and is difficult to glean from a job interview. It’s a huge problem — employers spend billions every year on staffing in Canada alone.

Most small business owners don’t know where to even start when hiring a new employee. Ask around for referrals, “pay and pray” with a job board or deal with an avalanche of resumes from Craigslist? 

We have built the system that some describe as “an eHarmony for jobs”. We have over 2500 registered employers and tens of thousands of registered career seekers which barely scratches the surface of a multi-billion dollar market. All this and we just completed our first round of investment so we are poised for stellar growth.

We are located in the Yonge/Eglinton neighbourhood, strategically situated between 3 Starbucks and 3 minutes from Bulldog Coffee. We’re also upstairs from Copacabana Brazilian BBQ.

Skills & Requirements

Skills:

  • Minimum 2 years experience coding in Ruby on Rails
  • Minimum 2 years experience with HTML/CSS
  • Experience with Javascript (Prototype, JQuery)
  • Experience with Postgres SQL
  • Experience with Ubuntu/Nginx
  • Experience with GitHub

Bonus points:

  • Experience with Amazon EC2
  • Experience integrating with other web apps
  • Photoshop and front-end web development skillz
  • iOS development experience

What ClearFit Offers

  • Salary between $80K and $100K based on experience
  • Snacks and drinks in our kitchen
  • Wicked awesome coffee from our new Nespresso machine
  • 15 days paid vacation per year
  • Full group benefit plan which includes vision, dental

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, contact Robert Nishimura directly at robert@clearfit.com

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