A Parliament of Savas Owls

Durham, NC | October 2019: It’s an exciting day when you walk into a full office. Last week, the office was full with almost the entire Savas team in person. (We missed you, Ro!)

We came by train, plane, automobile, and bicycle (Of course— this is Savas we are talking about) and gathered together at our headquarters here in the heart of Durham, North Carolina for what was slated to be a productive and fun week ahead.

Day 1: Reunited

That first morning consisted of a morning work session and as you can see, even the schedule reflected how excited we all were to be together in person.

Screenshot of the morning schedule for day one of Parliament week. Taking advantage of our out of town friends being IN-PERSON.

To start our “Parliament” sessions we headed over to a local penthouse AirBnB just a few blocks from Savas Headquarters to have lunch and look back at the history of Savas Labs. Chris and Ben led sessions on reviewing company metrics and a refresher on employee benefits. It was great to get everyone crystal clear on where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are headed as a company. New recently: Savas Labs has implemented a Community Service Day for each employee.

Chris and Ben present to team on rooftop. Rooftop meeting led by Chris and Ben.

Devan’s session was up next, entitled Some Things I’ve Learned Over The Years. A seasoned developer, Devan reviewed what it’s been like working in development for nearly 10 years 😱, what it was like working at other shops and the Drupal Training regimen that he experienced at his last agency. A discussion followed. Everyone enjoyed this session!

After a team discussion on a variety of internal topics, Maddy led us in Rethinking the Tech Spec Process. Maddy, one of our PMs here at Savas, talked about our current development process, and shared thoughts toward what expanded roles PMs could play in the future. Maddy is always looking to improve and be the best she can be at her job. She thinks code school made her a better PM and when she started here at Savas, she jumped right in learning to speak Drupal. Way to go, Maddy!

Chris asking questions from a reclined position. When in Rome, or on the roof.
Team members listening to presentation on rooftop. This is what focus looks like.
Madeline wrapped in blanket on rooftop. Madeline keeps warm, or prepares to rule her kingdom?
Dan and other team members toasting after Day 1. Cheers!
Savas team chatting on rooftop after meetings. Savasians discuss things.

All in all, day one of Parliament week was a team reunion (two Savasians have been working together for over 8 years but had not met in person until this day!), productive discussion, learning, and great views of Durham.

Savas team on downtown Durham rooftop for the sunset. Durham at sunset.

Day Two: Teambuilding

Day two brought another morning work session, some client meetings, and lunch before we began afternoon sessions. The first session held a big surprise for the Savas Team: a sneak peek at the new Savas brand!

Guest speaker, Jake Breedman, posing with new Savas t-shirt. We spy our guest speaker showing off a sneak peek of the new brand on t-shirts!

That’s right, we are rebranding! More to come on that soon. Stay tuned.

Then we heard from Sean, our Senior UX Design Strategist, on design at Savas Labs. He discussed what it’s like to design projects here at Savas, how to communicate design processes with clients, and how the team and discipline are evolving.

SURPRISE! Next, we had a surprise guest speaker to lead us in collaborating on how we can become a more innovative agency. Jake Breedman, Chief Strategy Officer at Sapien, serial entrepreneur, and author of Tipping Sacred Cows: Kick the Bad Work Habits that Masquerade as Virtues stopped by for a session on how to not just brainstorm, but actually come up with ideas—good, bad and otherwise—and then hone in on one idea before genuinely collaborating and giving productive and honest feedback to each other. Our time with Jake was engaging, insightful, and energizing—many new ideas were sparked. Thank you for stopping by, Jake!

With the re-energized juices flowering, we finished the day with a team-wide discussion about interesting work that we are excited about. Questions were asked, “What technologies do you most want to work with?” “What kinds of clients or what specific client do you wish to work with?”

Panorama of Savas Team during brainstorm.
Savas Team brainstorming on whiteboard with sticky notes.
Close up of sticky notes on whiteboard. Savas team collaboration.

Another question asked: If you were trapped in a room, having to solve puzzles, find clues, and collaborate with others to get out in under one hour, could you do it?

Well, we left the whiteboard behind and we tested it. In real life.

I’m happy to report that the answer is yes! The Savas Team split into two and headed through the doors of two different escape rooms at NC Escape here in Durham. We escaped a Brewery Heist (and saved the pretend beer!) and Attic, respectively — and in record time for the week, or so we were told. It was a blast and so fun to solve problems off-screen.

Savas team poses for photo at NC Escape. We escaped! Thanks for having us, NC Escape.

Day 3: Hack to the Future

Get it? Hack to the Future? Where we’re going we don’t need roads!

True, only for us it was because we were here in the office hacking away on several different projects. The game plan was this: divide the Savas Team down into small groups and hack together for (almost) an entire workday. What projects did we work on? I’m so glad you asked.

  • All-Gender Bathroom Finder: A web app to help the user locate gender-neutral bathrooms. This was a personal project of Alex’s updated with big back-end improvements and a new login page.
  • Fatcat: A web app that makes a record of when you did something. Inspired by Drew’s need to make a record of when and how much he fed his cat. While one day wasn’t enough to create a single-page app, the team explored some new tools to take advantage of in the future.
  • Transcript Markup Language: Create a custom extension of XML for marking up audio transcripts (like NASA flight logs) in a semantic and accessible manner.
Mockup of Fatcat, a single purpose web app. Fatcat: a single purpose app
Screenshot of All-Gender Bathroom Finder website All-Gender Bathroom Finder
Sreenshot of XML code. Custom extension of XML for marking up audio transcripts

The purpose of the Hackathon was to spend time finding and using technologies that we thought were interesting, think about tools that could be used to better improve our internal processes and to get the team thinking about what kind of companies/organizations we’d like to work with in the future. Our Hackathon allowed us to work closely with team members we wouldn’t usually work with, collaborate across different areas of the company, and be creative on a project we don’t work on in our day-to-day.

(Part of) Team “All-Gender Bathroom Finder (Part of) Team “All-Gender Bathroom Finder”
Team “Transcript Markup Language” Team “Transcript Markup Language”
(Some of) Team “Fatcat” (Some of) Team “Fatcat”

The main theme heard throughout our Hackathon presentations at the end of day 3: Everyone really enjoyed working with each other and on these projects — and wants to be able to devote more time to moving forward.

All in all, it was a great several days here in Durham, featuring a lot of local eats, cool projects, new concepts, in-person discussion, and all-around good ole’ Savas Labs fun!

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