Thursday, March 24, 2016

Have an #EpicSemester, startup style

Are you looking to have a productive semester of college where you learn a lot, get your solo and group projects done faster, slay your finals, and still have time for socializing, eating healthy not-pizza foods, and yes, watching sloth videos? Then the startup community has the tools you need!

At Meta Search, the startup I work at, we do a lot of collaborative work, and that means we need to communicate well, stay on the same page about where everyone's at on our tasks, and keep track of all the changes in our software. For that we use some sweet productivity software to coordinate getting our code out rapidly, and I definitely could have used that software when I was at Tufts!

I never learned productivity techniques in college, so to get A's I ended up packing in lots of inefficient study hours, becoming an energy drink connoisseur, and having really stressful finals weeks. If you've been on that struggle bus, read on to turn that struggle bus into a struggle bullet train!

Got a college group project and want more convenient communication than just group texting? Wish your class had an online chat room for setting up study groups or wrapping your head around a tough part of the lecture? Wanna start a forum for your off-campus housemates? Then get your classmates on Slack!

Slack is like a much classier version of a chat room or forum, and it's easy to start a Slack team for a group you're in. If you're on a Slack team with your classmates, you can use Slack to talk about stuff you're figuring out during studying, share jokes and quotable moments in the class, and figure out where and when you and your group project partners can meet up.

At Meta, we collaborate a lot by sending direct messages to each other through Slack. So we Slack each other questions about the tasks we're on, we send snippets of the code we want to point out in our massive codebase, and we link each other to blog posts about new concepts and technologies we're interested in using in our code. Slack also lets you integrate your chat room with a lot of other sites. For example, we hooked up our GitHub repositories to our #dev channel, so if there's a change in the code, everyone hears about it! This makes it much easier for us to stay on the same page on where everyone's at.

Besides getting work done, though, we use our #food channel to announce when there's free food somewhere in the office (almost every day), our #product channel for talking about our web design, and our #general and #random channels for socializing and sharing funny pictures and videos. But you know what else is great about using Slack to communicate? CUSTOM EMOJI!

As you can see, Meta has caught 'em all, and so can your class if you have Slack!

We've all had group projects that end up with all the work piled on right before the due date, or slowed down because not everyone's on the same page or because it's hard to find a time to meet. But it's easy to see what needs to get done and divide it up, if you write it down on a Trello board!

At Meta, we use Trello boards primarily to organize a scrum workflow; we break up the work into 2-week sprints, writing a card on the board for each task, and then assigning them to different members of the team. During a sprint, we have a list of the cards for what needs to get done, which we drag from the backlog to the in progress list when we start it and the done pile when we finish.

For an example of a Trello board, here's a board of me and my dog Lola writing one of my programming tutorials.

Another great feature of Trello is that on each card you can make checklists and check things off as you go, so if you're not sure where to get started on a card, you can break it down into a checklist to figure out where to start, useful for both solo and group projects, or for figuring out what things you need to study before an exam and when you need to go to office hours. Not knowing what needs to get done is the worst for studying and can run up your late night pizza delivery bills, so use Trello to save time on figuring that out!

Here's an example of a Trello checklist on one of my dog Lola's Trello cards from when I was writing my last blog post.

Most projects in college are only about the length of one or two scrum sprints, but the short length makes planning and staying on the same page critical. The best group projects I had when I was at Tufts were the ones where we were required to plan the project before getting cracking, and for that, Trello's got your back!

By the way, Lola really did learn how to toodle-oo on that checklist!

Ever have a project you step away from for a while only to come back to it later and have no idea where you saved your files? Or you ever have a syllabus with a non-descript filename get buried in your Documents folder… or was it your Google Drive account? I've been there, done that, and digging through all my folders was the worst, especially if it's a file with a long loading time. Luckily, Meta makes finding those files easier than ever to find by tagging them, making finding them as easy as typing into a search bar!

You can use Meta to search the files on your hard drive if you're using it on a Mac, but besides searching on your own computer, you can integrate your Meta account with other sites where your files might be, like your Google Drive, Gmail, Dropbox, and Evernote. Additionally, Meta also has integrations for Slack and Trello, so you can search for files, posts, and code snippets you Slacked to your teammates on a project, or search for specific cards on your Trello boards.

The really cool thing about Meta is that because your files get tagged, you don't even need to know the name of the file to search for it, just some idea of what's in the file. To give you an idea of the tags we got, here are the tags on a tutorial I made for my blog!

Besides the tags we generate, though, you can also add your own custom tags, so you could tag files with which chapter your notes were from, what class a file is for, or do this:

The average worker spends 4 hours a week looking for or rebuilding their files. So hook up Meta to your accounts and get #4extrahours to study, socialize… or watch sloth videos! 

Have an #EpicSemester, and stay slothful!


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