Our Wilmington, NC connection helps build a small lifeline in Altoona

When we face unknown and scary situations the initial reaction is “how will this impact me?” That’s okay. In fact, the immediate reaction of personal protection and survival is inherent in the gene pool. It’s human nature.

It’s what we do with the second reaction that can matter even more in the long run.

We’re a technology company. Many of our customers are essential businesses. And if there was ever a business that can be converted to a work-at-home environment quickly, it’s probably ours. We had been watching developments, monitoring relevant sources and planning among ourselves. We made the decision on Monday and Tuesday we were running at full-service strength to our customers.

But after that first reaction of survival and self-protection, we started viewing the crisis through a different lens. We saw a lot of people suffering. Friends and neighbors through no fault of their own were being shut down or severely restricted in their operations.

Restaurants and bars were sharing stories of concern and fear. With good reason. Businesses in place for decades are suddenly being put on the brink of extinction because of a forced government shutdown. Employees working in those restaurants are out of jobs during the “quarantine”.

In trying to think of a way to help, we naturally turned to technology, but it was a bit of over-thinking. “How do we use our team’s technology talent to help solve the problem? Apps? Web Portals? “

Then, we stumbled upon an idea through our involvement and expansion into Wilmington, NC. We’ve had an office there for a couple of years now. And while it is doing well and growing, one of the unintended side effects of being in another state, in another region of the country, is the chance to see different ideas and different perspectives.

We were introduced by Wilmington friend and fellow Penn State Grad (We Are!) Lisa Leath to a Facebook page where the Wilmington community was bringing together restaurants trying to get out the word that they were open for pick up/delivery with customers, concerned citizens and, frankly, hungry people who wanted to both help and eat. They had 7500+ followers.

So, we created the Altoona / Blair County Take Out & Delivery Facebook page and asked our employees to take some time out of their regular workday to help build, grow and promote it. The trick is to get enough people interested to join the page in order to then encourage restaurants, bars or food trucks to take the time to post.

It seems to be working. In about 8 hours, the group has over 1800 members and continues to grow. Restaurants and bars are posting and hopefully people are dialing the phones and ordering food. It certainly won’t be the savior but hopefully it’s helping in some small way.

We have no idea where this quarantine/pandemic is going to go. Sadly, much of it is beyond our control. But there’s a fundamental life lesson that should be reinforced through all of this.

You can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it. We can be creative and find ways to respond that help everyone.

We can learn and be inspired by friends and neighbors. We can even learn from small southern towns about simple things we can do to help our neighbors. We’re all in this together.

Thank you, Wilmington.
Wash your hands.

facebook phone
The private information of more than 267 Million Facebook users (mostly living in the U.S.) was exposed for more than two weeks in an unsecured database on the dark web. According to published reports by the cybersecurity firm Comparitech and security researcher Bob Diachenko, Facebook IDs, phone numbers and names were exposed online for anyone to see for a two-week period before access to the server was shutdown.

 

It is still unclear how the ID’s and phone numbers were obtained, but the likely possibilities are that they were obtained by scraping and abuse of Facebook’s developer API. Scraping is when automated bots copy large amounts of data from websites and stores the info in a database for analysis. There remains a possibility that the data was stolen from API before the company restricted access to users’ phone numbers back in 2018.

 

What should you do???

 

Several thoughts:
• Adjust your profile privacy settings in Facebook. (1. In Facebook, go to “Settings” and select “Privacy”. 2. Change the setting for all appropriate fiels to either “Friends” or “Only me”. 3 Under the question: “Do you want search engines outside of Facebook to link to your profile?” – Make sure you select “No”.
• Use messaging apps with end-to-end encryption. Always use secure passwords and regularly review permission settings on Mobile apps.
• Be very wary (as you always should be anyway) of any suspicious text messages. Even if it seems clear as to whom you are speaking, keep an eye out for anything out of the normal that makes you question the texters’ identity. The more you know someone, the more you understand their communication nuances. Don’t be afraid to ask or challenge if you pick up an indication that something is off.

 

Ultimately, it’s important to realize that if your data and information is out there somewhere, anywhere, on the internet, there’s a realistic chance that it has been or will be exposed. Anytime you turn over information, even to large, powerful companies with plenty of resources, know that someone is trying to get to it. Regularly and responsibly changing passwords, updating security settings, and taking advantage of newly released privacy and security measures is just common sense and good practice.

 

Wayne can be reached at whippo@pssolutions.net


What that means for smaller companies in Raleigh seeking Technology Talent

Today Microsoft announced they will be adding 500 new technology jobs (paying an average of $125,000 per year) into the Raleigh suburb of Morrisville, NC. In exchange, the state of NC is offering Microsoft an incentive package valued at $14.8 million.

It’s definitely great news for the Raleigh, NC area overall, but what does it mean for smaller companies trying to compete for technology talent?

The reality is that a concentrated influx of these types of high-paying jobs, especially when they are coming from such a high-profile employer like Microsoft will wind up raising a business’ costs for employees, increases the demand and decreases the supply of talent. Certainly, some market forces will play a role in increasing the talent supply through relocation and new training/education opportunities as supply tries again to catch up with demand in the technology industry.

And though the market undoubtedly will go to work on this balance, inevitably there is a significant lag as the talent supply tries to catch up with the demand for technology talent. Keep in mind, we are speaking about an understaffed industry that is constantly struggling to add more people to the mix. Even huge technology markets like Raleigh struggle to get supply to keep up with demand.

For PS Solutions, we see this as both an opportunity to help technology customers in need of talent and also a potential threat.

The opportunity: we supply software solutions to help companies deal with the talent gap in technology. Our developers are all US based and we keep costs down by keeping our development centers in lower cost areas away from immediate economic pressures caused by a big influx of demand by some huge conglomerate. Our software development centers are located and designed on the premise that your zip code does not equate with your intelligence. In other words, the software developer sitting in Altoona or Wilmington is just as capable as the higher-priced person sitting in more expensive office space in a major metropolis.

The threat: unfortunately, sometimes companies facing a talent shortage and increased costs react by shipping projects off-shore to some company (or somebody sitting in a basement office) halfway across the globe promising software development at a lower cost. Why take the risk? Why worry about where your code is going, if it’s coming back or if it is being sent somewhere else? Why wonder about quality, reliability, time zone issues, cultural diffences? Sure, you have a “low” bill rate, but what’s the quality of the work and who is keeping track of the hours?

We deal with the threat of off-shoring by pointing out that our work is done in America, at competitive rates with talented, experienced developers who understand the culture in which your business is running. We will constantly work to get the word out that when things are getting tough (even as a result of good news like a major employer moving into a market), there are smart affordable options to solve your software development problems. It just takes a little bit of creative thought and the solutions become pretty obvious.

Wayne Hippo is an owner and managing partner of PS Solutions, a custom software development and consulting business with development centers in Wilmington, NC, Altoona, PA and Forest Hills (Pittsburgh), PA.

Wayne can be reached at whippo@pssolutions.net.


Domino’s Pizza has been sued by a blind man who couldn’t order a custom pizza from the Domino’s website. Domino’s has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case and deliver a decision.

First, some background.

I have friends who have met through online dating apps. Over coffee last week, another friend was raving over the convenience of using an app to order groceries, then having them delivered to her car. On election night, I can sign in and watch the vote tabulations on our county’s election web page. And the last – who knows how many – pizzas I’ve ordered came through Domino’s online app (thin crust, pepperoni and banana peppers).

The point is that these types of online spaces have changed almost every aspect of our lives…

…all within the past 20 years or so….

…all happening AFTER that day in 1990 when President George Herbert Walker Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In short, the online world that now influences a HUGE part of our lives, barely even existed in 1990, and its degree of impact wasn’t even contemplated when the ADA came to life.

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The law that was designed to assure equal access to public accommodations for those with disabilities, never contemplated the conveniences and access created by online spaces.

Many persons with disabilities are effectively shut out of many online spaces because the websites or apps that allow access are not designed with appropriate accommodations for disabled persons.

It’s not a new issue – in 1998 Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. But as the impact of the online world grows greater in our lives, the issue of online access for the disabled is growing dramatically in the courts.

According to Domino’s lawyers in 2018, plaintiffs filed over 2,250 federal lawsuits claiming ADA violations alleging website inaccessibility (three times the number of suits that had been filed in 2017).

The issue certainly seems ripe for the Supreme Court to decide. The Circuit court decisions are split and range from finding that the ADA requires compliance to finding that the ADA only applies to physical places of business, not those on the internet.

So, while we wait to see if the Supreme Court takes the case, and if they do where the case will go, litigation will continue and more and more companies will be having their websites challenged as inaccessible and in violation of the ADA. Companies with government contracts face scrutiny of website accessibility under Section 508c of the Rehabilitation Act.

Regardless of the outcome, the right thing to do is to make sure that your website is compliant. Nobody wants to deprive potential customers of access to their business. Oftentimes, simple changes can be made to improve access. Those planning new apps and redesigned web pages should look at those events as opportunities to bring their online space into compliance.

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At PS Solutions, our Onshore America development team can access your site and let you know where you stand on compliance, as well as what can and should be done to allow everyone access to your online space.

Keep an eye out, no matter what happens with Domino’s litigation, a lot of change is likely to be coming in the online marketplace.

________________

Wayne Hippo is an owner and Managing Partner of PS Solutions, a software development and consulting firm with offices in Altoona, PA, Pittsburgh, PA and Wilmington, NC. You can reach Wayne at whippo@pssolutions.net

After growing PS Solutions in Pennsylvania, founder Wayne Hippo came to Wilmington with the goal of replicating the company’s growth in the Cape Fear region and its focus on keeping software development local.

When the software development company opened in Wilmington in 2018, it had one worker and was housed at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Now, it occupies office space at 2109 Capital Drive with five employees.

PS Solutions was founded by managing partners Hippo and Joe Merilli in 2009 in Altoona, Pennsylvania, a city about 100 miles east of Pittsburgh. At first, the company focused on staffing software developers but then expanded to provide outsourced software development for companies.

“We wanted to be in the Carolinas somewhere,” Hippo said. “We considered three or four other cities, but we were just really impressed by the growth in Wilmington and the opportunities that we saw here.”

PS Solution works with all sorts of companies, not just tech-related ones.

“We’re under a lot of NDAs about who we work with, but I can say that our industries are so varied,” he said. “We have companies that do oil cleanups. When people think of technology, you think of the obvious tech companies, but the need in our client base extends well beyond that.”

Through a partnership with Cucalorus Festival, PS Solutions hosted a children’s coding workshop at Snipes Academy of Arts and Design, Wrightsboro Elementary and GLOW Academy in November.

With the firm’s recent expansion to Wilmington, officials plan to grow its footprint in the Cape Fear region by hiring additional sales personnel, expanding to larger office space and eventually establishing a development center.

“We’ve never been afraid to take on a new challenge,” Hippo said. “Next stop will probably be a much larger development center in Wilmington and with that success, probably a sister center somewhere nearby, and then it’s onto the next opportunity.”

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Special thanks to the Wilmington Greater Business Journal for featuring PS Solutions

It’s free. One of the biggest and ostensibly most creative music and arts fests in the country, and still… it’s free. From day one – that’s June 7th this year – and for ten straight days, the Three Rivers Arts Festival will entertain hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the globe. And in case you missed it, it’s free!

This year, stars like India.Arie will be added to the long list of those who performed or presented at Three Rivers. Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Wilco and the Black Keys are in the books alongside Allen Ginsberg, Spalding Gray, Keith Haring and Nam June Paik as those who helped make it the festival it is today. As a matter of fact, #TRAF has been delivering world-class visual and performing art since 1960.

How can Pittsburgh do that? They have a lot of help. Sponsors, such as title sponsor Dollar Bank. Add donations and the government money that goes to Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. But the biggest reason they can keep it free and do such a great job?

Volunteers.

Volunteers are at the heart and soul of almost every great festival. There are parking lots to manage, guest questions to answer, artists to assist and children to entertain. But those are only some of the jobs done – during the event itself. Many, many volunteers are added to the staff throughout the planning year, helping recruit vendors and determine which food truck goes where on the site. With three locations across downtown Pittsburgh, it’s a big task.

People volunteer for a number of reasons – giving back, getting free tickets, camaraderie, experience – you name it. When organizers are looking for volunteers, there’s one kind of person that sticks out: the ones that want to do this year after year. That’s because volunteers are entrusted with a lot of information and having to retrain a new team can be costly.

Worse yet: when data leaves with the person who donated their time. It can take days or weeks to try and recreate the knowledge that departs when the person does. That’s why PS Solutions created an inexpensive system to manage the entirety of what’s happening on the back-end of a festival.

It’s called Chute Festival. And if you are a volunteer, ask the team if they use our system. It can save a lot of headaches and help them operate more efficiently. Because if you care enough to donate your time, you care enough to ensure that the festival survives and remains healthy.

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We love festivals. We love them so much we wrote a software system for managing them. More on that later, but as we enter June, the number and variety of festivals that happen across the US sky rockets.

We’ll be talking about festivals often over the summer, but we recently ran across a great list that identified the largest festival in each state. So, while we gather great stories about smaller local festivals we’ll highlight, we decided to get to know more about the big guys and share a couple that are near and dear to us.

Our home state of Pennsylvania hosts Musikfest in Bethlehem from August 1 – 11. Voted Best Music Festival in the USA Today Reader’s Choice Awards in 2019, more than 1.1 million people crowd into this historic city near Allentown to hear music – free and paid – over the course of ten days. It claims to be the largest free music festival, but it also features comedy and dance performances and a series of art installations. Some say it might be the best bargain of all summer events.


As we expanded into North Carolina, we began looking for the biggest event in our new state. We assumed it was the Azalea Festival in Wilmington. But no … it’s not flowers but food that draws southerners. The North Carolina Barbecue Festival is in Lexington, which falls between the Triangle and the Triad. Lexington has a population of about 20,000 – which blossoms 10-fold when chefs from across NC converge to demonstrate their BBQ acumen. It all happens in just one day – the last Saturday in October – but is a culmination of an entire month of BBQ festivities. A series of competitions, from the Tour de Pig cycling race to golf, fishing tournaments and a 5K run keep people flowing into town.

What these two festivals have in common is their reliance on volunteers. From planners to ushers, parking to ticket sales and set up/clean up, volunteers are what makes festivals work. That’s why so many organizers are turning to our newest software product, Chute Festival. It not only manages the schedules for volunteers, but it manages the information they come in contact with.

Who are your vendors? What’s the map of the site look like? Where are the closest parking options? And how do you manage your performers, livestock, and food?

Often, it’s in the heads of those who volunteer. But with Chute Festival, organizers keep the data that remains in the minds of volunteers. Volunteers come and go – they are committed, until they’re not. In order to keep the information about every last detail, it needs to reside – accessibly – in the Cloud so that future events run as smoothly as the last.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Chute Festival can help, email us at info@chutefestival.com

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Who among us has not been deeply touched by those who fight for our country?
We asked the employees and partners at PS Solutions and found that there is hardly a single person who hasn’t had a relative who served in the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines. There are both veterans and active duty personnel, and family who served who have gone on before us.




With Memorial Day upon us – and indeed all of May as it is Military Appreciation Month — we at PS Solutions are taking the time to honor military men and women who’ve lost their lives. We are also looking into how the families of those who have been taken from us are being honored.




Our Armed Forces have systems in place to help the families of those we’ve lost. There is financial support available, counselling, and a series of manners in which they are honored, from gun salutes to gatherings. On behalf of American citizens, the Department of Defense has established access to a series of resources they call Families of the Fallen. Each division of the armed forces has their own set of support systems. For example, the Army has posted resources on the site created by their Chief of Army Public Affairs, including a Facebook page for the Survivor Outreach Services.




If you’re inclined to help as a part of your celebration of this upcoming holiday weekend, here are a series of resources that you can donate to, and help support the families of our lost patriots:




Snowball Express: a program of Gary Sinise Foundation, this organization finds a myriad of ways to serve the children of fallen military heros.


Fallen Patriots: College for the children of those who lost their lives while in service can seem unattainable. The folks at the non-profit Fallen Patriots work to help families send their kids to college.


Johnny Mac: This scholarship program is in honor of a fallen soldier who graduated from West Point in 1986. By identifying Johnny Mac Scholars, children of those who have lost their heroes as they served our country have an opportunity to march on and fulfill their career goals.


TAPS: The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) offers compassionate care to all those grieving the loss of a loved one who died while serving in our Armed Forces or as a result of his or her service. Since 1994, TAPS has provided comfort and hope 24/7 through a national peer support network and connection to grief resources, all at no cost to surviving families and loved ones.




There are numerous other organizations that help families, from the Red Cross to the USO and many others. We at PS Solutions believe everyone should do what they can. In addition to our individual donations, will be joining so many other Americans by leaving an empty chair open at a table for one, honoring those we wish could be with us, and thereby honoring the families they’ve left behind through their service. We hope you will join us in some small way to honor military families this weekend.



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When startups reach the key milestone of securing Angel or Venture Capital, their new partners are looking both for a series of deliverables but also a great return on their investment. One of the many questions they ask during the pitch process is generally ‘how long before you’ll need another infusion of capital?’ They love it when the response is … “a long time.”

Once that infusion is safely secured, how do smart entrepreneurs make the most of it? STRETCH. Find the best value for the money on every project. And that includes custom developed software.

In the early 2000s, the key to this savings was to off-shore development. Fast and inexpensive services sprung up across Asia and Eastern Europe, putting hundreds of thousands of software engineers to work… outside of the US.

“Americans are just too expensive,” was the cry.



What we learned, however, was that it’s not really American developers that are so untouchably expensive, but the US major cities that pushed up the prices. The developers in rural areas and small cities are actually quite affordable. Plus – they speak your language, understand your culture, and live somewhat near your time zone (if not in your time zone).

The Whole

Entrepreneurs often judge the viability of outsourcing based on hourly rates they are paying. This can be misleading. When you pay for the least expensive person to do the job, you seldom get the best. Then you wind up paying more for senior team members to work through the problems created by the less-experienced.

Here are three other ways that the whole can end up bigger than the sum of its parts (ie: it’s more expensive to offshore than it looks):

The Where

Where you are does make a difference. If your developers are in major cities with high cost of living, you’ll simply spend more than you will when the teams live in places where the cost of living is lower. It’s just logical. And it’s been proven out time and time again on projects we’ve delivered.

But it’s not just the cost of the developer. It’s the cost of your time. That’s why we encourage you to take advantage of our US-based developers, and keep from going:

  • Time Zone Zany: I’ve never met an entrepreneur that wasn’t exhausted. Burning candles at both ends, they manage their business, their product, their employees… they have a hard time managing developers who live 12 hours away.
  • Partner Panicked: I’ve also never met an investor who preferred that the code she just invested in be developed or stored over seas in a distant land, subject to different law and different court system.

    Just because you need to stretch your investment dollars, don’t cheap out on software development. Be responsible. Keep development in the US by working with rural and small city teams. Consider the whole of your investment, and give us a call.

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    Strummer Bob Fields Heads Up Sales in Pittsburgh

    When you’ve been serving the IT industry since 1981, have deep roots in your region and throughout the Midwest, and, to quote Chuck Berry, can play guitar like ringin’ a bell, well, you’re bound to be a rockin’ success.

    PS Solutions’ Robert (Bob) Fields may have taken a brief hiatus from IT during the Y2K hangover, but we’ll forgive him for that and chalk up 35 years to his investment in the tech industry. He actually started in IT recruiting for an IT consulting firm, but they soon uncovered his true talent.

    “I still remember the day, sitting in Pittsburgh, when I sold the highest billing rate for a consultant in the history of the company to a client in Washington, DC,” reminisces Fields. “I found that I really enjoyed the sales side of the house and spent the next ten years with that company advancing in that role.”

    He joined PS Solutions in November of 2015. It was a great fit from the get-go, with IT services and the oft-desired tech recruitment. Earlier positions with big companies kept pigeon-holing him into doing things he was good at but didn’t love. He loved account management and the people/problem solving balance it offered. And that’s the role he was looking for.

    “Moving to PS Solutions gave me that opportunity,” he said. “It also provided a bit of a homecoming back to a more agile, entrepreneurial, smaller, quality-oriented, regional IT consulting firm. The strong values make such a difference, in my happiness and in the satisfaction of our clients.”

    The Bob Special Sauce

    What is it, really, about being an account manager that Bob loves? It’s solving problems for the people within the companies he serves. When we asked him why he thought he excelled, he told us it came down to one thing:

    “I listen,” he said. “Many people are too quick to talk, to sell what they want to sell. But if you develop the skill of listening, you’re more certain to understand what is needed. If you have listened, your questions are much more on point, and the client knows that you get it.”

    Of course, you have to get to that meeting, right? The one where you get to listen? Opening that door can be a tough nut to crack.

    “I have been told by clients that they have given us a chance because of my persistence. In some cases, it was persistence over the space of years,” he says with a smile.

    The Band Behind the Man

    He may have spent his first three years in Erie, but Bob’s a Pittsburgher through and through. In high school he fell in love with writing, and only became a guitar player at 17, once he realized he would like to be able to play the music he wrote. Like every good teenage guitar player, he formed a band, and like every good sales person, he stays in touch. After all these years, and across a myriad of time zones, Bob stays in touch with different members of the band.

    Even with more than 30 years of teaching, recording and live performances under his belt, Bob still finds the magic of playing for a crowd. At one particular performance at PPG Paints Arena, PPG Place, he performed for about 500 people during a summer arts festival. “It’s like a glass castle, and when you catch it at sunset, with fountains reflecting the colors, it’s just magical.”

    Sometimes it seems that magic is his middle name. It’s actually Boyle, however, which leads him to play a lot of Irish tunes. This means that St. Patrick’s week can be especially busy, as he tries to give back to people of all ages. He developed a way to use new music technology, using a loop pedal to record and play rhythm parts and guitar synthesizer to represent the bass, fiddle, bagpipes, pennywhistle and other instruments. He involves his audience, looping in the seniors at retirement homes and the partakers at the bars. And getting them to sing along is half the fun!

    He especially enjoys serving the underserved. “It brings validity to what you’re doing. When you’re playing music it’s not about you – it’s what can you do for others.”

    You’ll often find him playing in contemporary music services at church, but he can play classical, rock and folk. He finds what his audience is hungry to hear, and that’s what he delivers.

    You could say that Bob is a listener and a problem solver, whether he’s at work or performing. It’s what makes him great at what he does, at home with this family, in the clients’ offices, or on the stage. To Bob, what you can do to make others’ lives more rich is the thing to do.

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  • At PS Solutions, we believe that software and technology are important in our day-to-day lives. Our goal is to ensure that the computer code running everything from banking to healthcare to national security is written, protected and stored right here in the USA. We hire top-flight software developers who creatively solve problems and we put them to work here in the USA. Let’s tackle your software projects together, using American creativity and “know how”.

    FIND OUT MORE


    Altoona Development Center
    1601 Eleventh Avenue
    Ste. 201
    Altoona, PA, 16601
    814-942-7888

    Pittsburgh Development Center
    1500 Ardmore Boulevard
    Ste. 500
    Pittsburgh, PA, 15221
    412-731-2123

    Wilmington Development Center
    2109 Capital Drive
    Ste. 170
    Wilmington, NC, 28405
    910-399-6820