Julia Hatton, Director of Youth Programs at Rising Sun Energy Center, a non-profit working to empower individuals to achieve environmental and economic sustainability for themselves and their communities.
Netguru: What is Rising Sun Energy Center’s mission?
Julia Hatton: We are a non-profit organization based in Berkeley, California. We focus on programs that are at an intersection of addressing climate change and helping to reduce unemployment. We work with individuals who experience barriers to employment and can benefit most from our workforce programs for both youth and adults.
Rising Sun started in 1994 as a renewable energy education center, and in 2000, we launched our California Youth Energy Services (CYES) program. High School students were learning about climate change, and they wanted to do something about it. This is how the Green HouseCall service was born.
Local residents can call us and arrange an appointment. Two youth arrive and check the home for efficiency, install energy and water-saving equipment, and provide personalized recommendations for further resource savings. The youth install equipment as needed, such as energy-efficient light bulbs, high-efficiency faucet aerators for bath and kitchen, showerheads, and more – all at no cost to the resident.
Three years ago we were present in 10 cities. Now we are providing no-cost services to thousands of residents in 20 cities. This summer 180 young people visited over 4,000 homes. It was also the first time the Green HouseCall service was supported by an application upgraded and managed by Netguru.
N: How did your co-operation with Netguru begin?
JH: We found Netguru through word-of-mouth. We simply knew somebody who was really happy with their work.
At the time, we were facing a substantial challenge. We had a custom online application developed to track the work of our Green HouseCalls. The application was responsible for managing the appointments with residents, tracking inventory, storing data, calculating energy savings, and running reports and invoices.
It had been written by a local development contractor several years ago. They designed a great system, but it was time for a change. One of the main problems was the lack of ongoing support. The app ran on a very old Ruby on Rails version. We wanted to build an Android version of the app, but it turned out that it wouldn't be possible without a major update of the whole architecture.
Basically, this online system was responsible for managing our program. We'd been trying to find a new developer for a couple of years. We couldn't do it. The code base was quite complex from the beginning, and since it was so old, the project was quite challenging. We tried to engage other teams, but they were not able to handle it.
N: Why did you decide to work with software consulting company?
JH: I'm not an expert. My instinct and experience would tell me it shouldn't be difficult, since we are the world's software capital in some ways, but based on our experience it was very difficult. It was virtually impossible for us to find Ruby on Rails developers. Maybe it's just this technology that is no longer popular in California.
The other thing is the cost. As a nonprofit, we couldn't afford the price of local tech talent. We had to look outside of Silicon Valley. The budget for the project was limited and a deadline of 13 weeks was strictly applied.
N: Did you have any doubts about working with a remote team?
JH: I was concerned about the time difference, but it was not an issue whatsoever. I think Netguru has so many systems and tools in place that they can embrace complex projects.
It took a while, it went a little bit over the deadline, but not significantly. The upgrades to Rails and Ruby took so much time that by the time the code was refactored, the Minimum Viable Product was no longer functional, and we had to update again. In the end, however, there was still some time for functionality enhancements.
Netguru engineers had no trouble with the code. Their software development process is impressive. I had contact with a few different Netguru PMs, but each time the work was seamless, since the workflows and protocols are the same. The summary email always has the same format. Weekly budgeting, project updates, project management tracker and Slack are always the same, which makes it really easy to work.
The Netguru team had to coordinate the work of another remote team responsible for the mobile app. It seemed challenging to me, but Netguru PMs had no problem with arranging the workflow of the three parties and the co-operation was smooth.
We're on a maintenance contract now, and that's a great part of Netguru's service. With an app that's so important in our processes, support is crucial. New stuff comes up all the time, and the Netguru team is very responsive. The time difference is no issue at all.