Sphero | Connected Toys

Weekly Wrap Up - Dog, My Dear

23 Aug 2016
Weekly Wrap Up - Dog, My Dear

“Martha, my dear, you have always been my inspiration.” Taking a page from Paul McCartney’s songbook, we know the special bond between a human and their dog is certainly something to sing about, which is why we are a dog-friendly office here at Sphero. It’s no argument one of the biggest benefits to working here is the option of having your loyal, furry friend by your side.

And our canine friends run a tightly-packed schedule just like we do. Dogs of all shapes and sizes regularly attend meetings, go for lunch-time walks, chase or bark at the occasional roaming BB-8 and still manage to catch plenty of zzz’s under your desk.

No dog of your own, you say? No problem. These furry friends enjoy all kinds of visitors, and we enjoy visiting them too, especially when end-of-fiscal year or product deadlines approach. Sometimes just petting a dog right after a stressful meeting is just what the doctor ordered; and our marketing department—who pay regular visits—would certainly agree. With a glazed-over expression, repeating “nice puppy…nice puppy…” while petting, it might not be too much of a stretch to call our furry employees therapy dogs.

So, come one dog, come all. You really can’t turn a corner in this office without meeting a panting, drooling, smiling face—and that’s not just our run group, either. As McCartney goes on to say, “when you find yourself in the thick of it, help yourself to a bit of what is all around you” is solid advice here, as far as we’re concerned.

So go on—throw those stress balls out the window and opt for petting your neighbour instead.

Wait. Let us clarify—your dog neighbour.

A Day In The Life: Mike Nemeth

Weekly Wrap Up - Dog, My Dear

Q. Hi, there. So, let’s get a few formalities out of the way: would you state your name and title here for the record?

A. Mike Nemeth, Director of People Operations.

Q. Going along with the record, could you tell us what you do here everyday?

A. I have the opportunity to work with a great team that is responsible for bringing awesome new talent into Sphero, maintaining our culture, growing our employees, making sure our Sphero team is taken care of and helping increase our office footprint to accommodate our fast growth.

Q. Sounds kinda like being our own catcher as we run through the rye fields that is our office. What advice can you offer for others interested in the same field? Sorry, can’t help ourselves with puns all the time.

A. If someone is looking to get into the People/HR business, I would recommend some self-reflection to see what parts of HR are interesting and align your preferred work style to a certain role.  Recruiting is different than benefits, which is different than being a HR Business Partner.  Each role requires different strengths and picking the one that you can grow in the quickest will allow you to see if other parts of People/HR is interesting. Simply answered, you have to like interfacing with people and providing great service all the time!  

Q. Can you share what—or maybe “who” is more fitting—you’re currently working on? That sounded weird but wasn't meant to.

A. Some of what I do is obviously confidential people matters.  For projects, I am working on building out job architecture for the company that will better allow us to align development and career plans for our team.  I am also working on developing v2 of a management training program (v1 was earlier this year).  My team is enhancing our on-boarding, implementing a volunteer/give back program, recruiter retrospectives with managers and new hires, keeping an eye on culture and hiring lots of great people.

Q. Aww, shucks, that makes us blush. What’s your favourite aspect of working at Sphero?

A. My favorite aspect of working at Sphero is the people I get to work with.  It sounds cliché, but I really do enjoy the people I get to spend much of the day with!  Sphero has some of the most dedicated, team-oriented, creative, flexible people I have had the opportunity to work with in my career.

Q. Going from people to robots, which of our bots is your fave?

A. Which is my favorite bot?  Ideologically, SPRK+ is amazing as learning and growth is important to me.  Aesthetically, BB-8 by Sphero is second to none.  Playability, Ollie is the best to get outside and run up and down the street.  It is so fast and tough you can't help but smile.  Do I have to pick one?  Not gonna do it.

Q. A very diplomatic answer. Well played. What do you like to do outside of Sphero?

A. Outside of Sphero I am usually with one or more of my immediate family members (wife and three kids) either running to sports, building/projects or doing something outside like biking, hiking, skiing or fishing.  I also like to keep up on current tech and what's new in the world.

Q. What do you enjoy the most about living in Colorado?

A. I am a native to Colorado and it has changed a lot!  You cannot beat the weather here.  I love the four seasons, although the summer heat can drag on me at times. I also enjoy the general demeanor of people in Colorado.  While I love traveling and am open to living in other parts of the US, I haven't found one that matches our state yet.

Q. Nice. So I’m sure you have a special place you recommend us checking out, right?

A. I am amazed at how many people live in Colorado that have not traveled the southwest side of the state. The San Juan mountains are some of the most amazing sites.  Along my journeys I always seek out local restaurants (not chains) and the bonus is if they are a brewery.  I love the beer renaissance we are in!

Q. Ditto. Alright, your last question for the record: please share something that we may find quite unexpected about you.

A. I have not had cable for over 13 years and do not have any streaming services.  I take that back, we have Amazon but that is mostly for the free shipping!  I do miss a little Sports Center and HGTV every once in a while.

ICYMI Top 5

  1. Stowaway.
  2. Movie night.
  3. Sphero Team...Assemble!
  4. Park ready.
  5. Hit the lights.

Weekly Wrap Up - Small Bot in the Big(ish) City

16 Aug 2016
Weekly Wrap Up - Small Bot in the Big(ish) City

Hey, there good-lookin’. You know we’ve got something (bots, in particular) cookin’, so how about we cook something up for you?

Yeah, we’re looking at you Denver, with your lights ever-gleaming (some almost 24 hours) and your urban sprawl bursting with fun names like LoHi and RiNo; add us to the list of new residents because we’re moving in.

Well, kinda. You may have noticed the lack of elbow room we have here in Boulder, so we’ve packed some snack-pack bags and set our sights on the big city for urban pastures. That’s right, we’ve locked down some temporary work space in the OG neighborhood of LoDo for those of us who commute from the Mile High city on the daily, extending the life of our gas mileage and giving other Spheroites breathing room.

The new office is pretty rad, within walking distance to Union Station, awesome neighbors and great local fare to choose from. Tired of walking that whole block back and fourth to feed your meter? A quick hop on the 16th Street Mall Ride will cure what ails you. Or maybe will just ail you, depending on what time of day you choose to go. That scary hallway has also become a right of passage as you make your way to the bathroom, and we’re enjoying the proximity to 5 Starbuckses to make sure our caffeine supply never runs dry.

What we’re trying to say is we like you, Denver…A LOT and we hope you like us too.

And even though we’re excited, we don’t want to rush anything. So, is it cool if we take things slow?

Just keep being your beautiful, classy self and we’ll keep making our rad, classroom-friendly bots inside of you.

A Day In The Life: Amara Poolswasdi Hulslander

Weekly Wrap Up - Small Bot in the Big(ish) City

Q. Okay. To start this off, would you mind telling us your name and title here at Sphero?

A. Amara Poolswasdi Hulslander, Senior Experience Designer.

Q. And what do you do at Sphero every day?

A. I design the digital and physical inter-usability of our products. I also lead all of our user research efforts, ensuring that the products we create are enjoyed by people of all ages and technical abilities. I fight to ensure that our users are represented during our product development process.

Q. Keep fighting the good fight. What advice can you offer for others looking to influence the UI experience?

A. It'll be hard to find a degree program that'll prepare you for a job like this. It's a very new field. The best thing you can do to be prepared for something like this is to get into something like digital design or engineering, where you get as close as possible to creating a product. Ideally you'd also like to talk to or observe others, so if you're academically inclined, loading up on social science classes will definitely help. You don't have to be an expert in any one thing. Some of the best experience designers I know are masters in many crafts. All you really need is an undying enthusiasm to create the best user experience possible, an insatiable desire to learn, the ability to work quickly, and the humility to take direction from others. 

Q. Solid advice all around. Can you share what you’re currently working on?

A. I'm currently working on preparing the Star Wars Force Band for launch!

Q. Besides that cool thing—and we thank you for it—what do you enjoy most working at Sphero?

A. One of the best things about working at Sphero is being able to observe the way that people play with our products, and being able to take those insights back to my team. It's also great being able to take our products into classrooms and to see all the creative ways kids interpret how to use our products.

Q. Do you favour one of our bots more than the others?

A. SPRK will always be my favorite. It helps level the playing field for non-technologists and allows people to dabble with programming concepts without the usual cognitive heavy-lifting generally associated with computer science.

Q. So what do you like to do outside of Sphero?

A. Outside of Sphero, I teach at General Assembly-Denver and University of Colorado-Denver. I'm very passionate about design and having come from an under-resourced design school, I'm incredibly passionate about making this occupation accessible to others. My ultimate goal is to prepare my students to become the most valuable design thinkers our world has ever known, so that they are the ones to solve the hardest human-facing technological problems that we've yet to identify.

Q. That’s quite the endeavor we can get behind. What do you love most about living in Colorado?

A. I greatly enjoy the proximity to the mountains and to other metro cities. I'm only a few driving hours away from skiing, and a few hours by plane to each coast.

Q. Are there any places you recommend we gotta see or check out?

A. The interior of Union Station is one of the most beautiful places I've seen. I enjoy sitting inside Union Station during rush hour, watching the commuters and travelers rushing to and fro. I do my best thinking while I am or others are in transit, and being around others who are so purposefully-driven -- even if it is fleeting -- provides me with a creative respite.

Q. Okay, I’m counting on Union Station for eureka moments. Last question: Tell us something surprising or unexpected about yourself.

A. I'm currently training for the Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge in early January 2017 - you run a 5K on Thursday, 10K on Friday, half marathon on Saturday, and full marathon on Sunday. Wish me luck!

ICYMI Top 5

  1. Wordsmithing.
  2. No arms vs. little, tiny arms.
  3. Secret Service sneak.
  4. Snug as bug.
  5. Sight unseen.

Weekly Wrap Up - On Your Marks

09 Aug 2016
Weekly Wrap Up - On Your Marks

Now that we’re officially in the middle of summer, the heat is on in our BBQs and down south in Rio at the Olympics. Watching athletes—who have trained intensely for the past four years—compete with other athletes from all over the world for a choice spot at the podium is nothing short of inspiring.

Sphero is in no short supply of athleticism either, flexing both brains and braun. No only do we have incredibly talented programmers, designers, developers and thinkers of all kinds, many of us are also ultra runners, cyclists, mountain climbers, power lifters, yogis; you name it.

We believe in being as healthy and sound in mind as we are in body, which is why Sphero employees also reap the benefits of a gym or studio membership reimbursment, courtesy of Sphero. Being that Boulder is quite the active community (almost a requirement if you live and work here), activities are in abundant supply, ripe for the picking. Outside of some of the best traditional gyms around—of which many Olympic athletes train at—yoga studios, rock climbing gyms (if the Flatirons don’t suit you), a web of biking and running trails, kayaking groups, dance studios and anything you can think of outdoors are all within a walk outside.

Despite the activity we choose, all of them are do a fine job of boosting our endorphins, readying for a race to the finish line as we find our marks on both the track and product boards.

Because as the very popular saying goes, happy people make happy bots.

Or something along those [race track] lines.

A Day In The Life: Rob Helvestine

Weekly Wrap Up - On Your Marks

Q. Alrighty, let’s start things off: Please tell us your name and title.

A. I'm Rob Helvestine, and I'm a Hardware Engineer at Sphero.

Q. Hi, Rob. Can you tell these fine people what you do at Sphero everyday?

A. Every day I work on aspects of new product designs. As an electrical engineer, that might be designing a circuit, analyzing a circuit we have built up, debugging an issue on a board, or figuring out the best way to solve a problem. Trust me, it's a lot of fun.

Q. You look like a trustworthy person, so I’ll take your word for it. What advice can you offer for other aspiring engineers?

A. Be curious. Curious how a circuit or product may work, but also curious about other aspects of life you may not have any experience with. For example, one of my friends is a professional athlete. He lives a vastly different lifestyle than I do. But if I can pick his brain about his world and things that work for him and things that don't, and take away one small morsel to experiment with in my own life and career, it could have a profound affect on me. Digging into other people's lifestyles and careers will help you figure out what you're passionate about.

Q. So become a Renaissance man/woman of sorts. Can you share what you’re currently working on or is it super secret?

A. I'm working on two different products right now. One is super secret, but don't worry, you'll see it eventually. The other product is the Power Pack; a charging and carrying pack for twelve SPRK+ robots. It has proven to have intricacies that are giving me headaches. . .

Q. So essentially your pain is our gain. Sorry and thank you. Besides good(?) headaches, what do you enjoy most working at Sphero?

A. The engineers here are really smart and have great experience. I get to pick their brains every day and learn something new. 

Q. Great brains ripe for the picking. Which of our bots is your fave to pick up?

A. Definitely the SPRK+. Teaching the younger generation how to code is a great return on investment. They are the ones that will grow up to be super smart engineers that propel innovation forward. This is actually the only bot I have ever sent to friends and family for that reason.

Q. A gentleman helping to make scholars. What do you enjoy doing outside of work and Sphero?

A. Honestly I spend about 15-18 hours a week training for triathlons. It's a bit nutty, but I've been enjoying them for many years now so why would I stop? Like many other aspects of life, triathlon teaches you lessons like perseverance, overcoming fears, commitment, and time management. I probably spend another 10 hours a week reading The Economist and whatever book is nearest my pillow. If you can't tell already, yes, I am single.

Q. You hear that, ladies? A verifiable catch. We'd like to know what you love most about living in Colorado?

A. THE MOUNTAINS! There is no other right answer to this question.

Q. BOOM. So any recommendations of a place we gotta check out?

A. One of my favorite places is Brainard Lake, about 25 miles west of Boulder. It's a beautiful alpine lake at about 10,300 feet of elevation that you can road bike to. I get there a handful of times throughout the summer. Get there in May and you can still find feet of snow piled up on the side of the road.

Q. I now have weekend plans, thank you very much. Alright, to wrap this up we’re all ears: tell me something about yourself (ladies, listen up) that will blow my mind.

I rode my bicycle solo and self-supported across the United States in the summer of 2010. And I almost died of hypothermia early one morning caught in a terrible storm on top of Lizard Head Pass, but I woke up to an old lady who threw me in her scalding hot shower to save me. That ended the worst couple hours of my life.

ICYMI Top 5

  1. Is this the lunch line?
  2. Zzzzzzzz..
  3. BB-8 it.
  4. Grassroots gear.
  5. Long rolls on the beach.

Weekly Wrap Up - Code Days of Summer

02 Aug 2016
Weekly Wrap Up - Code Days of Summer

The days are hazy, the activities are lazy, and there is an "S" word looming for every kid out there. No, not that one... how dare you. Around this time every year, retail stores across America trade their beachy Summer-Fun displays (even in land-locked states like ours) for Back-To-School paraphernalia overflowing all the way to checkout. While this sight may illicit quivering from kids and rejoicing from parents, we were too eager to wait for fall and were already back in the classroom with Apple.

This summer we were invited by Apple to participate in Apple Camp. Not your typical summer school session, this free camp teaches kids fundamentals in filmmaking and storytelling through iMovie and iBooks. Now for the first time this year—and this is where we come in—Apple Camp is teaching kids fundamentals in coding through robotics. And not just any robots at that—our SPRK+ to be more specific.

This past weekend our EDU team headed to San Francisco for Kids Hour to get in on the action. Using our newly-updated Lightning Lab app, kids programmed our SPRK+ in our Sphero Maze Challenge, dragging and dropping different commands on the coding interface to make SPRK+ roll left, right, up, down and all around.

From the look of excitement on both kids’ and parents’ faces, we feel learning to code can be fun and we’re glad to help provide that experience, one SPRK+ at a time.

If you’d like to let your creativity run wild and learn to code in the process, we recommend checking out Lightning Lab and learning more about SPRK+.

Drop [code] like it's hot and let's get this ball rollin'.

A Day In The Life: Stacy Carter

Weekly Wrap Up - Code Days of Summer

Q. To start us off, mind telling us your name and title here at Sphero?

A. Stacy Carter, General Counsel.

Q. And can you tell us what you do at Sphero everyday?

A. I'm in charge of our legal function here at Sphero.  That runs the gamut from reviewing customer and vendor contracts to HR support to security and privacy, and everything in between.

Q. Lots of fine print to read through and understand on behalf of the rest of us. What advice can you impart for those looking to do the same thing?

A. Well... law school is the first step.  After that, I think the most important role of a general counsel is understanding the business, industry and competitive landscape of your company top to bottom.  Being an in-house lawyer is much more than understanding laws and how to apply them - it's also being part of a team moving in the same direction towards achieving its goals.

Q. You could say we’re on the right side of the law, amiright? Ok, sorry. Can you share what you’re currently working on or must you plead the Fifth?

A. Because Sphero's products are loved and used by children of all ages, we have a unique responsibility (with great power comes great responsibility...) in the privacy and security realm.  Right now, I'm spending a lot of my time making sure we are living up to that responsibility.

Q. We appreciate that, thank you. What do you enjoy most working at Sphero?

A. I went to CES with the team my second week working at Sphero.  During the show, I spent several hours a day demoing our products side by side with dozens of other Spheroites.  It was great to interact with our customers, hang out with the Sphero team and coax Ollie to do epic ramp tricks.

Q. Ollie is a beast. Not to influence your answer, but which bot is your favourite?

A. Ollie...see above...epic ramp tricks!

Q. Yea-uh, buddy. Beyond reading fine print and taking Ollie for a spin, what do you like to do outside of Sphero?

A. Hanging out with my husband, 3 kids and 2 cats.  On weekends, I'm a typical soccer mom - driving kids to and from games, dance recitals and playdates.

Q. Keeping active and busy. What do you love most about living in Colorado?

A. Broncos and craft beer!

Q. Can’t argue, there. Can you recommend a place I gotta check out?

A. We live in Denver and I love to walk to local restaurants. Vital Root and Pinche Tacos are current faves

Q. With you 100%. Ok, one last question: tell me something about yourself that will surprise me or that I’ll at least find unexpected.

A. I'm an Army brat and spent my childhood living all around the US and Latin America.

ICYMI Top 5

  1. Force Band first look.
  2. Tip-toe through the tulips.
  3. Love from afar.
  4. Puzzle projector
  5. Glow your mind.

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