Tag Archives: Application Development Blog

Bitcamp GR

30 May


You know what sounds fun?  Getting pulled out of class the Friday before Memorial Day to make a webpage about whatever you want.

On Friday, May 23, twenty 6th-8th grade girls from Harrison Park School got to do just that as part of Bitcamp 2014.  They came over to the App Dev space at OST to learn basic HTML and CSS from some of our female developers.  Harrison Park is just a few blocks from OST’s Grand Rapids campus, so it was great to be able to partner with one of our neighbors.  These particular girls were Challenge Scholars, which means they’ve shown academic potential and will receive special learning opportunities and, upon successful graduation from high school, money to attend college.  The goal is to enable them to succeed at the university level when they may be the first ones in their families to do so.

I’m not a teacher, and there’s a reason for that.  Sitting behind a computer screen writing code comes much more naturally to me than interacting with junior highers.  My fellow Bitcamp teachers may have been slightly more qualified but obviously OST believes in me and wants to provide me with opportunities to grow and use my expertise in unexpected ways.  I was thrilled to be a part of this, since I truly believe coding (especially making your first web page, with customized colors and links that pop up right after you hit save and refresh!) is a blast, and wish that more girls were exposed to it at a young age.

It was a challenge to convey some of the abstract concepts inherent in programming in a way that pre-teens who had never heard of HTML could understand and relate to.  Most of them left understanding a lot and being confused about a lot (which is approximately how I feel after attending any tech lecture).  But by the end, we could tell many of them were having fun getting creative with custom colors, links to their favorite sites, and pictures (boy bands were a theme) embedded in their own unique web pages.  The goal wasn’t to teach them everything about web development, or to make them HTML and CSS experts.  My hope was that at least one of the students would leave thinking (1) that she is capable of doing this and (2) that she might enjoy doing something like this.  A little inspiration is all it takes, and I think that happened on Friday.



Andrea Houg joined the OST team as an Application Developer in March 2014. Andrea is a recent Hope College grad who majored in Computer Science and Chemistry, and minored in Spanish. Andrea graciously volunteered her expertise to assist with instructing the girls at Bitcamp GR 2014. 

“Open-Me” Under Your Tree!

18 Dec

Screenshot of Open-Me

Justin Menkveld is a self admitted tech geek. Spend more than two minutes with him and you will soon find out he is also a serial entrepreneur who never stops dreaming. His most recent invention is Open-Me, an application he developed out of necessity.

“I race motorcycles, and as you might guess, I’m also a self-confessed techno geek,” said Open-Me inventor, Justin Menkveld, a 23 year old software developer here at OST. “Opening garage doors when you’re driving a motorcycle is a pain, so I was determined to find a better way. How to begin? Well, I had an idea in mind that I thought just might work. Okay, it was a bit more involved than that, but by the time I was finished I had developed the working prototype I’m still using today. I considered bringing the product to market by myself without any help, but feared it would max out my time and money. I pursued the TV Series Shark Tank for a time and the producers showed a high level of interest — but in the end, they decided against it. Since my days are spent at a technology company that’s loaded with talent, I ultimately decided to team up with them and bring the product to market via Kickstarter,”

The Open-Me app allows you to open and close your garage door, from anywhere in the world, with a simple click on your cell phone. It can also open your garage door automatically when you arrive home and close it when you leave — using GPS technology. Open-Me even allows you to view the door in real time with its video feature (available in the premium version) and can send out an alert when your garage door is left open, giving you peace of mind. The easy-to-use app will be available on Apple iOS and Android smart phones through native apps…as well as any other devices with a web browser.

The price range for the Open-Me Appliance (that attaches to your garage door opener) is $99 for the basic appliance, $139 for the fully featured appliance and $199 for the fully featured appliance plus video.  The app is free.

Justin needs a minimum of $200,000 in Kickstarter pledges before he can move forward with commercial production of Open-Me.  If he achieves his Kickstarter pledge target, Open-Me will be available for shipment in June of 2014!


The Kickstarter page will only be live for 33 more days (it launched on December 6) so we are looking to generate as much momentum and enthusiasm as possible during these first several days.  Please help by:

​You never know, this could be the perfect gift for the person on your list who “has everything!”

Jason Sich

Justin Menkveld
Application Developer at OST & Founder of Open-Me

OST Application Developers at GiveCamp Grand Rapids

27 Nov
GiveCamp Logo

GiveCamp Logo (Photo credit: ChrisKoenig)

From November 8th-10th developers, designers and others from the Grand Rapids area joined together to help local non-profits with their websites in an event called GiveCamp Grand Rapids. Over the long weekend, OST App Dev team members Brian Scaturro, Brandon Meyer, Garret Hoofman, Kirk Roerig, Jason Sich, Jeff Timreck and Tom Fish helped four local non-profits develop four new websites to help with their needs.

This all began a few months ago when the possibility of putting together an OST team for GiveCamp was brought up at one of monthly App Dev meetings. It didn’t take long for some of our developers to volunteer and form a team. We were tasked with a specific job this year – could we create a single donor database that would fit the needs of Hand2Hand, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities and Red Project GR?

After reviewing the requirements and meeting with the three non-profits, we decided to take on the challenge. Our team was excited to begin working. Most websites developed by App Dev use a Microsoft technology stack made up of Windows, .NET & SQL Server. We decided to push ourselves to try something that we wouldn’t typically use in our daily jobs. And for that, we went off the deep end and used a technology stack called MEAN (MongoDB, Express, AngularJS, Node.js) which is entirely based on JavaScript. We were all excited to work together on a new project with a new technology… and then things changed.

Part of being a good consultant is finding the best solution that fits your customer. While researching donor databases our team found a mature & maintained open source project called CiviCRM that did everything that the non-profits wanted, plus a little more. We came to realize that CiviCRM would be a better solution than what we could build from scratch, so that’s what we went with.

We still got to use some of the new tools that we were looking at using. Brian Scaturro created a solution that could automatically provision a new virtual machine fully configured with CiviCRM within minutes. That was amazing but it also meant that we wouldn’t need the whole team to work on these projects. So a few days before the event was scheduled to begin we asked if there were any more projects that we could work on.

Since it was so late in the game we weren’t sure there would be any other development projects left but we lucked out. MomsBloom is an organization that matches new mothers with volunteers for help and support. The information that they gathered about the mothers and volunteers was placed in an Excel sheet and notebook. They were looking for a new app to help them keep track of this information.

Friday night we started work. The CiviCRM installations for the other three projects went quickly. Jeff Timreck and Tom Fish (data guru) teamed up and were able to launch, configure and import existing data into the CiviCRM install in no time. It was only on the Friday morning that we were able to gather the requirements for the MomsBloom project, so we had a long way to go to finish it.

Over the weekend, we stayed up late each night and came in early every morning. It was constant work for our team members and we faced a few challenges by using a new tech stack. To help break things up a bit, some of the more athletic members of our team ran a .1k at noon on Saturday!

Overall, GiveCamp went really well. We were able to help out four local non-profits instead of just the one we had originally expected. And top of that, we had the opportunity to bond as App Dev team members. It’s great to know that each of the projects we worked on will help a non-profit do more good for the local community. The total contributions that GiveCamp provided for the community ended up being estimated at $250,000 worth of services to 17 non-profits.

I’d like to thank the participating App Dev team members for the time & talents that they donated. I’d also like to thank fellow OST’s Tamara Iakiri, Beth Van Slyke, and Lizzie Williams for their help in organizing this year’s GiveCamp.

Click here to see more photo’s from the GiveCamp Grand Rapids.


Photo of Brian Scaturro, Lizzie Williams, Brandon Meyer, Joe Rivard, Garret Hoofman, Kirk Roerig, Jason Sich, Jeff Timreck and Tom Fish at GR GiveCamp.


Jason Sich

Jason Sich

Jason Sich is an Application Developer at Open Systems Technologies. Jason is the writer of the blog post and was a volunteer at GiveCamp Grand Rapids 2013.

5 Keys for Successful Software Application

2 Apr

Last week, Brian Anderson, our  Application Development practice principal was featured on the Technology section of Corp magazine. Here he gives 5 helpful tips on how to maintain successful business practices when developing software applications.

Software applications are powerful business drivers of productivity. It always amazes me how far companies that get this insight can automate, optimize and fine tune their businesses. It is fun to observe and be a part of. I have been a software development consultant for 15 years and would like to share with you five keys that great companies and software development firms do to increase their odds of success.

1. Don’t get hung up on billable rates. Focus on the people who are going to work on your project. Vet their experiences and references.
We all like a great value and no one likes to pay more for something than they have to.  In the world of software development services there are a wide range of capabilities and experiences. If you find someone with the right set of skills, experiences, and references, that person can be at least three times more productive than a junior level that is just getting started. People like this know how to lay the framework for everyone else to be successful. When hiring a firm make sure to ask who are the senior people on their team that will be working on your project and vet those people. It is OK to have juniors who cost less but don’t assume that they will be as productive or capable of doing the work without some senior leadership.

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