The State of Cybersecurity

We’ve had tremendous feedback since we announced NitroDefender™, and we appreciate all the kind emails and comments that have poured in. In a previous blog post, I mentioned that with the creation of NitroDefender™, team Nitro felt compelled to assist in the cybersecurity space. Some were curious to know exactly what we meant by that. What did we see happening and just how serious were the cyber threats that made us feel this way?

The truth… it’s bad, and probably worse than most of the general public are aware. Sure, we all see the media frenzy when mega corporations like Yahoo, Target and Home Depot are hacked. These are sensational because of brand popularity and the massive numbers of potential people impacted, but in reality, you’ll never even hear about the majority of cyberattacks.

Because of all that, in this blog post, I want to explore the severity of cybersecurity issues facing our nation – what’s causing this epidemic, who are the players and why is it growing worse?

Let’s dive in.

Critical national security issue

The connected world has changed everything. Amazing advances have come from the hyper-connectivity, but there’s also a dark side to it. Strangers can reach out and knock on the door of your home or business’ Internet router, sometimes “walking in” uninvited and undetected.

Never before has there been such direct access to our values, infrastructure, economy and entire way of life. Everything is connected and the military and civilian worlds have become intertwined. From our personal lives to government to telecom to banking and everything in between, cybersecurity is a critical national issue.

It impacts every one of us in a combination of ways – some major, some minor – and, frankly, given the magnitude of associated risk to the general population, I’m surprised officials don’t share more about this with citizens.

Constantly connected means constantly at risk

It’s truly amazing how technological advancements continue to connect people in new ways, making it easier to share information and keep in touch with everyone, everything.

As a personal example, let me take you back to 1995. I was living in the US (I’m from the UK), and it was incredibly expensive for me to call home to talk to my parents. It was inconvenient, and calls were charged by the minute. Cut to today, I can FaceTime my family for free. Technically “at no additional cost” because I pay for my Internet connection, but I digress. Plus, there’s the added benefit of a face-to-face connection, regardless of where any of us are at.

Unfortunately, last year, my father got sick and passed away before I was able to fly back to see him. However, because of the technology available today, I was able to connect with my family and speak to my father before he passed. A terribly sad event, but I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have talked with him, thanks to current technological advances.

My point is we live in a constantly connected world. Family, friends, even strangers share everything. The Internet is full of information. Some is accurate, some not so much, but you can pretty much find anything you’re looking for.

As a society, we overshare everything. We post news, photos, geo-information and details about what we’re doing, thinking, feeling… the list goes on. The harsh reality is that all of this information is an advantage for anyone looking to exploit an organization, a nation, or further an agenda.

Earlier this year, I visited Tyndall Air Force Base to see the F-22 Raptor, which is a truly

I was right next to the F-22 – as close as this photo – but could not take a picture. I didn’t need to, though. I found this after one quick Google search.

awe-inspiring fifth-generation stealth and tactical fighter. The security was strict – no photos of the F-22 were allowed, and our group had to turn over cameras and recording devices to ensure compliance.

However, afterward, a simple Google search turned up all the photos I wanted. I found pictures from varying angles, different views, and of all parts of the aircraft. 

Cyber Cold War

This abundance of searchable information must make former Cold War operators shake their heads in amazement. Our freedoms and early adoption of technology provide us an immense societal value, but they also create an exorbitantly porous nation, with information flowing readily throughout. While a benefit to us, this information is an intelligence boon for actors who do not have our best interests at heart.

Because we so willingly provide this amount of data, it’s easy to harvest. Outside players can create conversations, build dossiers, or insert alternative news into our population to change narratives and drive specific agendas.

On top of all this, the Internet provides relative anonymity to those who know how to stay behind the scenes. This enables adversaries to perform false-flag operations against our nation and our businesses, attributing the blame to others or making the attack source difficult to determine.

No sane nation would choose to engage in military conflict with the United States. The technological capabilities of our military are incredible. However, war now starts with packets of data, and beachheads are first established on adversaries’ networks.

Cyber is a new branch of warfare, and an attack vector for which we do not have the

Move along, nothing to see here…

overwhelming advantage that we do in conventional warfare. Starting a cyberwar could ultimately lead to a conventional war, but cyber lets you attack from the shadows, moving stealthily to attribute blame, influence and stage operations.

In fact, global cyber warfare grows increasingly malicious, and the line between war and peace gets blurrier every day. It’s been going on while you’ve been reading this post.

And while technically advanced, the US is not ahead in cyber combat. The nature of our data-porous society, and the fact that in the cyber world we’re on a level technical playing field as other nations makes cyber warfare a real challenge. There is a Cyber Cold War currently raging, being fought daily as rogue actors leverage the latest techniques to attempt to gain a foothold within our infrastructure, businesses, governments, and hearts and minds.

I’m not a government agency or a large business, so I’m safe… right?

While this is a common thought, it’s completely incorrect. Small businesses are actually the biggest targets. They can be used to “launder” attacks against larger targets, and they’re easier to breach because they typically do not have as much awareness of cyberattacks.

But even if they did recognize their own vulnerability, these budget-conscious organizations do not have the means to protect themselves as effectively, using the same robust cybersecurity solutions that larger organizations and government institutions can employ.

Because of this weaker-by-comparison security posture, once inside the network, hackers can remain undetected for extended periods of time – some perhaps never being discovered. With eyes, ears and data siphons inside an organization for such quantities of time, information is easily extracted or altered. Plus, if the smaller company ever connects with a larger one, those connections can be leveraged to gain access into the larger business’ systems.

The hackers… they’re everywhere!

Obligatory and overused hacker in a hoodie photo

Obligatory and overused hacker in a hoodie photo, representing no similarity to what they look like.

No matter the size of the organization you own or work for, or what industry you’re in, you are a target for hackers. Most people are familiar with that term. They might not comprehend exactly what it means or what a hacker is capable of, but they understand the general idea.

What many people don’t realize or account for, though, is that “hacker” is just an all-encompassing umbrella term. There isn’t just one level, one type of hacker. There’s a variety of malicious cyber actors, each with their own methods, drives and agendas.

Here are a just few of these different types:

  • Hacktivists – Target organizations that represent a cause. Their goal is to disrupt operations, get revenge or change business practices in order to promote their own social or political agenda.
  • Cyber Criminals and Organized CrimeThese attackers are generally looking for financial gain. Ransomware attacks, identity and credit card theft are common avenues of assault. When discovered, these attacks typically cause damage to business brands, resulting in lawsuits and loss of consumer confidence.
  • Insiders or Former Insiders – This type of attacker already has access to the network. It could be a disgruntled employee, someone who sympathizes with an outside cause, or even an ex-employee still secretly connected. They could be looking for monetary profit, personal advantage, or revenge. Their attacks could result in loss of assets, disruption of business or disclosure of trade secrets. 
  • Nation States and Intelligence Services – These are your heavy hitters. Well-funded groups with advanced assault capabilities, typically beyond the defense capabilities of the organization’s they’re attacking. They are typically seeking political, economic or military advantages, and damages from their attacks can be catastrophic.

OK, so don’t I just need to stay on top of my software patches?

You should absolutely keep your systems current and patched with the latest security updates. However, this is easier said than done. Some vulnerabilities that allow access to your network are unknown by the vendor or security manufacturers, so they haven’t released a patch yet. These specific attacks are called zero-day attacks, because they are publicly unknown before becoming active, leaving zero days to create a patch.

Other times, for compliance reasons, a company cannot immediately apply a patch and must first test it, creating a delay in cybersecurity coverage. Of course, this doesn’t protect you from insider threats, or former insiders, with knowledge of how to regain access to your systems.

The truth is, your networks are likely to be comprised by at least one category of hacker. Connecting your machine to the internet results in an automatic barrage of hacking attempts, which most are unaware of.

The threat landscape is advancing, your cybersecurity should be too

These are the realizations we had which prompted the creation of NitroDefender™.

Put as simply as possible, we assume your networks will be compromised. When that happens, the malicious code or hacker will begin operating in ways that are different from the normally observed behavior on your network. NitroDefender™ will detect these changes, even in the case of zero-day attacks, and raise them as threats for further examination. This accelerates response speed and provides the critical time you need to secure and quarantine your operations.

The IoT, mobile and connected devices continue to expand possible opportunities for attacks, and attack techniques evolve every day. Governments are creating cyber weapons, corporations are becoming foreign military targets, and elite cyber actors (state-sponsored and rogue) are using increasingly innovative techniques to breach your data. Traditional cybersecurity methods cannot adapt on their own to these evolving cyber threats, but NitroDefender™ can.

Using a unique, multi-engine approach with artificial intelligence and unsupervised machine learning, NitroDefender™ constantly transforms like human DNA to adapt to new risks in an always-changing cyber landscape – growing to recognize, alert to and neutralize new threats as they occur. More on that here.

So while the cybersecurity landscape continues to grow more aggressive, I advise that everyone stay up to date on current cyber trends, threats and solutions, no matter your industry or business size. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

We’re Back… and We Brought the Future of Cybersecurity

It’s been a while since our last blog post, and there’s a reason for that…

Like many others (and probably most of you reading this), over the last year we’ve observed a significant increase in the number of cyberattacks, and a growing diversity in cyber threat type. What’s more, cyberattacks don’t discriminate – commercial industries and government institutions alike are common victims of cyberattacks, creating a complex and multifaceted cybersecurity problem. Our population’s dependence on sophisticated technology continues to grow and, at the same time, the threat environment continues to evolve in a uniquely dynamic and daunting way.

Just how secure is your cybersecurity?

Concerned by looming cyber threats and data breaches, we began thinking about ways to apply our machine learning and behavioral analysis experience toward solving the problem. We realized that, while necessary, traditional, reactive perimeter-based approaches to cybersecurity are insufficient, and that artificial intelligence driven network defense would provide a more resilient security posture.

We approached the problem with the mindset that your systems would be compromised. It’s just too easy. Exploiting security flaws, social engineering, zero-day attacks, insider threats… if someone knows what they’re doing, they can probably infiltrate your network. When they do, most threats are not discovered for at least 150 days, if ever. That’s more than enough time to extract any data the attacker needs to cause harm. What’s more, your data integrity is now compromised – any software corruption, data changes or malware have been immortalized into the organization’s long term backups. The costs of cleanup and potential impact to reputation can be tremendous.

Introducing NitroDefender™: Cyber Immune Response™

When tackling the issue of persistent cyberattacks, we used the human immune system as a guide. The human body has not been exposed to all the viruses in the world, and viruses are constantly mutating. But your body knows you; it knows itself. It knows what’s ‘normal’ and it generally identifies compromises and mobilizes against the threat.

For example, if you catch a common cold, you might tell someone that you “may be comingCyberImmuneResponse down with something.” Your body has already detected an anomaly within, and you can feel that something is wrong. This triggers your immune system to respond to the threat, releasing antibodies to seek and destroy pathogens.

We wanted our solution to provide that same response; trigger that same level of “something is not right” that your body experiences. That’s why NitroDefender™ was designed to mimic human immune system functions, providing what we call the Cyber Immune Response™ that delivers rapid threat identification, accelerated response and threat prevention capabilities.

Operation Stealth Mode

After initial designs were complete and development was underway, we shared our approach and progress with some members of the military and intelligence community. We’re talking industry vets who were very attuned to the day-to-day challenges of cyber defense. After review, we were encouraged to “commercialize and bring this to market as soon as possible.”

Once it was clear that we would have a market leading solution for cyber defense, it became a sense of obligation and purpose to bring this product to market. NitroDefender™ safeguards data more comprehensively and intelligently than security solutions that have preceded it. The opportunity to help reduce cybercrime and ultimately contribute to a safer world became a driving force for team Nitro. We wanted to deliver a superior cyber defense solution as soon as possible.

The team knew it was time for action, and that action required some transformation. We elected to pivot Nitro’s direction and have most of our employees focus on the creation of NitroDefender™. We chose to operate in stealth mode, not updating our website or social media until we had a product in the last mile of release. Once the finish line was in sight and we needed to activate our partner and distribution channels, it was time for the world to meet NitroDefender™.

Cybersecurity solution - NitroDefender

So what is NitroDefender™?

NitroDefender™ is the first cybersecurity solution to utilize unsupervised deep neural networks to guard against complex cyberattacks. It is modeled after the human immune system, delivering a Cyber Immune Response™ to alert to cyber threats in real time. It uses artificial intelligence, machine learning and unsupervised deep neural networks to observe network traffic, learn ‘normal’ behavior, and predict and detect cyberattacks.

The solution is provided as an appliance, installed locally within a user’s datacenter. It seamlessly plugs into the network, learning and monitoring without any disruption to existing business operations.

The system can detect anomalies caused by zero-day attacks and other generally unknown activities that compromise networks using techniques yet to be discovered and patched by vendors. While our initial approach was to solve external threat detection, we quickly realized that in modern businesses, it’s almost impossible to distinguish “internal” and “external.” Our technology environments are so complex and so intertwined that “inside” becomes “outside” and vulnerabilities are opened up everywhere.

Plus, what’s the use of external threat detection if the threat is already inside? Our unique, multi-engine approach enables NitroDefender™ to discover insider threats as well. Whether it’s cyber espionage carried out by employees or contractors, software being used that violates corporate compliance and policies, data transfers outside the organization, system hacking or any other unusual activity, we’ll catch it.

WarGames1Through the WOPR dashboard (Warnings, Oversight, Protection & Response – yes, Professor Falken, it’s a WarGames reference), a user can see information on number of threats detected, view health of the system, and learn about the people, devices and network to determine what ‘normal’ behavior is. An amazing 3D visualizer (created using game visualization) provides a cyber analyst with real-time views of the network, traffic movement, threat events, compliance enforcement and much more.

In the last year, we’ve been working quietly and diligently behind the scenes to ready NitroDefender™. We’ve formalized a sales distribution plan, to include a Channel Partner Program, established protocol and secured resellers and pilot launch partners. Additionally, we’ve joined forces with a new CEO and a distinguished advisory board, all with extensive industry knowledge.

Appliance_Transparent_BG4The NitroDefender™ appliance will be a Made in America, designed, built and finished product, with all development occurring from our downtown Tampa headquarters. If you’d like to learn a little more about NitroDefender™, head on over to our product site at https://nitrodefender.com

That’s all for now, but don’t go far. Much more to come.

Computer Mentors Group at Nitro, Take Three!

STEM educationDoes the saying, “Third times the charm” still apply if it’s been awesome every time?

Recently, Computer Mentors Group Summer STEM Corps students visited Nitro for the third year in a row! We were thrilled to hear they had such a great time last year and of course we said yes when they asked to come back.

This year, the students started out in the tech museum, where they got to check out our collection of technology that’s become obsolete. Much of what’s on the shelves is even older than the students! Among the relics is a Commodore 64 and an Apple IIe, and also some more recent technologies, like the original iPhone and iPad.

After that, they headed into one of our many Star Wars themed conference rooms (Kylo Ren, if you were curious) for some pizza and a presentation from our CEO. He talked to the students about what we do here at Nitro, and gave some expert advice for working in the tech industry.

STEM education

The teens had some great questions for him too. Already thinking like tech professionals! We see big things in their futures 🙂

He also informed the group of the importance of company culture, and advised them to not only find a job they love that suits their skillset, but stressed the importance of finding an organization whose passion and values align with their own.

At Nitro, we have a more casual work space, and promote open collaboration and team building. We know that employees spend much of their week at the office, so we provide an environment where they can enjoy their work and exercise their creativity. Our culture is a little different than most, but the students loved it and many even asked about working at Nitro after graduation! (On a side note, if you’re currently looking for a career where you can explore your love of technology, check out our open positions here.)

STEM education

After lunch, the group split up to hear from our developers. They learned about deep visualization, computer learning and the future of artificial intelligence (thanks, Jon!) and… drumroll, please… they tested out the famous Oculus Rift! This time around, Brian guided the students through a flight simulator and, everyone’s favorite, the virtual roller coaster.

Of course before they left, the student’s just had to address the elephant in the room… or rather, dinosaur! Our Nitrosaurus (his friends call him Rexy) is pretty hard to miss, so we made sure there was enough time at the end of the trip for plenty of selfies.

Then, armed with some new knowledge and a bunch of Nitro swag bags, the group was off to their next adventure!

We’re so thankful there are groups like CMG to promote STEM education, and we are proud to support them! If YOU represent a technology-focused youth group and are interested in visiting our office, please contact us. If you are interested in getting involved with Computer Mentors Group, please click here.

STEM education

Hey, now the students can say they’ve been on the same computer-generated roller coaster as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn!

10 Reasons I Love Tampa… And Why You Will Too

Tampa Skyline

Tampa is a happening place. It’s hard to write that without worrying that it sounds a little funny, but it’s true.

When I moved to Tampa a dozen years ago, that statement really would have been silly. Tampa’s downtown was a wasteland after workhours. You could easily imagine tumbleweeds rolling through the empty streets.

There were great places to live downtown, but no supermarket, which meant downtown dwellers needed cars to get food or baby formula or home supplies, which meant that nobody wanted to live downtown.

Worse, much of the country knew Tampa as “the city without a skyline.” … Not a great nickname for our image. But every big city started somewhere, and that moniker definitely doesn’t hold true today.

The next Great American City

Nitro made a commitment to Tampa’s downtown last fall when we moved from our offices on the outskirts into our bigger, better digs smack in the city center. We made that commitment for the same reason so many other growing companies are doing likewise.

In the old manufacturing economy, companies chose headquarters cities based on availability of resources, like a nearby river or abundant local timber. In the new economy, a company must choose an HQ location that not only holds a rich supply of the top talent it needs right away, but also presents an attractive destination for talent from all over the country, from all over the world. It needs a city the best workers will want to raise their kids in, and call home.

That’s Tampa, 2016.

Here are just a few highlights of what makes Tampa a great place to live and work in, in no particular order:

Great teams for sports fans, including the downtown-playing Lightning NHL team the Buccaneers NFL franchise, the Rays MLB team just across the bay and even pro soccer and arena football franchises.

The wealth of arts and culture. The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, the second-largest performing arts center in the Southeastern US, right on the river downtown. If you’re more into physical art, the Tampa Museum of Art offers a range of exhibits from antiques displays to contemporary art for you to enjoy. There’s also a number of cultural festivals and history museums around the city to check out. Speaking of museums…

MOSI Tampa

Team Nitro catching Star Wars in IMAX at MOSI.

• The Museum of Science and Industry, a nonprofit educational resource dedicated to “advancing public knowledge and understanding of science, industry and technology,” and Glazer Children’s Museum, which provides a cultural learning environment for young children. With innovative and informative programs and exhibits, these museums provide great learning destinations for families and the community as a whole.

A spectacular international airport, rated second-best in the US. Tampa International Airport is close to the business hub of downtown, making it especially convenient for corporate travel. As someone who regularly uses this airport, it’s hard to express just how great it is. It’s extremely easy to get in and out of, and currently undergoing a billion-dollar makeover that will hopefully make it even easier.

A ton of livability-enhancing retail on the way, including a new downtown grocery store from Publix, the most beloved chain in Florida (by far). Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn recently called this first downtown grocery store the “last missing piece of a downtown that is about ready to explode.”

• A long, gorgeous Riverwalk made up of broad paths connecting green, peaceful downtown parks and playgrounds, some hosting great public events almost every weekend. The Riverwalk provides public access to Tampa’s waterfront and links five museums, seven parks and a number of hotels and restaurants. It’s part of what makes our downtown so special.

A vibrant higher-ed community, including the public, 50,000-student University of South Florida (a top-tier research university) and the private, 8,000-student University of Tampa, which has its main campus downtown.

• New, better commercial and residential space opening downtown all the time. With all the new development taking off, Tampa is offering more and more spaces to live, work and play.

The incredible food scene. Tampa boasts a diverse culinary landscape that will make the foodie in you rejoice. With international gastropubs, multicultural cuisine, fresh seafood, farm-to-table fare, some of the nation’s best steakhouses and more, there’s a little something for everyone. And to pair with dinner, Tampa holds the title of #3 best beer scene in America.

A comprehensive master plan for the continued improvement of downtown, already well underway and already drawing new companies and new citizens. Tampa Bay Lightning owner, Jeff Vinik, has worked with city leaders and planners to lay out a $1 billion “vision plan” to build almost 3 million square feet of development in downtown Tampa over the next decade. Organizations like Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation and the Tampa Innovation Alliance not only contribute to this plan by working to make Tampa a place people want to live and work, but offer great resources to encourage and enable local business expansion.

These and other treasures explain in part why Tampa has been ranked recently as one of the Top 5 cities for finding a job, the best city in Florida in which to start a career, the second-best city for young entrepreneurs and one of Top 15 the best cities in the US for owning a home.

Recently Tampa was even named a “hot spot” by realtor.com, earning the #1 spot for cities gaining the highest number of new residents in the U.S., and the #3 destination for millennials. The article cites our affordable housing market and “unusually strong job creation” as reasons for Tampa’s increasing popularity.

Keeping the bell curve rising

Tampa—no joke—is hot. But we can do better. As a new member of the Executive Committee of the Tampa Hillsborough EDC and the Innovation Alliance, I get to collaborate with local business leaders on what we must improve to keep Tampa competitive, especially:

Transportation: Tampa has some bad bottlenecks in its roads and highways, and its public transit system is simply inadequate to the needs of the city as a whole, and especially to the rising class of young professionals who want to live car-free in a vibrant downtown but don’t want to live in any of the crowded, costly subway cities.

Everyone here agrees that fixing our transportation issues is a high priority, but nobody can agree on exactly how to do it. We’ve had some setbacks recently. But I’m not giving up, and neither are a whole host of Tampa’s most influential leaders. We’ll get there.

National image: Tampa has a history not only as a tourist town and former cigar-making capital, but also as a great low-cost place to run a national call center or data center. But we’re so much more than that today. We’re a knowledge economy, a tech-town, and becoming more so every year. We have to get the word out nationwide that this is not your grandfather’s Tampa.

Over the next five years, I think we’ll see progress in these and other areas. But even today, Tampa is a brilliant place to live and to work. You should visit us. You just might decide to stay.

About the author:
PeteSladeWith more than 20 years experience in software development and strategic businesses practices, Pete Slade’s mission is to help enterprises streamline and optimize their business through technology innovation. With expertise in a range of technical operating systems, languages and databases, Slade works in concert with Nitro’s development team to offer clients superior products and services.

His experience as a technologist, talent developer and business strategist has resulted in Nitro Mobile Solutions being named “Technology Company of the Year” by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, one of the top 100 small businesses in America by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and earning position #248 on the Inc. 500 list for a three-year growth rate of 1,797 percent.

Gamification: Round 2

GamificationThese things go in predictable cycles: Somebody has a transformative idea that gets a lot of press. In five years, futurists are making dramatic predictions about how the idea will rapidly transform corporate culture. Five years after that, they’re all trying to explain why it didn’t.

Gamification is riding that wave today. Ten years ago it was little more than a broad concept, an inspiration to apply the instant feedback and rewards incentives of gaming to everything else—consumer apps, productivity software, back office, anything—in order to make consumers more engaged and workers, especially those who grew up on video games, more productive.

By 2011, the Gartner Group was predicting that more than half of organizations that managed innovation processes would gamify those processes by 2015. Less than two years later, Gartner was saying that four out of five gamification applications were failing to meet business objectives because they were designed poorly.

Those of us who had been around for the identical boom-bust-remorse cycle for ERP experienced déjà vu. And in gamification’s case, the backlash hit before a mature approach to achieving gamification had even had a chance to evolve.

Failure to meet hype shouldn’t kill a good idea

Since then, a lot of the steam has gone out of the gamification craze, and the reason is both ironic and funny: Companies jumped into the game because it was trending, then bailed when they found out the game was difficult, and that they could lose it.

Whether adoption rates are rising or falling, the core concepts of gamification remain a great idea for a wide variety of applications, including education, banking and many more… even truck driving. But it’s not an easy win. There’s not a lot of historical overlap between game designers and business application designers. The game people have never needed to understand business goals, and the business people typically have little understanding of the rich, complex universe of game theory and application.

Successful gamification of a business process requires a rare breed of developer with a foot in both camps, like some of our top designers here at Nitro.

Another reason gamification projects fail is philosophy. Companies set out to create games that perform a business purpose, but that’s not really the objective of gamification. The proper aim is to create a gameful experience that drives ambition, through the same intrinsic motivators that appeal to us when playing actual games—elements such as feedback, rewards, a social community and a sense of achievement.

Getting gamification right at that level is less a matter of technology than of imagination and vision—more art than science. And at the technology level, a highly flexible platform is needed to enable developers to rapidly, reliably convert imagination to action.

Right designers, right environment

Nitro’s deeply flexible middleware platform and best-in-class mobile development and integration technologies provide a habitat ideally suited to the development of imaginative, attractive, addictive gameful experiences that transform routine tasks into worker obsessions.

But there’s another aspect to gamification that absolutely demands the scalability and any-system integration possible only through middleware: Big Data. Companies that have gamified successfully, especially for consumer applications, are reaping big Big Data rewards from information about user preferences and habits culled from interplay with gamified applications, and now forward-thinking companies are looking to do the same with business processes and even employee applications.

Big Data is all about scalability and processing power. Collecting and making sense of the valuable data generated by gamified applications takes a platform that can get that data into and out of the best systems for dealing with it, and that takes a middleware layer that can hook anything to anything.

Right now, there are highly successful gamified applications in the field built on Nitro’s platform, and designed with Nitro’s gamification expertise. The pundits calling “game over” are calling it early. The game is just beginning.

About the author:
Pete Slade - CEO of Nitro Mobile SolutionsWith more than 20 years experience in software development and strategic businesses practices, Pete Slade’s mission is to help enterprises streamline and optimize their business through technology innovation. With expertise in a range of technical operating systems, languages and databases, Slade works in concert with Nitro’s development team to offer clients superior products and services.

His experience as a technologist, talent developer and business strategist has resulted in Nitro Mobile Solutions being named “Technology Company of the Year” by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, one of the top 100 small businesses in America by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and earning position #248 on the Inc. 500 list for a three-year growth rate of 1,797 percent.

Get Girls into STEM, and Save the World

In my previous blog, I covered the STEM studentunconscionable gender wage gap in American industry, and explained how Nitro addresses that problem. Due to the response and support for that post, I wanted to elaborate and take a step further back, because there’s more to the problem than fair pay, especially in the STEM field. Study after study shows the myriad ways girls are systematically discouraged from pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects.

Teachers, parents and peers, often unconsciously or subtly (sometimes not so subtly) persuade girls that STEM pursuits are unsuited to them, and that they’ll fail if they try. So they don’t. So what can we do to fix it?

Fixing business takes fixing the culture

It’s actually more of a culture problem than a business problem—but of course, the one feeds the other. In an economy where tech jobs lead, women whose STEM passions were flattened in grade school must settle for careers in fields that may offer less opportunity, and less pay.

Worse, the rest of us never get to enjoy the fruits of what those women might have created, had their potential been nurtured rather than stunted.

Refactoring a culture is an agonizingly slow process. But the work has begun. Organizations such as Girls Who Code spread the message that programming is for everybody. The National Girls Collaborative Project aims to ensure that all girls have access to resources for pursuing their STEM passions.

We’re also happy to see local organizations with the same eagerness we have to make sure young women have the opportunity to realize their pursuits in STEM fields.

Million Women Mentors (MWM) is working to line up one million STEM coaches to “increase the interest and confidence of girls and women to persist and succeed in STEM programs and careers,” according to MWM, and The State of Florida has pledged to contribute 5,000 mentors over the next four years as part of the program. To achieve these mentor-mentee relationships, Hillsborough County Public Schools has partnered with the Museum of Science and Industry to provide female students access to successful STEM role models.

A powerhouse in the Tampa tech scene, Tampa Bay Technology Forum is getting involved too. They recently held a Professional Women’s Network panel to discuss fostering a love of STEM in young women and how to “rebrand tech” in the hopes of reigniting their STEM interests.

Here at Nitro, besides doing right by our women wage-wise and actively seeking women candidates to evaluate for every position, we created our Women in STEM scholarship to help make college a little more affordable for female high school students who plan to major in a STEM-focused program and have proven financial need.

Saving the world starts at home

But since this is a culture problem first and a business problem second, what we do at home really matters more. That’s where I safeguard and nurture any sign of STEM interest in my nine-year-old daughter who, like my 16-year-old son, shows a strong aptitude for math and engineering. (DNA is amazing stuff.)

My daughter is not limited by this world - STEM

She is not limited by this world

My wife and I are making sure we encourage those gifts by giving her all the support she wants, and by carefully avoiding the gender-norm trap of subconsciously taking such aspirations more seriously in her brother than in her.

I think about the ways my parents helped feed my early passion for technology and math by making sure I had access to instructional books and magazines and computers as soon as I was ready for them. I do the same for my children. Both of them.

As every parent knows, encouragement is a tightrope walk over a wicked canyon. My wife and I must make sure we are supporting and encouraging our daughter’s interests while also taking care not to push so hard that we accidentally press the Preteen Rebellion Button and boomerang her in the opposite direction.

Right now she’s pretty STEM-focused, and I’m giving her all the help she wants, plus a tiny bit more I hope she won’t really notice. But if she wakes up next week with a sudden passion for haiku or macroeconomics, that’s what her mother and I will be encouraging next week. As a parental organization, we are all about customer service.

Our daughters are everybody’s future

STEM begins with reading

Lots of fun reading with my daughter

I always remember the quote attributed to Albert Einstein “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Reading triggers the imagination. It’s also the best gift you can give a child, teaching them where to find information allows them to feed their own curiosity. This starts at the earliest of ages.

Now she is 9 years old and while she loves to read, there are other STEM-focused activities she is engaged in. One that has helped is Tinker Crate, a subscription service that ships our daughter a box each month containing materials and instructions for a fun STEM-based project.

Tinker Crate is great for STEM projectsEach month we get a different project. One month it was building a biomechanical hand, the next was building a hand crank flashlight that works via the electricity generated. These projects come with all the materials needed for construction, along with blueprints and a magazine. She looks forward each month to the next delivery.

Drip irrigation STEM project

She’s been working on a drip irrigation project

Recently she received a drip irrigation system we built together.

Non-school educational activities like these feed her science curiosity, and spark new  conversations about the real-world and how things around us work. They also serve up great dad-daughter bonding time as a bonus for me.

The world can’t hope to address the Big Challenges of our time without utilizing everyone’s talents to the fullest. Somewhere out there, a young woman may already have the idea that will give us limitless clean power.

MythBusters has been great for STEM

She loved the MythBusters and was sad it ended

Do you enjoy the thought that perhaps her idea will never be developed because she can’t break into the technology field? Me neither.

And perhaps one day, the efforts my wife and I are making at home will converge with those we make at work, and our daughter will engineer her miracles right here at Nitro. That would be so cool. But don’t tell her I said that.

 

 

 

 

About the author:
PeteSladeWith more than 20 years experience in software development and strategic businesses practices, Pete Slade’s mission is to help enterprises streamline and optimize their business through technology innovation. With expertise in a range of technical operating systems, languages and databases, Slade works in concert with Nitro’s development team to offer clients superior products and services.

His experience as a technologist, talent developer and business strategist has resulted in Nitro Mobile Solutions being named “Technology Company of the Year” by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, one of the top 100 small businesses in America by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and earning position #248 on the Inc. 500 list for a three-year growth rate of 1,797 percent.

Slade Says: Gender Pay Gap? Not Here.

EqualPay
It makes me see red. I hope it makes you see red, too.

Last week’s Equal Pay Day briefly put the problem of the gender gap on the front burner, and having a woman as a frontrunner in the presidential race is helping to keep the issue front and center… sort of.

This is one of those issues. Some people refuse to think it’s actually a problem. And the people who know it’s a problem can’t seem to figure out how to fix it. Every so often we talk about the problem for a while. And then we turn away to the problems we think we can fix faster.

The tragedy of the gender gap is that it’s not only unfair to half the population, but bad for all of us, even for the dopes who defend it.

Where women are held back from achievement, where they are prevented from rising into positions where they can make a greater impact, where their efforts are too little recognized and rewarded, society loses some of the benefit of their skills, their imagination and their labor. We all lose.

This time it’s personal

Now, even if I did not have a young daughter, the wage gap would trouble me. Although I accept that life is not fair, I have a shockingly low tolerance for engineered unfairness.

But as it happens, I do have a brilliant nine-year-old daughter—not to mention an incredibly smart wife. The thought that either of them would have their ambitions stifled, their talents underused, their contributions unrewarded because of their gender frankly boils my blood.

I was incredibly encouraged when the president said recently that he felt the same way, wishing we could make a world where his daughters—where everyone’s daughters—could be assured a fair bite at the apple. It’s always fun to discover that POTUS sometimes worries about the same Dad stuff as you.

From my specific vantage point inside the Florida tech sphere, I get a good-news-bad-news view of the gender gap. Good news: Florida’s wage gap is one of the lowest in the nation. Bad news: Florida’s wages are pretty low across the board, so where women are being paid less than the underpaid men, they are making tragically little. More good news: The wage gap is a little better in IT overall than in many other industries. More bad news: Women are appallingly underrepresented in the IT executive suite.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not proposing we hire one gender over the other just to make numbers. I believe we should always hire the best person for the job. However, I know that the best person for the job can come from either gender. We need to make sure that women are granted the same access to these careers as men; the same access to opportunities and education. We need to make sure we aren’t turning away qualified candidates or lowering their salaries simply because of their gender.

According to a report from the Center for American Progress, as recently as two years ago nearly half of the 150 highest-earning public companies in Silicon Valley had not one female executive. Not one.

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with…

So I do what I can do. That frustrates me, because what I can do seems small in the grand scheme. Then again, if everybody just did as much, the problem would solve itself.

I make damn sure Nitro leads by example. There is no wage gap here. There never has been. There never will be. Workers in the same role with the same level of seniority get the same pay, period. And for every open position, we actively recruit women. If for some unknown reason women aren’t applying for a role, we reach out and find some. (While we’re on the subject, if you happen to be woman who’s job-hunting right now, please review the career opportunities at Nitro.)

About the author:
PeteSlade
With more than 20 years experience in software development and strategic businesses practices, Pete Slade’s mission is to help enterprises streamline and optimize their business through technology innovation. With expertise in a range of technical operating systems, languages and databases, Slade works in concert with Nitro’s development team to offer clients superior products and services.

His experience as a technologist, talent developer and business strategist has resulted in Nitro Mobile Solutions being named “Technology Company of the Year” by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, one of the top 100 small businesses in America by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and earning position #248 on the Inc. 500 list for a three-year growth rate of 1,797 percent.

Slade Says: It’s All About the APIs

In the digital economy, the API is king. Or as Forrester Research has called it, “The poster child of digital transformation.”

Human using tablet

You’d think the API revolution was a welcome time-saver for developers, now able to API-shortcut their way into all sorts of existing, tested functions and services instead of having to invent whole new wheels. The revolution isn’t quite working out that way, at least not yet, because writing bulletproof APIs isn’t as easy as it looks, and everybody’s scrambling to catch up.

At the enterprise level, half of the problem is reach. Developers are required to build APIs that stretch all the way from state-of-the-art mobile apps into the bowels of legacy corporate systems, a feat that requires a difficult degree of system and language agnosticism, not to mention a large amount of working around unpredictable and ever-evolving barriers. The other half is a lack of cohesive, enterprise-grade API management to ensure consistency, security and performance.

Our solution to the API backlog is pretty simple: Couple a system- and language-agnostic middleware layer to an easy-to learn, self-documenting, drag & drop API builder.

For developers trying to catch up on the API revolution, the simplicity of a drag & drop API authoring environment saves time and reduces errors. But that’s just the beginning. Using a method like this, authors can drag & drop components to create elaborate business workflows, or perform logic operations by inserting JavaScript actions or calling .NET plugins. They could even model and combine data just by dragging & dropping SQL connectors.

Experience and skill matter, and developers who make the effort to pick up exceptional API skills will lead the way in positioning their employers to innovate and succeed. But skills alone won’t get it done. Putting the right tools and platform in place to enable API success is the first step on the winning path.

About the author:
2015-10-02_08-35-15Pete Slade has worked professionally in software development for more than 23 years with roles ranging from developer to architect to Chief Technology Officer. Under Slade’s leadership, Nitro Mobile Solutions has received numerous accolades for its products, services and business practices. In 2015, Nitro was named one of the top 100 small businesses in America and received the Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, presented with a Bright House Regional Business Award, and made the elite Inc. 500 list for its exceptional growth. Additionally in 2015, Nitro was named a Top Software Developer and Best Place to Work by the Tampa Bay Business Journal, and Technology Company of the Year by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum.

Slade Says: Control vs. Flexibility — I Can’t Get Both?

Your run-of-the-mill enterprise IT environment is, frankly, a rat’s nest. A quagmire. A hot mess.

It’s a fierce tangle of applications, services and makeshift mobile device hooks badly grafted onto systems never designed to hold them. These are typically older systems and databases with tentacles running so deep in the organization that they can never be yanked out. I?ve seen people try.

The enterprise rat’s nest is expensive to maintain, failure-prone and ? worst of all ? openly hostile to essential new technologies, like mobile devices today, and whatever?s next tomorrow. It defeats innovation, thwarts progress, and hinders a company’s ability to win advantage by embracing new technology faster and better than its competitors.

Profitable mobilization means enabling apps to push past built-in system roadblocks so that mobile users can tap into whatever resources they need, and doing that requires fixing the hot mess. Somehow.

Trendy cloud and hybrid cloud alternatives notwithstanding, few companies can completely replace their legacy systems to get an architecture that dovetails better with next-wave technologies. Besides the prohibitive cost of doing so, there?s no point ? the moving target of business IT will shift yet again before your shiny new infrastructure even reaches the testing phase.

If you want to assess the cost of that slip up, just Google ?ERP implementation failures.?

Forget the teardown ? try a remodel

What?s needed is a middle layer that seamlessly handles the data exchange between legacy systems and whatever the business needs to put on top of them, so you can leave bought & paid for tech investments running while gaining every advantage of whatever innovation comes down the pike.

Done right, this middleware layer forms an application management platform, cloaking the complexity and interactivity insufficiencies of legacy systems with a friendlier, far more flexible environment that plays nice with any kind of functionality your business needs to lay on top of it, now or in the future.

It provides a consistent, highly scalable, easily managed way to connect multiple back-end IT systems with front-end mobile applications, enabling them to store, share and access data, documents and media files in real-time, even when those objects are buried in the legacy back end.

Middleware can serve as a Mobile Back-end as a Service (MBASS) solution that acts like a Portal Server and Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) for mobile devices. This enables apps to easily tap into ERP systems, CRM systems, legacy databases, applications and even websites, and provides the progressive structure needed for future innovation, mobile and otherwise.

Yin, meet yang

And then there?s the rub. As soon as someone starts talking flexibility and enhanced data access, some smarty-pants starts squirming about data security and control.

It?s a reasonable fear. Except it?s not. A middleware solution designed to connect disparate data systems can actually improve security, and also confer tighter and better management of IT and business operations. The right middleware solution is not only a gateway, but also a gatekeeper.

That?s why I created NitroServer?,a middleware solution featuring a Switchboard facility that empowers IT staff to create custom visual paths of business logic, chaining together business logic actions. You can use Switchboard to define and enforce business workflows within IT operations, gaining better control and visibility for both business and IT processes and ? finally! ? aligning your IT operations with your business goals.

In effect, NitroServer gives mobile apps and other technologies enhanced access to your legacy systems and data while enabling you to easily control how and when and why, and in what order, that access happens.

Add to those workflow controls NitroServer?s configurable user permissions, secure sandboxes, and certification by Security Compliance Associates (SCA), and, well? you?re having that cake and eating it.

NitroServer?s Switchboard does more, of course, like delivering drag & drop tools to make life easy for your API developers? but that?s another Slade Says.

I believe an ideal middleware fix needs a few other things, such as high scalability, to ensure that your middleware-enabled ecosystem can grow with your company. While your organization grows, it will become increasingly necessary for high-performance management tools that simplify access to information and insight needed to make better investment and operational decisions. For this reason, file and document repositories to help secure and organize records, and simplify data management are a must.

Ready to make the most of what you already have?

With the right middleware, deployed smartly, legacy system investments can be not only preserved, but enhanced. The functionality they still deliver, and the data they still house, can be made available to mobile users, dynamic websites, new applications and fresh APIs with a strategically selected and implemented middleware solution.

And while your business is reaping the benefits of sleek new technology sailing across an old sea, your competitors may still be trying to rebuild their architectures from the ground up, and very likely setting themselves up for a failure they won?t see coming until it?s too late. I?ve seen it happen. But it?s entirely avoidable.

About the Author:
2015-10-02_08-35-15
Pete Slade is a technology entrepreneur with over 23 years of experience in software development. As founder and CEO of Nitro Mobile Solutions, he has led his organization to become the third fastest-growing private company in the Tampa Metro Area, with a three-year revenue?increase of 1,797 percent. Under his leadership, Nitro Mobile Solutions has received numerous accolades for its products, services and business practices. Already in 2015, Nitro has been named one of the top 100 small businesses in America and received the Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, presented with a Bright House Regional Business Award, and made the elite Inc. 500 list for its exceptional growth. Additionally in 2015, Nitro has been named Top Software Developer and Best Place to Work by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Computer Mentors Group Visits Nitro… 2.0!

If you?ve read our blog, you know that we?ve worked with Computer Mentors Group a few times before. We just can’t help it. the CMG students, staff and entire organization are so great we don?t want to stop partnering with them! Yesterday, we invited CMG’s Summer STEM Corps Program students back for a second field trip to the Nitro office.

When the students arrived, they were greeted by our ever-present light show and year-round Halloween decor. They loved the office so much, a few of them wanted to work here for our decorations alone! After touring our office, the group gathered in one of our conference rooms to learn more about Nitro?s products, services and practices.

Oh, and also to feast on some pizza. It may have been a late lunch, but it’s never too late for pizza!

FullSizeRender 26

While they dined, our CEO was there to explain to the teens a bit about Nitro and how we use mobility as one step in designing and delivering enterprise ecosystems. They had some great questions for him too!

Our CEO informing CMG about NItro's products, services and culture.

Our CEO informing CMG about NItro’s products, services and culture.

The coolest part of the trip though? According to the students, it was definitely testing our Oculus Rift virtual reality device. The teens (and chaperones!) each got to take a virtual roller coaster ride, complete with realistic sound and some lifelike wind-in-hair action, provided via our CEO and a paper plate! 🙂

"This roller coaster feels so real!"

“This roller coaster feels so real!”

On their way out, the teens stopped to visit our mini museum. a diverse collection of old computers, cell phones, keyboards and other gadgets (many of which were obsolete before the students were even born). Then it was time for a group picture and they were off!

A group photo... And almost fully! ;)

A group photo… And almost fully! 😉

The first CMG field trip was awesome, but this one was even better! They are certainly welcome back any time and we hope they’ll stop by for another field trip next year! If YOU represent a technology-focused youth group and are interested in visiting our office, please contact us. If you are interested in getting involved with Computer Mentors Group, please click here.