GovGeek setups: Steph Gray

The first in an occasional series of posts written by prominent geeks working in and around government, talking about the tools they use to do their jobs.

Steph Gray

Who are you, and what do you do?
I run Helpful Technology, a little two-person digital engagement agency that helps mainly public sector and not-for-profit clients get good value from digital. We build websites, do training and consulting – sometimes with our good friends at Kind of Digital. Right now we’re really into the unusual mix of online consultation and social media crisis comms (thankfully, rarely together). We’re moving to a Proper Office in September, but for now I’m mainly home-based.

What hardware do you use?

I’ve been an Apple boy for 20 years, which is saying something as I’m 32 now. My main workstation in the home office is a 15″ MacBook Pro (late 2008) hand-me-down from Dave Briggs, souped up with 6GB RAM and a 128GB SSD from Crucial. It’s plugged into a Dell 22″ display with a 2048×1152 resolution, mainly so I can see Twitter better.

On the road I use both a MacBook Air 11″ – possibly the best computer Apple has ever made – and an iPad2 3G on the Three network. If the MacBook Air had a SIM card slot and I felt less like a oaf for using a laptop on a commuter train, I might retire the iPad altogether. Still, carrying the pair of them still feels lighter than lugging a big laptop around. That I’m surgically attached to an iPhone goes without saying.

The other core elements of my kit are a 3G Mifi device (again, on the Three network) and a WiBE, a bizarre-looking tub-like device which amplifies 3G signal in weak spot areas and is like a mobile wifi network hub when you need several machines online together. It’s a lifesaver for training or social media crisis exercises on client sites.

Maybe the favourite thing on my desk though is an Anglepoise 75 lamp – it’s beautiful and has lovely movement.

And what software?

Given the range of things I do, it’s a real mix. Most days I’ll have EchofonTransmitTextwrangler, Terminal, Spotify, Chrome, Photoshop, Powerpoint, Mail and Evernote open. Evernote in particular is the beating heart of my setup, linking up todo lists, notes, URLs and draft texts like this one, across two Macs, an iPhone and an iPad. Dropbox is pretty core to the setup too, as a shared drive and extranet that never puts a foot wrong. I’ve never quite got into IDEs like Coda, though one day I might. For occasional screencast recording, I use ScreenFlow.

Adobe Fireworks is a relatively new addition to the setup, but an amazing design tool for everything from wireframes to full-on design. Sequel Pro is my tool of choice to handling MySQL – it’s a lovely UI to MySQL and makes import/export and building new database structures a breeze. I’m getting slowly into version control, using Tower as the acceptable face of Git. For cross-browser testing, I’ve got four – FOUR – virtual machines set up in Parallels running Internet Explorers 6-9.

Web apps are a big part of my setup: WordPress of course, but also FreeAgent for accounts, Pingdom for server monitoring, Pinboard for bookmarks and plenty more.

What would your dream setup look like?

When I went freelance, I went from a PC-only Internet Explorer 6, Windows XP, Outlook world to Firefox/Safari, Mail and Mac/iOS world overnight – that’s the lovely thing about working for yourself (along with taking client calls in pyjamas). So it’s fair to say the dream setup is pretty much what I have now. I’m hoping the next few years bring iPhones that can actually make voice calls; rock-solid, always-on mobile broadband connections; the death of old web browsers; and web app experiences even closer to desktop apps – but for now, I’m not really complaining. I’m just happy to be living in one of those early 90s Apple commercials.

If you would like to feature in a GovGeek setups post, drop me a line!

Published by

Dave Briggs

I'm an experienced senior manager in digital and ICT, looking for interim engagements to modernise technology teams to help organisations transform.

3 thoughts on “GovGeek setups: Steph Gray”

  1. Hi Dave, Steph,

    I’m intrigued by your use of evernote, I use it but not as much as perhaps it can be…it hasn’t really found a place in my way of working. Maybe that is because i work in localgov but i’m still thinking it can and should be doing more…

    Could you explain a little further the types of things you actually do with it – as much as you can without sharing your trade secrets of course 🙂

    Carl

    1. Sure – for me, it’s a place to dump text (styled and unstyled), lists and if I’m travelling, PDFs of maps, links to hotels and so on.

      The search function is fast and accurate, so I can type a couple of characters and answer questions like

      – what’s my VAT number? (in my Admin note)
      – what’s the IP address of server name X?
      – what’s next on my todo list (literally, just a text file which I reorganise a few times a day)
      – what’s the purchase order for Project Y?

      I also work on draft blog posts in there. It works pretty seamlessly (styled text can be a stumbling block) across iPhone, iPad and desktop (and also web, which I don’t even use), syncing everything up so I know what’s on the todo list wherever I am.

      There’s stuff I don’t use – like automatic OCR of scanned documents, and tagging – and stuff I rarely use, like sharing notebooks (collections of notes) with other people – normally, Google Docs or Dropbox are a more compatible way to achieve that.

  2. Can I echo Carl. We use Evernote but very badly. It seems a beast that doesn’t really do much well. I’m intrigued as to how it could form the core of anything.

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