What’s the best way to test your skills? Be challenged. Compete! That’s what four of our developers did a few months ago at the GM “Makers Hustle Harder” Hackathon in Boston. With access to GM’s Infotainment SDK (software developer kit) and using cloud-based speech recognition, Julian (President), Elliot (Front End), Reed (Backend), and Stephen (Backend) created a restaurant search app that would be tested on a GM vehicle onsite. They called it “Food Finder,” the voice-activated, hands-free food ordering system. Brilliant! How often are you driving home from work and need to call in an order for pickup, or want to find a local restaurant as you’re traveling through a new town? This infotainment add-on would help with those requests using just your voice.
Food Finder competed against five other projects, and while they did not come in first place, the team left feeling accomplished in what they did. It also acted as a great team building exercise for these Sulzerites. Challenges included issues decoding and not getting enough sleep! Their biggest accomplishment was completing the end-to-end solution in just three days. Impressive!
The team created a Spring Boot Java backend that utilized Maven as the dependency manager, MongoDB as the database, Google Cloud for speech-to-text transcription, and IBM Watson for natural language processing and sentiment analysis. For the UI, they were limited to use the React framework with Redux for state management. Amazon Web Services (AWS) was used to deploy and host the project.
Check out what the test screen looked like and read more about the Hackathon at https://devpost.com/software/food-finder-bh1ldv.
We may not have warm, spring weather yet, but that’s not stopping us from getting active with some rock climbing; Indoor rock climbing, that is! Just minutes from the office, The Gravity Vault is a great place for teams to get in some bonding after work hours. With about four people to every one instructor, the groups were small enough that everybody got ample climb time and big enough that there was always a cheering squad rooting for you at the bottom. We had great instructors who were at the other end of our harnessed ropes also cheering us on and suggesting the next move to get to the top.
Imagine this: The climb starts off easy. Left arm and left leg up, right arm and right leg up. Then you realize you’re halfway up the wall, heart racing, and don’t know your next move. You hold on tighter and try to reach your foot up to your hip’s level. Sounds hard! But rock climbing is more than just a physical challenge; it’s a mental one, too. When you think you don’t have the energy to pull yourself up to the next handhold, your eagerness to succeed and make it to the top kicks in and you power through!
And if you think this is just an individual activity, you are sorely mistaken (emphasis on sore. It’s quite the workout!). A few of us participated in what I like to call, “Blind Rock Racing.” Two climbers were blindfolded and went toe to toe, climbing up walls with comparable skill levels while others on the floor guided him or her on where their next move should be. Our team is growing and it’s more important than ever to find team building opportunities in so many things we do!
Our Sulzerites don’t just work hard, they play hard, too! On the West Coast, we have a small team based in California made up of Lukas & Christian. When fellow colleague, Martin, was there, the three of them took a visit to the 60th Annual San Francisco International Auto Show to experience new cars and features that the show had to offer.
Martin (left), Lukas (center), and Christian (right)
They went directly from the office to give themselves plenty of time to explore. So much time, in fact, that Martin sat in almost every car available! They also had the opportunity to test drive new KIA models and a hybrid car around the block. Lukas says that was his favorite part! Martin and Christian enjoyed being able to build their own Volkswagen model and digitally paint it. The red was a nice choice!
The SF Auto Show gives visitors a chance to see the latest automotive innovations from the world’s major manufacturers. They get the chance to sit in, feel, and daydream about what it would be like to own one, which is the what the show is all about! We hope our team can visit again next time it’s in town!
Sulzer has been growing rapidly!! Since our last Sulzer girls’ outing in June at Uptown Art for wine and painting, we hired an additional 10 employees, 6 of which are females!! So, we needed another girls’ trip!!
We were ready for fall too, so we went PUMPKIN PICKING!!
Just a short drive away from the office is Demarest Farms in Hillsdale, NJ. They have a hayride that will take you pumpkin and apple picking, a petting zoo, and a farm store that has a salad bar and hot lunches, homemade pies, and the most delicious fresh-out-of-the-oven apple cider donuts!
Pictured left to right: Shannon, Janina, Javnika, our favorite Sulzer baby, Lauren, Stephanie, Sharon, and Olivia.
Cups: For drinks or for games? We vote games. In 2012, Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect performed a song using just her voice and a cup, and had teens clapping and singing using a cup as a musical instrument. At Sulzer, we decided to use them for fun, too, for another team building exercise!!
Just cups, a rubber band, and string. The goal was to build up the cups to a pyramid, but without using your hands…even when it falls on the floor!
When we did this exercise, we recently had a few new faces join the team, so it was the perfect time to do a team exercise and give everyone a chance to get to know each other better. Here’s what some of our new teammates had to say:
“It was a lot of fun! We may have been the slowest team, but quality cup construction takes time.
It was great to see how the team was able to communicate and work together.” – Stephanie, Application Developer
“It was interesting to see how everyone kind of took a role without even communicating one!” – Matt, Jr. Cyber Security Consultant
“I think the team exercise we did was really awesome. It’s a great way to interact with people that work on different teams from one another.
It was definitely a fun experience, and I’m looking forward to more of these.” – Olivia, HR Coordinator
Putting communication skills to work, strengthening bonds between colleagues, and learning how to think outside the box. These are all characteristics of team building exercises that everyone in the office can benefit from. What are the best team building exercises, you ask? Games!! Games provide an opportunity for employees to come together in a unique way to accomplish a goal. For employees who do not work with each other regularly, they get a chance to learn about each other’s skills and are given the opportunity to bond. There are other people who work with the same individuals on a daily basis, but games allow them to work on something more creative and with no deadlines, a.k.a. less stress! And the best part? They’re actually fun! The Sulzer Squad recently played a game we call “Marshmallow Tower.” We split into four teams and each team had ten pieces of spaghetti, a string, small pieces of tape, and three marshmallows. That’s it! The goal was to create the tallest tower with just these materials. Let’s see how everyone did…
One challenge was that the spaghetti was actually angel hair pasta, and therefore even thinner and harder to keep from breaking! But the biggest challenge was that a whole (and heavy) marshmallow needed to be placed atop the tower for it to qualify. All four teams did a great job of working together as a team and using each others’ strengths to build this structure, but only one team could be on top!
And the winner is…!!
This tower, not unlike the Sulzer Squad itself, has a sturdy foundation and strong bonds, reaching for the sky, and proving to be #1!
Here at Sulzer, we see the importance of taking time to get out of the office and breathe in some fresh air. On an average week, our employees sit inside at their desks for an average of 40-50 hours, and by the time the workday is over, it’s hard to stay motivated to get to the gym or exercise. That’s why we have created a culture of health, incorporating meal choices, monthly water deliveries, and opportunities for outdoor activities into our daily work. It seems crazy to not take advantage of the beautiful area we live in, as a way to bond as a team and to promote health in the workplace, whether its in our home town of Montvale, NJ or exploring nearby towns of Ridgewood, West Milford, or Hewitt!
According to healthyworkinglives.com, “Work related stress, depression, and anxiety form the second most common reasons for work related sickness”. However, according to the World Health Organization, at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week can, “reduce short term reactions to stress and enhance recovery from stressors”. An active work force can result in an abundance of benefits, not only to the employee but also to the organization, including:
“The workplace directly influences the physical, mental, economic, and social well-being of workers and in turn the health of their families, communities, and society” (World Health Organization). Sulzer highly recognizes this and in return provides opportunities for employees to bond as a team outside of the office, including pick-up soccer games and destination hikes.
Sulzer employees are feeling the benefits of these activities, and say that it helps to bond as a team and to get to know more about each other outside of work. The weekly soccer matches give employees a chance to get out their energy in a fun, competitive environment. Anyone from Support Specialists to Developers to Project Managers, even our President shows up for a friendly game every once in a while. The hikes are a great experience too, giving employees the chance to take things slow and enjoy nature, all the while being fit and exploring. And who would miss the chance to hit the beach and go surfing, even if it’s still the cold season of March! Everyone seems to look forward to the next weekend trip or event!
Not to say that promoting health and wellness in the workplace needs persuading, but the statistics of an unhealthy lifestyle are enough to prove it. Just the costs of poor health can add up quickly. According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, four of the ten most expensive health conditions for US employers are related to heart disease and stroke. Work related stress is the leading health problem and major occupational risk, productivity losses linked to employees who miss work can cost employers almost $225.8 billion each year, and full time workers who are overweight miss about 450 million more days of work each year.
Hallmark Business Connections highlights some workplace wellness statistics that may surprise you:
Sulzer also tries to promote health and wellness from inside the company in smaller ways, such as ordering sandwiches for our Summer Friday extended lunches, promoting attendance to local gyms and workout classes after work, or participating in fun sports events such as racquetball, tennis, surfing or more intense Spartan Races. Even on sunny days, we take advantage of the fresh air by holding meetings at our outdoor picnic table. Sulzer employees are constantly looking forward to what activities will come next! Some of our future activities include trips to the beach and weekend camping trips!
There are so many ways to encourage health and wellness in the workplace, and to reap all of the benefits. Promoting healthy behaviors, improving employee’s knowledge of health, and providing opportunities for physical activity will show significant improvements to the overall company, and can improve all areas from employee morale to productivity and personal health. Curious to see where else our program takes us? Stay tuned for future posts! : D
Picture this: Your heart is beating heavily, muscles ready to give out, sweat dripping down your dirt covered face as you contemplate whether or not to tackle the dreadfully steep, muddy mountain waiting ahead of you, or turn back. You look to your team members in disarray as they give you the nod of approval to gather their last bits of energy and push to the finish.
Stumbling across the finish line, you are officially a Spartan warrior. This is what three of our Sulzer employees accomplished on Saturday, June 3rd at the Tuxedo Park Spartan Sprint.
A Spartan race is an obstacle course based race varying in distance and difficulty. Races include the Spartan Sprint, the Super Spartan, the Spartan Beast, and the Ultra Beast. Some of the obstacles include the spartan ladder, the ape hanger, ring the bell, barbed wire crawl, herc hoist, and fire jump.
The Spartan Sprint is about a 3-5-mile course, but the team clocked it around 4.9 miles from start to finish and strived to the end for 2 hours.
It was a rewarding feat for Sulzer’s team Null Mercy. Here’s what they have to say:
“The two most challenging obstacles of the race for me were definitely the barb wire crawl and the bucket carry challenges. I went into the barb wire crawl at a full energy because I definitely did not realize how long it was. I thought it was maybe like 10-20 yards, but when I got there, I realized that it was never ending.”
-Elliot, Front End Developer
“It was a lot of fun but the hill was very steep since it was on a ski mountain. Relish and mustard packets littered the trails because they are apparently good for you if you are dehydrated.”
-Reed, IT Support Specialist
“Overall, the race really is about teamwork. There were several obstacles where we helped one another complete them and cheered each other on for motivation. I couldn’t have gotten through some of the obstacles without them!”
-Lauren, HR Generalist
As the saying goes, “team work makes the dream work” and it definitely proved to be right for Null Mercy. Sulzer US is proud to have these Spartan champions as a part of their office team each day and we’re looking forward to seeing what other great things our people can do.
Are you up to the challenge?