6 Tips to Running an Efficient Help Desk

Behind every successful help desk is a group of hardworking agents committed to meeting customer needs and support the agency mission. To ensure an effective help desk, leaders need to consider all avenues to implement accessible, simple, fast, and scalable help desk services.

A help desk is a ticketing system essential to any organization that experiences a regular flow of email inquiries from customers. A ticket is a message shown in a feed that contains customer details and can accumulate history. It gives the agent information about the customer’s question and provides a single place for troubleshooting.

Consider these tips for creating an efficient help desk.

  1. Make sure you are putting the customer first and listening to their needs. This includes having a service that can pre-empt customer needs, like self-serve options or a FAQ. However, troubleshooting issues start with considering the end-user. Customers should feel like they are being heard and taken care of and that agents are not just letting technology lead the course of action.
  2. Consider having an internal knowledge base. This is a landing page of basic information that can help your agents attend to service requests faster. Not all ticketing software comes with an integrated knowledge base, but you can have a separate, not integrated help desk through a third-party.
  3. Implement a unified inbox, meaning it can create tickets by pulling requests from additional sources, such as live chats, social media, phone calls, and even texts. Additional perks of a unified inbox would be the ability to send automatic responses that give the end-user the ability to reply, keep content from past conversations, and prevent two agents from responding to the same ticket at the same time.
  4. Document the help desk process. If processes are properly documented (i.e., changes and improvements), this documentation will assist new help desk team members as well as ensure customer needs are consistently met.
  5. Make use of other tools and technology. Things like bots and portals can help the company serve modern customer needs on a larger scale. You might want to consider a help desk app for your team as well, which makes tickets more accessible and faster versus a web browser tool.
  6. Always be prepared for continuous learning and improvement. Feedback is so essential to improving your help desk and helping it become more efficient over time. Learning from customer feedback is the only way to know where your help desk system can improve and why.

Help desk system features that may simplify customer support:

  • Canned responses allow you to prepare answers ahead of time for future use
  • Statuses show which tickets need attention
  • Some systems have Private notes, which are a way of communicating with other agents in the app
  • Filters and tags help you with organization
  • Teams can group your agents by their specific roles and enable teammates to work together


Highlight uses best practices to evaluate the best implementation and establishment of help desk services. The bottom line is organizations need to consider the customer and their needs first, evaluate industry best practices, and determine the best strategies for the help desk system and process. With these tips in mind, organizations can provide a more efficient, user-friendly help desk experience.

Written by Jes Mabanglo | Marketing Specialist

Episode #16 | Code Challenges

Announcement: Broadcasting from Fairfax, Virginia. You are now tuned in to the Highlight Cast with your hosts, Adam McNair and Kevin Long.

Adam McNair: Hey everybody, to another episode of the Highlight Cast. I’m Adam McNair and joined as usual by Kevin Long. Hey Kevin. 

Kevin Long: Hey Adam, how’s it going? 

Adam McNair: Good. Uh, we also have Victoria Robinson, our Marketing Manager here. Hey Victoria. And we are also joined by Roman Zhelenko , who is one of the directors here at, uh, at Highlight and, uh, focused on software and service delivery. Roman, how are you? I’m doing very well. Thank you very much. Good. Um, We have talked and mentioned, I think, in past episodes about the fact that we have been involved in some technical code challenges and we talked about it from the standpoint of just situational awareness, talking about things we were doing, because they certainly were a big part of our consciousness, you know, for several months there about things we were getting ready to do or things we were going to do or actively doing, but we didn’t go into great depth on them, And we wanted to talk today about code challenges. Now, for context, for folks, the government has done pilot type procurements in the past. There are a few different kinds of procurements I think you see. You see the typical, write down what you would do based on some written requirements, and we will evaluate that, and we’ll come back to you, and maybe formally ask some questions, but that’s about the extent of it. Then you see the some combination of that with an oral presentation, which again is kind of talking about what you would do, but not actually doing what what you would be delivering in for the actual program. And then I have seen a few over the years. Pilots where they want to see you build a working prototype I think it was much more common in the metal bending and signals type part of programs if you were going to buy a new boat or Something like that. You might want to actually see one of them. Um, 

Kevin Long: probably some other times. Find cots and for to show that it works, you know, a commercial off the shelf software that already exists, right? Doesn’t work for here. 

Adam McNair: Right. So I’ve been involved in some things like that. And then, you know, years ago I was in a, uh, what is this? They didn’t call it a code challenge at the time, but I think it’s a code challenge. We were working on a name checking algorithm. And we had to build one and so that that felt that way, but it was also a large written component to that. And so yeah, that was a demo. I think they called that because and technically, I guess maybe that’s a good dividing line is that really was a demo of something that we had already built. We built it. However, we wanted to on our own time with no visibility for them and showed up with, uh, a black box that we fed their data into and then gave them the extract out of that. But we didn’t do any coding. We frankly weren’t allowed to do any coding in the room. So that’s a good point. Now in the last, I want to say 12 to 18 months. 18 to 24 probably, because we’ve worked on this for a year. That’s a good point. Yeah, I guess what you have to remember, we also have all been in our homes, so you probably don’t know how long we’ve been working on any of these things. So let’s call it for the last two years. I think we started to hear about. Tech challenges and having them be more prevalent in the customer set that we support. And during that time, we want a procurement where we had to go in and talk them through a scenario, but was not a true tech challenge. Uh, we were on a team, we were on a couple of teams as a subcontractor for, for some tech challenges. And then we. Really ramped up for like, because Kevin said about a year, uh, to, to prepare for this 

Kevin Long: to prime our first one. So, but now, now the big difference between the demo and detect challenge is as Adam was intimating was the demo. We knew they said, Hey, we need to name check algorithm system, right? And we built it on the tech challenges. We don’t know what they’re going to ask. They just say, this is the type of stuff that we do put together a team. We’re not going to tell you until it starts, then you’re going to do it. Right. And so, and there’s a couple of different flavors of tech challenges too, that we can, we can talk through. Uh, as well with that. I mean, summer or the, the, the homework style where they last multiple days and then there’s some where it lasts a much shorter period, like usually less than a day and they actually watch you do it. And so yeah. So it’s literally bring the people, do the work that we want to pay people to do to see it. We want to see that you can actually do it, not just. Right about it or talk about it like we do with the first two different types of procurements 

Adam McNair: and I would say my personal opinion is that I think it makes a lot of sense to do it that way. I will also say that nothing is ever perfect and that doing a. kind of artificial challenge type is not a direct 100 representation of how it would be. I mean, no more than when you ask somebody to do a 3D rendering of what your new landscape would look like, it’s not necessarily going to look exactly like that. Or if when somebody is interviewing for a job. Sometimes they are exactly how they are when you start working with them, but very commonly they’re not. Whether it be that they were trying to really put it a best foot forward or they were just nervous or any number of things. So I don’t think anything is foolproof. I think it’s It’s an avenue to buy something.

Kevin Long: It’s like the SATs and the GREs for getting into college or grad school. I mean, they’re supposed to say how good you’re going to do at something, but I mean, largely it tests how good you are at doing it, what they ask you to do. I mean, I, I went to grad school never once. Did I have to do, uh, a, a is to be as C is to blank. In grade school, but I studied that guy out of it for the GRE. 

Adam McNair: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And, and I, I think in, you know, it does, it does. I like the fact that there is a, an attempt to think about how you would get a view into how a team would perform more so than just writing it. I think that that has merit to it. So what kinds of opportunities, what kinds of programs are you guys seeing the government use tech challenges for?

Roman Zhelenko: So most of the work that we’ve seen is, you know, software development, tool development, automation. They really want to see how we’re able to process requirements without a product owner. I mean, At this point on our previous coding challenge, I think Kevin was a product donor. I was a product donor. Everybody was wearing so many different hats, but we were still able to, you know, optimal requirements deliver a tool within the set time frame. So, so, so 

Kevin Long: Agile software development, CI, CD, um, Right. I mean, because that that’s really where it is, because there’s not time to do waterfall or anything like that. Right. God help us. If we did, 

Adam McNair: and there is a procurement that I know we’re looking at, um, that looks like they’re going to have a tech challenge for an infrastructure program. What will be interesting, because we haven’t done this yet, and I think we could probably circle around and do part two of this once we see what that looks like, but I’ve, I’ve been in an oral presentation before where they gave you a scenario and they said, if you were running the primary data center here on the East Coast and the replication on the West Coast, and at the same time there was a fire on the East Coast, data center, there’s a snowstorm and an outage on the West Coast and the person is supposed to get there to work on the hardware can’t get there. What things would you do? And they’re listening for thought process troubleshooting and all that, but there was no replica environment that we were doing anything in, right? I think it’s possible for the infrastructure when they may, may have some sort of mocked up environment. I 

Kevin Long: mean, or here’s a bunch of log data. Something’s gone wrong. Here’s your log data. 

Roman Zhelenko: Right. 

Kevin Long: Fix it. 

Roman Zhelenko: Absolutely. So, I guess on that point, since everything is now on webcam, when you’re doing that question and answer type of situation, you can’t see their response, so you don’t even know if you’re going down the right track. 

Kevin Long: That’s a great point, Roman, that, um. The last couple of years, these, these, these all used to be in the same room where they would watch you guys watch us do these different things. And now, yeah, it absolutely is all over over webcam so that they can record everything too. So, yeah, 

Roman Zhelenko: and you don’t see their expression. You’re just looking into the void, 

Adam McNair: which is tough because I know I remember Kevin and I, when we did our, uh, one of our, uh, DevOps ones, uh, several years ago, uh, we were, we were presenting and then as soon as the real presentation part started, they turned their cameras off. So you’re like, really? We can’t have any nonverbal feedback if this is maybe okay. Um, but I will also say there’s been so many times that I’ve gone to a normal presentation and People will have latched on to whoever the positive affirmation, nodding, smiling person is and they will say, I think we did really, really well and notice the seven other 

Kevin Long: people 

Adam McNair: that are like, what the heck are these people saying? Exactly. Because the person that’s staring at you, like, you dumb, you don’t look back at them because you just know it’s going to throw you off. 

Victoria Robinson: Thing about them turning off their webcams though is you just look at your team members and you’re like we’re prepared for this and we already know what we’re going to do and I have all these familiar faces here and the stress level goes down. I would say at least 5 percent but I wouldn’t say much more. Yeah, I mean, but by the same 

Kevin Long: token, I mean, uh, we’ve done oral presentations where we’ve gone in and we’ve looked at stuff. And as soon as we started talking, People pulled out their cell phones and started writing emails and the only thing that they would say was, yeah, well, that’s just that there’s nothing unique or special about what you’ve just said. And then go back to writing an email. Um, and at that point, I’d love to just talk into the void. 

Adam McNair: Yeah, if you could, if you could turn that video stream off, it would be helpful. Yeah, and also sometimes these rooms are really awkward. I mean, over the years, in oral presentations, I have had, well, Kevin and I did one, one time in a conference room that was shaped like a T. Right? And so it was almost like being back in the wings of a stage area. And so from where I was sitting, like I’d have to peek around the corner to make eye contact with anybody. And what we had planned on was some, okay, well, I’m going to comment on something to amplify that or whatever, when we get to it, but then you get in the room, you’re like, I can’t do that because I’m like sitting in a closet off to the side of where they can see him. And, uh, I also did a presentation one time where when the quality manager got up to go. present his part of it. He kicked the plug out of the wall and unplugged the, uh, projector and whatever other assorted hardware was plugged into that. Uh, and I will say, I don’t know if the laptop didn’t have battery, whatever, but everything shut down completely hard and had to be totally rebooted. And the government just said, you have to continue. So 

Roman Zhelenko: you you’re on the clock. But now we have a bigger problem. We have lawnmowers outside. We have dogs barking. We have all sorts of issues that can go wrong. Oh yeah. 

Adam McNair: Yeah. I also think maybe that the, our experience collectively working. Remotely and doing all of all of this remotely probably helped at some level in comfort factor for for doing this. I think if we’d all been in the same room for the last 12 months preparing for this and then then on go day, everybody has to log in and be separate. I think that probably would have thrown things off. 

Kevin Long: Yeah, but we, we digress and I actually really want to talk about this code challenge that we finally have found our way to the other side of because it was, uh, it was challenging in every sense of the word, I think. And so that means that I think that the government is likely going to get a good sense of, of, of what each vendor can do. 

Adam McNair: Yes, so talk me through the process. So the, is it. Just show up and decode challenge. Did we submit stuff? And like, what was the process? 

Kevin Long: Absolutely. So, uh, for, for the, for this one. So the first one we did, it was as, as a sub, you know, it was just have people show up and help and, and, you know, they handled all of the hard stuff for this one. It was interesting in that, um, oftentimes there is a written component for this, uh, for them. But in this case, the only thing we had to write down at all was a pricing volume. And then two Excel sheets that said who was going to be on your teams for each, for each piece that like there was, there was not a cover sheet to be found. There was not an executive summary. I mean, there was like, there was documentation that we had to do As part of the coding, but we didn’t write a proposal at all, but it was step 1 oral presentation. Exactly. Like you had described Adam, you know, where the government comes in, asks you questions about approach and how you do things like that. And essentially, anybody that was allowed to bid was allowed to do that. And so we practiced for months and months on that. We were assuming it would be a small team. You know, you normally see what, between five and ten people allowed to talk in orals? 

Adam McNair: Yeah. 

Kevin Long: To show up. And so, you know, we prepared for five. We were allowed more than that. So we, we, uh, padded our depth. With that, and, uh, it was, uh, an hour long, unknown questions, we have to answer them, uh, where they gave incredibly broad topics that, that you, that they could ask about, you know, like literally design was a topic they could talk about. Talk to me about code quality. Right? I mean, software development. So, you know, just enormous topics that, that. We’re very hard to 

Roman Zhelenko: scale down. And we were also provided a whiteboard. So as we’re talking about these enormous topics, we’re able to draw about the topics. Yes, 

Kevin Long: and Roman was one of the, uh, uh, our, our additions after we, uh, were allowed to have more than five people. And, uh, he was not only, not only was he one of our, uh, illustrators, which I think is really important. Um, when you’re on video and. And talking that instead of just seeing everybody’s face, you give them something else to focus on as well. Um, you know, it’s also our time keepers that we could actually get through all of our questions. Cause they, they, they give you nothing. It’s like, they give you a block of time and they say, we will ask you this many questions. It is up to you to manage your time to get through everything. And so Roman was, uh, was the guy that made sure that we didn’t, uh, didn’t run out of, uh, run out of time to, so, yeah. And so it was incredibly broad topics that we rehearsed for months on. Um, and then from that they do a down select to decide who talks well enough about the processes that they are looking at design software development. Right? Um, to to actually want to see how they then. Walk the walk, not just talk the talk, 

Adam McNair: right? And I guess imagine this from a down select standpoint, this is not a trivial amount of time from the government to sit through these. So, the code challenge itself, how far after, so we go to Orals, then how far after that does the actual code challenge part start? 

Kevin Long: Took about a month for them to get through the down select. Tttttttttttttttt But that said, they sat, like, they sat through a lot of orals. 

Adam McNair: Okay. And then what did the, what did the actual challenge itself look like? Was this days, weeks? Right. So there are, 

Kevin Long: yes, is the answer. Um, uh, what it looked like was, uh, it was a two, two fold code challenge, honestly, where it was 10 days, um, including weekends. So like 10, 10 calendar days where they give you a problem and say you have 10 days and then after that you have to stop developing, right? Done. You know, and you give us access to your code repository and we will check to make sure that you’ve And then we will schedule you to do to present what you’ve done, and then we will give you the second type of code challenge. We are going to give you a change to your code. And we are going to watch you make that code change. So, it wasn’t just the short, we want to watch the team go and do something. It wasn’t just the long, it was all of it. 

Adam McNair: Now, maybe it is because I’ve been around and involved in so much waterfall development over the years, which if anybody hasn’t done software, what I would say is that waterfall, you’re going to usually look at a couple of new releases of code a year. Theoretically, whereas the agile, we’re going to build a little and test a little and deploy a little all the way to DevOps, where it kind of almost happens in in real time at some level, um, that sounds like that could be really, really challenging. Is it from just a pure time? I mean, I know we had prepared and you guys knew what you were doing, but. Just to deliver something that works in 10 days with no real safety net behind it, and I’m assuming that these are probably not short days for two weeks, right? Oh, 

Kevin Long: no, no. I mean, uh, if in, in, let’s put quotes around this, in real life, that was 60 days worth of work in the challenge that they wanted to see. Easily. Do you agree guys? 

Roman Zhelenko: And I would, and I would say that the days were actually much longer because we had three different time zones. So when the East coast stopped, the West coast started rolling. So I think at any given point in time, we had meetings going on three, 4 a. m. So certain points, I had them start muting notifications on my phone so I could get some sleep.

Kevin Long: Sleep is for the weak, Roman. 

Roman Zhelenko: Ready for the next coding challenge. 

Adam McNair: Yeah. Right. So what, what were the. The hardest parts of this, like what, if you were going to tell somebody that was going to go do a code challenge, 

Kevin Long: I totally want to hear what both Victoria and Roman have to say about this, because Victoria is the marketing manager is also a human centered design person and she was on the code challenge. Also. So I’m going to sit back. I want to hear this. This is exciting. 

Roman Zhelenko: Sure, so I’ll go it’s I think it’s building a relationship this quickly. I mean, usually a team of developers of testers of business analyst, it takes weeks and several different, you know, uh, sprints before you start trusting each other on understanding. This is what he’s good at. This is what I’m good at. But here we had it in days, if not hours that you have to understand what your teammate could do, who you want to peer program with and what you can deliver. So I, I was so impressed that that was done in like day two and everybody was already like oh, yep I know what I’m doing.

I know what he’s doing. I’m ready. So 

Victoria Robinson: yeah, I think just to piggyback off that It’s you have a lot of people with a lot of different approaches to things Coming at a problem and trying to determine What the actual pain points for a user would be from like a human centered design and like a user experience perspective, you’re looking at this problem. And you’re trying to determine what are the pain points without talking to any users or talking to a product donor. You decide on someone within the team to be the product donor and hope that there’s some kind of understanding with. Throughout the group to be like this is what the problem we’re trying to attack is and this is how we’re going to approach it. Because as the days go on and as the hours add up You’re you start looking at things differently and trying to see Stay on track and make sure that you’re still attacking the problem at the end of the day, can get kind of fuzzy as the days keep building. Mm-Hmm, . 

Roman Zhelenko: Oh, I agree. Uh, just one, one more thing. I mean, whenever we had to pivot, we pivoted fast. If there was a process flow that didn’t work, it was changed immediately. It was approved, escalated through our project manager, who was also our business analyst, who was also the stakeholder. So we got it, you know, ready and out to the developers, you know. Same hour. 

Kevin Long: Yeah. I mean, and it’s also really from my point of view, because I’m a, I’m all managery. Uh, I think one of the biggest challenges of something like this is when you are given 60 days of work and 10 days to do it, uh, truly defining what is the, what is the, The MVP, the minimal minimum viable product to be able to release and what elements provide the most value so that you can get the most important things done first and so that you have, you know, when you have 5 different parts of something that you need to do to make sure that you’re covering all of the bases so that when you’re get when you get to the demo. You have something to show for all of it, and everybody, I mean, particularly developers, designers, uh, BAs that we bring into this type of thing, they are all type A, go get, want to be awesome, perfect, whiz bang stuff that I found myself yelling, not MVP, not MVP, again and again and again. Just like rev to put it on the list. We’ll get to it if we can. Right. Um, and so it is prioritization of, of things is super important. 

Roman Zhelenko: I actually, I agree a lot with Kevin. This team was so passionate about this product that they wanted to keep going. They wanted to like, oh, we can make. Even, you know, this we’re ready for iteration two, et cetera. And every morning I hear Kevin, this is an MVP, put it in the backlog. So it was, it was impressive to see people like, Oh yeah, no, we got, we can do this. Like put it in the backlog. 

Adam McNair: Yeah. So some things I’m hearing. And, and I think we are talking through this as a certainly it’s a fun kind of after action chat after we’ve done something that is difficult and impressive. I think it’s always always fun to do that. I think it’s also here for other employees inside of our company that if they are going to one of these days. decide that they want to be involved in one of these tech challenges, or we ask them to be involved in one of the tech challenges, because there’s always a little bit of both in that category. Um, what to expect. And then also, I think from a, a teaming partner perspective, uh, we are, certainly have some of these that we prime and we are sub sometimes, but we’re available, whether it be companies that we currently work with, that we, that, that are partners of ours, that we mentor, um, or, or other companies that we haven’t worked with. We’re available to support opportunities, I think, so we’re, we’re open to be, you know, having conversations about sharing some of these thoughts and, and potentially engaging with, uh, with other companies on some of their pursuits for tech challenges. 

Kevin Long: Yeah. 

Adam McNair: Now some of the things that I’m hearing that were important to being successful.

So from a kind of program philosophy standpoint, I’m hearing that you got to remember that this is a code challenge at the end of the day. And that I, I feel like has real underpinnings in the overall procurement process. Anytime, because that’s something that you see in just a regular proposal. Hey, why don’t we tell them all about this?

They didn’t say that’s how they’re going to evaluate it. 

Kevin Long: Yep. 

Adam McNair: That might be nice. If it fits, that’s okay. But they have not asked for that. So I think in that vein, I think that is important. I think that that makes sense. That’s kind of one lesson is really remember that this is a code challenge from a contest procurement type perspective. And. To keep everybody’s focus around, we can’t build everything, we can come up with a viable product, but it really needs to have, we need to have agreed upon what that’s going to be, and then, and then drive to that, and then if, if for some reason we had extra time, which I’m guessing nobody does, then you could do other things. Um, another thing that I, I heard that. Is not an easy recommendation for somebody to carry out, but I think is an important thing to think about is it sounds like you have to have really, really good people to do this technically proficient, good communicators, good at focusing on it. An objective and being a team player and figuring out how to get it done and driven to work their butts off over a 10 day sprint, including weekends to get something like this done. Is that is that definitely in the top? A couple of, couple of things. Roman. 

Roman Zhelenko: Oh, definitely. Well, I mean, for everybody we had, it was a full stack development team, just because we didn’t know what language we’re going to be using. So for some people, it was their primary development language for others, it was, you know, two or three. And with everybody balancing a work schedule, sometimes the developers would have to jump into the server side of things. So having that broad range of skill sets made this flow really smoothly. Ish. 

Speaker 5: Well, 

Adam McNair: I will tell you, you know, over the years, there have been a few people that I have, um, that I have worked with that any, anytime you were at a given, you know, customer environment or job or, you know, whatever, when there was going to be, you know, Something that was a difficult issue that arose when they say, Hey, you need to get so and so on the phone, your tech challenge team has to almost completely and exclusively be built up of people of that kind of ilk that in their, in their respective areas, the people who are Really adept at solving difficult challenges. Cause you know, when you’re going to install something that is fresh out of the box in a brand new environment, most of the time it goes okay. It’s when. You realize that you didn’t know that they had legacy data handling in the back end, and you thought everything was in this, well you thought everything was consistent with the actual documentation they gave you, and you found out that something had been changed and undocumented, and now what do we do? The person that you call for that, you need a lot of those kinds of people on a team like this. Yeah, people that love problem solving, absolutely. And then one of the thing I wanted to pull out from what I was hearing you all talk about is. How valuable and how important do you think it is to try to have a multi time zone team?

Roman Zhelenko: That’s a great question. I think it’s super important. I mean, because people, burnout is again, a worry, you know, after five days, if your main developer is just losing steam, that’s tough. But if you have that multi time zone team, people can, you know, make sure they focus on, you know, Their other job as well as the next team starts ramping up, making sure, and then you’re utilizing the full day for the most part. I mean, a little bit longer, not so much the full day, but you know, California, California where Victoria is from, you were on much later. So 

Victoria Robinson: yeah, it was kind of nice because the person I was working pairs with was on East Coast time. And when they couldn’t work, I was working. And when I couldn’t work, they were working. And it kind of just helped move us along even further than you would have thought. And I know on the development side, we had a couple pairs that were like that. And it just really helped propel us forward. And there was enough crossover that you can touch base and make sure that you’re still meeting the goals and objectives. And it 

Kevin Long: let us do it. Let us have Two scrum meetings a day with, uh, uh, two day and then one day releases. 

Roman Zhelenko: As you said, 60 days worth of work in a much shorter timeframe. 

Adam McNair: So I do think that’s something that is, is possible. That is a big contributor to efficiency. I know there are, there are different kinds of.

Workstreams that I have seen before where they will offshore different components of it to allow them to 

Kevin Long: Follow the sundown. 

Adam McNair: Yeah, exactly And uh, I think it’s it’s sounding like that might be the kind of thing now again I think that is a subset of That’s tucked underneath of number one. You got to get great people.

So if you’re, is it fair to say that if you’re, I 

Kevin Long: do just really want to say we didn’t offshore anything. It was east coast, uh, uh, uh, the, and the time zones between that and Pacific. So 

Adam McNair: central 

Kevin Long: mountain west, 

Adam McNair: all, all completely us, uh, us based activity. Um, But to the extent that you have to find people that can do this and then as you have your list of people, if you do have the ability to do so, thinking about time zone distribution so that you can.

As you say, have, have two full scrums a day and get more productive hours. Uh, that does sound like something that, that works well. 

Kevin Long: Yeah, that was, uh, a, a happy coincidence that we did that. We, we were working, we cast our net nationwide, right? I mean, I’d have taken someone in Hawaii if they were. If they were the right person, um, and it just so happened that we, we, I mean, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

And in this case, we were just lucky that we had people, you know, in California and and Oklahoma and on the East coast and and. You know, places in between that that really let us, uh, essentially through 18 of the 24 hours of the day be moving the program forward, which was, 

Adam McNair: yeah, and I’ll tell you, replicating luck is a real viable business strategy.

I think he is. So we may not have had that as a, as a major strategy coming into it, but once we’ve identified that it’s something that works, uh, adding it to the Always, you know, sometimes that, that, that works just fine. That, let me ask you guys another question. So, and we’ve talked about the fact, you know, Kevin, you’re here on the East Coast, Roman, you’re here on the East Coast, Victoria, you’re on the West Coast.

Were there any things that you all did within your control as far as environment? And when I say that I’m not talking about like the development environment. I mean the gear that you were using, your actual camera, mic, laptop, desktop, whatever. Were there any things that you guys did or Problems you had to overcome during the presentation process, Roman.

Roman Zhelenko: So, uh, I guess for me it’s making sure the microphone’s clear and making sure your webcam’s set up. It’s much easier to work with these people when, you know, you’re not coming in fuzzy. You’re not coming in metallic. They can see you clearly. There’s no, there’s no gap in transmission. There’s no lag time.

So it just makes it so much more fluid. Comfortable chairs. Yeah. Oh, that’s fair too. 

Kevin Long: Anything that makes it for a really long day with a really distributed team. And I totally agree with Roman. Like, you know, uh, I don’t work for Microsoft, but I’ll tell you here. I’m going to shill Teams for them. Um, Microsoft Teams was really great.

I mean, it’s not, it’s not perfect when you have, Uh, because I mean, because it wasn’t just highlight, it was highlight and subcontractor teams, right? We had, uh, folks from a bunch of different companies all working together, getting them all onto teams. There’s things we need to fix on that to be able to allow full communication on that, but being able to have I mean, we had meetings running 24 hours a day where people could just drop into it, be on the webcam, and talk with folks.

They would have, you know, code up on sharing the screen. I mean, heck, we had, you know, folks talking, you know, uh, uh, through different Mandalorian episodes while people were coding as well, right? I mean, just anything that helps them, people keep their brain sharp and pass the time as they’re As they’re blowing through code, it was, is, is really great.

So, uh, a strong collaboration tool set is. 

Adam McNair: So I, I, I think that that’s something that people might want to take note of. I think that probably goes for teleworking in general, remotely working in general, but certainly for something that is compressed like that, where you can’t necessarily always get up and walk around.

You, you, you. It is a little bit higher stress and higher stakes and everything else than just your average, you know, work day. The investment from a company into a better webcam, a better microphone setup, better headphones than ship with your average laptop, a better chair, you know, any of those things.

Um, I think that makes, that makes a lot of sense. I did want to go back down. to ask you something about what you commented on. So did you have almost, just think of it like a, like a virtual break room or virtual conference room? So you’re saying that people were having kind of almost interpersonal conversations.

Oh, absolutely. And, and 

Kevin Long: so are those rooms you just had open? Yeah, it was, I, I scheduled, um, In teams, a general room that that ran all 10 days. I scheduled the front end room back end room. Um, uh, you know, a leadership room that people could just drop into. I next time. I really want people to be able to I need to figure out how.

Despite who they work for and what infrastructure they’re on for them to be able to spin up instantaneous breakout rooms, which we were not able to do easily. But, yeah, it was just people. I mean, absolutely. I mean, I, I, I dropped into, uh, into rooms. I mean, I spent, you know, put in my earbuds on my iPhone on on on teams and just chill out, you know, as I’m.

Getting ready to go to sleep, right, and as, 

Roman Zhelenko: you know, talk Mandalorian or whatever. I mean, who needs audiobooks when you have Teams channels? At this point, we had about, we had nine, nine different Teams channels, and at this point. 

Victoria Robinson: And the nice thing was that if you were sitting in a room and you’re like, oh, so and so needs to be in this, discussion right now, all you need to do in Teams is invite that person from another room to come in, or even if they weren’t in a room currently, all you had to do was add them as a participant and be like, hey, we need you in this room now.

Like, we’re about to have a really important breakthrough and we need you in this room to, you know, either verify that we’re on the right track or tell us that we’re insane. 

Roman Zhelenko: And everybody had it synced up to their phone to make sure that if they got that message, they were able to get in immediately. So it was nice.

Adam McNair: Yeah. And that, I will voice over that, that also we have seen teams change and improve a lot over the course of the time that we have been using it. So, um, I think it’s also Impressive to note that you guys were able to use it in, in those ways where some of that functionality probably did not exist in teams when you started working on preparation for this.

Kevin Long: Oh, that’s 100 percent true. 

Adam McNair: Uh, one other question I wanted to ask you about preparation in general. There were a ton of standing preparation meetings for this team. Uh, you guys were prepping a couple times a week, right? 

Kevin Long: So, yeah, we have to put that into a couple of different buckets. So we were prepping for Orals to get downselected a lot, multiple times a week, right?

I mean, it was, I mean, uh, how long was the Orals presentation? I don’t know. 50 minutes. 

Speaker 5: Yeah. 

Kevin Long: Really? It was only, no, no, no, no. The first one, it was only an hour? Uh huh. Wow. Okay. Boy. Yeah. So, it felt, felt a lot longer than that. Sometimes they feel a lot longer. Right? 

Adam McNair: Yeah. 

Victoria Robinson: All the questions that they ask you, I feel like, usually could, one question could be answered in an hour.

So. Yeah. It’s hard to figure out what 

Kevin Long: describe your design philosophy. Oh my God. Right? Yeah. Um, but, uh, so yeah, so we would prep, um, and do full hour meetings where we had, you know, or oral coaches, right. That would prepare a series of just killer questions. And we would run through Practice, practice, practice.

So for, for an hour presentation, you have to have an hour and 45 minutes because people show up between five minutes early and 10 minutes late and you need everybody there. Then you need 50 minutes to do it and then you need to have a debrief. And so we did that a couple times a week for a while. Then, I mean, it pushed to the right a little bit, so we took some time off to not burn out entirely.

Then we looped back in, and I’ll tell ya, I mean, orals is hard. Um, and it is a, it is a different skill. And when you want, when the customer wants to hear technical people talk, it is, it is a non trivial thing to get brilliant technical people comfortable speaking on camera, which is, or in front of other people.

Or, I mean, some, some folks just, I mean, Roman is an anomaly. He, uh, he’s just, he’s technical and loves talking with people. Um, but it is, uh, you know, it’s a lot of work to get someone comfortable with all of that and the types of questions and to cope with the, to get comfortable with the uncertainty of, of what questions could be asked.


Adam McNair: Yeah, and I, I would draw a parallel there. In the same way that when you have a talented technical team that they want to build all the features and do all the things and show how much they could deliver, I think you have the same challenge when you have really, really sharp people in an oral situation where either with one person or if you have a couple people with overlapping skills, because I’ve been in that scenario before where they will ask the question, You know, how would you verify that the coop site is operational?

And if you want, if you had time to step back from it, you could probably say, look, there’s probably a two minute answer to this that is sufficient, but you say a little bit and then everybody wants to weigh in because they, they really want to get into, cause they know that you should check the generator too.

And everybody wants to get in on, uh, you know, because they just, they really want to prove that they know it. And in a time constrained environment, that’s not 

Roman Zhelenko: great. Roman, you had a question. I was actually going to say, uh, that was actually one of our biggest, I wouldn’t say issue. It’s just limiting the amount of stuff we say.

How deep of a dive do you want to go? You want to know everything about the server environment and all the possible issues, or do we have certain points that we want to hit? So, yeah, we went from like seven minutes in answer to, we were consistently hitting the exact like four minutes every time. I was proud as the timekeeper.


Kevin Long: right. I mean, it’s sort of like the presidential debate thing. They ask a question and it could come out of left field. And can you answer the question exactly? Or can you answer the question that you want to answer in four minutes? Right. And working that out and having, uh, uh, essentially Good answers that cover the waterfront and working that out to be able to plug that in and then have somebody.

I mean, I don’t know if it’s a standard term. I call it the quarterback that is, uh, that that gets the question, make sure that the team understands it gives the team time to think on what the right answer is, and then points at the person and says, you know, Joe, I think, I think you probably have a really good take on this.

Let’s hear that. And I bet, I bet Charles has a good one. And then I bet Jane does too. So why don’t we go in that order? 

Roman Zhelenko: Right. Yeah. To be able to, to put it through. No idea who our quarterback was, but I get it. You got to give them props because he was also the person that was, you know, watching to make sure we’re staying on topic.

You know, you, since you can see your team, you can see if somebody is doing a hand motion of some sort to like wrap it up or you’re going too deep. So, and in the beginning we might’ve used it, but by the end. It was no need. I don’t think there was. I think it was just yeah, I 

Adam McNair: do think that’s also a very good point that somebody that can hopefully not have the pressure of answering the question, but that can be there to analyze what they’re asking.

And then help reframe and, like you say, give everybody a couple of heartbeats to think about what the answer likely is before you just toss it to them. And, uh, one of the, one of the techniques, I forget who I have stolen it from over the years, but if you don’t know the answer, stare at the ground. Don’t look at me.

Because I, if, if, if I’m going to have to find people to call on, You know, you can talk about, well, by role, it should be this person or that person, but if for whatever reason, they’re blanked on it, the worst thing, you really don’t want to call on them and then have them just meander and stumble for, for five minutes.

But those kinds of things, the wrapping up, um, and I will say, maybe that’s something that, that is, Almost easier in the everybody can see everybody of the team’s environment because I’ve definitely gone to Orals before where you’ve got somebody that decided they wanted to go give the uh, you know, a Shakespearean soliloquy and they’re just up there and you’re like, I don’t know how to get this person to stop talking and have it not be so obvious that I from behind them or something have, you know, have to step up, put your hands on their shoulders and 

Kevin Long: say, That’s enough Bob.

Adam McNair: Thanks. Yeah, you need the old timey vaudeville hook to pull them off the stage. Right. Um, and whereas you, when everybody’s facing each other, I hadn’t thought about that, but it could be, you know, very, hey, if I put my hand up sideways or whatever, it means you got to, you got to wrap it up kind of 

Kevin Long: thing.

And so there was that preparation and we did a ton of that and, and we made the down select. So it worked. Thumbs up. We had really great Uh, Oral’s Oral’s coach, uh, prep on that and a really great team that worked really hard. So with that, then also there was for the code challenge, uh, making sure that you have, uh, the right people identified and, uh, an environment.

Ready to start writing code. Right? So not every company necessarily sits around having, you know, an Azure or AWS environment with a full CI CD pipeline that is built to match the needs of the customer. Right? And they don’t make it a secret. You know what? The tech stack is that they are, they have, I mean, you just have to be willing to read the hundred pages of, of, of, of description of what it is, uh, to then be able to have that set up so that at the, at the start of the code challenge, you’re writing code, not creating an environment for them to 

Adam McNair: operate 

Kevin Long: in.

Adam McNair: Yeah, I think that’s a very good point also. And I, so I’d say as we were kind of collecting lessons learned and suggestions, having an environment to develop in that replicates the challenge environment and being ready. Makes a lot of sense. Um, as a wrap up, I think it’s been fun for me to see how far we have come from the first time that we did one of these where we were supporting somebody else to, you know, we are running them now.

I think it’s safe to say that we feel our chances are better at winning a procurement competition now if they do a tech challenge than if they don’t. So, I always felt that way about an oral presentation. I would rather go to orals than not. Right? I, I feel that this is, you know, a step beyond that. 

Kevin Long: Yeah, it’s, it’s, it is, it is hard, and it is new, and it is different, and if you’re good at it, it is a differentiator.

Adam McNair: Absolutely. Yeah. Well, so the question is, the next time we do one of these, which is probably coming up, Rather than later. So everybody’s back on board. You guys are excited for it. Is that, uh, 

Roman Zhelenko: Oh, I mean, I would say definitely excited as long as there’s no obscure hardware that we have to go hunt down and drive, is that right? They’re quarterback. 

Kevin Long: That’s half the fun, right? It’s, it’s the, uh, it’s the unknown, right? That that’s, that’s, uh, and highly, it’s really good at. Problem solving, so give us a hard problem that other people can’t solve and that’s just, that’s just gravy for us to be able to show at the end. 

Adam McNair: So, absolutely. I will say this is as kind of a summary of it is I know other people in industry that have done some of these tech challenges. And the unvarnished internal conversations that we’ve had and in the conversations with I’ve had with friends when they’ve done them, they, they typically spoke about them as things that were were really unpleasant, that were hard, but not not difficult in the same way that, you know, you guys have talked about the fact that it was difficult, but difficult, like this isn’t a thing that I wish we would ever do again. And, uh, at least one of them Was, and I won’t make light of this, because I do feel, feel bad when something like this happens. They did a tech challenge and their code would not compile. Yep. At the point where the government, because I think what they basically delivered was a, a GitHub instance of, here’s all our code, hit this button, and they hit that button and nothing happened. And they just got an email from the government that said, we hit the button and nothing happens. Thank you for your interest in doing business with the Department of such and such. Okay. 

Kevin Long: Yeah, you have not been selected. Your code did not work. Yep. Yeah. 

Adam McNair: And, uh, and so to the extent that, you know, I think you guys should all feel very, very good about the way that you were able to pull that off. And, um, and that being said, uh, again, we will continue to talk about this. I think when we do the next tech challenge, we will have another, uh, Not another conversation on the podcast about it. You can look for probably blog posts from us in the future. If you look at our website, uh, highlights tech. com, uh, with two T’s highlight tech. com, we put blog articles up. We put, uh, content on our LinkedIn about these kinds of topics, uh, because at the end of the day, I think there are. There are lessons learned that we take forward. There are lessons learned that we can bring forward when we’re on somebody’s team. So if we can help you with procurement, you can certainly feel free to reach out. But I think in general, the better we all get at getting the right answer for the government, the better all of these systems and programs will operate. And I think as, as it, In a, in a joint way, we have as our mission trying to operate a business and all of the values that we have behind that, but we also all care about the ability of the government to operate the country and operate programs that are important and necessary. So, to the extent, you know, when we’re involved in organizations like Act IAC and ASEA and. We’re involved with the the new advisory board for CMMC for the cyber model that that’s all effort to just try to Help industry and government work better together. So that is some of the spirit in which we we send this out and also for the small businesses to have them not engage on one of these and 

Kevin Long: And not know what they’re getting into.

Adam McNair: Not know what you’re getting into, uh, because it is, it is definitely not a trivial, uh, trivial level, level of effort. Um, so, thank you for listening to the Highlight cast. Thank you, Kevin. Thank you, Roman. Thank you, Victoria. Uh, we appreciate your time and we will talk to you on the next episode. 

The views and opinions expressed in this episode are those of the hosts and do not necessarily reflect Highlight Technologies and or any agency of the U. S. government.

9 Benefits of Hosting a Virtual Event

The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to in-person federal agency events, but one positive trend has been the quick adoption of virtual event platforms as viable alternatives. With virtual events, agencies could continue to retain, inform, and engage with target audiences.

Virtual events will remain relevant long beyond the pandemic. If you are looking for a way to grow your audience base, keep the cost down, turn your attendees to customers, and build lasting business relationships, virtual is the way to go!

Here are nine good reasons your organization should consider hosting a virtual event:

  1. Lower cost for both organizers and participants

Hosting a virtual event can be less expensive than hosting an in-person event. You will have to factor in platform costs, but you will not have to budget for conference space, staff travel, catering, giveaways, etc. For participants, this also creates new opportunities. Many participant organizations have limited travel and event budgets that restrict attendance. However, virtual events provide a low-cost alternative increasing attendance and allowing organizations to send attendees.

  1. Higher attendance

Expect to see a big bump in participants at your virtual event compared to in-person gatherings. At a recent NIH event, for example, we saw a 10-fold increase in traffic! [NIH Virtual Conference]. Participants enjoy the flexibility of virtual events, enabling them to attend as little or as much of a virtual event as they are able. Your attendance will continue to grow after the event as participants return to review recorded sessions.

  1. More diverse audience

Geography is no longer an issue with virtual events. People worldwide can gather and interact virtually without spending any funds on travel and lodging.

  1. Higher quality speakers

Many high-profile presenters cannot commit to in-person meetings due to demanding schedules but are often willing to participate on a video chat or pre-recorded sessions.

  1. Video catalog of presentations

When hosting a virtual event, be sure to make your content available for re-watching. Some of your content may also be useful for staff training. Create clips of event highlights for follow-up marketing communications and to promote excitement for future events.

  1. No surprises

Virtual events eliminate the potential in-person event chaos, such as weather-related issues and unforeseen circumstances with venues (pandemics, natural and man-made disasters, and unrest, for example). Everything is online, so you’re in control.

  1. Data and analytics

Easily, one of the greatest benefits to hosting a virtual event is the treasure trove of data and analytics you can collect about event participants, behaviors, and session ratings. Analyze the date to improve future meetings and outreach.

  1. More sustainable

Virtual events are a more sustainable and eco-friendlier alternative to in-person events. Not only do virtual events eliminate the need for travel, but they also do not require room heating, cooling, and lighting. Since resources are provided digitally, there is no need for the printing of program books, handouts, signage, etc.

  1. Scalability

Finally, a virtual event can scale and accommodate as many participants as needed. An in-person event, on the other hand, is restricted by the space available in the hotel or venue. Session rooms have only a limited capacity. With virtual events, you can expand registrations and eliminate the need to turn away participants from overcrowded popular sessions.

The pandemic has forced us to adapt new virtual event strategies to stay in touch with those we serve. Eventually, a full slate of in-person events will return to normal. However, virtual events have introduced us to many new advantages. Virtual and hybrid events are here to stay.

For more information on developing and managing a virtual event, please see the Highlight white paper: Virtual Event Success

Written by: Ann Brameyer | Event Manager with Highlight.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

What is Mental Illness?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month- a time to reflect on the emotional well-being of individuals, families, and communities. Nearly half of adults in the United States will experience mental illness at some point in their lifetime, and one in five adults in the United States currently live with long-term mental illness.

Mental illnesses come in many different forms and arise from various factors. As the NIMH defines it, any mental illness (AMI) can be classified as any mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. Serious mental illness (SMI) are mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders that result in significant functional impairment, which significantly interferes with everyday life. These disorders include but are not limited to anxiety disorders (panic, OCD, phobias), depression, mood disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, PTSD, psychotic disorders, and other disorders.

Treatment is often available, but it is not utilized. Mental Health Awareness functions as an opportunity to encourage the pursuit of mental illness treatment and resources. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness or a mental disorder, there are several places to find resources to help you manage and overcome your battles.

Here at Highlight, we provide various resources to assist those battling mental illnesses and seeking mental health support services.


Assisting Those with Mental Illnesses

Highlight’s efforts to support those affected by mental illness include the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), our Wellness Program, and the Wellness channel on Microsoft Teams.


The EAP can provide a three-prong variety of services. One element of the EAP is in-person guidance by assisting families with short-term issues. Another benefit is unlimited 24/7 assistance, access to information on family matters, legal information, and financial advice. Additionally, EPA provides online resources such as articles, videos, tutorials, and interactive tools to support families and their wellness needs.

The Wellness Program

The Wellness Program at Highlight encourages employees to take care of themselves and prioritize their health. Currently, the Wellness Program is inviting our employees to complete their annual physicals, with reminders and incentives through credits on their health insurance in 2022.

The Wellness Channel (Microsoft Teams)

Highlight provides curated content and activities for employees through our Microsoft Teams Wellness Channel. Our HR team holds a reoccurring 5–15-minute meditation twice a week to allow employees to find rest and a sense of peace in their busy lives.


Mental Health Awareness

It is important to educate oneself on mental health, as millions of Americans and billions of people worldwide are affected by mental illness. It can be especially crucial to be aware of mental health in this time of uncertainty and distance. Those who are working from home might have feelings of loneliness and disassociation. Those who are in the office might have feelings of anxiety.

Highlight is committed to a culture of encouragement and reassurance. Our Mental Health and Wellness resources enable our team to support those who are battling mental illnesses, whether outwardly or privately, and are seeking resources to better their health and wellness overall.

By educating yourself and growing your awareness of mental health, you are supporting your needs and the needs of others. It can be a challenging journey, but a necessary one. Highlight is here to support our employees!

Be well, and Happy Mental Health Awareness Month!

Written by Jes Mabanglo | Marketing Specialist