By: Carol Vercellino, CEO & Co-Founder


Working remotely does not have to be a buzzkill for your team during the holiday season! Tacky sweaters and speciality snacks can still be a part of your December, says Christy Knutson, who has founded two companies that have operated remotely from day one. Christy sat down with Oak City Labs CEO and Co-founder Carol Vercellino to discuss ways to infuse festivity into the digital workplace and spread that holiday cheer employees crave so earnestly right now.

Watch the video or read through the transcription to hear Christy’s ideas on how to make the holidays special for your team.



Carol: I’m Carol Vercellino, the Co-Founder of Oak City Labs software development agency. With me here today is Christy Knutson who has co-founded two completely remote companies –Well Refined and Near. Since more professionals are working at home now than ever, and since we need to spread happiness more than ever, we’re going to talk about how to celebrate the holidays remotely with employees. Before we jump into the questions, Christy, I’d love for you just to talk a little bit about Well Refined and Near.

Christy: Sure! So, Well Refined is a full-service marketing agency. We’re based in Raleigh, North Carolina and New York. But our team is remote and works with clients across the country as well. And Near is a brand-new startup. We’re in the end-of-life space, and we offer a marketplace for end of life support service providers.


Carol: So you definitely have a lot going on. And you have two teams to manage, right?

Christy: Yes.

Carol: Alright. So first of all, how do you host a virtual part of your event that doesn’t feel forced, or the team doesn’t feel obligated, or it’s not corny? Which, in reality with my group, that’s the concern.

Christy: Yeah, I get that. And it’s hard – it’s tricky. It’s not something that’s as easy to pull off as in person. Because we are remote, we’ve been doing this for years, and we’ve had some kind of fun experiences together. I think one of the fun things you can do is to really create a cohesive experience that plays to one of the senses, if possible. I mean there are easier ways to do it, of course, but if you’re going to have the bandwidth to maybe mail something, or make sure everyone has something in their hands before the party. Send something like a speciality food or a speciality snack that everyone can enjoy together to create a little bit of unity.

One time we were doing a fall meeting with our leadership team, so we sent out fall candles so everyone could have the same fall scent. We did lavender plants one time for a spring gathering. And then you can always do more traditional things but move them to Zoom. You can still have tacky Christmas or holiday attire over Zoom – that still works well. You can also look at doing some kind of game or an event. And it’s hard to make it not cheesy, but it can be done.

Zapier has a fully remote team, and I remember reading something they did. This was actually something they did in-person at a retreat, but the idea is that we all have really weird hobbies and points of interest that have nothing to do with our working life. So they just took turns rotating through at meetings where a staff member could share a quick 5-minute slideshow or presentation on some off-the-wall hobby or area of expertise. They had some really great examples, so that’s one way to keep it personal and not cheesy.


Carol: Those are some great ideas. We’ve attempted the remote video game thing where we did some games over Zoom, which works well for software developers. Okay, so you mentioned the candles and something that appeals to all of the senses. What about gifts? How do you send gifts to employees and teammates at this time?

Christy: We do a few different things. So at the holiday season, we typically do an end-of-the-year curated gift that we give to both clients and our team members. Each year we try to make sure it’s really full of intention and meaning – not just a random assortment of things that are going to get thrown out. We approach it from different angles. One year we really leaned into the intentional leadership and a time focus. That was when Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead book had just come out, so we did that and we did an hourglass with a good quote about time everyone could keep at their desk. We had a few other small things in there as well.

And then we also do a long distance secret Santa exchange with our team members. So one person is in charge of making sure everyone draws names, and then we just make sure we put a note in the address line – if you’re sending it from Amazon – that says it’s for secret Santa so we don’t open it. And then we all open them together. We’ve done similar things for baby showers, which are fun.

Also just throughout the year we try to send e-gift cards to our team members. If we know there’s been a particularly challenging week, we’ll maybe send one out with an encouraging note to everyone. Or we try to do that around smaller holidays like Valentine’s. It’s also just a chance to celebrate collective wins. Typically if you’re a team, you can do it in a break room, but this is a good way to do it over Zoom.


Carol: Okay, those are great. Well, leading into the holidays, do you have any ideas of ways to make it kind of festive over the holidays?

Christy: Well our team is on Slack, and I think most remote teams are on there, so we’ve done some fun things on there. You can do a holiday show and tell. And so again, that can be Slack or whatever your communication channel is. People can post a picture of their Christmas tree or lights at their house or the Christmas pajamas they pick out for their kids! Anything like that, whatever people feel comfortable sharing.

And then we also share holiday playlists. But you can also create just like a staff playlist where everyone shares a few of their favorite holiday songs and then someone will piece it together as a playlist. And we haven’t done this before, but I’ve seen some companies around Halloween do a virtual pet costume contest, which I think would be really fun, especially if your team has a lot of pets.

You can also offer a holiday meme competition on Slack. Those can be really fun if you’re able to give out some rewards, like extra PTO time or something that is really meaningful.


Carol: Well those are great tips, so Christy, thank you so much for sharing your creativity with us. If any of our viewers have additional ideas for virtual celebrations or questions, we’d love to read about them in the comments below. We’re wishing you and your team a very special holiday season. Thank you!


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It’s hard to believe that a few short weeks from now, I’ll be saying goodbye to Oak City Labs and the technology industry as a whole. For the better part of nearly the last decade of my life, I’ve been a project manager in this industry. (To find out where I’m heading, visit my last post here.)

To close out this chapter, I thought I’d share ten things I’ve learned as a project manager during the past ten years. So, in no particular order…

  1. Iron Triangle: A project manager worth his or her salt is more than likely familiar with the iron triangle. The quality of any project is determined by a combination of three factors: scope, resources and time. Making a change to any of the three will always impact the other two. It’s important for both the internal team and client team to be mindful of this and have clear expectations going into a project. This visual from Atlassian does a great job at illustrating the iron triangle and how it differs depending on if the project is being managed with a waterfall or agile methodology.


  2. Waterfall vs. Agile: Speaking of which, I’ve definitely learned the difference between these two methodologies during my tenure as a project manager. I started out in the waterfall world, but found a comfortable home in the agile world. Here at Oak City Labs, we manage projects using an agile methodology. To find out the difference between the two, visit this blog post we wrote last year which still holds true today.
  3. Relationships: In this role, it can’t be stressed enough that relationships are everything. The relationship a project manager has with all involved parties is often the difference between a successful project and a rocky project. A project manager is a liaison between the internal team and the clients – balancing the needs of both and the requirements of the project. Having a positive, productive relationship with all involved is crucial.
  4. Testing: At Oak City Labs, my role extends beyond the typical project manager role and involves handling a majority of the testing for our client projects. I’ve always thought the two roles compliment one another as testing requires keen attention to detail, significant level of thoroughness, and ability to effectively communicate with software developers and beta testers alike. I believe testing is vitally important and is one of the major factors that can influence client confidence in the product they are paying to build. Testing on multiple platforms, across multiple use cases, with multiple scenarios can’t be underscored enough.
  5. Flexibility: A project manager’s ability to balance the ups and downs of a project isn’t something they teach you in school. Sometimes unforeseen circumstances prevent a sprint from being completed. Sometimes content is late. Sometimes you have to pause and wait at the mercy of the powers that be at Apple for approval. Staying rigid is often more harm than good. As I reflect back over my years leading projects of all shapes and sizes, flexibility was always needed.
  6. Sense of Humor: I’ll keep this short and sweet. Sometimes projects get tense. Remember to have a sense of humor and send a Minion gif to break the tension.
  7. Big Picture: As a project is humming along, it’s easy for clients (and us!) to get bogged down in the details. But when a delay arises or additional work is required, remember to always help clients keep the big picture in perspective. Yes, it may take an additional week to work through an unexpected additional feature, but perhaps we can make up that time later on in the project by removing or delaying another less significant feature, expediting and working ahead on deployment, etc.
  8. Documentation: There is no such thing as too much documentation. Okay, maybe there is, but my point is that documented approvals are a project manager’s best friend. This isn’t so we can say “gotcha, haha!” later on when a client is adamant about something. No – it’s so we can all take pause and be thoughtful about the decisions we are making during a project’s strategy phase and be mindful of those decisions when changes are discussed.
  9. You Don’t Know it All: As a project manager, you are not responsible for knowing everything about everything – or even every detail about the project. You are responsible for knowing the limits of what you do know and for connecting with the right people who know the answers. It’s okay to tell a client, “I’m not sure, but I’ll check with Jay on that and get back to you.” It’s not okay to guess.
  10. People: At the end of the day, you’re really managing people – not projects. Never forget that.

At the end of next month, I’ll be hanging up my project manager hat and embarking on a new journey. Over the past year, I’ve been balancing my role here at Oak City Labs with graduate school as I’m pursuing my Master’s of Arts degree in Teaching from Meredith College. Though I’ve spent the better part of the past decade working in the technology industry, I felt a shift in my goals and interests and, with the amazing support of the Oak City Labs leadership team, I decided to make a career change.

Why tell you this?

Because in some ways, I’m not really leaving the technology industry at all. I’ll just be applying my skills in a different way to a different set of “clients” (read: elementary school students).

In my time spent in graduate school and in field placement positions this past year, it has become increasingly clear to me that there is more of a need for globally-minded, technologically-equipped educators than ever before. The reality is that educators need to be preparing students for jobs that don’t even exist yet. Yes, you read that correctly. According to the World Economic Forum, 65% students entering elementary school now (aka my future “clients” if you will) will hold jobs that don’t even exist yet. And that data is two years old. The numbers have certainly increased since then.

I think about some of my recent blog posts on artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision and machine vision. As cutting edge as these technologies are, odds are they will have significantly evolved by the time current primary and younger secondary school students graduate high school in 8-10 years. Therefore, instead of preparing students for specific jobs, we are charged with preparing students with skill sets that will grow with them as this world also grows.

Figuratively, that preparation is a multi-layered, interdisciplinary approach to learning beginning with the earliest grades through high school graduation. It looks different for every student and every teacher. Practically that preparation begins with integrating meaningful technology in the classroom, expanding student learning through social studies and science, as well as enhancing student understanding through the arts.  

The hope is through all of our efforts, we’ll prepare students not for the jobs that artificial intelligence will certainly replace, but for new jobs that work alongside artificial intelligence. While machine vision may eliminate the need for a factory worker to inspect products, machine vision will certainly create the need for software engineers to manage the inspection system. And desirable software engineers will need to possess specific skills in technology, along with soft skills like critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, communication and creativity/innovation.

So I leave this role, company and industry with a lot of change ahead, but I’m hopeful that my efforts will foster students that are better prepared for those jobs that don’t even exist yet. And maybe even some future employees of Oak City Labs.

PS – Did you hear? We’re currently on the hunt for a project manager and software developer. Check out our Careers page for more information and job details.

At Oak City Labs, technology excites us. We keep a keen eye on emerging technology and enjoy observing its impact on the world around us. For one of our last blog posts of 2017, I asked our developers for a technology that impressed them this year, and a technology they are excited about for in 2018. Read on for the results!

Jay Lyerly, CTO

Apple Face ID Oak City Labs Raleigh Durham Mobile App Development


Looking Back at 2017 – Face ID

Burgeoning from the recent announcement that Apple is investing $390 million into its Face ID and Airpod tech, the hype around Face ID has grown exponentially since its announcement at the iPhone X release event in September. Though it has had its troubles, Face ID is an exciting technology that pushes the boundaries of facial recognition and its plethora of applications. Jay is most excited about the idea of continuous authentication when it comes to Face ID.


Apple HomePod Oak City Labs Raleigh Durham Mobile App Development


Looking Forward to in 2018 – HomePod

A new challenger has appeared in the market for smart home connectivity. The Apple HomePod is billed as a “breakthrough home speaker” by Apple’s VP of Worldwide Marketing, Phil Schiller. Unveiled at WWDC 2017, the HomePod houses an impressive woofer, tweeter array, microphone array, and A8 chip. All these parts were specially crafted to fulfill Schiller’s definition of a successful speaker, which must: “Rock the house”, have “spatial awareness”, and “be a musicologist.” According to Jay, he is looking forward to “Alexa done correctly.” Them’s fightin’ words, Jay.

Taylor Harrison, Software Engineer

Looking Back at 2017 – Kotlin

Kotlin Oak City Labs Raleigh Durham Mobile App Development


For Android developers like Taylor, Kotlin is the newest hotness. Much like Swift is overtaking Objective-C as the programming language of choice for iOS apps, Kotlin is set to compete with Java as the main language for developing Android apps. In 2017, Kotlin gained 100% interoperability with the Java language and Android toolsets, and we are excited. By design, Kotlin is concise, safe, and gets along well with all popular IDEs. Taylor enjoys that Kotlin is less verbose than Java and is so excited about it that he wrote a blog post about it.

Looking Forward to in 2018 – Augmented Reality

AR Stickers Oak City Labs Raleigh Durham Mobile App Development


With Google and Apple announcing their new, updated AR platforms at their respective conferences this year, the world of augmented reality seems full of possibility for 2018. Google recently launched a Star Wars AR for the Google Pixel 2 (seen above) that allows people to appear alongside everyone’s favorite Galactic Empire. Apple recently released an awesome commercial featuring their AR technology, which appears to include placing a piano and other objects in the area around the user. From games like Pokémon Go to architectural design solutions, we fully expect 2018 to be a year of rapid growth for AR. The wearable market for AR most excites Taylor for the upcoming year.

Trevor Brown, Software Engineer

Looking Back at 2017 – Apple Machine Learning for iOS

Machine Learning iOS Oak City Labs Raleigh Durham Mobile App Development


What do Siri, your iPhone camera and your iPhone keyboard all have in common? All of these technologies use machine learning to create advanced user experiences. In order to bring these advancements to developers, Apple developed Core ML, a machine learning framework that can be used across all Apple devices. Core ML allows developers to create apps utilizing the thousands of hours of work and research that went into the machine learning used by Apple’s own products. Trevor is excited about the possibilities that machine learning opens up, including the ability to offload certain tasks to requests off the phone that get run through Apple’s machine learning framework. This, in turn, will open up the hardware on the device to be optimized and used efficiently while running the non-necessary tasks off the phone using machine learning.

Looking Forward to 2018 – Wearables Advancements

Apple Watch Oak City Labs Raleigh Durham Mobile App DevelopmentSmart watches are nothing new. According to certain estimates, the US wearables market is set to double by 2022. Announcements by Apple this year that the Apple Watch will contain more advanced sensors to be used to monitor health and promote good fitness practices. From keeping track of heart rate to measuring heart rhythm, the Apple Watch will provide an easy and convenient way of tracking many aspects of people’s health. Trevor is excited for the data gathered from these devices to provide more accurate data which can be used in studies to help the greater population. For instance, the tracking of blood pressure for diabetics and irregular heart rhythms to predict heart conditions.

Cory Scheviak (me!), Software Engineer

Looking Back at 2017 – Rust (Programming Language)

Rust Oak City Labs Mobile App DevelopmentWhile I, myself, am not a low-level programmer by trade, I have experience working with low-level languages such as C, C++ and Assembly. Through the grapevine, I learned about Rust, a systems programming language that, according to its docs, is focused on three goals: “safety, speed, and concurrency.” Rust was voted the Most Loved programming language of 2017 on Stack Overflow for the second year in a row, and continues to push to replace C++, the kingpin of low-level object-oriented programming. While not directly applicable to what we do here at Oak City Labs, it has been fun seeing an actual contender for replacing C++ come onto the programming scene.

Looking Forward to 2018 – Progressive Web Apps

Progressive Web Apps Oak City Labs Raleigh Durham Mobile App Development


My last blog post about Progressive Web Apps highlighted some of the pros and cons of the up-and-coming software ideology touted by Google as the future of webapps. Earlier this month, Google announced the release of an optimized version of Android called Android Go. Optimized for devices with less RAM, Android Go contains a version of Google Maps called Maps Go, which is a progressive web app. While not as fully-featured as Google Maps, Maps Go provides a lightweight, offline experience for its users that runs efficiently on their weaker devices. I am most excited to see if companies like Facebook, Twitter and Reddit turn their websites into progressive web apps instead of building native, or if they choose to use a progressive web app ideology alongside their native apps.

2018 and beyond

Gadget technology witnessed impressive gains in 2017, with a large emphasis on wearables that streamline everyday processes and provide value to users. Similarly, both Swift and Kotlin (the future of iOS and Android programming, respectively) saw a great increase in focus from developers looking to match pace with cutting-edge trends. Data gathered from devices such as smart watches and home automation devices will continue to provide valuable insight into human actions and needs that will further shape the development of such devices. It’s no question that 2017 was an incredible year in technological development, and we can expect much of the same in 2018. Viva la technology!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year because family and friends slow down, gather around the table, and simply give each other the gift of our time. Today, our team is hopping on the blog to each share what we’re grateful for this year.

From Carol: We oftentimes forget to slow down to celebrate and show gratitude and I’m thankful that one of our team members gently reminded us of this overlooked, but necessary opportunity to give thanks. I am incredibly thankful for our clients, their passion to solve problems and desire to support local, US-based businesses. Our clients have given us the opportunity to create jobs and hire a team that continually pushes themselves to be better at what they do. I’m also thankful for the community support we’ve had since the very beginning, from local groups, universities and colleagues to our families that support us every minute of the day. We’ve been very blessed as a company and my hope is that we continue to help as many people as possible solve problems with the thing we do best, software.

From Jay: I’m grateful for the opportunity to build a company like Oak City Labs.  We are fortunate to work with clients that are solving problems in their communities and creating a better world. It has been extraordinary to watch our team grow and continually overcome each new challenge we face by working together toward our common goal. As we plan for the future, I’m excited to find ways where we can give directly back to our community and support causes that are important to the Oak City Labs team.

From Cory: I am thankful to work with a group of individuals who care so much about the work we do. It has been a humbling experience watching our clients doing great things with the products we help them build. Whether in the office or not, I am pushed to be the best developer and person I can be, and I am thankful for this opportunity to learn and grow with my amazing team.

From Taylor: I am thankful to work somewhere where everyone’s opinions are valued. I am thankful that we challenge each other to continue to learn new skills and push ourselves out of our comfort zones.

From Trevor: I’m thankful to have talented and passionate co-workers who honestly care about delivering quality solutions to our customers. I’m also thankful for great customers who invest their trust in our company’s abilities to bring their visions to life.

From Ashlee: In thinking back over the past year, I’m so thankful to be a part of the Oak City Labs team. I’m grateful for a company that values and prioritizes our clients and their satisfaction – a company culture that works not only to meet our clients’ expectations but to exceed them! I’m thankful to work alongside a group of folks that are always improving, always learning, and always taking the next step forward. I’m excited about what’s ahead for Oak City Labs within our team, the company and our community!

Your turn! What are your grateful for this Thanksgiving season? Let us know in the comments below.

The date of our last blog post reads September 2015 and its safe to say that a lot has happened since that Fall. Today we’re dropping in to give an update on the latest at Oak City Labs and our plans for the future.

A Delicious New Release

Releasing into the AppStore just before the holidays, CurEat is the culmination of several months of work with one of Raleigh’s most engaging entrepreneurs, Steve Mangano. What started as a proof-of-concept project to see if our client’s idea was feasible, grew into a native custom iOS app available today for download. CurEat helps clear the clutter to help you find independent restaurants and bars quickly when you travel in the US. You’ll find notable chefs, including James Beard Award winners, on CurEat serving up their recommendations for major cities across the Southeast and beyond. Up Next? A native Android version releasing later this year!

A Quaint New Home

Like any start-up, Oak City Labs has operated out of a few different places during its existence so far, but this past Fall we settled into our permanent location in historic, downtown Apex and it couldn’t feel more like home. Our office is located above the local coffee shop (convenient for afternoon breaks!) and across the street from the fire station. We love the small town feel and how it reminds us of our roots. We hope you’ll stop by for a visit!

A Few New Faces

Most of the team (sans Ashlee) at the CurEat launch party in January

The Oak City Labs team has changed since we last updated here, officially welcoming two software engineers and a project manager to the team! You can jump over to our Team page to read more about these new faces. Our expanded team allows us to better serve our clients and improve upon our marketing efforts. Which leads nicely to our next update…

A (sort of) New Blog

With all of the changes happening around here, it may seem ambitious to say that we’re launching an effort to update this blog once a week with new content – but that’s exactly what we’re doing! Check back weekly on Wednesdays for new content from the team. We’ll be sharing about client projects, latest technologies, tips, tricks and more!