Ozmonauts return to Blacksburg headquarters in a new hybrid environment

Nearly a year and a half after the statewide mandated stay-at-home order, Ozmo is now transitioning employees back to its Blacksburg, VA office into a hybrid workspace.

Ozmo’s team members have been working together to set up the office in preparation for welcoming back over 90 employees to the Blacksburg office headquarters, including 64 employees brand new to the Ozmo office. 

Ozmo’s move-in crew pictured in the office stairwell preparing to welcome back employees.

Getting back to in-person

Ozmo’s leadership teams have been preparing for the back-to-office transition since the beginning of 2021. During June of this year, Ozmo staff began the move-in process by setting up new equipment and organizing employees’ newly updated workspaces. Over the course of the month of July, hybrid teams and employees have been making their way back into the office in waves in accordance to our safety guidelines. 

“We have been sequestered in our homes for so long, so while everyone was excited to return, there was definitely anxiety around what it would be like to be together again,” said Lea Hamblin, Employee Development Manager. “We wanted to approach our return to the office in a way that was fun, low stress and allowed time for everyone to reconnect.”

Associate Support Analyst Kara Sutphin ready to greet Ozmonauts back to the office.

Prior to welcoming Ozmonauts back to the office, employees’ work environments were determined on a team-by-team basis based on what worked best for each team as well as how their members worked together. Managers worked closely with individuals on their teams to determine their arrangements based on the working nature of each department and whether their workflows were better suited for in-person collaboration or in a more individual, at-home environment.

Similar to a college move-in experience, each day starts with curbside service and a welcome committee to assist each employee upon their arrival. Leadership teams have worn custom move-in “staff” t-shirts and unloaded equipment from employees’ cars upon arrival. Each workspace is prepared with personalized welcome notes from Ozmo with treats for each individual. Ozmonauts are then registered and checked-in by the IT and HR teams for all of their supplies, parking and check-in needs. Once settled, individuals can sign up for professional headshots to update their work profiles as well explore the office with Ozmo’s tour guide and Administrative Assistant, Brianna Geddings. While on tour, Ozmonauts have the chance to learn about the history and evolution of the office over the years. 

An Ozmonaut’s desk with a welcome note and office supplies provided by staff

“It was not only important for us to bring each department together again but to also strengthen our team bonds and set individuals up for success in their new environment. We also put an emphasis on Ozmo’s culture by wrapping up each move-in day with a club fair for special interest groups such as gaming and music,” said Hamblin.

Ozmo’s open work environment allows for efficient collaboration between teams and coworkers. Available conference rooms allow individual departments to meet separately while supporting fully-remote individuals via video conferencing.

The thing I missed the most while working from home was hearing everyone’s laughter. When we were all in meeting rooms on mute all the time, I found I really missed hearing everyone’s responses, so I’m very glad to have it back. It’s been great to see everyone’s faces and hear about their weekends.

Kara Sutphin, Associate Support Analyst

Ozmonauts sitting in on their first back-to-office orientation presentation.

Prioritizing employee safety

COVID-19 safety measures are still in place following the newly updated statewide guidelines. Employees who are not fully vaccinated are required to continue to wear a mask in the office and individuals who are fully vaccinated are welcome to wear a mask at their own discretion. Workspaces have been created to account for all employees who will work in the office more or less frequently than others, based on their comfortability and team workflows. 

What I am most looking forward to being back in the office is seeing and collaborating with my friends and co-workers in person again. I love the culture and atmosphere that Ozmo has to offer and I am overjoyed to be back and experience it in person again.

Dylan Ondell, Associate Product Designer

Ozmo staff will continue to remain adaptable during this continuously changing time and work with teams to make sure their transition back to the office is as smooth as possible. Readers can look forward to a future blog post on how Ozmo is managing the newly adjusted work model and what converting to a hybrid work environment means for companies and their employees today. 

Want to learn more about the perks of being an Ozmonaut? Check out our careers page for more information. 

Meet Ozmo’s co-founders

David Catalano and Aaron Herrington first began working together after graduating from Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business in the early 2000s. Since initially partnering, David and Aaron have co-founded and managed three startups in the heart of Blacksburg, Virginia, including our very own Ozmo.

Ozmo was launched in 2016 as a spinout company from digital consultancy Modea, which was founded by David and Aaron in 2006. Ozmo’s founding mission is to answer every tech support question without human intervention. Now, five years later, Ozmo’s platform features the world’s largest virtual device library and is used by tens of thousands of customer service agents and millions of end customers around the world to solve any tech question, regardless of channel.

To learn more about how David and Aaron got started in building their businesses, challenges they faced along the way and what they learned, keep reading below.

Q: How did you and David meet? What was your first project together?

AH: We met immediately after college at a startup that [David] co-founded, and we later ran together, called Exemplum. That company is how we both got our first real-world experience of starting, growing and exiting a tech startup. We learned a lot of painful lessons along the way, but we were able to have moderate success and cemented our relationship.

Q: When did you first become interested in starting a business and at what point did you realize that this avenue was right for you? When did you decide what was the right time to get started?

AH: I was interested in entrepreneurship dating back to elementary school. It started by mowing lawns in my neighborhood. I went door to door asking people if I could mow their lawn for $20, with my dad’s lawn mower in tow. I had to purchase the gas and cover all expenses so I learned about selling and managing a small operation at a young age. My parents encouraged this so I had all of the support I needed. Being an only child, I was independent at an early age to do a lot of things on my own and be self sufficient. I think these factors, combined with my education, created the platform that allowed me to be confident in focusing on my entrepreneurial pursuits

Q: How would you describe your working relationship with each other?

DC: I believe our working relationship is a case study for why entrepreneurs are encouraged to find co-founders rather than be a solo founder. Over the past two decades, we have pushed each other and supported each other through countless obstacles and setbacks. It’s hard for me to imagine doing it without Aaron and not plausible that I would have enjoyed many of the successes I have had without him.

Q: When did you realize Ozmo was something to pursue as its own entity? What was the reason for building a startup in Blacksburg, VA and expanding to Austin, TX?

AH: We realized it about four or five years before we actually committed to it. Incubating a product within a service-related business is not an easy thing to do. We underestimated the challenges and made some poor decisions along the way, but we finally did it and we couldn’t be more excited about where we’re at. 

As for choosing a location, starting Ozmo in Blacksburg was an easy choice for us because we had an infrastructure in place to support it through its spinout from Modea. We have built a great relationship with the community and with Virginia Tech that has allowed us to scale an amazing team of over 100 Ozmonauts in a town we love. The decision to expand to Austin was based on Ozmo’s growth and our need to expand our available talent pool while also providing better access to customers and partners.

Q: How would you describe Ozmo’s culture?

DC: I believe we have a culture where people are supported and encouraged. There is an overwhelming sense of team over individuals, or put another way: a low ego environment. We strive to have as much autonomy for team members as possible and to focus on clear communication of goals and strategy. We have a culture where team members will bring attention to the times where I or other leaders don’t succeed in these things.

Q: What are the most important measures of success for Ozmo today?

AH: (1) Utilization: Expanding the number of answers we solve through our platform from the millions to the hundreds of millions. (2) Customer satisfaction: Are our customer relationships thriving and the adoption of our platform within these organizations expanding? (3) Team member sentiment: Are we considered a ‘best place to work’?

Q: What does this company mean to you? 

DC: I feel very fulfilled to be pursuing a noble company mission and to do it in an environment filled with incredibly intelligent people who I care about, and who I know genuinely care about me. In prior times of my life I would have to remind myself that “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” At Ozmo, I get that reminder with every team demo or company-wide celebration. It’s an incredibly rewarding journey to be on and I’m very thankful to be in this position.

AH: We want to solve tech support and make technology more accessible. I believe in what we’re trying to accomplish and we are committed to doing it the right way. That means building a dynamic culture, treating our team members fairly and treating our customers as partners.

Q: What is some of the best advice you’ve received throughout your career in regards to starting your own business?

DC: In the wake of the dotcom bust, my father gave me this sage advice on perseverance: “the most important thing about business is staying in business.” He was in the construction industry where there were times of feast or famine. That advice helped me when Aaron and I found ourselves needing to engineer a turnaround after the ‘dotbomb’. I think this is a very practical version of the saying: ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.’

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

David Catalano quoting Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Q: What has Ozmo given you? What do you think Ozmo has given its employees?

AH: Ozmo has given us a platform to solve complex challenges within customer support and be at the bleeding edge of new technology. I love that and I get excited about it every day. We’re solving big problems that have a positive net impact on our fellow citizens.

DC: I believe Ozmo presents a significant challenge to its employees to solve big meaningful problems. And it does that in an environment largely devoid of the wasted energy that exists in bureaucratic or politically driven organizations. Thoughtful care and communication is put into maintaining this as we continue to grow and I believe we have a culture that helps to create resiliency against red tape or skirted accountability.

Q: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?

AH: Being an entrepreneur is hard and requires a lot of sacrifices. Make sure you’re focused on solving the right problems and you don’t waste time on things you’re not passionate about. Time is our most precious resource, don’t waste it.

DC: Most failures stem from a failure to act. Trust your intuition and make a call.

Q: Ozmo celebrated its fifth birthday this year. Where do you see Ozmo heading in the next five years?

AH: I expect the company to be at least three times the size it is today and providing answers to hundreds of millions of support interactions, ranging from devices and apps to connected cars and homes. 

DC: In the next five years I see Ozmo redefining the way that the industry looks at knowledge and how to serve answers to customers for devices, apps and services that constantly change or are different from one customer to the next.

About our founders

David Catalano is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Ozmo, responsible for setting the pace for growth and change at Ozmo. Focused on growth strategy and planning, David is dedicated to actively shaping the overall direction of Ozmo while instilling a culture of autonomy, transparency and inclusion. David was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia and when he’s not working, he enjoys gaming, exercising, gardening and spending time with his family. 

Aaron Herrington is the Chief Growth Officer and co-founder, responsible for customer success and expansion of the business in North America, Europe and Latin America. Aaron is passionate about building teams and solving the difficult challenges associated with scaling an organization. Born and raised in Warrenton, Virginia, Aaron has recently relocated to Austin, Texas where he enjoys exercising, reading, watching sports and playing with his two dogs, Tucker and Theo.

Interested in learning more about who we are and what we do? Get to know Ozmo here

What International Women’s Day means to us at Ozmo

At Ozmo, our team strives to celebrate women’s achievements while recognizing their impact on our communities and around the world. Each year, our team celebrates International Women’s Day as a way to acknowledge gender inequality in the workplace and encourage others to take part in the conversation.  

While many companies may not be together in the office to celebrate Women’s History Month or International Women’s Day this year, at Ozmo we believe it’s important that we make it a point to recognize and honor these notable milestones. 

International Women's Day at Ozmo 2020

Ozmonauts celebrating International Women’s Day 2020 by pledging to fight for gender equality.

What is International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day is celebrated each year on March 8 to recognize and celebrate women’s social, cultural, political and economic achievements around the world. The first ever International Women’s Day was celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 11, 1911, where over one million attendees campaigned for women’s suffrage, the right to work, the option to hold political office and putting an end to gender discrimination. 

Just shortly after the event was held, the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred in New York City, which led to the deaths of over 140 working, mostly immigrant, women. This brought attention to workplace conditions and labor laws throughout the United States, which laid an additional foundation in the fight for women’s rights and future International Women’s Day events.¹ 

Just three years later, Russian women began observing International Women’s Day on March 8, the formally marked date for the holiday. Now, over 100 years later, millions of people around the globe celebrate IWD to help build a more inclusive, equal world for all.

This year’s theme

The 2021 IWD theme is #ChooseToChallenge, which is aimed at encouraging individuals to challenge societal stereotypes, gender norms and biases to forge equality and increase the visibility of women’s achievements 

“A challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. So let’s all choose to challenge. How will you help forge a gender equal world? Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.”

International Women’s Day website.
International Women’s Day celebration sign located in Ozmo’s office

What IWD means to us

At Ozmo, we are dedicated to achieving true and complete equality among our employees. International Women’s Day allows our Ozmonauts to come together and recognize the achievements of women, challenge workplace biases and broaden our perceptions of women in male-dominated industries. 

There is a lot to be said about seeing people ‘who look like you’ in the career paths you are interested in. As a woman in tech, I want to be a role model and mentor to other women in tech. More importantly, I want to help educate ‘people in tech’ on why diversity adds value to organizations both in and outside of tech.

Jolene Esposito, Associate Product Designer at Ozmo

Our employees recognize International Women’s Day because we choose to acknowledge all of the women around the world making an impact, not only within the workplace, but within our communities as well. This year, our Ozmonauts will have an online open forum used to recognize the respected women that they work alongside as well as the special women in their lives. Additionally, our administrative teams will host a virtual trivia event about remarkable women throughout history and all women at Ozmo will receive a personal gift package in honor of International Women’s Day.

While we seek to amplify and elevate women in the workplace every day, International Women’s Day gives us a dedicated day to mark the occasion, and a reminder to pause to take note of and share gratitude for the accomplishments of women that came before us — the ‘way pavers’.

Christina Herrington, Director of Marketing at Ozmo
International Women’s Day 2020 gift package provided for women employees at Ozmo

Local community involvement

One of the ways Ozmo promotes engagement and collaboration for our Ozmonauts is through sponsorship of and participation in the local The Roanoke Blacksburg Technology Council (RBTC)’s WoTech group.

RBTC’s WoTech exists to champion and celebrate women and diversity in the New River Valley’s growing tech community. WoTech aims to support and connect women working in technology through mentoring, education, networking and events.

The representation of women in STEM companies still greatly lags the overall US population in terms of the percentage of women to men. Having more women in STEM companies not only brings more gender diversity into the workplace, but it also brings diversity of thought which has time and time again shown to be better for both companies and the employees working at them.

Emily Pote, Senior Human Resources Manager at Ozmo

WoTech will be hosting a virtual International Women’s Day event on Monday, March 8 aimed at encouraging individuals to expand job opportunities to women in male-dominated industries and how to help women stand out in male-dominated talent pools. For more information on how to attend this virtual event, click here. 

The IWD event will be WoTech’s first quarterly event of 2021. The organization is actively seeking ideas and innovative ways to connect the NRV and Roanoke Valley communities.

Looking ahead

As a company, Ozmo will continue to advocate for diversity and complete equality in the workplace by providing every employee with equal opportunities to grow in their careers and uplifting the women in our teams. This year, we encourage our employees and surrounding communities to get involved in the #ChooseToChallenge conversation and challenge societal biases and stereotypes. 

To learn more about how you can get involved in advocating for gender equality and a more equal world, visit the International Women’s Day website.  

My internship experience at Ozmo

My internship experience at Ozmo – plus six tips on how to succeed in a remote internship

In March of 2020, every business, school and ongoing event had to quickly adjust to new remote environments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a college student during this time, in-person courses quickly shifted to remote, virtual learning. Jobs and internships were delayed, many cancelled, leaving millions of students like myself mentally, emotionally and financially vulnerable. 

As many businesses have transitioned into a hybrid model, where employees have the opportunity to work in the office or remotely, learning how to secure and maintain an internship from home is still a major challenge for many, including myself. I struggled with the initial remote school transition and I was anxious to see what it was like to not only complete school from home, but also what it would be like to work from home. 

Getting started

When I first interviewed at Ozmo, I was at the time interning in a completely different industry. I was hesitant at first to transition into a role where, unlike any other, I would be working completely remotely in an unfamiliar industry where I knew no one. 

Upon my start date, I was guided through a thorough onboarding process where I learned about our company’s history and the types of projects that I would be working on throughout the year. For two weeks, I worked closely with my team along with individuals in each department to understand my responsibilities and projects that I would be working on as the year progressed. 

If you want to make the most out of your upcoming virtual internship, keep reading to learn about the six tips for succeeding in a remote work environment.

What my work looks like

When I initially started at Ozmo, I was hesitant to tackle certain projects without knowing the full scope of the tech industry. Now, 10 months into my year-long internship, I’ve been responsible for conducting industry research, drafting internal company messaging content across various audiences and assisting Ozmo’s lead generation and recruitment processes while upholding the unique traits and aspects of Ozmo’s brand. The following are just a few examples of what my work looks like on a daily basis:

Market research: One of my first ever – and now regular – projects at Ozmo involves conducting industry research and sending out our findings internally to our team of stakeholders. This process involves putting together research pages on various companies, industries and trending topics to understand more about Ozmo’s position in the technology and telecom landscape. 

Content creation: Since working at Ozmo, I’ve been able to produce multiple pieces of written external content such as blogs and customer case studies. This external content is typically geared toward supporting one of two primary goals: lead generation or talent recruitment. 

Social media management: Throughout my time at Ozmo, I’ve had the opportunity to build out our company’s social media strategy from the ground up. I’m responsible for creating, scheduling and publishing our social media content while managing and analyzing our engagement and performance data. From content creation to post scheduling, I’ve been responsible for highlighting Ozmo’s company culture and achievements while increasing follower count and engagement on all accounts. 

Internal communication: Another area that I’m responsible for as the marketing intern is internal communication through our biweekly newsletter, The Ozmonaut. This responsibility involves overseeing an internal newsletter used to communicate and connect with Ozmonauts across the country. I work closely with our human resources and administration teams to identify which company announcements, anniversaries, birthdays and at-home activities to highlight that are used to keep us all connected and boost employee morale and engagement.

Do these challenges excite you? Think you’re a perfect fit for our team of Ozmonauts? Click the button below to view the full details and apply to Ozmo’s open Marketing Intern position.

How to succeed in a remote internship

If you’re looking for tips on how to manage your upcoming remote or hybrid internship, here is some advice for you:

1. Consistent communication is key

When working from home, it’s crucial to maintain consistent communication among your teammates and with your supervisor. You may not be able to meet with your coworkers everyday but it’s important to keep in touch with your teammates and adapt to their communication needs. Every employee and department has their preferences, so don’t be afraid to ask your manager and your peers how they prefer to be communicated with to figure out what works best. When you’re finding that there’s a need for better direction on a certain project, jump on a brief call, message your manager or send a quick email to follow up, depending on their work style. Don’t be afraid to over communicate as well, especially in the beginning of your new role. Establishing a positive relationship with your supervisor requires trust and transparency, so take it upon yourself to ask for feedback or further clarification when needed.

2. Always ask questions

No question is stupid — I swear, I’ve asked them all. Even if you think you’ve understood a topic to the full extent, make sure you’re still asking the right questions: “How does this system typically work?”, “Would you mind explaining that a bit further?”, “What would you expect success to look like for this project?”. After processing the information you’ve learned about a project, try recapping the information you’ve heard back to your colleague or supervisor to make sure you have a solid understanding. Asking for more information about an upcoming task provides you with a deeper understanding of the project and it allows you to stay on top of all of the details. When you have the full context and a complete understanding of an assignment’s projected outcome, you’ll be able to make well-informed decisions along the way. 

3. Take the time to learn more about your work

When I first started at Ozmo, I had never worked in the technology industry before. One of the most important things about starting an internship in an unfamiliar field is taking the time to educate yourself on your work. As you begin to adjust and learn more about the projects that you’re completing, you should start examining your company as a whole. Take the time to seek out industry-related articles to help you familiarize yourself more with relevant work. Meet with individuals cross-departmentally and sit in on other teams’ meetings when you can to learn more about what each sector at your company does. You may not have any experience in engineering or communications, but by taking the time to learn everything you can about each role at your work, you will gain a broader understanding of how your company operates. 

4. Reserve your time for work

When you first start working remotely, you soon realize all aspects of your life begin to blend into one environment: your relaxation space is your school space and your school space is your work space. It’s difficult to keep these separated at times when you’ve been studying, managing work calls and sleeping all in the same room. I’ve found that working in different spaces around your house helps break up the monotony that sitting at your desk all day can cause. Move to the kitchen table, sit in your backyard or take a seat on the couch when you’re in between meetings. Avoid sitting on your bed when you’re working, as studies have shown that trying to work while in bed greatly affects your productivity as well as your sleep quality*. 

To increase your productivity levels, try implementing some time management practices to break down your tasks each day. Practices such as the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ or time blocking are great ways to stay on top of your schedule. 

You may also be living with family or roommates which can also be a challenge as far as distractions go. Set boundaries with your roommates when you need extra focus time or let them know your schedule when you have an important work call. 

5. Make friends along the way

Meeting with people from different teams is not only a great way to understand more about your field, but it’s an even better way to get to know new people. Working from home can be isolating at times, but being able to virtually meet with your colleagues and make friends with the people at your internship is extremely important to foster a sense of community. Make it a weekly priority to connect with others and challenge yourself to get outside of your comfort zone by attending online work events. Virtual company get-togethers, game sessions and educational seminars like the ones at Ozmo have really allowed remote employees, like myself, to feel welcomed and included, without ever stepping foot in the office. 

6. Strive for overall growth

As important it is to get to know others during your internship, you should also take the time to get to know yourself in the process. While you work towards achieving your career goals in your virtual internship, oftentimes you come to understand your own self development. Internships are about learning and growing. By taking the time to understand your personal strengths and allow yourself to soak in each of the projects you manage, you’re able to identify what you enjoy doing the most and in which ways you wish to improve in them. I’ve also learned how to pause and take a break and be less hard on myself. Sometimes, the grind has to stop in order to recover and gain new personal growth. Through trial and error, cross-collaboration and while balancing my schoolwork, I’ve been able to understand and hone in on my own work capacities each day.

Closing

There are very few internships that offer a well-rounded, career-minded experience and that’s exactly what I found at Ozmo. Not many people my age, or older, have had the opportunity or the option to work from home. I’m very privileged to be working remotely at a company that I love while having the opportunity to create content, lead company-wide projects and conduct industry research that I’m passionate about. With spring graduation right around the corner, I feel more confident than ever about entering the workforce from the experience I’ve learned through my remote internship at Ozmo, and I hope that up-and-coming young professionals are able to achieve such success in similar remote opportunities as well.

For more information on Ozmo’s available Marketing Intern position, click the button below.

Ozmonauts team up with local community to fight COVID-19

Author: Ally Sopata

How community members are using their technical skills to combat the spread

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has left many people feeling helpless and wondering what they can do to assist. Frontline workers across the country are in desperate need of personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep themselves and those they interact with safe. Makers around the world have seen this as an opportunity to use the 3D printers in their homes to create masks, shields and other PPE to advance the supply chain forward and to protect their communities.

How Ozmo and Modea are helping

Ozmo is doing just that by working with sister company Modea to drive an increase in the availability of PPE in Southwest Virginia. Brian Rowe, David Bates, Michael Kessler and Lukas Lozovski of Ozmo are focused on the creation of two medically-approved shield models, NIH and Prusa, along with pleaters and mask straps while Chris Riegger of Modea is using their connections with numerous local hospitals to understand what materials are needed and to communicate product delivery details. Ozmo is donating money for printing material and Modea is covering shipping and disinfectant to support their efforts. Local non-profit maker space Hacksburg has also been imperative to these efforts by providing the plastic shields for the masks.

PRUSA bands PPE
Boxes of Prusa bands printed at home by our Ozmonauts.

Lozovski mentioned that his wife works at a hospital which made him realize just how real the shortage of supplies is. At times she has to wear her mask several days in a row, putting herself and others at risk. Lozovski explained that 3D printing PPE is a “good way to feel less helpless in these times and feel like you’re contributing something.”

Since beginning their efforts in March, Ozmonauts have printed a total of 245 NIH and Prusa bands. Rowe has eight 3D printers at home that he originally used to make functional prints such as table hinges, cup handles and even a steering wheel for online racing that he now has focusing entirely on printing PPE.

NIH PRUSA PPE models
Left: NIH model in Slicer Software. Right: Stacked Prusa model in Slicer Software

Behind the scenes of printing PPE

The printing process is not easy, however. After finding the appropriate 3D model, software slices it up into cross sections for printing. Environmental factors such as barometric pressure, humidity and alignment can easily cause the print to fail. This usually will happen in the first 20 to 30 minutes but errors can occur throughout. Rowe describes 3D printing as an “iterative process.”

Failed PPE print
Most of the Ozmonauts have the same 3D printer and use the same filament but due to environmental factors they all have to tune their printers differently. Rowe explains that they have each done “dozen of prints that have failed before getting prints that start to come out really well.” See an example of a failed print above.

Working at home has been a huge advantage to these efforts as they can switch out the printing filament throughout the day instead of having to wait for when they get home from the office. Their families can be involved in the process, too. Bates’ kids insisted they name their printers. “For instance, Frank is my workhorse modified ender-3 and Bob is my resin printer,” he said.

3D printing PPE gear
Left: Rowe’s at home printing station with two completed Prusa masks. Right: Five printed ear savers. These are used to alleviate tension on the ears from surgical masks and allow users to wear them longer with more comfort.

The local community comes together

The efforts to quickly produce PPE has led to a large community of makers coming together around the world. After working with the national Health Ministry, Czech maker Jo Prusa shared a face shield design online to aid in creation around the globe. Local communities have rallied together by organizing groups to lead the initiative and help protect nearby hospitals and essential workers. In Southwest Virginia, the Facebook group “3D Printed PPE Roanoke VA” led by a Roanoke maker group has served as a centralized location to share printing tips, ask questions and request equipment. A team at Virginia Tech is also underway to create thousands of face shields for medical professionals in the New River Valley.

So far, the masks created by our Ozmonauts have been sent to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, Goodwin House Hospice, Mary Washington Healthcare as well as police, first responders and a funeral home in Roanoke and Salem, Virginia.

Co-founder and Chief Growth Officer, Aaron Herrington, touches on how proud he is to have Ozmo take part in this initiative.

A core value of being an Ozmonaut means being a part of something bigger than yourself and being willing to help others. This was the perfect opportunity for us to do that and Ozmo was more than happy to support our employees in these efforts.

Aaron Herrington, Co-founder and Chief Growth Officer at Ozmo
Assembling PPE
Bates and Kessler assembling masks for the Goodwin House Hospice prior to packing up and shipping.

Get involved

Interested in assisting local makers in their efforts? Even if you don’t have the means to print masks, you can help in other ways. Contact your local maker group to help with assembly days or use your sewing skills to stitch masks and bands. Take advantage of your social media presence to promote maker groups or your local connections to match makers with essential workers. Finally, you can donate to organizations concentrating on these efforts such as MatterHackers or Operation Shields Up! All physical equipment and donations must be properly sanitized before delivery so be sure to coordinate with your point of contact on how to do so.

Rowe demonstrates how to correctly wear a Prusa shield on top of a face mask

If you would like more information about Ozmo’s efforts to help fight COVID-19, please contact fightcovid@ozmo.com.

#BlacksburgFightingCovid #FloydFightingCovid #RoanokeFightingCovid

Solving an issue with wall-drawing robots

As most established startups today Ozmo is interested in process improvements – little tweaks to our daily activities that make us leaner, smarter, and more agile. We are also on the cutting edge of technology, which makes us look for highly technical ways to solve these small hurdle problems. It is a personal and cultural goal at Ozmo to seek out these problems, and I found one soon after beginning working here. This post sets out to explain how we solved it.

Ozmo has a fantastic collaborative space located in Kent Square in the heart of Blacksburg, VA. The floor plan is open as well as the seating. There are literally hundreds of small collaborative spaces aside from the cordial glass-encased meeting rooms. One of the great things about these spaces is that they feature huge dry erase walls. Not just boards, but whole walls painted in dry-erase paint, making any corner a potential collaboration point.

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The issue, however, is that we work on large-scale, cloud-enabled applications that sometimes take quite awhile to draw out the flow of an application before we can begin talking about them. In fact, many times we would be in such a hurry to get an idea down that we would produce incoherent technical diagrams confusing the issue or leave out large chunks of a diagram in order to explain the idea. By leaving parts out, it would lead to unforeseen issues with the flow of an application. The worst situation is when we would spend so much time drawing out the flow of an application that the creative idea itself would be forgotten or muddled.

The answer came to me when MakeBlock started a KickStarter campaign that involved a wall-climbing robot (mDrawBot). What if we could get a robot to draw out our complicated diagrams ahead of time? We would save time and be able to talk over highly detailed drawings of our application, keeping the engineers on the task of creating new features and solving issues rather than just drawing out diagrams. I backed the kit and when I received it I put it together that week.

MakeBlock Kit

To test out the robot I cleared an infrequently used wall and mounted it up. The robot was meant to attach to a dry erase board – not directly to a wall – so I came up with a mounting solution using 3M Velcro to keep it secure. I then had to tackle calibration and the fact that the pen and holder was not meant to be placed directly on a wall, so it had to have a few modifications as well. Then came the software.

A few practice runs showed that it was taking each piece of geometry and splitting it into line segments to get start and end positions for when to put the pen down, travel, and then pick the pen up again. It was painfully slow to watch it try and draw some of the details, so we modified this code based on previous experience with Delta printers and Marlin to get the code to understand polygons and arcs better. Then it was ready for testing.

MakeBlock hung

It was a great experiment for seeing if having the robot draw diagrams would be better than drawing them out by hand. Although we still have some work to do, it has already been beneficial. Only at Ozmo would we find a way to solve a problem with a wall-drawing robot!

MakeBlock Drawing

The Ozmo arcade cabinet

Like most jobs, what we do at Ozmo can oftentimes be very stressful. We have many hurdles – impossible deadlines, shifting client and consumer needs, the constantly changing landscape that is the interwebs, and more. Different people like to deal with stress in different ways, be it foosball, walks, naps or reading.

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For stress relief, one activity many of us at Ozmo have found helpful is playing video games. Quick 15-minute sessions of blasting virtual enemies, battling your way to a finish line, or playing a completely nonsensical and awesome game of soccer with rocket cars are great outlets for clearing your mind and resetting during the day and after work.

How It Started

More than a year ago, Tom Yancey, Chris Mitchell, Michael Kessler, Kyle Krcmaric and I starting toying with the idea of creating the “Ultimate Gaming Arcade.” We wanted a unit capable of playing every retro game from every old school console. We also wanted our arcade to play newer titles on Steam, an online game publishing platform.

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With zero previous knowledge and the help of Google, we began creating what would eventually become the Arcade Cabinet. Things started out small. We began with scrap wood, a cordless drill and parts sourced from the internet. And, as projects tend to do, things got bigger and more complicated. We went from two sets of controls on a piece of Tom’s old desk to a set that allows four people to play together simultaneously.

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Things Slow Down

As deadlines loomed and new projects increased, work on the arcade slowed. The move to our new space in the basement of Kent Square and work on a new game room hindered progress even more.

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Then, this summer I decided to dive in head first. After more internet research and about 12 trips to Home Depot, I had everything needed to create an actual Arcade Cabinet — well, everything except most of the tools necessary to put it all together. Thankfully, Aaron Herrington and David Bates were willing to loan me theirs.

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And things got started again. Nights and weekends were spent measuring three times and cutting twice, a process of trial and many errors. Week by week, the stack of wood and kitchen cabinetry parts slowly turned into an arcade cabinet. Add a 39″ TV and an old workstation donated by Ozmo and we now have a fully working Arcade Cabinet — for the most part.

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Construction

There’s still a bit to do in terms of setting up software to play all of the retro games. Nobody likes to spend 20 minutes figuring out how to launch their favorite NES game from a command line interface. Trying out, customizing and evaluating different software solutions like Xbox Media Center and HyperSpin will take quite a bit of time, but we’ll get it done and make it easier for players to enjoy the classics.

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What’s Next?

Medium-density fibreboard brown isn’t the most attractive color scheme, so a paint job and custom vinyls are in the backlog. The current old Angry Birds plushes will be replaced by a custom lighted marquee. Cable management, adding controllers for older systems and getting everything as streamlined and clean as possible are also items that need to be tackled.

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Cabinet Built

Overall, building this has been a pleasure and great learning experience. I think it’s very important to occasionally create something tangible, especially with working mainly in the digital space. Seeing people enjoying newer games like Rocket League and classics like the X-Men arcade game on a full stand up Arcade Cabinet is pretty amazing when I think about the humble beginnings of a plank of wood, some buttons, and some joysticks.

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I’m really looking forward to improving the cabinet even more. I think it’s one of those things that will never truly be finished, but that’s one of the great things about DIY projects that I tend to enjoy!