Extras for the ideal degree

A university degree should provide you with the means to pursue a range of options upon graduation so that you know how to take advantage of good ones when they turn up in your path. Irrespective of which ‘flavour’ of degree you choose such as ‘IT’, or ‘data visualisation’, you should leave with a working knowledge of the professional skills in your profession along with hands-on experience using the critical thinking of that same profession. In addition, you should also leave with a general set of transferrable skills in a range of areas, which you can use as needed.

In computing something that meets these needs would probably look something like this:

  • You’d learn how and why you should use version control, testing and other ‘practices’ in software development so that you know what is expected of you in a new role when you’re hired, or go on a placement with a company.
  • You’d work through the theory of different computing science challenges and also apply that theory in appropriate applications that you built individually and in teams as part of a class.
  • You’d have experience working with large open data sets so that you understand the challenges of what awaits you upon graduation.
  • You’d have experience working with live clients so that you understand, and have used appropriate professional skills dealing with clients and have suitable examples to illustrate the points you will want to raise about your experience in your interviews.
  • You’d have regular opportunities to talk to a range of developers and designers with a range of backgrounds so that you know the variety of options available to you from freelance to salaried positions when you’re looking for work later.
  • You be able to attend conferences that bring in local, regional, national and international speakers so that you know what is happening in your field and be able to network with potential employers as well as talk to developers and designers about the industry too.
  • You’d have opportunities to work on small to large projects with professional developers and designers in hack events as well as other types of shared practice events.

Kate Stone demoing drum poster

Each of these items offer you chances to build upon what you learn in the classroom and to help you realise the subtle aspects of computing as practiced by computing scientists, as well as what is done in software houses and how they share experiences between them. Together these different aspects help to make you more resilient and to use a variety of learning opportunities to make it easier for you to find your next step upon graduation whether this be research or working as a software professional, or any of the many other roles available in the ICT field.

Each of these items would also help you if you decide to strike off on your own, or with a few others and launch your own company. As a computer person, that option is ALWAYS there too and should not be ruled out either. Starting a company is easier when you’re not worried about losing a salary, and you could also start it while a student too using the entrepreneurial unit that most universities all have too.

Easy ways to make a million

There is an interesting discussion in Quora about ‘What are some easy ways to make a million dollars?‘ The best answer, I think, is the one pointing out that you can do this by setting up a service you offer to others for $83/month. As soon as you hit 1000 customers you have your million. Sure, this isn’t your money to do with as you please, as you’ll need to pay expenses and overheads, but it does show that it’s achievable. More importantanly, it shows that it is repeatable. This million will keep coming each year as long as you keep your customers, and will also increase as you grow your customer base too.

Discussing ideas at Northern Lights 2013, University of AberdeenHappily in the digital era this is not too hard to do. You just need to find a service you can provide, which people are willing to pay for at a reasonable sum, and to set it up to look after itself. You probably have the tech skills, so just need some help with finding and developing your idea, and there are lots of places where you can find help with that. What are you waiting for?

The start of the entrepreneurship degree

We have now started the MSc Software Entrepreneurship degree in Aberdeen and are pursuing a business idea with the team to see if it is sustainable. We brainstormed five business ideas the first week and then followed them up with some online research to see if there might be any opportunities with each of them. Some proved to have markets dominated by several players, others had a low barrier to entry so we’d be swamped and find lots of competition rather quickly. Another idea would only work if we found a way to establish some sort of credentials, which seemed important in the area. We were left with one idea, which is now being pushed further as we confirm our assumptions about the nature of the idea and determine the best approach to monetise the idea. One useful tool we used in this process was to blend ‘apps and technology’ with ‘themes and issues’ in order to find possible ‘mashups’ ideas. These could prove to be supplemental apps or benefits of the main service. Apps and tech plus themes and issues gives you mash up ideas We got the idea of this mashup from our fun friends at Snook, who have been recently posting about it with their ‘Whose Round‘ campaign in Glasgow. The ideas here pushed our ideas further and opened up possibilities of what can come later. Mostly at the moment we’re checking up assumptions that we have about who this would appeal to, and whether this is a sustainable idea using the Happy Startup Canvas and lots of paper and pens to write down assumption trees (following up the assumptions behind assumptions) in order to see what we’re really asking, and drawing out lots of diagrams in order to better understand the ideas and check that everyone understands them in the same way. It’s been a great time. If this sounds like something you’d like to do: spend time working out your possible business idea, while earning your MSc, then go sign up for the MSc Software Entrepreneurship degree and you too can join the fun.

The Scottish Design Summit 2014

The Scottish Design Summit last week In Dundee organised by Design in Action was less useful than I thought it would be. We had many stories during the day, and some short workshops too. However, it was mostly a chance for us to hear what others wanted to tell us about their experience and not enough space for us to meet new people and exchange our experiences with each other.

I like the idea of Design in Action and how it pulls together the Scottish design schools in order to help businesses through academic work and participation. It’s a good example of creative enterprise and showing how design can help business. It was odd though that we never heard from one of the businesses who’ve received help in one of the talks during the day. That would’ve been useful.

The biggest surprise was that for a ‘design summit’ and speakers repeatedly extolling the value of design in business we had the usual round of presentations that present ‘facts’ as uninspiring lists with no application of design to improve the message delivery. I had looked forward to seeing inspiring ‘designedly’ infographics and diagrams explaining the lessons learned by the different organisations presenting their stories of using design to improve their business. This did not happen. We saw powerpointy slides. But don’t just take my word for it, see what others talked about at #scotdesign14.

Scottish Design Summit

Only a handful offered designerly presentations. Stanley Wood from Spotify presented a smoothly integrated presentation with movies and stills seamlessly telling the Spotity story of integrating design into their app. Richard Hewitt from Taylor Haig offered stories around the slides he presented and Mark Hogart from Harris Tweed Hebrides mixed slides and movies together to support the story of their transformation. These were memorable presentations illustrating the power of stories and how images support the stories more importantly than lists of statements as bulletpoints.

And the workshops were too short. We barely got started working on an idea and it was time to move onto the next workshop. A better solution would’ve been to either offer us only one workshop, or to cut down the speakers so that we could still have two workshops. The later would’ve been better as workshops offer chances to talk to people and learn new skills while hearing what others are doing and telling your story too.

My biggest take-away from the day was that I can keep following my current practice of focusing on where I’m currently at, and don’t always need to keep looking for what others have to offer. I have experience and skills in this area gained from reading, going to other workshops, and through organising service design events, and practicing what I learned with students. I already deploy this knowledge and skills in what I teach my students and in workshops I run. There was nothing new there except for stories to illustrate examples; the Spotify, Taylor Haig and Harris Tweed stories. The workshops offered interesting ways to present things I already did, so that was reassuring.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in this space in the future, as it was a useful day and I did learn things, but less useful than I hoped it would be. Maybe I’ve been going to too many agile events where open space is provided for participants to air their ideas too, and missed that opportunity too. Maybe next time.

Needless to say, it is also very useful to reconnect with friends at these events, which was an extra surprise.

Come join us at The Meat Conference 31 May

We’re sponsoring The Meat Conference in Aberdeen on 31 May 2014. You’ll hear from a number of interesting speakers about the usefulness of your ‘side project’ as a designer and developer. We’ll be there to help explain to you how we can help you level up your skills with us so that your side project becomes your main project.

The Meat Conference

We want to help people realise their potential. We understand that launching a startup is not an easy step, and are here to help. We also know that all of the skills you need in founding a startup are also extremely useful in any career path and will enable you to become a valued intrapreneur within any large firm too. So if you’re at The Meat Conference, then look for us and have a chat about where you want to be this time next year.

Another Weekend of Fun with Global Service Jam

The weekend of 7-9 March saw us running the Aberdeen leg of the Global Service Jam with about 14 people. We had three teams ideating three main ideas over the weekend to good effect, and everyone had a good time and learned new prototyping and ideation skills. This time we had one team pushing out a possible deck of cards that can be used by teachers with pupils in schools. While we also hoped to run the the local edition of  National Hack the Government event too, we had too few people turn up for that, and those two people who did, decided to stay working on their GSJ project.

All of our teams did many iterations prototyping their ideas on paper, with models, and with Lego bricks as you can see in the evolution of their ideas taken down via video commentary over the weekend. If you start on the last page and work forward, then you’ll see the ideas evolve. Sauron’s Box became One Box and Mad Box became EduPod. By constantly pushing the ideas further and refining them again and again over the weekend the ideas became better.

Teams used a number of tools and processes to improve their ideas. Many used journey maps, service blueprints and the Happy Startup Canvas as well as the Strikingly Idea Chain cards and Constraints cards too and prototyping ideas with Lego and other tools to hand. Most of these tools are familiar to us, and others were new ones to try and explore their potential.

Several things stand out for this year. First, we couldn’t do this without our great sponsors. The University of Aberdeen, and the Robert Gordon University for hosting our event. Fifth Ring and Neo for providing funding to feed our participants. And lastly, Stattys for providing us with their wonderful sliding products to use. Thanks to all of you, who help make this happen.

Secondly, the teams formed automagically on the Friday as people gravitated towards the ideas that appealed to them and didn’t need any encouragement to coalesce. Third, you can form a team based on a random group of people, who don’t know each other. This works perfectly fine, and as one regular said “[he’d] formed businesses with family and friends, and they didn’t work so great, so why not strangers?”. Fourth, the new Idea Chain cards were useful, and fun for ideation and we’ll need to build a better deck or two of those. Lastly, Skype chats work great as long as people focus on the key issues as time can be a factor, but it works real well to get feedback when you can’t otherwise reach your target audience.

All of these are lessons to bring back to the classroom and show that the random mix of people you find at these events  shows that a change of pace and people is a good way to get out of your comfort zone and learn something new. We’ll definitely be organising this again next year.

You can also find another write up of the event by the co-organiser Steve Milne, and collection of links at http://stevenmilne.com/blog/global-service-jam-14.

GSJ and NHTG event in March

Two events we like to support are both happening on the weekend of 7-9 March. Both of these events centre on helping people envision apps and services, which they’d like to see. Both events are there to inspire participants by what they learn and see happening at the events. These are events to explore and rapidly prototype ideas to see what’s possible and to put ideas out there to get feedback from people. These are places to come and hang out and try things with people. Yes, you might get an idea for a startup, and you might be able to spin out an idea trailed at the events into a real business, but that is not the goal of the weekend. The goal is to have creative fun with like-minded folks and explore the possibilities. It’s training for innovation.

GSJ Aberdeen 2013

This is the second time we’re running the Global Service Jam, and the third time it’s been held in Aberdeen. The goal of this event is to have people come together to share their skills and rapidly prototype new services. The event theme is revealed on Friday evening, and after brainstorming service ideas we’ll form teams around this theme to develop services over the Saturday and Sunday. These ideas should be rapidly prototyped and taken to the streets to show to people and then revised based on what you learn. This is all about learning front of house skills as it were. If you’re normally someone who works in the back office and never meets customers, then this is your chance to get out there and see what the others do. This is your chance to better understand what they do and to help develop new ideas and try them out with people.
Aberdeen Culture Hack 2013

The National Hack the Government events run by Rewired State are efforts to help the people build a better government by coming together with others to inspire and build the apps they’d like to see using government open data sources. You can get an idea of what others have done in the past by looking at the projects that came out of previous NHTG events. We had a small version of this in Aberdeen in 2011 when it was a one-day event. This year it will run over the Saturday and Sunday with us offering remote teams who can report back to the main group of folks in London. We’re hoping that some of the ideas gathered from the GSJ folks on Friday night will lend themselves to app ideas for the Saturday and Sunday.
This event will be a good mixture of service design, some agile development and a hack event where the focus is on ‘seeing what works’
Go signup and follow @GSJAberdeen for updates

Global Day of Code Retreat 2013

Staff member Bruce Scharlau helped run the Global Day of Code Retreat at the University of Aberdeen on 14th December. This global event was happening in over 150 places around the world and they chatted with other event participants in Vienna and Edinburgh during the day.The event in Aberdeen was sold out at 30 people (half developers and half students), although a number didn’t turn up on the day. They missed a great event.
While a number of participants did the traditional Code Retreat that works through Conway’s Game of Life using Ruby, Java and C#, most people worked through a web version of the game fixing buggy CSS, HTML and Javascript in a ‘web retreat‘. A big hit for the webretreat participants was using Steven Milne’s Constraint Cards to help focus on creative issues.

Global Day of Code Retreat 2013

Facilitator helping a pair with their coding

The goal of a Code Retreat is ‘deliberate practice’ where you and the others set out to practice and learn new ways of coding using Test Driven Development (TDD), which is becoming a useful job skill, and required in some places. The goal is not to have a perfect version of the game of life. Indeed, you keep throughing your code away after each 45 session so that you start the next one with a new person from scratch. The goal is to learn while having fun. You’re playing with the code.

We ended up with four rounds on the day. You can find exercises and challenges at the CodeRetreat website.

The first round was done under a ‘get your feet wet and start’ with no requirements or constraints. People learned from their failures, which some worked out could be speed up by using tests. Everyone started with the grid for the cells, and two teams actually finished building a game.

The second round was done as ‘Test Driven Development, Primative Obsession’ which meant people took some time to get up to speed with TDD for their language and framework. Some had frustrations with unfamliar languages as they paired with people who were using an unfamiliar language. The constraint this time was ‘primative obsession’ where you create objects instead of using low-level integers so that you have more control over your objects. People found that for this case, this was a challenge.

The third round constraint was ‘no loops’, which required more intellectual overhead as you considered in-built methods more. It also shifted the focus from the board to the cell as it became harder to write tests for the board.

The last round was ‘evil coder’ where one person wrote a test and then the other wrote code to pass the test as simply and as easily as possible. This could be done in ‘evil’ ways such as using primatives instead of objects. People found this good fun as more learning was happening with respect to tests and how they could/should be written.

Part of the fun of a code retreat event is also getting to know new people and learning different ways of coding as you swap partners for each of the 45 minute sessions during the day. Students and professionals get many chances to code together and learn from each other. Many people replied that it was ‘great!’ and immediately asked ‘when’s the next event?’. Thanks to all of you who came on the day and we look forward to seeing you in the future.

Our next event will be the 48 hour Global Service Jam 2014 in the spring, and should be great as we’ve lined up one major sponsor already.