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What a Summer… A Summary

What a Summer…

This last summer of 2014 has been an incredible summer – on a similar level to that of last year. It differed from last year in that instead of one really big awesome thing, I did loads and loads of smaller things – all of which gave me shed loads more experience, and some of which were life changing. So, without further ado, let’s get started:


Above: Summer of Opportunity – Movie of the best moments of my summer.

The combination of hacking and sailing really works well...

The combination of hacking and sailing works well…

Summer started at the start of June when I headed back to Cornwall to relax and unwind from a hard term of exams and coursework. The first weekend, I took the RYA Powerboat Level 2 Qualification, enabling me to drive our speedboat – which has been fantastic – every weekend I returned since I’ve been speeding around the South Coast of Cornwall in blissful weather.

I then shot off to London for the start of my Internship at Morgan Stanley, an investment bank, working in Technology. The experience was so enlightening, and I could not be more glad that I did it. I worked in a small team which managed a significant enterprise product, and got the opportunity to work with some really great, intelligent people. Living in London was an experience I never thought I’d have, and although I went into it with a negative attitude (expecting to not like it, been a ‘open space and countryside lover’), it outdid every single one of my expectations. I even had chance to participate in a fund-raising event for the Princes Trust (cycling across London).  Having all of England’s history, museums and beautiful gardens within 20 minutes was incredible, and I loved the opportunity to try experiences that only exist in a capital city (for example Dans le Noir, the restaurant where you eat in the pitch-darkness, Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships, and drinks in The Shard).

Drinks in GŎNG on the 52nd Floor, The Shard

Drinks in GŎNG on the 52nd Floor, The Shard

During my Internship I was pointed towards applying for Yacht Hack, a week long hackathon on a Yacht, pootling around Croatia. Never missing an opportunity, I applied. And, with the Yacht leaving Croatia on Saturday 30th August, I received an email on the preceding Monday 25th saying something along the lines of “Congratulations, see you in Croatia in 5 days”. What a rush! But of course, come Saturday morning I found myself in Split, Croatia, about to meet 10 of the most amazing people. The Yacht was absolutely beautiful, a fairly new Lagoon catamaran, and only slightly cosy. Within hours, the ideas were flowing, and so were the concepts and products. Our team came up with Shy – a service aggregating and curating answers to all the questions you are too shy to ask.  I’ll be writing a full post on Yacht Hack, including how it significantly changed the next few years of my life, at the end of next week.

Most of us on the Yacht Hack yacht roof

Most of us on the Yacht Hack yacht roof

Once I got back from Yacht Hack and had spent another few days in Cornwall (yep – speedboating was included!), I kicked off back to London to present shy to a group of investors.

Because I hadn’t travelled enough in the preceding few weeks, the next day I took off to Zürich to see old friends from last year and enjoy the city, culture and mountains for two weeks. Meeting up with friends and then cycling through the city and eating chocolate and cheese was just fantastic. I tried a very fun Swiss activity as well – taking a chairlift up a mountain and then riding a scooter all the way back down. Not to mention the incredible 2 day hike to Mount Tamaro (with overnight stay in the hut) around Lugano and Locarno, which ended with a swim in the spectacular Lake Maggiore.

Lugano Hike - the final push to Tamaro Hut

Lugano Hike – the final push to Tamaro Hut

So, summer’s over now and I’m now back at University for my final year.  I’m looking forward to challenges ahead and my final-year dissertation (a post on which will be following soon).  Bring on the next 12 months!

The Challenges of Studying a Software Engineering Module – how well does it reflect industry?

One of the 2nd Year Computer Science modules at York is the Software Engineering Project (SEPR).  In this module, you work with a team of ~6 randomly allocated peers on a project to simulate an industry environment. Since I’ve had a good amount of industry experience I thought I’d write something about the module and how it simulates industry.

First, let’s talk about SEPR – what is it?  The idea is that it simulates your team working within a company to produce a product. Different members of the module leaders act as the ‘customer’, module support team and ‘managers’ (i.e. for if you’re having major problems in your team). The customer gives all the teams a specification document of the product he wants to be produced, and this simulates industry in that the document is vague at points and has gaping holes (where the customer doesn’t know what he wants).

A number of things are been testing in SEPR:

  • how you work with a team (i.e. if you’re a team player),
  • how you work collaboratively (i.e. are you emailing code or using collaboration tools like Git),
  • the structure of your product (i.e. is your product expandable – is it easier to add more classes to enable more features?),
  • the quality of your code,
  • how you market it (at two stages in the course you are required to take up another teams code and to try and convince other teams to take up your code).

For our year, the project specification was to create an Air Traffic Control game, where planes would come onto the screen, with a route marked as a series of way points.  The players job was to prevent collisions.  In the revised specification for the final assessment, we were required to implement a multiplayer game mode.

So, how well does this simulate industry?  In my opinion, it does a pretty good job.  The structure of the SEPR module means that you have a wide variety of personalities that you have to work with, which can of course be difficult at times – some people have only worked in isolated environments in the past, but it works out well and it’s rewarding when you work out how to work together.  Specifically with my team, I think it’s fair to say that a couple of members would not be friendly with each other outside of the module, but it didn’t take too long for everyone to learn to work together, and that’s a very valuable skill.

Collaboration tools are of course a big thing in industry – it’s not possible to develop just by sending code by email and on flash drive to people, although up until the SEPR module I’d say a large proportion of students in my course had been surviving that way.  A team of 6 is big enough that you need to use these tools, which is great as they’re the same (or very similar) tools as those used in industry.

It’s obvious, but it needs mentioning – in industry you’ve got to write very maintainable code – code that will remain within a product for 10+ years.  Since the module is marked on this (and UML diagrams should be provided in the written reports), it represents industry well, although perhaps with less consequences if you do screw up!

The only imperfection in the module that I was aware of was how teams are created and managed.  Teams were selected almost entirely randomly by the SEPR module leaders, under the justification that “in industry, you can’t choose who you work with”.  That means that each team was made up of people with vastly varying skill levels – some teams had multiple people in them who couldn’t program at-all (which, in my opinion, is not good to say they are passed their first year of study in Computer Science).  But – in industry, you do work with people of a similar skill level – that’s why companies have interviews, to ensure that their new employees meet the level of the current employees.  And poorer quality companies don’t end up with a random group of 3 geniuses (or at least, they normally don’t), because those 3 people know they could go and get a better-paying job at a better company.  So I don’t think this was done well in the SEPR module – teams should have been made up of groups of students of similar ability, so that good students got good marks and vice versa, rather than students of extreme (either poor or great) ability levels having a great influence on the mark of the overall team.

So, to conclude, other than with team selection, I think the SEPR module does a great job of simulating industry – the right things are taken into account (team skills, working collaboratively, and code quality), and the structure of the module in terms of lecturer leadership accurately simulates the various levels of management in a company.

To take a look at and try the three games we created, check out the SEPR section of my projects page.

What do I want to get out of 3/4/5/6 Years at University?

Why did I want to come to University?  What do I hope to get out of it?  Apart from in my interview, nobody asked me that and yet it seems like such an important question.  I’m going to write my own thoughts here from what I have researched (from questioning my flat mates to reading some of the more sensible discussions on ‘The Student Room’ forums), but if you are going to read them and take something from it, I suggest you stop and try and answer the question yourself before carrying on.

I could relate to almost everything Randy Pausch said we shouldn’t be doing in his lecture on Time Management, which meant I found it extremely useful.  But the point that most stood out to me was that you should think of your time as money.  Taking a 3 year degree as an example, you spend £42,000+ on Tuition, Accommodation and Living.  But an average (after tax) income over 3 years (based on 2010-2011) is £41,130 (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, 2012) for someone in our age bracket.  That is an £83,000 difference in the value of your estate, come the end of 3 years, and that’s a lot of money for a piece of paper saying “I can work hard and I know how to solve problems and how to conduct research”.  But how many people come here just for that bit of paper?

Like many of us, I spent 12 years teaching myself about computers because I was fascinated and it was the only way to learn about them.  The idea of ‘officially’ studying computers and programming sounded so great I didn’t even consider anything else.  And so what I want to get out of these years is a really deep understanding of computing, specifically programming and architectures.  What else though?

The social and maturity aspect is important as well.  To quote the Oxford English Dictionary, University is “a high-level educational institution in which students study for degrees and academic research is done”.  Doesn’t that seem to be missing something?  From talking to numerous flat mates and fellow CS students, the reoccurring theme (other than pursuit of knowledge) is socialising and networking.  I’ve found, especially over the last 3 weeks, that various societies and sports clubs have the perfect atmosphere to help me grow socially and build team skills.

Our years at University are probably when we most mature as Adults, both socially and academically.  For many of us, it’s the first time we have lived completely independently, and it’s a perfect intermediary stage between living at home and leaving home.  Since our SKIL tutorial, I’ve begun to realize how important Time Management is, and it’s things like this that we can first master at University.

To summarise then, we are gaining knowledge of our subject, we are finally in an environment where we can learn about a subject of our choice, we pickup social skills and self-management tools and we mature into Adult’s.  What more could you ask for?

If you think I missed a key point, or if you decided University was the choice for you for a different reason, I welcome a discussion in the comments section.

References

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. (2012, 2). Distribution of median and mean income and tax by age range and gender, 2009-10 . Retrieved 11 3, 2012, from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/stats/income_distribution/3-2table-feb2012.pdf

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