Posted in capacity as Module Leader Group Software Development,
Department of Computing
Sheffield Hallam University

A Morgue

One hundred students, 10 clients, 5 labs of University PCs, overzealous Facilities department and the Sheffield weather. What could possibly go wrong?

Last week was ‘Scrum Week’. Nineteen groups of students working flat out 9-5, Monday to Friday on real client projects with a Friday afternoon deadline. The mixed groups of 2nd Year Software Engineers and Computer Scientists drifted in on Monday morning not quite realising the enormity of the task ahead of them. As I wandered around the labs checking on the groups there was all the atmosphere of the local morgue.

Like good Cub Scouts they had been told to Be Prepared and the better ones were. Others started to see that what IBM, NEXT, Twinkl, XLN, Kelham Island Musuem, Quba, Pioneer Healthcare, SkyBet, Elaros and Uropanet were asking of them was …. well a little challenging.

A Cemetery

Day Two in the Big Brother House. Problems with database connections, API documentation, connecting cameras, evolving / changing clients specifications. In the IBM room we have progressed from morgue to deserted cemetery.  Out there stalks the evil that is Watson Node Red. The Twinkl rooms receive a bomb shell regarding the specification. But there is also some progress. One SkyBet team cracks the Twtter API. Rough demos start appearing on Android phones for Elaros and Uropanet. Coding is starting in earnest and along with it the inevitable bugs – missing semi colons, case sensitivity, naming conventions all start to take their toll. Tensions is some groups start to bubble and boil.

Waving not Drowning

As the week progresses a low hum starts in the labs. Okay, I’m been disingenuous to two teams here, one Kelham Island team and one Skybet team.  Here, there is much hilarity.  I was initially worried it was hysteria, but after looking at their progress, this is confident laughter. They have cracked it and started using photos of their course leader (sorry Jamie) as comedy test data.
Other teams are covering the whiteboards in strange diagrams and expletives. Let’s hope Facilities remember their promise not to wipe them clean (as they did one year).

That can’t be right!

And good news at last from the IBM teams. Watson has been tamed. The machine has learnt. They are starting to gain the upper hand. The three teams have pooled their training images. An epic algorithm appears on a monster post-it note. Demos on Friday now looking possible. Our (newish) Head of Department pops in. He is shocked to see students not doing exams and essays, and disappointed they don’t know who their Academic Advisors are (whoops).

Somehow this needs translating to Python

Demo Day

Friday demo day. The clients have all confirmed. The snow has held off. All hands on deck. The module team meet in Cantor Cafe. It is going to be a busy afternoon we have 19 demos to mark, 10 clients to meet and greet, 100 students to keep happy.   Andrew Stratton (formerly of this parish) now up the road at the Uni Of arrives to offer support.  He ran scrum week successfully for many a year and still has his own head of hair.

The demos begin. Can’t go through them all, so here are some edited highlights. Uropanet, this is a complex hardware/software problem involving access points, multiple cameras and an Android application. This group have been burning the midnight oil and it has paid off. It works and the client wants to take it further.

Hey, the SD card is full.

Tom from SkyBet plays with the games the two groups have produced with HTML5.  They are fun, they are engaging and they are making use of the Twitter API just as he asked.

First IBM demo. John McNamara (Senior Inventor at IBM, yes really), sits down at the PC. He is making positive noises. He keeps getting his camera out to film the demo. The academics marking it ask for a quick chat away from the students.

John from IBM forgets where he lives?

“Well John, did they meet your requirements?”

“They knocked it out of the park. Brilliant.”

Pioneer Healthcare are up next. We can’t discuss the nature of this application as the client has asked the students to sign an NDA.

“Did it meet your requirements?”

“Yes, very happy with it. If it is okay with you we’d like to give each student £xxx today and then £xxx if they can install it for us”.

“I think we can work with that”.

Elaros are another company in Healthcare.  They want an Android application and a web portal.

Paul from Elaros has been very eager to see what the students have produced.

“So Paul, does this meet your requirements?”

“This is exactly what we hoped for. We’d like to keep working with the students”.

In the corridor I bump into Simon.  He is  busy marking the Quba and Kelham Island Museum demos.  There are three Kelham Island groups.  Kelham Island liked all three but one really stands out.  They want to use it at the Museum.  Simon has been hatching a plan all week with the kind help of Richard and our new Tech Support Team to get this sorted.

I also manage to grab a word with David Harker from NEXT.  Their demos have gone well.  NEXT are killing two birds with one stone and using their time at Hallam to interview two students, one for a placement, one for a graduate role.  I take NEXT down to the room I’ve booked for them.   I am delighted to see it is Aaron waiting there for a graduate role interview.  He has been a popular student rep over the years for Software Engineering.  As it happens three years ago he worked with NEXT during his scrum week.  Good luck Aaron.

XLN arrive on mass. Along with Ian Hawley, Head of Software, they bring four other developers and some of their marketing team from that London. They want to film the presentations.  The teams are making use of Google Maps, Android, Firebase, ReactJS, PHP/MySQL and their wits.

“Did they meet your requirements?”. Ian replies yes … but ….

He then gives them invaluable honest feedback on the process. The two XLN teams have performed brilliantly.  However, Ian deems one to be slightly better than the other. Both teams are encouraged to apply for placements. XLN give the ‘winning’ team Amazon vouchers.

The Two Teams with Ian Hawley of XLN

The two XLN teams are the last to demo, so XLN take the students down the pub. As the students disappear to The Howard for drinks, XLN marketing want to film some words from me. What to say? “XLN and all the clients have been brilliant to engage in this. It is great there so many tech companies in Sheffield who want to get involved. All students are leaving with smiling faces.”

In the pub, I talk to two of our previous students both now at XLN, both now senior developers. This is where Sheffield Hallam University students can end up.

XLN get the Beers in

As we leave the pub, I hear one student say to another. “It has only been a week, but it feels like the end of an era”. They’ll remember this week for a long time. And then, just as always happens in the Eastenders Christmas special, it starts to snow.

Big Thanks to

The Clients: IBM, NEXT, Twinkl, XLN (Ian you were a star), Kelham Island Musuem, Quba, Pioneer Healthcare, SkyBet, Elaros and Uropanet

The Module Team: Babak, Basu, Mike and Simon.

Guest Speakers: Brilliant guest talks from Tom Hudson (SkyBet), Ian Hawley (XLN), Robin Williams (Twinkl), John “am I speaking” McNamara (IBM) and Sheffield Hallam University’s own Chris Roast

Andrew Stratton: for support, ideas and guidance.

Tech Support:  Richard and the guys for Kelham Island help.

Facilities Team: For not cleaning the whiteboards.

And most importantly all those pesky students.

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