Tech For Good – DigitalDNA – Hackathon 2017

Standard

Hackathon Success

As part of the DigitalDNA conference in Belfast in early June a hackathon was held in the wee hours around the topic of youth unemployment.

DigitalDNA: Tech Conference Held Annually In Belfast

The challenge was to develop, in teams, a app/service/tool to help alleviate youth unemployment, within 12 hours. The prize? A trip to Dubai to present to a VC firm.

Guess what, our team won, woot!

Domain Experts

At the end of the first day of the conference, while the ‘corporates’ were milling out, the ‘have-a-go techies’ started appearing from the shadows.

Panel Discussions

The hackathon started at 4pm with some invaluable panel discussion from youth workers around the topics involved with youth engagement.

The insight learned from these discussions, and from further engagement with these domain experts, really helped to shape everyone’s thoughts around potential solutions.

Programmer Fwends!

And then, we were ready to go…….almost.

First we needed a team.

Now, I’m a decent programmer, but I know my [many] limitations. Entering a hackathon on my own was not on my radar; I wanted to learn from others experiences and skills in this 12 hour window.

Conor Graham helped to broker team alliances

Luckily, there were others in a similar position, and we quickly formed a team; myself, Luke Roantree & Hussien Elmi (we did have Samir Thapa at the start but unfortunately he had to leave early on and could not return).

From working with Luke’s father at Spatialest and hearing good reports from friends about Hussien at Deloitte, I knew we had a great team.

Loads of Time?

12 hours to bring an idea to life may seem an achievable goal at first sight, that’s only if you have a clear idea in the first place.

Distilling Ideas

Creating and distilling ideas is a time-consuming process, but fortunately the domain experts were on-hand to help. By bouncing ideas off the experts our team managed to agree on an initial direction and set to work.

Ready To Rock

With only about 8 hours to go, we were ready to rock; we were going to build an app.

Hussien Ready To Rock

Myself and Hussien had previously met at an Ionic meetup where I was speaking; using this hybrid mobile app technology was a no-brainer for us. With Ionic you can build cross platform apps very quickly; time was of the essence. Although Luke had not used the technology before we knew he was a whizz at anything he put his mind to.

The Graft

Pumped up on red bull, coffee and pizza all the teams really started getting into their stride around 11pm.

Red Bull (other sleep deprivation agents are available)

After the original chatter in the early evening all the teams were furiously coding away. With the realization rapidly dawning that less than 5 hours were left on the clock, the teams had partitioned out their work and were now working in silos.

Bed!

Funny thing about coffee and Red Bull, what goes up, must come down.

Around 2am the effects of the long day and caffeine started taking its toll. Dreary eyed developers roamed the conference space and focus started shifting away from computer screens to thoughts of bed.

After 3am very few people were left and eventually even our team decided to call it a ‘day’.

After gathering up as many free cupcakes, cold pizza, beer and crisps as we could humanly carry (admittedly it was a lot!), we started to make our way home on foot. We must have looked a random bunch on the Ormeau Road at 3:30am, but to my surprise, not many people batted an eyelid at 3 geeks laden with that many munchies at that time in the morning, go figure!?!?

Presentation Time

The presentations were to take place in the afternoon of the 2nd day of DigitalDNA conference.

Whats my potential hybrid App

By this stage our app had quite a polished feel. Working with collaboration tools such as Trello, GitHub and Slack we had worked well as a team and had managed to produce an immense amount of output in a short period of time.

I had my daughter’s sports day to attend so it was up to the Luke and Hussien to present. They both knocked it out of the park!

The presentation was flawless and the demo was impressive. The judges were impressed not only with how polished the app was but also that the domain experts views’ had been taken on board.

Luke And Hussien Recognized for their hard work

In the end credit must go to all the teams. Every team worked hard on trying to find ways to alleviate the globally transferable issue of youth unemployment.

Kudos also to everyone involved in making the DigitalDNA conference happen. The conference brought together all that is good about the tech scene in Northern Ireland and beyond.

Big thanks also to the organizers and sponsors of the hackathon; it was really well run and we enjoyed every minute of it (even at 3.30 in the morning).

Hopefully all goes well in Dubai with our presentation to Falcon & Associates in November. However, with such a capable team and great mentors from the HackForGood team, we won’t disappoint.

E-Learning

Standard

Some much to learn, so little time.

Apart from ‘dark matter programmers‘, most developers are faced with the uphill struggle to find the time to continuously keep up to date with the industry. To paper over my (many) technical shortcomings I tried out some of the prominent online course providers and was extremely impressed.

The software industry moves so fast that keeping up to date with the latest tech and processes is virtually impossible; unless you do it virtually.

Brave New World of E-Learning

When I first tried online learning I was a bit skeptical that it could match the learning potential of ‘traditional’ methods. However, mainly due to the way you can learn at your own pace, I now would not want to learn any other way.

Institutions have big reputations from years of delivery. However, in this brave new world the methods of delivery are changing and new reputations are being formed.

Using this type of learning has a number of benefits for time starved developers:

Flexible. Finding spare time as a software developer is not always easy. We are fortunate enough to be in an industry which is currently booming and that means there is plenty of work to be done. Online courses are perfect for time-constrained individuals as most courses allow you to work, more or less, at your own pace and at hours of your choosing

– Accreditation. Many of the providers now offer “recognized” accreditation on completion of a course. How “recognized’ the qualification is largely depends on who is judging. For example, your next potential employer might not have heard of Pluralsight and its qualifications but might be a personal user of Coursera and is well aware of its merits/shortcomings.

Wide Variety. The course providers currently have a huge library of every type of subject and there libraries are expanding every year as e-learning becomes more popular.

Cost. Some are free but the rest are paid for. On the whole though, e-learning courses are generally cheaper. If you compare the cost of ‘taught’ industry courses that require you to travel to the trainer’s location, there is no comparison.

What I didn’t like

This type of virtual learning is not everyone’s cup of tea. Quite a few people can be put off by the impersonal nature of the courses. Without a lecturer to interact with and a physical text book, some just do not see anything else as ‘learning’. Most of the online course providers do try to simulate these inter-personal connection with the student, but in reality it is half-baked at best.

resized_conspiracy-keanu-meme-generator-what-if-they-find-a-way-one-day-to-physically-enter-virtual-reality-8a527e

I personally had trouble making sure that I kept enough time free in my schedule to make sure I completed the courses fully. Sometimes I really needed was a lecturer or dean making sure I kept on track.

Despite the disadvantages I can thoroughly recommend trying some sort of online learning; there is a surprisingly diverse catalog of courses out there, most of them very well thought out content and delivery.

Horses for courses

However, not all the online providers have the same range of courses, I find that some providers are better for certain topics than others.

The providers that I regularly use for different topics are as follows:

Pluralsight – Great for technical training such as web and server training.

Coursera – Great for specialized accredited courses from recognized universities.

Udemy – Great for social/personal development type courses.

 

Other providers do exist and i would be interested in hearing what else is available and your experiences with them?

Podcasts

Standard

So little time, so much to learn

Gone are the days for the software developer where you can learn one technology inside out, sit back and work at the same job for 20 years. Continuous learning, the ongoing voluntary pursuit of knowledge, is becoming an essential pursuit to most working in the software industry.

The technological landscape is evolving so fast that most of us programmers have to continually learn, or risk having an increasingly extinct set of skills.

learn

There are a number of tools that I have started to use which have helped me better keep apace with some of the changing I.T. industry landscape.

Technical Podcasts – Learn On The Go

If, like me, you have a relatively long commute into work [30 minutes or more], there are many excellent ways that you can utilize this time. Some like to read newspapers, listen to music, enjoy a good novel; I like to use this time to ‘sharpen my axe‘ by catching up on the latest goings on in the software development world through listening to technical podcasts.

Using this time to listen to podcasts has been highly beneficial to me in a number of ways:

  • Learn the lingo. Once you start listening to podcasts you are much more aware and confident with many of the phrases and terms used within the industry. Terms like ‘big iron’, ‘cranking code’, ‘heisenbug’, ‘pokemon handling’, ‘stringly typed’ etc are all now part of a colorful vocabulary thanks to listening to others using them confidently on podcasts.

heisenbug

  • Bleeding Edge. Most of the podcasts pick up on new technologies or practices. If someone uses a brand new technical term in the office that starts you sweating that they will ask you your opinion on something that you cannot even spell… you can be sure there is a podcast for that.
  • Different Viewpoints. Going outside your comfort zone, like listening to web podcasts when you have spent your life as a desktop developer, will open your horizons to similar, but different ways, to approach your own field (you never know, you might pick up a new golden hammer).
  • General Consensus. As well as picking up new terms and technologies it also helps to reinforce current terms or technologies that you are already using.

 

Lots of Great Podcasts

Here are some recommended podcasts that I am currently listening to:

  • .NET Rocks : My favorite podcast for technical content. Excellent audio quality, content and banter. Not as Microsoft centric as you might think.
  • Hanselminutes : Again good content and quality but sometimes steers away from tech relevant subjects.
  • Herding Code. Great web podcast. Sometimes a bit Microsoft centric.
  • Javascript Jabber. Good for web/javascript technology talk. Sometimes a bit tangential but very enjoyable.
  • Stuff You Should Know : My favorite non-technical podcast. Good for some respite from too much tech talk. Josh and Chuck are very funny and present some dry topics in an entertaining way. Some great and varied subjects like ‘How Pinball works‘ to ‘How the scientific method works’.

 

What other resources have you come across?

Have you had any experience with any of the resources I have mentioned, what did you think?