Learning to Code – Week Nine

Railing Against The Machine

This week we’ve been focused on Rails, a framework for Ruby development, that builds on our previous experience with Sinatra.

The initial impressions were that this is full of magic, that it ‘scaffolds’ the developer, albeit with a huge directory structure that seems akin to learning the ‘knowledge’ for a London cabbie.

However once you get to grips with it you get to understand that the magic is just rather clever programming based on ‘convention rather than configuration’. This leads to it being described as opinionated, ie. You have to do it the Rails way.

But once you get over that, you get to understand the power it gives to the developer to create great products with a minimum of heavy lifting in the set-up allowing you to focus on the real guys (or business logic) of your concept.

Thinking On Your Feet

Next week we start the two week sprint to our graduation projects. Which meant on Wednesday we had our Jamboree’s where ideas get pitched that we get to choose from.

It started with a few charity projects. A couple based on youth opportunities, an unfortunately growing issue, and one based on organising community volunteers.

Then it was the turn of the Makers community to do their pitches. The format is you join the queue and have a maximum of a minute to pitch your idea. At the last Jamboree, as a Junior, I only pitched one idea.

This time I joined the queue and after pitching rejoined the back of the queue until it was over. I did this even if I didn’t have an idea, using the queue time to come up with something. There’s nothing like thinking on your feet, great practice for the real world of work. I can remember 6 of my pitch ideas (though there could have been more);
Rubik’s Cube meets Countdown Conundrum – solve anagrams rather than colours.
Inactivity Tracker – inspired by hearing 2 pitches about activity trackers just before I got to the front of the queue – rewarding in activity – could be great for parents with over active kids
Manage Your Round – Pub app to remember what you were supposed to order at the bar and whose round it is next.
Drone Coffee Delivery System¬†– from the coffee shop across the road to a third floor window with a dual authenticated NFC “air lock” to accept the delivery limiting it to trusted suppliers (I don’t think it’s as crazy an idea as it first sounds)
Business Networking ‘Grab A Coffee’ App – to extend the LinkedIn Mentality into quick, low cost opportunities to expand your knowledge and business relationships
Makers Academy Video Playlister – stores links to all the useful videos of lectures, webcasts etc. with easy keyword search, ratings from students and the ability to create an individualised ‘to watch’ playlist.

Ideas, Technology & Customers

The value of ideas really came home to me towards the end of the week after the Jamboree and a talk from Makers Academy CEO Evgeny about the Makers journey from cab ride idea to first cohort (in only a few months) and celebrating their 2nd birthday this week.

During the week we’ve been using Rails to build a version of Yelp and our weekend homework is to build a version of Instagram and have previously done a Twitter clone.

These are all technologically relatively simple to get to 1st base, but what sets a successful piece of development apart from the start-up graveyard is the quality of the idea, embedded in an understanding of the market you’re satisfying. Which explains the billions Facebook spent on What’sApp.

On Her Majesty’s Digital Service

One organisation that has already got a huge customer base and is investing in digital services is Her Majesty’s Government. On Thursday we had a lunchtime talk from a couple of folks from the Home Office.

They (and other government departments) are doing some great work in bringing the services many of us use and rely on into the digital era, making our lives easier, better connecting citizens with government, whether it be immigration, passports, jail visits or power of attorney.

Whilst they are not short of users, they in common with most organisations, are short on digitally skilled staff. So it was great to see them at Makers pitching, very convincingly, as to why we should consider the civil service as a great place to ply our newly acquired skills.

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