So the Megaden is nearing completion. Standing on stilts, it's made from mainly reclaimed timber. The doors and windows we picked up from gumtree, the main supports are scaffold boards from a local farmer and the walls finished with pallet wood.
We did have to buy some new parts for it including the roof, insulation, waterproof builders membrane, the electrics and screws and coach bolts, but I think its still mainly eco friendly from reclaimed tree hugger materials.
It is a whopping 3.6 meters by 2.4 meters inside. Outside has a covered deck which is another 3.6 meters by 1.7 meters.
I have to say I have loved every minute of the build. There is something so satisfying working with wood, and especially nearly free wood at that. Building something is also brilliant and gives a great sense of achievement.
So whats a Megaden? Its a place the boys and me can hang out, play games and chill. It is a hideaway at the end of the garden that is removed from the house.
I had many, many designs in my head before I started, I had it sketched out on paper long before I started. How big would it be? What shape would it be? how would the roof pitch, how does everything join together? How would I get electrics to it? How would I make it water tight?
I have been collecting materials for years, squirrelling away timber round the garden. The doors and windows have been lying under tarpaulins for over a year behind the shed. A length of about 30 meters of armoured cable for the electrics has been hanging on my garage wall for about 15 years. It was left over from a job my Dad did many moons ago.
So Ive not posted a blog for a couple of weeks. I have been super busy with other projects. Poor excuse. Its actually quite hard to keep up a schedule of once a week.
I did my first post back in September last year and was able to keep up a run of 43 consecutive weeks posting each Friday.
Then I slipped up a couple of weekends ago and I was gutted. In the end it doesn’t really matter but I am the sort of person when I start something it quickly becomes routine and I have to keep it going or I beat myself up about it
I follow a couple of YouTube vloggers who do daily uploads. Where do they get the time? I guess they don’t have full time jobs and kids. YouTube is their job, but still it must be a big pressure to keep it up every day with thousands of followers eagerly awaiting your daily post.
I will keep going with my weekly blog and if I miss a week its no big deal.
Some good news from my CodeClan Cohort 7 this week. 21 out of 21 are now employed in the software development industry. And most in Scotland. The last of us to secure a software developer job was the other week. Woo hoo! Go Us! Unfortunately one was not kept on beyond a 6 month probation. I'm not sure of the details but it's a real shame and I imagine it is more to do with the company than the graduate. Based on the 100% success rate they should get something else soon.
I happened to be in Edinburgh last week and popped in to see how things were in CodeClan. A few cohorts have passed through since I was last there. It was project week for some so it was busy with students working on their projects. It was great to catch-up with the folk and particularly one of my fellow graduates who has gone on to be an instructor there. He never got to leave.
So I need another project like a hole in the head. But when "The Most Complete Arduino Starter Kit" appears on Amazon prime at more than 50% off, Hey it would be rude not too. I looked at all the accessories and found myself clicking the buy with one click button and less than 24 hrs later it arrived.
Tech Christmas Day... The box was full of all sorts of coloured bits.
This is the 3rd Arduino I've bought over a number of years. The first was a simple learn to program an Arduino kit and came with some basic electronic components.
An Arduino is a solid state micro computer with on-board input and output pins exposed. It's basically a circuit board with a controller about the size of a playing card. It's blue, not that it matters. It's like a mini PLC or Programmable Logic Controller. It can sence the outside world with connected sensors and be programmed to do something that can affect that world. So you could connect a light sensor and measure when it gets dark. When it does it can switch on a light. It can be so much cleverer than that though. It can measure how dark it is and can be programmed to adjust how bright the light is.
That was about as far as my projects got with the first one. Although I did make a bubble machine for the boys. It used a servo to dip a bubble eye in a bowl of fairy liquid, raise it up rotate it and a fan would turn on and blow bubbles. It would then lower back into the liquid and repeat. It wrecked the servo eventually as the fairy liquid dripped into its gears of the servo. It was fun when it lasted and the boys enjoyed it.
The second one I bought a few years later was an Arduino Yun (posh model with Wifi) it was bought with a plan to solve my leaving the garage door open problem. I can't see the door from the house so would forget and go to bed and wake in the morning to the realisation that the door had been open all night.
So I have an affliction making stuff. I always have some project or other on the go. I get a whacky desire to make something and mull it over for weeks, months or years before having to start.
If I don’t start I just keep thinking about it and thinking about it! I am either planning, making, fixing or repurposing something. I have many projects on the go at one time.
I have to say I enjoy the whole process. I see something and think I can make one of those. I don't have much of a desire to buy it, but given the chance to build or make it. How can I build that?, and then Im off…
The perfect project is something that takes a long time and has many stages to it. It can evolve and be shaped. I love to spend time subconsciously sketching out in my mind how I can make parts, how I can adapt parts, how I can engineer something. Its those moments when I am waiting or daydreaming I will be engineering something in my head.
Building the boys Jeep was a perfect example of this. It had lots of parts, it required research, it needed different types of skills and I had to adapt and repurposing things. The front steering mechanism was a problem I spent ages thinking about. I needed a way of having a 3 axis mount that could swivel in all three directions. Id sketch out diagrams, play with bits of metal, Lie in bed awake thinking how to solve the problem. Inspiration and a final solution came while in the local hardware store. Large eye bolts normally used for gates bolted together in an X-Y-Z orientation were a quick and reasonably cheep and strong solution. Relief, I can stop thinking about that problem.
So a little over 4 years ago I finally got my finger out to apply to be a Chartered Engineer.
Years of procrastination and false starts the application form, the process and the thought of an interview had me stalled. I had the necessary qualification, I had plenty of experience and I was a member of the IET,
I just lacked the personal motivation to get my finger out. I was "comfortable" in my job I didn't need to be chartered. It would be nice but not a must have.
The biggest blocker was compiling my experience in chronological order on the application form. I had been working for 20 years so remembering and cramming it all into a few pages was daunting.
The shove I needed was when I looked to move up a grade at work. My "boss" blocked me with a job description. Basically a badly written list of must haves to perform the upgrade in position. Lots of airy fairy statements plucked out of thin air that the person must meet to perform the job. I was doing the job already but had to prove it.
So I set about formulating a case that showed and was backed with evidence of my experience that I could meet the must haves. I spent a few weeks with a text document open on the side of my desk top, quickly adding experience when I remembered..., reliving my past 20 years.
The document grew and grew and gradually I had recounted all the projects I had worked on. I had ticked off all the job requirements (must haves) and provided real evidence how I met them.
I polished it a bit adding in real must haves the job holder should have and forwarded it to my "boss" and was moved up a grade. The bonus was I now had a full career review down on paper (or digitally). The dreaded application form for chartered engineer would be easy now.
So I'd consider myself part of the team now at Aberdeen City Council. Ive managed to get into the swing of how things work,
I have lots of new friends and colleagues, and I am really getting into the hot desking. I get to sit in a different desk each day and get to sit with different people most days. Although the folk I work with directly in the Team generally sit in the same area.
I have had a few days working from home and its good. Probably the easiest login from home I have ever had or used yet. No hassle, no dongle, no phone app and no code to remember.
Some days I find myself sitting next to the Queen of Tech or princess Leia of ACC leading the rebel army on the war on embracing technology from the dark lords (you will know who you are). I get to hear all the great tech initiatives that are going on in Aberdeen and the City Council. We met by coincidence just before I started at ACC when she was giving a talk at the Business Gateway Hub in Bridge of Don as part of the Elevator program.
A couple of interesting tech project I heard about this week are Smart Benches and City Lab.
So its been a super busy week and my usual write my blog on the bus time did not pan out. I keep meeting interesting people. What I have written this week I did a while a go. I am a bit of a hoarder and like things with sentimental value. Anyway here are my 10 favourite things. Note this does not include friends and family, I should maybe title it my 10 favourite inanimate objects...
So this week I met someone on the bus. I have met her before and this time we started chatting. She is a chemistry teacher in a high school.
I liked the idea of learning chemistry when I went to secondary school. It sounded exciting, mixing and burning things.
I was however completely put off by my chemistry teacher. "Dr Pockets", he wore a tweed jacket and the black gown. He wasn't very good but worst of all would come up behind you and poke you in sides with two fingers. I didn't like that or him so I completely switched off from chemistry and dropped it as soon as I could. Perhaps that is why I became an engineer.
So yea, I read this week that picking your nose and eating it is good for you. It boosts your immune system.
I took great pleasure it telling my boys this. Both are bogie munchers and they were delighted with this news.
I had been told for the past 46 years it was bad for you and I have been dutifully passing on this message. I won't take up this habit but the boys will be boys and it will save me from telling them off for it.
It got me thinking what else have we been told when growing up is bad for you but might be good. Living in our nanny state maybe boogies are not alone.
So I'm on a train on my way down to Cumbernauld for the weekend. I have Jamie (age9) with me and he is delighted to be on a train. It's a diesel electric. On boarding I pointed out the massive turbo on the side of the train just below the level of the platform. (I'm an engineer, I notice these things...)
The Diesel engine powers a generator to make electric energy to turn a massive induction motor that makes it move, I tell Jamie.
It's quiet, but you can just hear the engines dull drone as we fly through the countryside. I'm guessing being diesel electric it is more efficient than pure diesel and also cleaner.
I was also on a bus this morning on the way to work. It was one of Aberdeens new hydrogen powered fleet. Diesel busses have been abandoned in favour of turning hydrogen into electricity which again powers a motor to make the bus move. This bus is almost silent apart from some transmission noise on the move. When stopped there is no noise at all. Great for commuters like me tapping on my iPhone writing my blog.
I like both these forms of transport in terms of where we are with the tech. I am however a massive car fan… a petrol head at heart and I feel a sense of gloom coming.
I like my petrol and Diesel engines. I have a few cars. All of them older. A big 4x4 with a Diesel engine in it. I love the torque and the feeling of go anywhere it gives, and its 500 miles or so range. I have a lotus seven kit car with a revey 16v Toyota engine that makes it fly. I also have an Abarth 500 which has a little 1.4 litre turbo charged engine. Its got twin intercoolers and one of my favourite exhaust notes of any car I have owned.
I have promised the Abarth to Jamie when he is old enough to drive.
Last week CodeClan contacted me and asked if I would write them an article for their website. Of course I would be delighted to. Apparently someone had been in touch and was looking to change career, they hated their job and would like to study coding. However they thought at 46 they were too old. Well I am 46 (old?) and I did it (I actually started at CodeClan when I was 45, but thats splitting hairs)
So this week I was in training for a couple of days. In the old days this would have been a game of listen and try to stay awake. However after 16 weeks of intensive teaching at CodeClan a couple of days was a breeze.
The training was in the customer experience platform CEP of a product by a company called FirmStep. It goes hand and with their Content Management System CMS. You can think of the CMS as the website and the CEP as the application for forms, process and workflows for customers visiting the website site.
The guy training (Mathew) had traveled up from Edinburgh for the couple of days. The training was very hands on and we were quickly creating process, designing forms, making data and integrations.
Mathew spotted my cohort 7 sticker proudly displayed on my laptop and queried what it was from. It's the class sticker for my cohort when I studied at CodeClan. It turns out that Mathew is also a CodeClan graduate from cohort 3. He graduated in April 2016 and joined FirmStep.
So I get to be hands on again.
I spent years in my last job working my way up the ranks from junior software engineer to engineer, senior, lead and then principal. I picked up a growing team peaking at about 10 folk. It became inversely proportional to the amount of hands on meaningful work I actually did. It was more about meetings, plans and justifying what you needed to do.
I have always thought when a company employs you as an engineer they want you for your brilliant engineering skills, Then you do a good job and they promote you.... you then do less engineering, and they want you to deal with Faff (office politics, brown nosing, failings of others). Your not trained in Faff and your not good at it but you manage. So they promote you again and you do even less engineering and have to deal with more Faff (runny noses, time sheets, holiday forms). Before you know it your are promoted again and you find yourself as a engineering manager (a job you are not trained for) and you no longer do any engineering whatsoever. So you are now doing a job you are not very good at and don't do any work that you are good at...
Now I am at ACC I'm back in the role where I am employed for something I am good at, I have no Faff to deal with, I get to do hands-on, meaningful work and I'm loving it.
So is Aberdeen missing out on the tech industry boom?
The tech industry in Scotland is reported to be worth £5 Billion! The bulk of this is scooped up by Edinburgh, Dundee and Glasgow... SkyScanner, FanDuel and FreeAgent plus more in Edinburgh, Thriving Games industry in Dundee, and a new Tech hub in Glasgow.
There is a real buzz right now around tech companies and startups.
Is Aberdeen being left behind and missing out? Aberdeen could do with a boost at this time. In 2016 Scotland employed 84,000 people in tech. And this year there is even more demand. Web and mobile developers are like hot cakes! ( Who me? )
What does Aberdeen need to do to get more of a share? It doesn't need any natural resources (sorry oil!) it doesn't need to be geographically located near anywhere. It doesn't need huge investment, It doesn't even need good weather and sun.
Have been 20 years… (actually only 4 days).
Im gonna buy a dinghy...
Gonna call her dignity...
I started on Tuesday at the Marischal Collage office in the center of Aberdeen. Wow, what a nice place to be. I thought working at the new AIBP office in Dyce would be hard to beat. But I think Marischal collage has it by a nose. Super new, clean, open, wired for tech, great architecture and right in the center of town.
My first day was a quick drive in to the park and ride in Bridge of Don and jump on a bus. I had to laugh as on the bus was a mate from Udny also off to his first morning in his new job. We both had a report time of 9:30, we both had our smart new clothes on, and had our packed lunches and playpiece in our school bags. It was good to pass the time on the first bus ride for a while.
So Im starting my new job on Tuesday next week. Im super excited to move into a new career and see what its like to be a full time Web Developer. I need to figure out how to get to the center of Aberdeen from out in the sticks of Udny Station each day. Its either bus all the way or park and ride part of the way. I might have to get my old mountain bike running again and take up cycling part of the way too. Anyway thats next week.
Myself and Jamie have been busy with Udny Designs over the past couple of weeks. We have been bombing round Aberdeenshire building robots with kids holiday clubs. We had made simple to construct kits in the shed along with small wooden hammers and put all the parts in little zip lock bags. We made 50 in total and had a good production line going on in the house.
Tuesday and Wednesday last week we found ourselves in Banff and Peterhead in local schools. The classes had about 8 to 10 kids, and we would step by step take them through the construction of their individual robots. Starting with adding the goggly eyes to the head, then with the hammer and lots of noise, banging adding the neck to the head and then to the body. A pair of legs and feet had them standing up, then shoulders and arms had them waving or impersonating super man. We had printed off some stickers and each kit included a couple of body, arms and head stickers. www.udnydesign.co.uk was included on the sticker for a little bit of free advertising.
So my Dad had his own business when I was growing up. Tuckwell Cable Vision Enterprises. He worked for the British Telecom and left to start his own business. Inspired by a cable television system he installed in our village he set up on his own to bring TV signal to other villages in the highlands.
This was back in the late 70s and many villages did not receive Television signal. Our village North Kessock was no exception shielded from the local transmitter by the hills behind.
Dad came up with a plan to put an Ariel on the hill with good TV signal and through a distribution network of cables and amplifiers pipe the signal down to all the villagers. A lot of work, cables and amplifiers gave North Kessock 3 channels to watch. My claim to fame is pulling the main feed cable under the newly built A9 dual carriageway. A small child size pipe carried the Drumsmittal burn under the road. A lot of head scratching on how to get the cable to the other side till I piped up “I’ll crawl through it”. Wet and muddy I appeared from the other side triumphant with cable in hand.
So I have new contract and new job title. For the next 12 to 18 months I'm going to be a Web Developer for Aberdeen City council. Well chuffed. It makes my time at CodeClan a worthwhile leap of faith to change career from oil and gas into something less industry specific.
Speaking of a leap of faith. I watched an interesting clip on YouTube this week describing the Tarzan method. It rang true to me on a number of levels. It seems to be what I have been doing over the last few months.
So I am developing my own software application. Its a medical app to help people with a certain condition. Its early days and I think it is possible.
I cant say exactly what it is but it could be mobile for use during the day, and an online interface for a more detailed view and review later. It had me thinking about how I would monetise it.
We buy the occasional app from the App Store for my boys, normally I get them to aim for free apps, but every so often there is one they want for 79p or £1 something. I think the most I have been persuaded to pay was £3.99.
So its been a super busy couple of weeks. Ive been to Business Gateway a few times, Ive been fielding work requests, and I went for a sort of interview, not for a job but to attend an entrepreneur workshop.
Super interested, it will be 2 days a week for 12 weeks and I will be in Cohort 1 as its the first time its being run (another Cohort?). I don't want to say too much at this stage as its just in the early stages and I may not get in or it may not get funding (it will be free if it does). Heres hoping it does as it should be a good experience and from what I have seen of the curriculum it will be great for Udny Solutions.
Speaking of Udny Solutions. In other news and this is a biggie… Udny Solutions received its first job last Friday. Hurray! we are up and running. Its not massive but its a start and Im feeling really privileged at the opportunity.
Im an engineer, and have interests beyond coding and software. I like to get my hands dirty and build things mechanical too. So I built an electric car. Its a few years old now and has to be maintained and repaired occasionally but it gets good mpg and lots of use. It took quite a few skills to build it, including woodworking, welding, mechanical design and electrical work.
I bought plans for the car as a kit back in 2008 shortly after Jamie was born. They came with a build manual and large A1 sheets of paper detailing the cutting patterns for the bodywork.
You have probably guessed by now from the pictures that the electric car is intended for kids. The plans came from www.toylander.com, which makes 1/3 scale replica Landrover and Jeeps. The plans I bought were for the Geepstar, which is a replica Willies jeep from America.
So this week I had a couple of meetings at the Business Gateway Hub in Aberdeen. A cool and trendy place for business startups. Bright colours, breakout spaces, hot desks, a cafe and a real buzz. Its a fun place to visit and network with like minded people.
I spent quite a lot of time there last summer before heading off to Edinburgh. But now Im back and ready to do my own thing I can go back to attending the business startup seminars. These are great and free to attend in subjects related to setting up and running your own business.
The first one I attended last year was Business Startup Awareness. A very open and informal group of about 15 people being instructed on best practices on how to setup and start their own business. Lots of practical tips and hints starting from the minute you enter the room. Kickoff was a quick round the room with each person doing their elevator pitch. “Hi Im Adrian and Im a software engineer and I am going to change the world”
So a job title describes someone’s job or position in a company.
I have had quite a few over the years.
My earliest job title was when I was 15 as Sales Assistant in Boots the Chemist the Eastgate centre in Inverness (and yes after playing havoc with their computers I went on to work there) I worked on the record and photography counter. I had a name badge with my position on it. Check me!
Next up I started working with my Dad in his own business (Tuckwell Cable Vision Enterprises) fitting TV and background music systems. I didn't have an official title but was an Apprentice Engineer. I learnt a lot about running in cables, using tools and connecting and commissioning systems. We installed some of the first satellite dishes in the highlands, and at the time they were 1.8m across and came in petals.
I then went to University and became a Student, 2 summers were spent working with my Dad and I continued to be an Apprentice Engineer gaining more hands on skills.
In 3rd summer I was offered a job in the Highland council to be a IT assistant where I was responsible for maintaining network backups and doing print runs working on a shift rotation. I also became an expert in fixing the pole tax collating machine, which took ordered forms folded them and put them in envelopes. It was temperamental to say the least.
So this is it. No more student, Ive finished and submitted all my CodeClan continuous assessment work for my PDA. Its just a matter of waiting for my certificate to appear in the post and I’ll have a Professional Development Award in Software Development.
I guess it can go in the drawer with my Being In Electrical and Electronic Engineering, my Diploma in Design and Innovation and my Certificate of User Interface Design and Evaluation.
Have I become an education junkie?
So Im writing this from home in Aberdeenshire, I have left Edinburgh and my CodeClan learning experience has finished... After 16 weeks of full time study, lectures, homework, projects and no life I have graduated. Go me! I did it and have a certificate to prove it. I am a trained coder... A certificate from the Scottish Qualifications Authority should also follow shortly. I am one of a about 100 graduates from Scotlands first and only digital skills academy. How cool is that!
Now I have finished, the first thing I would say is I miss the routine and the people having spent so many hours over the 16 weeks living and breathing code and hanging out with my cohorts. Looking back and having come from 20 years in an office enviroment it was an odd experience at first but I soon got used to it.
I imagine its what it is like to work at Google, People huddled round laptops, dress down Friday every day, chill out spaces and table tennis room. With hindsight we were fully absorbed into a little CodeClan cocoon and the environment was set up with the purpose of learning to code and do it supported by your tutors, support staff and fellow cohorts. It was a brilliant place to study and work.
Before I go into what I have learnt here are key some figures from my time:
So its the last week and we are now fully trained Coding Gladiators.
The week has become a bit surreal as everyone is competing against each other for the glory of a new job. Some are performing coding tests set by prospective employers, some are attending group interviews and some are having cozy chats.
What was once a close group of 21 friends who worked together and had each others back has changed into Gladiators coding to the death.
There will be casualties…
This week is final project and the brief is we can do anything we want from what we have learnt over the last 16 weeks. The only caveat is that we need to show evidence of architecture design and planning, and we have to learn something.
We have 6 days to create something and come back and present on Thursday in class.
I chose to do a Ruby on Rails app and I set myself a project brief:
“Create a personal portfolio app that I can use to continue to develop my coding skills when I leave CodeClan”
I set my MVP (Minimal Viable Product) to:
The 52 weeks is the key for me and although I have learnt a huge amount since I started the course it has been a frantic learning process and moving from one language to another and one technique to another with little or no time to practice. What I need now is practice, and practice on what I have been taught before I forget it all. Thankfully I have taken a lot of notes and these are backed up by some excellent class notes for all lessons.
So its week 15 and the penultimate week at CodeClan.
The mood at standup has changed as cohorts are stressing about applying for jobs and the realisation that soon it will be all be over and we will be cast back into the real world outside cozy CodeClan.
Exciting times ahead but we still have work to do.
This week we are learning about Ruby on Rails, and using it as a back end framework for our web apps to serve up API data.
I completed some of it but did not get a fully working game. Id like to say the main reason is I ran out of time which is partly true, but I did get stuck with a bug in serving up my API data (Rails where are you?). Thank goodness for one on one instructor homework reviews!
Lessons start with an introduction to Rails, and in a 2 minute whirlwind of commands we had a fully functioning website, although just flat HTML it was a website. What was generated in a few commands had previously taken us days to code from scratch. I can see the power of Rails and instantly like it. Coding is fun but if something like Rails can do the boring bones for you quickly Im ok with that.
So after a couple of weeks off Im back in Edinburgh CodeClan for week 14. Much excitement to see my fellow cohorts who have now firmly become good friends.
It is tinged with a hint of sadness as I know that we have only two weeks left after this one and we will all be off on our ways back out into the real world.
9:00am standup had stories of some that had coded over the Christmas and the New Year and some that had not and feared that they had forgotten everything. I was between the two as I had done some work towards the evidence for my PDA. It need submitted soon.
So here is the plan… I have just turned 46 and its the start of a new year.
The most common question I have been asked since I was made redundant last year is “What are you going to do?”
“Im going back to school to learn to be a Software Programmer” has been my response for the last few months and has worked well but the reality is I finish my PDA in Software Development in just 3 weeks time. That takes up January and the question is back.
So what next?
Its odd how we define ourselves by what we do for a Job and who we work for.
In reality I would like to say my main Job is being Dad. It is the thing that I will be spending my most time doing for at least the next 10 years (any beyond). So Dad is what Im doing next and in the time when the boys are at school I’d like to do many things:
So to get the exception out of the way first. Redundancy! After a number of odd events I found myself at risk in the 3rd round of redundancies at Aker Solutions Aberdeen.
Id been there for 23 years and on the most part had a great time. It was a great company to work for. However in the year up to redundancy the cracks were showing, Little in the way of new or interesting work, lack of any real direction in the department I worked for and a total lack of leadership.
So on the day after I was put at risk, or should I say my ‘position’ was put at risk, I was asked to work overtime, work the weekend and cancel a weeks holiday…
So it was time to take some control back.
I could possibly have put up more of a fight and argued but I was done. Its a strange feeling having to give up something you had worked for and enjoyed for so long.
The timing couldn't have been better. It was the start of the school summer holidays and I had as much free time as I wanted to spend with my boys (Jamie 8 and Thomas 5). We had a brilliant summer riding bikes, playing in the garden, playing lego, going to the park and camping. I noticed quickly my health was improving, I was sleeping better and generally feeling good…was I ill?
During the summer I also attended some career events and met with a few people who made some good suggestions as to what to do next.
Become a teacher? Yea that sounds good where do I sign. I applied and was rejected! I don't have higher English. Unfortunately 30 odd years ago when I was planning to become an Engineer I had chose Technical Drawing over Higher English. The rejection letter was interesting in that it had quite a few grammar errors in it which made me laugh, My english isn't the best but hey I was going to be teaching computer programming.
Work for myself? I attended a number of brilliant training courses run by the Business Gateway in Aberdeen. With the theme of Digital Boost they provide free courses that help with setting up your own business. They also provide a coach to help you through the process. I have one waiting in the sidelines till Im ready.
So this is group project week. Just over 10 weeks ago we sat in on Cohort 6 making their presentations for their group projects. At that time we were 3 weeks in and the thought was how on earth will we be ready to create projects like that. All were brilliant and well executed.
Now Its our turn…
Last Wednesday we were split into out teams using the CodeClan randomiser. I was first team member up and was then quickly joined by another 3 team mates. In all there are 6 teams of 3’s and 4’s. Keeping in mind what we had learnt and sticking to Cohort 7 rules (<-see right) we had a week to ourselves to execute our project.
We were set a number of project challenges that we could pick from, all with an MVP (Minimal Viable Product) that we must meet, and given free reign to add as many extras as we wanted.
We formed a huddle in the canteen area and went through each project. We quickly discounted a couple and homed in on 3 projects that we would then discuss in detail.
First up we discussed ‘Astronaut Dashboard’. We sketched out on a A3 what we could make with this and searched for API’s that we could pull data from.
Second was an Educational App where we could produce a website app with a theme that again could pull from API’s and present the data in a teaching way.
The third and the one that enthused the team the most was a ‘Trip Planner’ app, where a user could plan a trip using visuals from Google Maps API. I had attended a presentation with VisTech in the Code Base building (next to CodeClan) a few weeks ago there was a project discussed was to develop an app that would help improve tourism along the A9 after the route from Perth to Inverness becomes a dual carriageway. The Trip Planner seemed similar and has a real world need for it.
Monday was a standup as usual at 9:00 followed by an individual instructor review of the weekends homework. Again I did the bulk of it on the train on the way home on the previous Friday. This time it was to pull movie data from an API and display it in a browser and add some CSS to make it look good.
I had done the bulk of mine over the weekend and then finished it off on the train to to Edinburgh. The task was to recreate Rocking Ricks Record Store in Java Script, and make record objects and stock Ricks store. He was able to buy and sell records with the he cash in the store going up and down depending on sales and stocking. Rick could also do stock checks to get a total value for his store and cash.
Monday morning standup had us discussing the previous week and a like for the computer science teaching, but not so much of a like for the CV and cover letter teaching. I think the latter adds some reality that we will need to get a job at the end of the course and will be competing against each other for vacancies…
So Im past half way of the Code Clan software development course (already!) and into week 9. The Weeks are flying by.
Monday 9.00am Standup saw my fellow cohorts and I looking fully recovered from the previous weeks project. A new Cohort (Cohort 9) started this morning so we now have 3 cohorts (7, 8 and 9) all doing standup in parallel. This is making the office really busy but giving it a new buzz. Lots of new faces and personalities round the building.
This week is Computer Science theory week (zzzz) and also preparing for job applications week (double zzzz).
Coding where have you gone we miss you?. Its not so bad as in preparation for the job application process we have been given a typical coding test that you may be asked to do prior to an interview. We have the week to implement during spare time. I really enjoyed this task and it showed that what Im learning and Java is starting to take hold. It was just a simple shopping basket where you had to add items, update the total for BOGOF items, apply discounts. I was able to perform the task with minimal fuss and minimal googling and managed to get the methods and tests passing relatively quickly.
A Computer Science degree is a 4 year full time course so to cover it all in a week is a big ask and the course doesn't try to replicate that, however it does give you some basics of the concepts.
During the mornings this week, computer science theory covered topics of Algorithms and introduced to Big O notation and how to win quickly at the kids Guess Who Game. We were introduced to parallel programming which was brilliant to see the performance improvements that could be made in a resource expensive process by adding parallel threads. We were shown a really good video from Mythbusters that shows the concept applied to a Graphical Processing Unit. (Link Here). There was a morning of going through various terms applied to OOP including the 4 pillars again. Much needed refresher and the terms are starting to take hold, I can talk the talk.
A representative from a company called 13 coders came in on the Monday afternoon and went through a workshop on their current recruitment process and what we might encounter when applying for vacancies. This was an excellent afternoon of practical hands on exercises:
We split into small teams and did a whiteboard exercise on how we would break down a Monopoly Game into a software program. Trying to do this in the allotted 25 minutes is impossible but shows how you interact with others and make a start on a complex task. Failure was always going to be the result and it was interesting to see how far you could get, and how people would become disappointed that they did not complete the full Monopoly program
We were split into twos and given a real world ‘pair programming’ task of creating a Linked List with tests in Java, with only 25 minutes to do so. Having not covered Link Lists in Java as yet it was a panic google to find out what they are and frantically recreating the concept using Array Lists. With two of you working on the task it is amazing how fast you can come up with a solution. In the enemy fellow cohort and I managed to get about 80% complete and had the code uploaded to Git Hub with all associated tests passing. Again to complete the test in the 25minutes would be difficult at the best of times but in an interview environment who knows what it will be like.
We were split into groups and provided question cards and had to ask each other mock code related interview questions. Please explain what Encapsulation is? Whats the difference between Overriding and Overloading? What is Abstraction?
The whole exercise was both off-putting and good fun at the same time.
So Im at the halfway mark (Trumpets and fireworks) 8 weeks down and 8 weeks to go.
This week was the second full project week and the task was to to create an Android App on Android Studio and Java.
The task I picked was to create a basic ToDo list. Simple in principal when you have pen and paper, but gets hard when you want to program it in Java, and even harder when you add in Google Android operating system.
No matter I set about the task on the previous Friday and planned out a basic application in a used case diagram and imagined what classes I would need to create. I had been given some notes on how to use list views so put them into practice making a very basic application.
I wanted to add more functionality and have the ability to save any tasks created into the app. I had been recommended a book called Android the Big Nerd Ranch, so after a quick look on line it found its way into my Kindle.
Monday I spent my time adding Java functionality and getting to grips with fragments and adding to a basic app.
Tuesday I added SQL lite and made my data persistent and saved it to memory.
Wednesday I spent the day playing with Androids equivalent of CSS and messed about with how the App would look, changing colours, fonts and adding a splash screen.
Thursday was big presentation day where each Cohort had 15 minutes to demonstrate their project and explain how they had coded it and discuss how they got on.
So week seven and we are being introduced to the world of Android... What? Being fully entangled into the apple ecosystem with iPhone, iPad, iMac and macbook this was a bit of a shocker but needs must. Combining java and Android studio lets us write our own apps and have them installed and running on (our) Android mobile devices. A quick pitstop to Amazon has a cheap 7" (£34) Android tablet is in the post. Thanks NUS student card and Amazon Prime.
The week starts on the Monday with a standup and a review of the weekend homework .The exercise to create a card game in Java left a few broken people. This was a tuff assignment and took a bunch of time at the weekend but I managed the majority of it and managed to get to the stage where I was able to simulate (with tests) the basic Pontoon functionality and compare two hands for highest value.
The days lesson moves us into Android studio and into an an Integrated Development Environment (IDE). To start off and keep things simple the IDE is used to just for coding Java. Initially its quite a change, but quickly the benefits become apparent: The IDE checks the code on the fly as you are typing and will underline anything formatted incorrectly with red and underline. It also, with the use of TAB key suggests and auto completes input text, which speeds up the typing.
Tuesday - had us building our first App as part of a Code along. A simple magic 8 Ball app where you could ask a question and it would give you a random answer. The Java code used android libraries and we had it running on an Android phone emulator on our desktops. Brilliant to see the process of making a couple of simple screens and have Java code control them on a phone.
Wednesday - and we were given a group lab where we were split into teams of 3 and tasked with making a Rock/Paper/Scissors app. The timescale was about 4 hours and as a team we had to do the Java code and the Android front end have a working app by the end of it. This was a real high and the 4 hours zipped past before we were ready to present to the class. Some premature high fives in the team had the first play show a draw, second play another draw and the third play also a draw... Some minor tweaking and debugging code we had it working in time for presentation.
Thursday - gave us some more tools in the form of Menu's and toasts (popups) that could be used in our apps and then some instruction on how the apps could be downloaded to real Android phones and Tablets.
In the afternoon we were set our project task for the coming week. There was a choice of 6 briefs that we could choose from. These were a range of Java and Android app suggestions that we would need to plan, version control code test and present on the following Thursday.
So Im back in Edinburgh for week 6. There was no homework at the weekend so it was a good opportunity to recover from last weeks project by not writing any code. This week we are moving away from Ruby and off into the world of Java programming and into a Compiled language.
Monday starts with standup at 9:00 with 21 relaxed cohorts ready to be thrown into the deep end of a new language. Lots more learning and at an even more rapid pace than before.
Java was intended to let developers "write once, run anywhere" (WORA) meaning that compiled Java code can run on all sorts of platforms that support Java without the need for recompilation. So it is possible to run it on the operating system on your PC, your Mac, your toaster or even your Ferrari.
Although Ive said 'rapid learning' above Java did not seem as painful as Ruby day one. The Java code did look familiar, with variables and methods similar but in camelCase and lots of semicolons. The days lessons were on Classes and Multiple classes and had us building dogs, cats and bear coding examples. Oh and remembering to compile the code... Ruby is an interpreted language and does not need compiled. Java does.
Tuesday and after standup we had probably the hardest day yet. Long and so much to take in. A Bear example saw us learning about Array lists Casting and Polymorphism. Arrays in Ruby you can shovel any old thing into them. Java you cant and you have to define their size before you start. Array lists help us get round this.
Polymorphism! Joy! ..this is the ability for something to take on many forms. So if you have a Car Class and a Ferrari Class, the Ferrari can go into Car Shaped memory and also go into a Ferrari shaped memory. The Afternoon was a lab expanding what our bear from Monday could do and giving him ability to eat Salmon and Humans, and dance salsa.
Wednesday.. hmmm it was harder than Tuesday! We learned about Abstract Classes and Template patterns and an announcement that we would be making a card game for our weekend homework. So the afternoon lab task was to split into pairs to discuss and plan how you would build a card game in Java. What classes you would need and how they would interact. Sounds easy but is quite complicated to break it down into its component parts.