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8. March 2019 Jakub Příbaň

Three weeks without lectures

To some students, this title may seem like bliss. The ideal university experience. All the time in the world to enjoy the fun parts of undergraduate life. However this is Cambridge and nothing like that would ever happen without a very good reason for it. To contradict my last blog entry, where I criticised the Computer Science Tripos for having next to no practical content, here is an insight into the second year group project.

The group project lasts 6 weeks and is a compulsory part of second year, that all students must pass (hence why precious lecture time is sacrificed for this during the last 3 weeks). Each group of 5 or 6 students is assigned a project and a “client” to simulate a professional situation, which is quite useful as they can feedback to us both from the point of view of a real client, as well as from someone training students to deal with clients. It is designed to ensure that everyone gets some practical experience in “real-life” programming, building fully fledged systems, as well as working with unfamiliar people. Or, as the project organiser humorously put it, “the point of this project is to hate everyone in your group by the end of it.”

Personally, I think I got quite lucky both in group and project assignment. Our assignment was to build a remotely controllable Lego car with a live camera stream in a virtual reality headset. Despite a few technical challenges along the way to completion, being able to just play around with a Lego car and call it “productivity” definitely made up for it (although this meant that I spent more time on it than I probably should have).

Finally, it wouldn’t be a blog from me without some criticism of systemic issues at Cambridge. As students, we do get some choice of project - we select our three favourites, and the department tries to accommodate that as much as possible, but ultimately it is down to luck, since inevitably some projects are more popular than others. Given this fact, one would think that all projects should be of roughly equal difficulty, however the projects are created by clients without any apparent standardisation from the department, which naturally leads to massive disparity between the amount of work demanded by each project. As a result, whether each individual’s group project experience is heaven or hell is about as predictable as a coin flip. But after years of annual complaints from students, does the department feel that something needs to change? No, it’s always been done this way.

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