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30. June 2018 Lukáš Knápek

Team. Practice. Halfway through the programme.

In some ways, the second semester of the second year gave me a taste of what is to come in the latter half of my studies. Specifically, I had to work within a team for the first time in order to develop our own web application. I do have a few years worth of experience as far as team projects go, so it was almost reassuring to see some patterns that are usually associated with them.

The initial optimism and excitement. The planning and fair division of labour. The start of the project, where no one actually does anything because the deadline is so far away. Ineffective communication or downright lack thereof. The sudden panic a week before the project is supposed to be presented. Fast and sudden changes of the original plans and a couple of all-nighters just to finish everything in time and end up with a complete product. And, of course, the mandatory presentation where most of the talking is done by a part of the team while the other part just nods silently.

It might seem that my first school team project was not a pleasant experience for me. I would say that it was a faithful experience. We don‘t usually get to choose our co-workers and so the real art of teamwork is working with people that are available to us. Not everything goes according to the plan and not everyone does their fair share of work. But the important thing is to get past these obstacles and obtain some results. And fortunately, we managed to do just that.

That being said, how do we take these patterns into account when it comes to grading? This is where I like the system used in the course. The entire team gets a grade consisting of sub-grades for design specification, the application itself and its presentation. But this grade is not final for the team members themselves. This is where the so-called deltas come in. Every team member evaluates the share of the work of other team members by listing a percentage  and explaining their reasoning. The grade of each team member is then increased/decreased based on this feedback. So if someone happens to end up in a „bad“ team, but works very hard by themself, they will end up with a better grade than the rest of the team. And if there is a member of a good team that did not participate very much, his grade will suffer as a result. I find this system to be quite fair.

As for my team in particular, we developed an interactive web game which is a bit similar to geocaching. The application generates a random word each day. The goal of the registered players is then tocapture that word outside in some form by taking a photograph of it. These photographs are then uploaded, rated and commented on by other users. At the end of the day, the competition is closed, participants are awarded some points and there are also bonus points for authors of the best rated photographs. All in all, it is not a terribly complex application but we got to try out all the things we had learned in theory during the course.
You can check out the application itself here – http://mabufudyne.pythonanywhere.com/all/Flag/.

The team project was a taste of the future in the sense that there is another team project coming next year. Only that it isn‘t going to last just three weeks, but rather the entire year! We will develop real software for real clients in randomly generated teams and to be honest, I can‘t wait. It‘s one of the two parts of my degree programme that make me feel like choosing this university was a great choice. The other part is a summer internship mandatory to all students of my programme (Software Engineering). This takes place between the 3rd and 4th year.

These things may not seem that impressive at the first glance but they are incredibly useful as an introduction to the real world of software development which is often quite distant from what is taught at universities. A student can learn the basics of computer science and programming there, yes, but he will not usually learn the actual tools and techniques used on daily basis in actual software companies they will probably work at once they graduate.

It might be quite a bold statement to make but I‘m quite convinced of it since I have managed to secure a summer internship at one such company. As I quickly realized, I have to learn a lot of new things that I have not been taught at my university yet. It‘s mostly a consequence of the software development industry evolving at a incredibly fast rate, one which university programmes can‘t keep up with. That‘s why I emphasize these practical opportunities so much as studying itself is usually theoretical in nature. Really, the most valuable knowledge that I have gained from my studies so far is the ability to take on a huge amount of new material, filter out the important parts and learn them. Because that actually sums up the life of a software developer. A lifelong learner.

After seemingly everlasting exam period I have finally successfully completed my second year at the University of Glasgow. Which means I‘m halfway through my programme. If I were to use a metaphore, I would say that this is like reaching the top of a mountain before starting to ascend the highest mountain of the range. But seeing where I am right now, why not take a moment and think about the path that led me here?

While I‘m catching my breath and gathering my strength, I‘m thinking about what my life was like before I have made my first step in conquering this challenge. I‘ve been climbing up for two years now and during that time I grew so accustomed to my new lifestyle that I have trouble remembering what my life was like before. While my current path might seen very ordinary and mundane to me, I realize that I‘m in fact incredibly lucky. Not everyone in life has the opportunity to make this ascend. Not everyone has enough financial and moral support and I happen to be lucky enough to have both. So if I feel anything at this stage, it‘s first and foremost gratitude.

I take a sip, put on my backpack and start walking towards the highest of peaks. The second half of my journey is going to be harder in some ways, but I will very likely enjoy it and I’m sure the view from the top of the mountain will be definitely worth it.

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