DigitalLabs contributes to the Professional Development module, run by the School of Computing, Mathematics and Digital Technologies in the Faculty of Science an Engineering at MMU.
The audience is a broad spectrum of technology students in their Second Year. Our aim is to provide them with an insight into the way small technology companies operate, and why they operate in the way they do: necessity!
Small companies exist in a state of constant tension between creative aspiration and ambition on one side, and hard cash (or the lack of it) on the other. Working in a small company is to be exposed to these tensions to varying degrees and it’s our job to help prepare our students for it. We do this by example.
We provide guest lectures throughout the Professional Development module, first introducing small project tools and methods and going on to look at specific technologies applied to common scenarios: authentication, RESTFul web services, databases, mobile and web apps. We do this as authentically as possible; drawing on our own experiences running projects in DigitalLabs – How do we build a team? Why is it important to estimate? Why do we need to deliver working software regularly? How do we retain our enthusiasm? What do we do when things don’t go to plan?
These represent the ideal opportunity for students to experience a small technical projects first-hand. Teams are supplied with a brief for a product which they must interpret, design and construct in a 6 month period, from October before a final showcase event in March.
DigitalLabs assumes the role of a collaborating client, assigning a stretching yet achievable brief which is meritable and compelling. Past projects have included a mobile app to empower pedestrians to report inconsiderate parking, a web application to help build surveys, and an embedded application to measure atmospheric pollution. We have an almost infinite number of suggestions to draw on, via contributions from our website.
We provide workshops to help build the team, and familiarise them with essential tools for tasks such as project management and source-code versioning. We demonstrate budgeting, estimating and working to tried and tested methodologies and encourage regular deliveries for testing and feedback.
Working on technology projects means constant learning. Dealing successfully with the unfamilar is a learned skill. Within all our projects is a period of investigation which runs parallel to the project’s design. We encourage teams to utilise this time to fill gaps in their knowledge, so they end up with an estimate for the construction which is founded on real experience and informed decisions.
For many students, this is their first project, and can seem daunting. We provide example projects and source-code vignettes to help get the most important concepts across easily.
Finally let’s introduce Alice; she is our support persona (and a pink elephant). Project teams can contact her to arrange meetings and ask technical questions, in the knowledge that she represents the entire DigitalLabs team, experience and resources.
Summer Projects via Jobs4Students
Depending on demand, we have a number of places for paid summer work via Jobs4Students (J4S). Projects vary, and are advertised during April / May for a June start. Projects normally last until September. Students will use the same project style as for Live Projects, but work will be much more intense, full-time and managed by our DigitalLabs team. Past projects have included an website mapping medical resources across Manchester, our fantastic University and Me AR app, and our time-series data viewer.
Internships are open to students of MMU who have graduated within the past year. They are funded for 6 – 9 months, often to fulfill a particular role, but usually to work with a researcher on a project. They provide invaluable collaborative experience. Internships are paid and mentored by the DigitalLabs team. Past projects include intelligent tracking of sports players in video streams, and a cross-platform training / progress app for collaborative learning.
(Above) Pipelining Key:
Green: Window of opportunity to apply for a student project team.
Pink: Project assignment and startup
Orange: Projects are underway!
You’ll see ‘pipelining’ mentioned quite often throughout our site: just like any company, we need to recruit. The difference with DigtialLabs is that we try to get rid of our employees as soon as we can – so that they can start their careers proper.
That means that we are constantly looking at succession planning – making sure that the outgoing generation brings on the one incoming. Students working on internships, or junior employees are expected to part-mentor our Live Project and J4S students.
Pizza. Gluten-free, Vegan, Veggie, Meaty, Spicy. Even fruity. We never underestimate its properties for bringing a team together. Small companies rely on goodwill. A work-life balance is essential, but sometimes we need each other to dig deep. If there is no shared empathy, this can’t happen. Pizza is not the answer. But it’s a start! You’ll see it appearing in our workshops out of our custom-built pizza carrier, Clarence.
(Clarence is the bike – we don’t know who that guy is)