My name is Adam and I am a wannabe-web and app developer, currently taking part on the Ladders Software Development course. If I am honest, out of all the courses for coding I have been on, the Ladders course is the best for me. Rather than sitting and having someone tell you about coding and taking you through how to build a library system in Java (something I did and was extremely bored during), Phil, our mentor, gives us a lot of independence and freedom so we can learn in our own way.

We began the course by learning about something very dear to my heart, web development. I have had some basic coding experience in the past but nothing like what we began learning about here. I had missed a week but Phil was good enough to take 5 minutes out to catch me up before we moved on to more advanced and interesting things. In our first session we learnt about Javascript (the language that stops you from having to refresh your entire Facebook when one of your friends posts about the holiday in Devon they had six years ago). This is one of the few languages that I didn’t have any experience with, but it was interesting to learn about and the PowerPoints that Phil had prepared for us were very explanatory to beginners like me.

With Javascript we made a quick website which allowed us to navigate around a room without having to refresh the page. While it may sound simple, to the uninitiated it is extremely confusing. However, as mentioned Phil is a brilliant teacher who broke it down to a level that I could understand.

After lunch is when the real fun began. We started learning Python, and to do that, we got to make a game. Context: I am a massive gaming nerd and I wanted to make games when I was 17. The game was extremely rudimentary but it was fun to make. We each made our game a little differently. I, for example, made my spaceship move all around the screen and gave it weapons to destroy the asteroids (the game was a basic version of asteroids from the 1980s).

I think learning about Python through making a game is a great idea because I could see what I was changing rather than seeing different text on the screen and being confused as to why I was doing what I was doing. It was a visual representation and it was glorious.

Session 3 was another learning session. We were introduced to Jquery, a type of language that cleans up Javascript. I think learning Jquery was beneficial as websites constantly use Javascript and Jquery and considering I want to develop websites for a living it’s really great to be introduced to this.

After that was lunch. Now this isn’t technically about the course but I am putting it in anyway. I had the best Chinese food of my life at lunch time. In Campus North (which is where we ended up again) they sometimes have people come in to cook. I just happened to be there when they had the best Chinese street food ever there. For £5 (well worth it) you choose 4 ingredients and a type of noodles and they cook it in garlic soy sauce. I know that sounds basic but I had to ring my friend and tell her, it was that good!

After lunch we learned about Flask in Python. Setting up a web server sounds terrifying to me and I honestly thought to myself “no, you are an idiot and you should stick to building basic stuff that people can use really easily.” Boy, was I wrong. It was incredibly simple to do. We messed around with adding messages to a website. I really enjoyed this because we could be a little bit daft but we still learned a lot in the process.

The reason that I have enjoyed these sessions is because it is what I want to do. I want to learn to make websites and games and web servers and other stuff like that. I want to be able to go into that sort of job. Phil, all credit to him, is an excellent teacher and I am looking forward to doing my final project to show what I have learned.

The next week was our Software Development company visits, so stay tuned!

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Campus North is home several start-up companies that hold residence in one or two person teams in the offices upstairs. Anybody can enter the building and use the rent-free spaces downstairs; it’s open planned with picnic benches and a kitchenette where you’re trusted to put £1 in the money-pot per item that you buy, there’s also free Wi-Fi which, let’s face it is always a bonus. Upstairs, there’s a very welcoming open space environment surrounded by smaller offices with another small kitchenette in the corner. Impressively, there’s a foosball table and table tennis set up for when you need to procrastinate for a while or take a much-needed break. So, if you’re ever looking to get out and try new things, Campus North is worth checking out as it holds events that anyone can attend. In the past, there’s been free pizza and the occasional caffeine pick-me-up so who knows, you might score dinner and a show!

Phil Jeffes originally started out working for a few different companies at Campus North before he began coding for Ben’s company Droneland. In the beginning, the sectors he worked for went bankrupt which Phil said wasn’t unusual for new companies. Fortunately, Phil managed to make connections through other companies using Campus North offices moving from one company to another before he decided to work as a freelancer. Phil informed us that once a month, Campus North play host to a Pot Match dinner evening wherein they encourage workers to come together, bring food and get to know one another. I think this is such a great way for workers from different companies to bond.

The Course:
I was invited to observe a course in programming and code run by Phil Jeffes on the Tuesday 11th of October 2017 at Campus North. I was intrigued as I hadn’t heard of Campus North before my visit and didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a hidden treasure; Campus North is a building hidden away from the main shopping area in Newcastle’s City Centre and it’s situated next to the best coffee shop I’ve ever been to. Flat Caps Coffee is amazing – if you’re ever in the area, you need to check this place out. I managed to snag myself an amazing cuppa as I was the first of the group to arrive. With my coffee at hand I checked out the building and I must be honest at first sight Campus North doesn’t look like much from the outside; not convinced I was even at the right place I had to peer in through the door to make sure I hadn’t turned up at some random building. Thankfully, there was a lovely woman on reception who is very approachable and happily showed me to where I was supposed to be.

Phil was still setting up in Room 2 and Zak was settling himself in for the day ahead – having met Phil and his other colleagues previously at prior workshops. Not quite sure what to do with myself, I made myself useful and set up a work space, managing to accidentally shrink my chair down. Picture that scene from Johnny English, I’m 5’2” on a very low chair – I, like Jonny accepted my newfound seat height, peering up as Adam and Antonea arrived and I stayed in this position for the entire pre-workshop talk.

One of my reasons for attending the programming workshop as an observer is because I was hoping to fulfil a dream of being able to understand codes and programming a little better; and maybe even try my hand at it on my Sims4. Unfortunately, quickly discovered – coding is like any another language, you can’t pick it up in one afternoon. I realised this as soon as I saw the amount of wires and little gadgets that Phil was setting out. While we were watching Phil’s presentation I learned the afore mentioned gadgets are called Raspberry Pi. Yes, you read it right, Raspberry Pi, something I needed to clarify as I seriously thought for a moment my morning hunger had finally gotten the better of me. The purpose of the workshop was to use code on the Raspberry Pi to make the extensions work; i.e. to make some LEDs light up etc. which believe me is not as easy or as straightforward as it sounds.

Industry Insight:
Throughout the day, several people who work in the building dropped by to introduce themselves and tell us a little about the companies that they work for.

The first to drop in was a lady called Paula. Paula works for a charity fundraising company called Go Raise. The company have around 300 retailers on their online platforms, however their technology means they only need to work closely with around 5 of these at any one time. Go Raise attend and sponsor events such as the Go North Run. Paula was asked how coding is used in her company but she wasn’t sure, joking that she’s a “non-technical technical person.”. Me too, Paula, me too. Although Paula couldn’t tell us anything about the tech side of her company, it was nice to meet her and find out a little about Go Raise.

The next person to pop in was a guy called Ben. Ben told us he studied Product Design at University, following this he worked as an accountant for a software company. Ben stated he truly believes that this gave him the experience he needed to really understand his customers. Ben stated, “Better insight from customers helps make it (the product) better.”

Ben and Phil work for a company called Droneland which was started up 5 years ago; Ben informed us that this is his ideal job. Their company is small and desperately needs funding however, Ben is confident their prototype drone will impress the companies it is designed for. He feels they influence more people working with other smaller companies stating that ‘because we don’t work for a large corporate company, it feels like we’re more than just be a cog in a machine’. The prototype drone that Ben showed us was very expensive, this meant he couldn’t give us a demonstration as flying indoors (or even in the city centre) was too risky as there was a chance of crashing it. Droneland, however, not only make drones, they write the software for their drones to enable them to preform specific tasks depending on what the customer requires. E.g. they are currently working with paint companies to create a drone with sensors that will enable it to take accurate measurements of difficult places to reach. This is a much safer way to take measurements as it means companies wouldn’t have risk involved in using people to scale high buildings, bridges etc. Their drones do also use Raspberry Pi’s so this information fitted in quite nicely with the workshop.

Towards the end of the day, James stopped by. James works for a company called Layers, he is a designer whose work is set up with by paid developers. He writes, designs and develops websites, he has a lot of clients, such as: Control Hub. James feels his company stands out from the crowd due to their initiative presenting of information. Layers are currently a small team of 4 who “wanted to do something different because they were bored.” As they are a small company, they must stay focused and work hard – especially when they are working on several projects simultaneously. James stated that there are occasions when they are very busy and “time is tight so we need to stay focused and keep to a schedule.”

This was an interesting workshop to observe, however, as someone who had never done programming or even looked at a code before it was quite overwhelming. This aside, there were some parts I really enjoyed such as meeting Phil, Ben and the people from the other companies and hearing their stories. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Phil who was exceptionally patient with me and took the time to explain what we were doing in detail. I also want to thank the others on the course for allowing me to join in several weeks after they started; I enjoyed watching them work and was fascinated to see what they could do. For those of you who have an aptitude for programming/coding, or maybe you’re thinking of turning a hobby into a career and want to do a short course, I definitely recommend checking this out Ladders.

By Mirander De-La-Haye