Week 1:

The Monday session was the introduction to the course; this was the first time meeting the group and the introduction to what we are doing over the next 8 weeks. We were introduced to the various companies involved with the Ladders programme, as well as our tutor for our chosen course (Software Development), Phil Jeffes.

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We split from the other groups and were shown around Campus North, a creative enterprise hub and co-working space for small companies and start-ups in the North East. It was interesting to see what we were potentially working towards and seeing the hard-built companies that exist within Campus North.

We were introduced to web programming and this started with an introduction to HTML and CSS. This took the form of a presentation ready for a workshop on Wednesday. We learned a lot of different things about the way that websites are put together and how small changes in code can produce very big results on the final design.

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The Wednesday session provided us with a brilliant opportunity to get stuck in with software development. We used Brackets, a tool for creating web pages, to explore some of the possibilities that can be achieved with web design. We also looked at how we can make CSS which reacts as a user moves the cursor around the page. This allowed us to gain insights into user experience and user interface design which was an interesting way of putting yourself in the user’s shoes to visualise how they might approach and use a site you were designing.

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Overall, the first Software Development sessions have been a huge success. I have already discovered so much about this creative sector, so I wonder just how much I will grow over the next 7 weeks. The other members of the group spoke positively about the session afterwards, which shows that on a wider scale, we have all felt like we were developing our craft on an individual level, as well as communicating with each other effectively.

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Week 2:

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Having been introduced to HTML and CSS in week 1, this week we started to look at Javascript. This was our first real taste of a complete programming language. Javascript offered us the opportunity to alter the content of a web page after defining the overall layout and style using HTML and CSS. Phil showed us various tips and tricks that he has picked up throughout his career and was very supportive of us. We started off by seeing how to change the text of a button after we had clicked on it. This gave us really a good introduction to variables and functions.

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On October 5th, we got a chance to visit and look around Sage – a global company working with 6.2 million businesses across the world, specifically revolving around finding the right software to suit their accounting needs. The building was overwhelmingly large and incredibly exciting for all us, knowing that these are the kinds of businesses that we could potentially work with in the near future. It was inspiring to meet Andrew, who is an internal recruiter at Sage and he showed us around the building explaining to us how Sage grew from its humble beginnings of 3 people in a pub discussing how to create accounting software and telling us the plans for the future of the business.

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We got to meet two people from the technical team, Steve and Paul. Paul is a lead developer and he explained about how they hire people, sometimes taking experienced developers and helping them to integrate with the team and sometimes taking on more junior members of staff and how they train them up to work productively within the team. He explained how they use Agile methodologies to quickly and efficiently add new features to the existing products without compromising on the quality for which Sage is known. Steve talked us through his role as a Devops engineer and how he uses existing tools to make sure that the web application stays up and is available for all their customers across the world.

It was inspiring to hear how many people there didn’t study technical degrees and some didn’t even have degrees but were instead passionate enough to teach themselves how to code and used this to help them land their first job. It was good to see how one might progress in such a role and ultimately end up becoming a manager or technical architect. The reception we got at Sage was very welcoming and it is nice to see that new members of staff, regardless of technical ability are made to fit in and helped to progress through their careers.

software-wk2dOverall, I feel that this week was a huge step forward for all of us in progressing on this course – particularly having that industry insight from such a huge organisation was fascinating. The whole group, including myself, thoroughly enjoyed it as well as learning not just about the skills we might use in the industry, like Javascript, but also about how we might start looking for a job in the sector.

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Week 3:

Week 3 of Ladders Software Development was certainly a memorable one! Monday and Wednesday evening consisted of a full introduction to Python – a software which at first I found really hard to understand. Nonetheless, with the support of Phil and showing us how to code Python in Brackets, we were then able to join a group of people who meet up themselves to ‘play’ with python.

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Furthermore, we made a game that used components from other popular games including Pokémon and Pac-Man (primarily owned by Nintendo and Namco). This is when I fully began to embrace the technique of Python after a member of this group managed to make some of the complex coding look so doable.

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We then made a game that had a scoring system – it was certainly not perfect and there was room for significant improvements but I was incredibly proud of what we managed to build in that time frame. More importantly, it was so much fun for me as I have struggled with code so much in the past. I enjoy my game and so I have continued to play with the code at home in the hope to continue this project by making positive changes/improvements. This is what I find so appealing about this course – I now have the motivation and persistence to fulfil a task that I would previously be so hesitant to complete.

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Friday was another fantastic insight into software businesses. This time, we met three different companies and they all stopped by at Campus North to chat with us, companies that varied in size and successes – Watch With Me (Kev and Jo), Talk Be (Craig) and Mooshoo Labs (Tristan). I found the talks very informative and interesting, as they told us about their achievements, down-falls and what they look for in employees. Hearing from the perspective of professionals who have experienced so much is something that any aspiring Software Development creator would want to witness – it was truly a pleasure to gain so much insight from those who had the same dreams as I do right now. One of our group members was particularly vocal and enthusiastic about being interested in the gaming industry so we had a lot of insight on this, which shows just how varied and open-minded these people were about this vast industry. I was particularly surprised to hear that they don’t look for a degree as they believe this might show only theoretical knowledge, which doesn’t necessarily showcase the ability to do the job and grow throughout. Overall, having the opportunity to talk to both an established company and start-ups has revealed the potential to thrive in Software Development either way.software-wk3

Week 3 has been filled with life lessons and motivation to work on my craft. These experiences are exactly what I need to take through the rest of my career and possibly one day, I can be one of those people sharing my wisdom to Software Development fanatics.

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Week 4:

We’re now halfway through the Software Development course and Phil certainly knew how to pull out all the stops for this milestone! This week we visited two companies based at The Core, a build owned by Newcastle University built on the site of The Old Brewery. The first company we had the pleasure of meeting was Cloud Data Service – a team of 4 who build websites for clients. Tom Lloyd (the director) talked us through how the company worked and how he had founded it. They were working on a connected Internet of Things application but the details were secret so they couldn’t go into too much detail. Nonetheless, it was a fascinating talk! We had the opportunity to hear about how the company started from humble beginnings and how they go about hiring new members of staff – a great way to find out what qualities we need to follow this career path.

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The other company we visited is called SoPost – the company which Phil works for. It is a sopost-logo-smmedium sized company which aims to support big brands in increasing engagement of their sample based marketing. The premise is that someone can sign up for a sample but they have to send one to a friend first. This helps to reach a lot of potential customers and significantly increases the success of these campaigns. We spoke to Jamie Curle who is the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) at SoPost. He emphasised that ‘if you get into software development because of your passion for coding, it can be hard working your way up into a management role. You don’t get to indulge your love of coding as much because your job becomes more about managing people’. This was an interesting insight for us to figure out exactly where on the industry hierarchy we want to be. Is the business head what we want, or just the ability to thrive in Software Development alone? It was something that I’ve never really considered before and thus has sparked many considerations in terms of my future career.

Later on, the group each made a game in Python using the PyGame library. They had to be Halloween themed because they were to be displayed at the Code Monsters event on the following Saturday. Code Monsters is a yearly event which encourages young children to engage with technology and is run by Tech For Life. It was nerve-wracking to essentially showcase my work to a larger audience but equally exciting to fully immerse myself in the mini-project.

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Week 5:

Week five commenced with a little twist – this time, an introduction to the project portion of the Ladders programme…

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‘Everyone met at Newcastle City Library and was greeted by the TICE team, alongside Louise from Generator. It was a great opportunity for everyone to have the chance to meet other people in various courses. They started off with a talk given by the music mentor, Sam Burt, who exclaimed it was a privilege for everyone to be there. They were introduced into an icebreaker so they could find out more about the courses that everyone was taking but also get to know each other and properly introduced – it was a really good task which got everyone involved and made everyone feel more comfortable instead of sitting in a room surrounded by strangers. Silly but effective always works!

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The groups then had a very relaxed chat with Jenny, who had some great advice and skills which everyone could adapt to in order for them to stay on task and organised. This included making a timeline to make sure they really stuck to their tasks – which is only in a few weeks, how time flies! She said “don’t over complicate things” and “people will always understand” meaning that you can just keep things as simple as possible and try not to overbook yourself and commit to things that you’re unable to go through with. “What can you take out of this course?” was Jenny’s key point, causing everyone to seriously consider what path they truly want to go down and how Ladders can shape that. She gave steps of what they need to do and encouraged them to embed different elements such as; design, trends, finance, and guidance.’

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The sector split off once again as we began to work on our projects. I hope to make an online game for my final project which is certainly a challenge but considering with how much I have developed over the past few weeks on the course, I feel more determined than I have ever been before to successfully complete this. Despite the nerves and hesitation in challenging myself, I look forward to seeing how I progress over the next few weeks.

The next day, we had an opportunity to observe children playing games at the Code Monsters event, run by Campus North. The event was running whilst we worked on our projects, this was a perfect moment for us all to see what appealed to the younger target audience. It was particularly interesting and humbling to see some of our own work being used by the children attending the event. I hope I can continue to apply the things I’ve picked up on the course effectively in my project.

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This first project session was mostly enacting the research and planning what we had discussed in the project planning session as I had to pin down a final theme for the game and look at how other games of a similar type compared. I particularly want to take the fun element and embed that in my own game, hence making it just like any other commercial game on the market.

My game is based on the concept of evolution but encouraging interaction from the player to grow cultures of cells into increasingly larger organisms. As you progress throughout the game, you attain powerful abilities to allow your character to grow the cultures quicker which should hopefully make the game very engaging and fun for the player. Phil is helping us to picture what the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) for our projects might be so that we can get something working and then expand the concepts later on, depending on the time we have and the complexity of our ideas.

Overall, it has been an overwhelming and exciting week. It has been such an incredible experience to go through the process of making a game, something which reflects someone’s day-to-day job. It certainly motivates me to progress and develop these skills beyond the Ladders programme in the hopes that I can follow those footsteps.

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The Final Showcase:

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It was time for Phil Jeffes to present the work that the Software Development students had produced over the past 8 weeks at the Final Showcase, based at Newcastle City Library. After storytelling regarding their varied opportunities, students Hannah, James and Josh were introduced. With three very different projects, it was remarkable to see how they had managed to make such an encouraging start to their projects.

Hannah designed and programmed an inviting website for a friends company which was ready to simply add content, describing how she used market research on design trends to decide on the theme. She highlighted that her website design was “trial and error, but most research in design trends”. It was particularly admirable for Hannah to describe the challenges she faced and acknowledging how this motivated her creative process.

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James made a skeletal base for a game called ‘The Dare’, which he described as a choose your own adventure style horror game. Demonstrating the varying elements of the game, he also added that he created a plan of what he intended to include with more time. With aspirations of working in video games, James initially hoped to add to his C.V. with this programme but ended up thoroughly enjoying it while doing so.

Josh then showed his work, an idle game ideal for playing when you need a break from something, demonstrating the different levels and upgrades of the game and how his skills have developed.

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The audience were in complete awe of their work and applauded with a sense of pride and respect for these individuals – particularly for Phil, it was overwhelming for him to see his students create something so professional and impressive over a set period of time. Proudness oozed from the room. It was wonderful to witness.

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Before the night was over, there was a quick chat from Youth Focus NE, who worked with some of the students from the various courses, as well a few others, to create Ladders Champions. They explained all about the Open Badge Academy, a creative tool to capture learning where you can log your skills and experiences and show what makes you different to other people, something that would be beneficial when applying for jobs in the future.

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When all of the talks were completed, our successful students stuck in to celebratory pizza and were given the opportunity to discuss future plans and upcoming opportunities. Our software development students were flooded with compliments and queries on their creative process, proving that their hard work was evident and ended up inspiring others in their own development. Overall a fantastic evening for a fantastic team of software developers – congratulations on your success!