I thought I’d try to keep this blog fairly active over the summer by writing about various things related to university that I am doing over the summer. This summer has proven to be a bit busier than last summer (2018) and I’ve changed plans about what’s going to happen this summer a lot – mainly due to internships.

My Year 2 grade

I was very pleased to learn that I achieved 74% for BSc2a and 80% for BSc2b – resulting in an average of 77% for Year 2. This is just 3% below my average for Year 1, but Year 2 is harder than Year 1 and this grade counts towards my final grade. I personally much preferred BSc2b to 2a, but did well in both units. I took onboard feedback from 2a and applied it to 2b which likely helped to push my grade up. 80% for BSc2b is the first ‘exemplary first’ (80% +) that I have achieved for a unit since BSc1a, graded at 82% in November 2017. This puts me in a great position for Year 3.

Ethnographic user research at the Crick Boat Show – May 25th 2019

Starting off with a word that ‘defined’ Year 2: ‘ethnographic‘. The first ‘ethnographic anything’ I did was in November 2018 as part of BSc2a – it involved going to Norwich Market and asking people on the streets to complete a quick questionnaire about a hypothetical app for the market. I didn’t enjoy this task at all, but I did understand the value of asking people who might use an app in its target environment about their thoughts on it. I felt that it put me closer to the target audience. Fast forward to January and February 2019 and I was doing the same for the second half of BSc2a, which was all about conducting user research to create an app for the Broads. I went on walks in the Broads National Park with people who live in towns close to the Broads and on the walk made small talk as well as ask them about the app I was going to produce. I much preferred this method of ethnographic research.

The Crick Boat Show at Crick Marina in Northamptonshire formed the setting of my ethnographic research.

Now we’re here in May 2019 and I’m doing it again! This time for BSc3b, which may not begin until January 2020! Why do research so far ahead of a project? Why do it at all when I don’t know what the project will even be? Since at least February 2019 I’ve been interested in creating an app focused around Britain’s canals and waterways for my Year 3 project, which I thought would start in September 2019 but since I am doing a technical dissertation I do not complete any additional projects for BSc3a. That means that this will likely be used in BSc3b. Nobody knows what the brief will be for 3b, but I suspect it will follow the format of BSc1b where we had to find a problem to solve, a client and test and produce a solution. If that’s the case then my research will be very valid and helpful!

The Crick Boat Show is the largest narrowboat show in the UK and it happens once per year – at the end of May. This time next year I will have finished university altogether and with the boat show being filled with boaters who’d use my app, it seemed the perfect event to go to this year to conduct some ethnographic research before it’s too late for me. Whilst at the show I spoke to around 10 or 11 individuals about my ideas for an app to do with the waterways and found out about how they currently solve the problems that my app aims to resolve. It turns out that many of them use paper and other ‘analogue’ methods and would welcome a digital solution.

I conducted the research in a very similar way to how I had done with the Broads project earlier this year – I just approached people and spoke to them about my idea. With this being a boat show, the people there were interested in boating and thus were keen to hear my ideas for an app that could help them. I was really able to identify my potential target audience. One of the people I spoke to even guided me to a stall that a potential competitor had at the boat show, so I could go and see what the current digital solution to my problem is like and find its weaknesses. Those weaknesses were exposed to me when trying the app out at the stall and speaking to their salespeople. Now I know what’s out there now and what I can do to make my solution superior. A sneaky bit of market research!

I’m not going to write details about my idea just yet, that’ll come if and when the time is right, but if I end up not being able to use this research it was still an excellent opportunity to practice ethnographic user research outside of university – which I have never done before.

Me conducting ethnographic research.

Speaking of BSc2b… extending the Broads Web App

My final piece of work for Year 2 of university was to produce a web app for the Broads Authority. They have expressed an interest in taking the app forwards, so between now and June 27th I am going to work on making some modifications to the app as a result of the user testing that was completed on April 5th. The modified version of the app will be tested with the general public at the Norfolk Show at the Broads Authority’s stand on June 27th. It’s not quite going to be ethnographically tested, since the web app is designed to be used at Oulton Broad and not the Norfolk Showground (where the Norfolk Show is), but it will be good to get more user testing data.

The app will then be tested more ethnographically at Oulton Broad on July 17th.

The Broads app is being developed further!

WebVR workshop – May 29th 2019

I missed out on the WebVR workshop delivered by Jamie Gledhill, my course tutor, in 2018 because I was attending a PAL Mentor training event (which incidentally also happened today for the new PAL mentors). Happily I was free today so I was able to attend this session.

As a result of being annoyed that I missed 2018’s workshop, I learned a little bit of the A-Frame framework in June 2018 and created Storehouse VR using it. You can read a little bit about Storehouse VR in this post here and view Storehouse VR in your browser here. I found the framework fun to work with, but haven’t used it since June 2018 because I haven’t really found a need for it.

The workshop was fun and it was interesting to see what could be done with A-Frame and how easy it was to make and texture objects such as cylinders, environments and cubes. It was also really interesting to learn how to import my own 3D models into WebVR to utilise them in the environments I was creating. I tested my virtual environment on a Samsung Galaxy S7 in a Samsung Gear headset – it was the first time I had ever experienced VR on the Samsung devices. The performance, even on the three year old S7, was excellent but with my eyesight being poor and the WebVR page running in the S7’s browser viewport resolution of 414×732 pixels (rather than the phone’s native screen resolution of 2560×1440), the image wasn’t very clear to me and I soon began to feel a bit ill after just a few minutes of use. I’m glad I didn’t purchase a Gear VR – my eyes don’t make it the ideal VR solution for me! But I definitely appreciate the fact that you can put your Samsung phone into one of these headsets and have a relatively affordable self-contained VR headset.

Using my WebVR page on the S7 in Samsung Gear VR.

React JS and GraphQL workshops by Neontribe – May 28th & 29th 2019

It’s been a busy week for workshops at NUA, with Neontribe also sending Rupert Redington and Ed Perkins to NUA to deliver two, 3 hour long sessions on React JS and GraphQL!

React JS

React is Facebook’s front-end framework and is currently ‘the word’ in front-end web development. If you can use React and use it properly, you will likely have no problem at all finding a job as a front-end web developer in 2019, and 2020, and 2021, and so on. To me, it seems that the attitude towards React in 2019 is the same as the attitude towards jQuery in about 2004 or 2005 – ‘it’s the next big thing, it makes complex problems easy to solve!’ and so on.

I’ve been looking to move away from relying so heavily on jQuery for a little while now since I have been learning that whilst it is still supported, it’s nearly 15 years old at its core and has been superseded by newer frameworks such as React. This workshop on React was delivered very well and I learned a lot. Neontribe even gave us the code to experiment with so that I could go away and learn more myself.

Essentially, React works by allowing you to write HTML and even CSS in JavaScript, thanks to a layer called JSX. It sounds frightening, but it actually has some great benefits, such as the ability to effectively create functions for HTML, vastly reducing the amount of HTML markup code. It’s easy to reuse HTML markup for common elements now and it’s easy to populate them with individual comment.

React might take me a little bit of time to get my head around, but I’d definitely like to learn a lot more about it!

Freelance opportunities with React

The oldest website that is still online that I wrote is the website for BrownTech IT Services, Ltd. It was written in March 2014 using skills I learned from readingĀ Adobe Dreamweaver CS5.5: A Classroom In A Book. Far too many people to mention sigh when I tell them that this is how I learned how to code websites, but everybody starts somewhere. As a result of being built in Dreamweaver CS5.5 it contains a lot of ‘legacy elements’, the best example being a menu bar built on ‘Spry’ – which was Adobe’s attempt to make a user-friendly JavaScript framework. Spry support was a big part of Dreamweaver CS5 and CS5.5, but it never really took off and was discontinued in 2012 when CS6 was released, but the source remains available on GitHub for people to play with. The site still works of course, but I don’t use Dreamweaver anymore and so if the site needs to be modified it might be a challenge. A lot of the generated code from Dreamweaver is also difficult to read and understand.

Since the site is working and the client isn’t demanding a new website be built by a certain date, it makes it a perfect candidate for a rebuild with a new framework. I can spend the summer experimenting with React and having a project to complete with it. That will make learning it easier and faster. It seems nice that the oldest website of mine that is still running is likely going to be replaced with one built on the newest framework.

The BrownTech IT Services website is the product of what the ‘Adobe Dreamweaver CS5.5 Classroom In A Book’ book teaches you about building a website in Dreamweaver.

GraphQL

GraphQL isn’t really much to do about graphs, but it is to do about the ‘QL’ bit – ‘query language’. GraphQL goes hand-in-hand with React (both are written and maintained by Facebook) and is more of a ‘back-end’ language that allows you to write queries to pull data from database schemas, which can be written in a schema language, or JSON. This makes it similar to SQL. Data from these queries can then be displayed dynamically in user interfaces written with React. GraphQL is an asynchronous language, meaning that tasks are often suspended until another task has been completed – this is because GraphQL often calls to servers and other third party sources to get data from APIs. The last time I coded asynchronously was in 2016 when I was an A level computer science creating a Windows 10 Universal Windows Platform app.

I was the only one who attended this session, so I was fortunate enough to have 2:1 tuition on GraphQL by Rupert and Ed. We worked in an online IDE (based on Visual Studio Code) called CodeSandbox which is as close to ‘real-time collaborative code editing’ as I have seen to this date. This means I can log back into my account and see the code, so again I experiment with how it all works.

I’m not sure how much I’ll need to use GraphQL yet, but if I end up creating this canal web app in Year 3 then React and GraphQL could be ideal frameworks to build this on.

Sandbox is an online, collaborative IDE that also runs web servers.

Thoughts on the Neontribe workshops

Both were excellent practical workshops delivered in a fun and friendly manner. It’s not a great surprise that Rupert and the team at Neontribe offer professional training on this – they teach it well! I thanked them in person and also mentioned on LinkedIn that learning these frameworks ‘takes my web development skills out of the 2010s and into the 2020s’. We haven’t learned these at university and it can be hard to learn them yourself with absolutely no tuition, so I am very grateful for the introductory sessions that Rupert and Ed delivered. They have helped cement my basic understanding of each framework and what they can do.

It’s a shame that not many people attended these workshops. The more people that come and support them, the more likely these professionals are likely to come back and teach more. I feel that this is partly why we haven’t had many guest lectures from the industry in Year 2. We had a lot in Year 1, but they were often poorly-attended.

I thanked Rupert and Ed for their time and expertise.

Dissertation

In all honesty nothing more has been done since about May 7th which was when I last modified the report proposal. The proposal went down well but Jamie suggested that I investigate taking the dissertation down one of two routes:

  • Experiment with coding conventions that help to improve accessibility.
  • Experiment with design patterns, user flows and ‘order of events’ that improve accessibility.

I feel that the user testing nature of my dissertation leads me more towards the second option.

He also suggested that I consider why I had chosen Next and Primark as critical references in my proposal and how my prototype site could be better than their sites.

My friend (and former Head of Storehouse) Hannah Murray suggested that I collaborate with a Fashion student and photograph their clothing range and find out all about what they had made in order to negate the need for me to research clothes and how to describe them.

I’m also considering using React to build this prototype, if I can be confident that I can make a working prototype with it in time. It would be safer to stick to ‘what I know’ and using React won’t get me any more credits, but it would improve my skills with using it and it would be interesting to find out if ARIA HTML markup can be implemented with React in order to make accessible webpages with it.

The dissertation about creating accessible websites is still very interesting to me.

The ‘internship situation’

My posts (this one and this one) written at the end of Year 2 about the summer of 2019 and what my next steps are mention that I’ve been unable to find work experience for the summer of 2019 and that getting the experience that I got in 2018 was a massive achievement in retrospect. I’m pleased to report that after those posts were published, my university arranged a large-scale internship (taking on roughly 50 NUA students) with a local web development company who make an app encouraging tourism to Norfolk and are keen to use 360 Degree images in it – much like the Broads Authority app.

At first I didn’t apply because I didn’t understand that this was a website and an app that they were building, it seemed more aimed at VFX, Games and Film students because they also want content creators, but upon talking to the university they highly recommended that I applied and so I did.

If successful, I will be embarking on a three month long internship over the summer creating an app described above. Pretty sweet!

If unsuccessful (and I’ll do these things anyway), I’ve decided to spend this summer thinking about my future:

  • Researching graduate schemes, how to apply and applying to them.
  • Researching more for my dissertation.
  • Continuing to develop my skills with React.

So that I’m not sat inside all day long, I’d likely get involved with some voluntary work. I’m a massive aviation enthusiast so would likely volunteer at the City of Norwich Aviation Museum which has some interesting aircraft and even a Hawker Hunter simulator which once resided at my old Air Cadets squadron. I helped to rebuild that simulator! I may consider doing this at some point even if I get the internship – it’s something different to put on my CV and a great talking point, as well as a genuine passion of mine.

The Ideas Factory at NUA could help with finding internships in 2019.

 

Restoring old jets is something I’d love to do one day. Here’s a Sea Harrier at Norwich Aviation Museum, pictured by me in June 2017.

Storehouse 19

On top of all of that, there’s Storehouse 19! Production is underway with a theme chosen and submissions opening to university students on June 3rd and closing on July 8th. I’m already learning a lot about managing teams and people and I’ve only been the Head for about a month or so! It’s been fun so far and the team is working well. Working remotely on this project isn’t as difficult as I thought it would be and the majority of my Heads of Department are staying in Norwich over the summer which could make things a bit easier.

We hope to launch Storehouse 19 in late September!

To date, the only thing that has been publicly posted abut Storehouse 19 is this arrow brand mark.