What is your background?
I’ve worked on the web since its earliest days. From the early to mid-1990’s, before the first browsers were built. In college I studied computer science at post grad level. One of courses was in HTML and I just then kept going.
My first job was working as a network engineer and part time AS/400 programmer for a big multinational. That started to get a bit dull after a while, and I was becoming more and more interested in the evolution of the web at that time. I then got a contract to develop a web presence for a large petroleum company and afterward started my own company which focused on issuing invoices. That company was called Hugbubble. It has been a great vehicle for me to do interesting software projects ever since.
We worked in a ‘guerilla’ fashion, jumping onto diverse projects that interested us. Sometimes Hugbubble has been my sole income, other times it has been just for fun. We worked on a project within Second Life for a psychology experiment with students in the Psychology department of Stanford University. SL is a great tool to look at learning due to the affordances it offers, and the lost cost / low risk nature of the environment. Second Life faded in popularity due to being too difficult for newcomers to learn the interface, but as the interfaces mature (think goggles, haptics, etc) then VR (Virtual Reality) will hopefully become more natural and easier to get into.
What’s your role at Digital Skills Academy?
I am the curriculum lead on the “Digital Technology Coders” Stream. I work on the course design for coding modules to map them to learning outcomes. We want to ensure that the content we teach our students includes languages and technologies that businesses are using, to make sure that they are employable graduates. We are very focused on the relevance of what we teach to what businesses need now and in the future.
What do you enjoy about teaching at Digital Skills Academy?
The people. Working with humans is great. A good balance to working with machines all day. It is a good contrast, and great to see people progress from novices to experts during their time at the academy.
What sort of people have been most successful on your courses at the Digital Skills Academy?
People who are motivated. Anyone can be a developer, it just takes perseverance and patience. It’s not normal to think in this way (as machines do) so it’s really important to be interested in the subject matter to help you over the initial frustration.
When not teaching at the Digital Skills Academy you’re involved in a lot of other interesting things, what sort of cross pollinations does this encourage?
Yes, it does encourage crossovers. Coding is very like punk rock. The DIY ethic is important. Don’t make assumptions, try something for yourself, and then leverage the open source community and build on what has already been shared. Eventually feeding back into the community to support it yourself.
Working at Hugbubble also helps me to stay relevant and keep my languages up to date. I’m also doing an MSc in Digital Education which helps too, with great benefits in terms of assessment and course design.
I also do capoeira (a Brazilian martial art), which is good for having a complete break, to get away and do something physical. It’s important to stay healthy and get away from the machine sometimes!
What sort of work do your coding participants do after graduating?
Who are you heroes and sources of inspiration?
- Richard Stallman
- And my mate Garry, a “natural programmer” who never has trouble figuring out anything!
- Seth Godin
- Tony Hsieh
What current trends in your field are you excited about?
Ambient intelligence will also be interesting to watch as it improves. There will be a benefit to the end user hopefully, rather than all the users data being harvested for businesses benefit. I’m looking forward to a time when we have greater control over our own data, and can opt in more easily to services that are on demand and always available.
Wearables could also become more helpful to people, as well as the great possibilities of VR (virtual reality). We’re also just at the start of the Big Data revolution, you haven’t seen anything there yet! It has the potential to transform so many industries.
Privacy is really important. If people are not using adblockers then they should really ask themselves why not. We basically haemorrhage our personal information onto the web every times that we use it and so far the end user is not benefitting from this, instead we are simply fodder for the advertising companies. It will be good when people can benefit from all this data that’s being harvested.
Will you be teaching VR (virtual reality) at Digital Skills Academy soon?
Not yet. We may reintroduce game development and game design in the near future perhaps but we are focussed on what’s hot in industry and the market and are also constrained by the length of our programmes. We need to make our participants employable. The growth of VR (virtual reality) means that it could become relevant to the jobs market reasonably soon, but that’s still unlikely in the short term. For the moment we design our Honours and Ordinary Degree curriculum around the coding languages that are high demand by employers and that will enable participants to build cutting edge digital products that will awe and inspire.
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