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What We’ve Learned
   From Building Basie
                and lots of other software

                    using student labor

              over the course of eight years


Greg Wilson    http://third-bit.com   Feb 2010
I Beg To Differ
“…student projects,
    while laudatory,
   frequently fail to
   deliver anything
            useful.”


                        http://joelonsoftware.com/items/2009/10/26.html


 About a quarter of the student projects I’ve helped
 supervise since 2002 have delivered software that
  clients actually used, and the rest have produced
         something just as useful: experience.
The Big Picture




368 people, 136 projects, 35 countries of origin
How We Got To Basie
                   Start running directed studies
     2002          projects at University of Toronto

      2003         2004


First attempt to    2005       2006
build portal                               Join U of T fulltime
(using Java)
                                2007        2008
                                                        UCOSP
                                               2009      2010
Why Another Portal?

                  SourceForge and Trac already exist;
                  why build another portal?


 1)   Self-hosting
 2)   Simple
 3)   Batch operations
 4)   Sustainable

Cabot & Wilson: “Tools for Teams: A Survey of Web-Based
Software Project Management Portals”. Doctor Dobb’s Journal,
October 2009.
We’ve Been Busy!




https://basieproject.org/stable/basie/
We Have Tickets!




https://basieproject.org/stable/basie/
To Make a Long Story Short

                     Undergraduate students can build
                     a lot of great software

                     If:


1) You have realistic expectations
2) You’re patient
3) You realize that “how” matters more than “what”
1) Realistic Expectations

  Most students are doing
  five courses at once


Which leaves them 8-10 hours/week for your project

A 13-week term is equivalent to 3 full-time weeks

 How much do you expect a new (junior) hire to do
      in their first three weeks on the job?
Realistic Expectations (cont.)
Most faculty are working even
harder than their students

“We’re here to do research,
they pay us to teach,
we spend our time on admin.”


     They care about computer science,
 which is not the same thing as programming

        You can’t blame them for doing
     what they’ve been trained to do, either
2) Patience
Your project may be the first time
students have written something
that isn’t just going to be marked
and thrown away

And the first time that 90% right
isn’t good enough

 You must not make students feel like failures
 for working the way they have been trained to

      Even (especially) if those ways are wrong
Patience (cont.)
“Why don’t schools teach students
[Git | Haskell | GPUs | cloud]?”

Because the curriculum is full

4 years × 2 terms/year × 13 weeks
= 4800 hours

The hard part isn’t figuring out what should be in there

The hard part is getting agreement on what to take out
3) How, Not What
Q: What was the most valuable
lesson you learned from
your project?

Nobody said “technology”

What they did say was:

• Teamwork         • Presentation skills
• Prioritization   • Negotiating with real users
• Code review      • Building their network and portfolio

By the way, our project students are 28.5% female
There’s A Textbook For That
                     Karl Fogel:
                     Producing Open Source Software:
                     How to Run a Successful
                     Free Software Project
                     O’Reilly, 2005
                     http://producingoss.com




The same skills students need to succeed in grad school
Other Lessons Learned
• How to run meetings
• How to teach students how to do code reviews
• What level of tooling is appropriate/feasible
• Accountability
• How to accelerate ramp-up
• Carry-overs from previous terms
• Importance of full-time summer work (yay GSoC!)
• Industry support
• Presentations, presentations, presentations
• Scoping and re-scoping deliverables
• Recruiting students and faculty
• Grading
                                     Thanks to Prof. Karen Reid
                                     for this list (and much else)
Help Us to Help You
                             Basie
                             Eclipse4Edu
                             ElmCity
                             DC FlightSim
                             Ingres
                             MarkUs
                             Mercurial
                             Pony-Build
                             RoboCup
                             Thunderbird
                             WikiDev


http://ucosp.wordpress.com
Thank You




http://ucosp.wordpress.com

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What We've Learned From Building Basie

  • 1. What We’ve Learned From Building Basie and lots of other software using student labor over the course of eight years Greg Wilson http://third-bit.com Feb 2010
  • 2. I Beg To Differ “…student projects, while laudatory, frequently fail to deliver anything useful.” http://joelonsoftware.com/items/2009/10/26.html About a quarter of the student projects I’ve helped supervise since 2002 have delivered software that clients actually used, and the rest have produced something just as useful: experience.
  • 3. The Big Picture 368 people, 136 projects, 35 countries of origin
  • 4. How We Got To Basie Start running directed studies 2002 projects at University of Toronto 2003 2004 First attempt to 2005 2006 build portal Join U of T fulltime (using Java) 2007 2008 UCOSP 2009 2010
  • 5. Why Another Portal? SourceForge and Trac already exist; why build another portal? 1) Self-hosting 2) Simple 3) Batch operations 4) Sustainable Cabot & Wilson: “Tools for Teams: A Survey of Web-Based Software Project Management Portals”. Doctor Dobb’s Journal, October 2009.
  • 8. To Make a Long Story Short Undergraduate students can build a lot of great software If: 1) You have realistic expectations 2) You’re patient 3) You realize that “how” matters more than “what”
  • 9. 1) Realistic Expectations Most students are doing five courses at once Which leaves them 8-10 hours/week for your project A 13-week term is equivalent to 3 full-time weeks How much do you expect a new (junior) hire to do in their first three weeks on the job?
  • 10. Realistic Expectations (cont.) Most faculty are working even harder than their students “We’re here to do research, they pay us to teach, we spend our time on admin.” They care about computer science, which is not the same thing as programming You can’t blame them for doing what they’ve been trained to do, either
  • 11. 2) Patience Your project may be the first time students have written something that isn’t just going to be marked and thrown away And the first time that 90% right isn’t good enough You must not make students feel like failures for working the way they have been trained to Even (especially) if those ways are wrong
  • 12. Patience (cont.) “Why don’t schools teach students [Git | Haskell | GPUs | cloud]?” Because the curriculum is full 4 years × 2 terms/year × 13 weeks = 4800 hours The hard part isn’t figuring out what should be in there The hard part is getting agreement on what to take out
  • 13. 3) How, Not What Q: What was the most valuable lesson you learned from your project? Nobody said “technology” What they did say was: • Teamwork • Presentation skills • Prioritization • Negotiating with real users • Code review • Building their network and portfolio By the way, our project students are 28.5% female
  • 14. There’s A Textbook For That Karl Fogel: Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project O’Reilly, 2005 http://producingoss.com The same skills students need to succeed in grad school
  • 15. Other Lessons Learned • How to run meetings • How to teach students how to do code reviews • What level of tooling is appropriate/feasible • Accountability • How to accelerate ramp-up • Carry-overs from previous terms • Importance of full-time summer work (yay GSoC!) • Industry support • Presentations, presentations, presentations • Scoping and re-scoping deliverables • Recruiting students and faculty • Grading Thanks to Prof. Karen Reid for this list (and much else)
  • 16. Help Us to Help You Basie Eclipse4Edu ElmCity DC FlightSim Ingres MarkUs Mercurial Pony-Build RoboCup Thunderbird WikiDev http://ucosp.wordpress.com