Perspective: Mission to Mars event

From the 5th-9th February 2018

In February, I was invited along by Software Cornwall once again, to participate in the Mission to Mars work experience event, for the second time.

The concept is really fun, and the outcome, even better. You take a hoard of enthusiastic technology students, from around the county, or in this case; Penwith College (plus two from the Game Changer project)and get them to form startup ‘companies’ and get them to compete for a contract to develop Software for Mars Rover Robots, in the offices at Bluefruit Software.

This, is one of the robots we developed software for. Note that we didn’t have to worry about sandy terrain, however!

The process starts off by getting to know those that attended, giving a brief introduction with those you’ll be working with for the week, before then getting into a team building game, of Scrum Tennis. The whole point, is to instill not only a sense of competition, but to teach the participants a valuable lesson in making progress throughout the week. Once this is done, you can group up, make your team, and begin the user stories.

All of the tasks that you will go through, whilst being on the Mission to Mars scheme, are given to you as user stories, which have criteria that usually has to be met to the letter, before you are awarded ‘Monies’ for it’s acceptance, the currency that will tell at the end of the week, whether you are successful in gaining the contract, or one of the humble software companies pipped to the punch at the end of the week.

The user stories generally start off, at a lower end of difficulty but steadily increase, in difficulty. You can get help, from some of the many mentors around, and there are around twelve to fourteen user stories each event, depending on the progression levels of the various participants in the room.

Some of the work my team did during the week

The experience you can get by just getting involved, even if you don’t understand that much of what is happening, is astounding due a combination of two factors, Mob Programming and Test Driven Development.

For someone with not a lot of experience or exposure to code, learning with the Mob Programming environment and the Driver system, is quite a breeze as those around you are always outputting ideas, and explaining things and over time you realize there are patterns in the work and can help out, and only one person is allowed to type it up. It allows you to get an understanding of what people are thinking, and you get to rotate every ten minutes to give everyone a fair shot.

Test Driven Development, during this process is also a live-saver. You cannot expect to get the later user stories first time, as they become increasingly difficult and complex in nature. Furthermore, using the robots for your testing actually makes your team’s bank balance drop if you are unsuccessful, so one thing you need to keep in mind, is that you can test in many ways and you will be more successful by learning from the mistakes of the last run.

Robot on “Martian Terrain”

Mission to Mars, is always a blast to attend as you benefit so much from being there, whether that be from the experience you can gather, the new friends you can make, and the helpers always giving a hand.

If you want to know where you can find out more details about Mission to Mars events, follow the link to the Software Cornwall website. If you find me look for my Twitter and GitHub.