The Aberdeen Software Factory completed its first year

The Aberdeen Software Factory is now about a year old. I was running events under this title for longer, but about a year ago we put the paperwork in place to take paid consultancy work.

As an ongoing means to find work for students, both paid and unpaid, the ASF did fine. We had three paying contracts done through Interface, which is funded by the Scottish Funding Council. A fourth one is waiting in the wings until such time as the business is more certain of its market and the correct approach to take. In addition, we also worked through five group projects over the summer with ‘live cases’, a term used by the Global Venture Lab to signify real company collaborators. One of these started as an Interface project done as an unfunded student honours project, which produced a proof of concept, which then carried on over the summer as group project. We also had one collaborator set a course assessment for students, the results of which were rolled into prototype done as a funded student project over the summer. Lastly, another student has continued a volunteer project through fits and starts that match a client’s ability to work on the project himself.

Some of the projects had their own characteristics and personality. They have almost all been run at a distance between the clients and the student providers. Sometimes this was more of a problem then it should have been. Othertimes this was not an issue, and the work ran smoothly. For some projects we also had a turnover of students. Where the students stayed the same, or where the switch of students was between sections of the work, then the projects ran smoother.

Through this work the ASF also enabled two hackdays, and facilitated a third. The first was in conjunction with Rewired State as part of the National Hack the Government Day 2011, where people came together to use open data to build a better state. This event led to the Donor Wall ‘designathon’ competition for the new library as a way to bring people together to offer the best way to display donors to the library building. The last event was organising the space and facilities for a mini-hack day at the ScottishGovCamp event in Aberdeen.

Looking to the future, some goals for the next year, based on past experience would be these:

a) try to avoid switching students during the project where possible. In all cases, this happened unexpectedly and wasn’t known at the start of the project. If we must switch students, then we need to give them more support to get up to speed, before they officially start the project.

b) look for ways to bring the students and clients together at least once or twice per project, even if only over skype, but ideally in real life.

c) bring students more into the backlog processing process so that they have a better view of the bigger picture of the software development process.

d) look for opportunities to bring in more design thinking and possibly, where appropriate, service design thinking into the process so that we provide a more rounded service.

e) We should also change the name to something that suggests more creativity than ‘factory’. More about this later.

f) do more hack-day events to keep all students interested in building apps ‘just because’, especially if we can get cross and multi-disciplinary teams involved.

All in all, not a bad year. May the next one be even better.

The University of Aberdeen is a charity registered in Scotland, No.SC013683