I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s playing around on a Friday afternoon with a new script for GMail that provides statistics about your email habits. It doesn’t include spam, calendar invites or my chat history. I’m quite pleased that I send two-thirds less email than I receive, although it’s a shame that 80% of the emails I receive are not directly for me. Not that I want them to be, but it suggests I get CC’d into a lot of mail. I’m also pleased to see that about 80% of email I receive gets answered within one day. I hate it hanging around and usually have less than a handful of emails sitting in my Inbox at any one time. All my email, both work and personal, comes to this single account.
How much does a student hacker need to develop a good idea to the point that it attracts further investment?
I’ve been thinking about this recently for a couple of reasons. I was reading the early Y Combinator site, via the Wayback Machine, about how they reckoned on $6,000 per person for their first Summer Founders Program. Each new startup could expect to receive less than $20K (the average is $17,000 / £10,000), with two or three friends being the ideal number of founders per company. The Summer Founders Program was aimed at undergraduate or graduating students.
I’ve also been looking at JISC’s Elevator funding programme, where people working in UK universities and colleges (with a *.ac.uk email address), are able to pitch an idea to receive up to £10,000 funding from JISC. That’s the same amount of money Y Combinator seeds their successful applicants with. I think the JISC Elevator is a great idea, but looking at the proposals that have been submitted so far, I’m surprised and disappointed that there aren’t any proposals where the money goes directly to students to develop ideas of their own. Maybe students haven’t been told? I’ll admit I’ve not publicised it at Lincoln, having been busy bidding for other JISC funds (where graduating 3rd year students are the main contributors to the projects) and awarding funds to projects of our own (where students receive most of the money). Still, I feel bad about not supporting JISC Elevator more. I have voted for one proposal.
I asked Alex, an undergrad and co-worker, how much a student who is hacking on an idea all day, every day, needs to live on in Lincoln, and he reckons about £600/month. That sounds harsh to me, so let’s assume they need £800/month and that there are three of them, because after all, if you can’t persuade a couple of friends that an idea is worth working on, then it probably isn’t a very good idea (or so says Y Combinator). On a related note, Google’s Summer of Code provides students with a $5000/£3000 stipend for the summer.
When I first heard about the JISC Elevator, my immediate thought was that the £10K maximum per project isn’t very much to attract FEC costed projects involving staff, but is perfect for offering to students as bursaries. A bursary, as I understand it, is supposed to cover the costs of living, rather than being seen as a wage, so they’re similar in purpose to the GSoC and Y Combinator funds. On our DIVERSE project, almost all of the money received went to paying the fees and bursaries of two MRes students. We are also prepared to contribute a larger percentage of the overall cost. Our recently funded beBOP project is an example of this, with a recent graduate being employed on grade 4, and the funding from JISC covering only 65% of the overall cost, compared to the maximum 80%.
I’ll admit, I don’t really understand how FEC works and where a lot of the money actually goes, but for the kinds of projects that the JISC Elevator is trying to attract, as well as JISC’s Rapid Innovation calls, I do wonder whether the GSoc or Y Combinator model of funding is a more cost-effective one. Pay students to hack over the summer, with a member of staff overseeing their work and call that the institutional contribution. £10K will pay for three students to hack over the summer, travel to a conference to talk about their work and pay for some servers on Rackspace for a few months. The tools to develop software in the early stages are cheap (a basic Linux stack on Rackspace is £7/month and there are enough open source tools available to explore ideas and develop prototypes, even if the ideal tool happens to be a proprietary one.
At Lincoln, we recognise that, given the opportunity and mentorship, undergraduate students have much to contribute. They’re not simply consumers of education. Like other universities, we’ve been running funding programmes each year that fund students to work on a research project with a member of staff over the summer. At Lincoln, it’s called UROS, the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Scheme. The Student as Producer UROS call was announced a few days ago. The LNCD group, which I co-ordinate awarded five projects £1000 each last week, which focus on the use of technology for education (more info on those projects soon). For the UROS and LNCD funded projects, almost all of the £1000 goes on undergraduate student bursaries. In my experience, undergraduate hackers can produce good work. Work that’s worth funding. Y Combinator thought so, too, and they’re now the most admired angel fund among young hackers. Each Y Combinator funded start-up is now guaranteed $150,000 as follow on funding by another investor. If you go Wayback to the first Summer Founders Program FAQ, you’ll see this:
Why are you doing this?
Partly because we feel guilty that we all got rich almost seven years ago, and still haven’t yet given seed money to new startups; partly because we think it is an interesting hack; and partly because we think it may actually make money.
We suspect that students, and particularly undergrads, are undervalued. Twenty years ago the idea of grad students starting companies would have seemed odd. Not after Yahoo and Google. And if grad students can do it, why not undergrads too?
I agree. Undergraduates can do it and I think institutions, together with JISC, should be thinking about our own Hatchery for Hackers.
In my previous post, I mentioned a small on-going project I have started to collect short interviews with developers working in universities. It is inspired by The Setup and relates to my interest in hacking in the academy. I hope that over time, it will provide a record of the people working in the developer community and add to the recognition of the work we do, how developers learn and how their working environment impacts upon their work and learning. Here’s the initial announcement I made at Dev8D. Please spread the word.
Calling all Developers working in Higher Education!
I’m setting up a site based on http://usesthis.com but focusing on Developers working in HE. It’s part of a research project I’m embarking on to understand how software developers (in universities) learn their craft.
It would be great if you could send me something. It will be published here http://hackingtheuniversity.net/ It shouldn’t take more than about 15 mins to write and about 5 mins to read (although longer is OK). Over time, I hope to compile a rich profile of developers who happen to work in universities.
How you answer is up to you; browse the site and read other people’s contributions. Alternatively, I’d be happy to accept something different, like this: http://why.usesthis.com/ You don’t need to hyperlink to your software and hardware. I will do that, in many cases automagically!
Here are my interview questions. If you don’t feel like writing, I’d happily accept an audio file to transcribe.
Who are you, and what do you do?
Who taught you how to do what you do?
What tools do you use?
Describe your dream working environment.
I need a nice image of you, too, at least 500×335 pixels.
This job is now formally open for applications.
Just a heads up to say that we’ll be advertising for a Web Developer to work on Orbital, our JISC-funded ‘Managing Research Data’ project. The post, starting in March/April, will be a 12 month, full-time, grade 5 (c.£21K) position.
The Web Developer (‘you’) will be working in the Centre for Educational Research and Development, alongside Nick Jackson, Lead Developer on Orbital, and also benefit from being in a team that includes staff in central ICT services and the Library. Orbital builds on and extends previous work we’ve been doing over the last couple of years, so if you’re interested, you should read through our projects pages.
If we were to summarise our technologies and interests I guess they would be #agile, #opensource, #opendata #LAMP, #php, #codeigniter, #mongoDB, #OAuth, #APIs, #HTML5, #CSS3, #github and moving towards #RDF and #LinkedData.
Just seeing these hashtags listed together should cause your heart to beat with excitement 🙂
When we advertise in January, you’ll see that the job spec is actually a pretty standard affair. What I want to emphasise here is how interesting and fun the job will be.
The key section in the Job Description is what you’d be working on with Nick:
- Development and implementation of a set of web services, which re-use and develop our previous, JISC-funded work as well as other initiatives (e.g. SWORD and DataCite DOIs).
- Documented source code will be made available under an open source license by the end of the project.
- Development and implementation of mechanisms for managing and transferring data, including the use of MongoDB, OAuth, read/write RESTful APIs, SWORD2 interoperability, and integration with the administrative functions of EPrints.
That actually summarises a lot of work.
I’m managing the project and try to run things with as little hierarchy as possible within a university environment. You’ll always know the project priorities and will be trusted to self-organise and deliver on time, working to two-week iterations and, roughly, monthly releases. I regularly reflect on how we work and our overall working environment. For Orbital, I favour the Crystal Clear agile methodology, as does Nick. You’ll be encouraged to reflect on this with us, too.
We work hard, and not always 9-5pm, but we work at a pace that is sustainable over a long period of time. We take our work seriously but, in the spirit of hacking, are always looking for ways to have fun, too. We recognise that we’re fortunate to be working in a diverse and intellectually stimulating academic environment, but are user/product focused at the end of the day. You’ll be working directly with our users, who are Researchers in the School of Engineering and Siemens, and staff in the Library and ICT. You’ll need to be showing them refreshed, working software every couple of weeks and iteratively improving Orbital, based on their feedback and requirements. There may also be times when you’ll be asked to talk publicly about your work and you’ll be encouraged to blog about it every so often, too. I expect the project to produce one or two conference/journal papers, and you’ll be named as a contributor and can take as active role in that as you like.
I hope this sounds like an interesting job. At £21K, I recognise that it will probably attract younger developers looking to gain experience, though of course, we welcome applications from anyone whatever your age. By the time the post starts, we’ll have set up a decent dev/staging/production environment, hosted in the cloud, and relying on Github and Jenkins to keep things versioned, integrated and tested. Nick will have been developing Orbital for a couple of months or more and laid the groundwork for someone to start coding quickly in a supportive environment.
If you’re thinking of applying and don’t live in Lincoln, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s a decent small city, and a relatively cheap place to live. The campus is modern and sits by a Marina in the middle of the city. You can walk to work. I love the place. Oh, and you can choose your own hardware for development, within reason. Most of us use Macs, but whatever suits you. I’ll ask the successful candidate what they prefer when we offer them the job.
If, after reading around the project website, you’ve got any questions about the post, please do get in touch. Thanks.
* Wondering what the hell ‘web scale’ means? Something like this.
I feel like I’ve arrived late to the party. I’d seen David Flanders and others working with 3D printers at Dev8D but I was thinking about other things at the time and never appreciated how significant and wonderful this new technology is and could be. If you’re wondering what 3D printing is, or just don’t get it, watch this and read the articles below. I’m hoping we can get a group together in Lincoln to start making stuff and more printers for others. I know there is interest among some staff and students here and it shouldn’t take much to bring together an informal group interested in exploring the different educational uses of 3D printers (as well as have a lot of fun).
Economist: More than just digital quilting
Ben O’Steen: Making the physical from the digital
I’ve spent the last five months helping to organise and host DevXS, a national student developer conference. The conference on 11-13th November was fully booked and a great success. Over 170 students attended from across the UK, representing 37 universities, as well as a further 20 tutors and developer mentors working in the Higher Education sector.
You can read more about DevXS on the conference blog which was updated throughout the weekend by a superb team of media students. There are lots of videos and presentation slides on the blog as well as pictures and information about the prize winners and their applications.
It was a really exhausting and satisfying experience to be involved in and not only was it the first conference of its kind in the UK but it looks like it will become an annual event hosted by a different university each year and organised by the JISC-funded DevCSI project.
You can read a report about the conference on the DevCSI website. The Guardian also published an article (originally titled ‘Hacking the Academy’) in the run up to the conference, which I wrote with Mike Neary.
Last month, I wrote about LNCD, a new progressive new group that includes educational developers, technologists, teachers, researchers and students and was set up to support the objectives of Student as Producer through the research and development of technology for education. With the formation of LNCD, we’re also looking to employ a recent graduate (or an MComp student on their placement year). The job is advertised from today and more details can be found on our Careers website.
This Internship is designed to help recent graduates develop the skills and experience required for a number of potential roles in web development and open source hacking. We’re looking to work with, support and mentor an enthusiastic developer with a genuine interest in the use of the open, data-driven web in higher education. We’re looking for someone who enjoys working both face-to-face and in a distributed online environment and who is keen to share their work with others across the university.
Based in the Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD) but working across the university, you’ll be a member of LNCD, a progressive group that was recently set up to support the research and development of technology for education and includes educational developers, technologists, teachers, researchers and students. This graduate Internship is a new 12-month position, designed to provide you with the relevant mentoring, experience and skills for working in a cutting-edge web development and research environment. The role will require significant interaction with students and academic staff and you will be encouraged and supported to write about your work and present your work to peers across the university sector.
I really want this to be a rewarding 12 month Internship for someone, who’ll be working alongside colleagues in CERD, ICT (i.e. Nick and Alex) and the Library (i.e. Paul), as well as with academic staff and students. We’re asking for a lot, but you’ll get a lot back in return and you should end the year with experience working on several internal and externally funded projects, producing and contributing to publicly hosted open source code, attending and presenting at workshops and conferences and being a named contributor to at least one published academic paper.
If you’re interested in the Internship and wondering what you might be getting into, please do read about the LNCD group, its remit and the tools we use, and take a look at some of the work we’ve been doing over the last year, too. Read about Student as Producer and what its objectives are and think about how you want to contribute to the work we’re doing at Lincoln. Thanks.
Tony Hirst recently blogged about the Open Data scene in UK HE, mentioning Lincoln as one of the few universities that are currently contributing HEI-related #opendata to the web. Sooner or later, I’ll write a more reflective post, but here I just wanted to document the current situation (that I’m aware of) at Lincoln. There are two groups that take an interest in furthering open data at Lincoln: LiSC, led by Prof. Shaun Lawson, and LNCD, the new cross-university group I co-ordinate which consolidates a lot of the previous and current work listed below. (For a broader overview of recent work, see this post).
Derek Foster in LiSC recently released energy data from our main campus buildings, updated every 2hrs on Pachube. I was just speaking to Nick and Alex and I think they plan to pull this data into our nucleus datastore, combine it with the campus location-based work we’ve done and generate dynamic heat maps (assuming Derek isn’t already working on something similar??)
LiSC are also mashing open data from the UK Police Crime Statistics database to create a social application called FearSquare and last week put together MashMyGov, a site that randomly suggests mashups using data sourced from Data.Gov.UK.
In the past couple of years, LNCD have worked on:
JISCPress, a 2009/10 project we worked on that didn’t release any data but developed a prototype WordPress platform that atomises documents for publication and comment on the web and spits out lots of data in open formats. It also uses OpenCalais, Triplify and can push RDF Linked Data to the Talis Platform. JISC now use it to publish documents for comment.
Total Recal, a JISC-funded project we completed recently and will roll out across the university this September. As well as providing a fairly comprehensive and flexible calendaring service at the university, it allowed us to work on our space-time data and develop a number of APIs on top of…
Nucleus, the epicentre of our open data efforts. This is a data store, using MongoDB, which aggregates data from a number of disparate university databases and makes that data available over secure APIs. Through a lot of hard work over the last year, Alex and Nick have compiled the single largest data store that we have at the university. Currently, it offers APIs to university events, calendars, locations and people. We’ll also be adding APIs to over 250,000 CC0 licensed bibliographic records held in Nucleus, too (see Jerome below). It also uses the OAuth-based authentication that Alex has developed.
Linking You, is a JISC-funded project we delivered last week to JISC, which looked at our use of URIs, undertook a comparative study of 40 HEI websites (more to come), proposed a high-level data model for use by the HEI sector and made some recommendations for further work. What we’ve learned on this project will have a lasting effect on the way we present our data and on our wider advocacy of open data to the university sector. I really hope that our recommendations will lead us to more discussion and collaboration with people interested in opening university data.
lncn.eu, a URL shortener that Alex and Nick developed in their spare time for a while and has since been formally adopted by the university. Naturally, lncn.eu has an API and can be used (e.g. Jerome) as a proxy for other services, collecting real-time analytics.
Jerome, is a current JISC-funded project that will release over 250,000 bibliographic records under a CC0 license. The data is stored in Nucleus and documented APIs will be available by the end of July. This is a very cool project managed by Paul Stainthorp in the Library (who’s also a member of LNCD).
We’re currently using data.online.lincoln.ac.uk to document the data that is accessible over our APIs. At some point, I can see us moving to data.lincoln.ac.uk – we just need to find time to discuss this with the right people. So far, we haven’t really gone down the RDF/Linked Data route, preferring to offer data that is linked (e.g. locations and events data are linked) and publicly accessible over APIs that are authenticated where necessary and open whenever possible. We are keen to engage in the RDF/Linked Data discussion – it’s just a matter of finding time. Please invite us to your discussions, if you think we might have something to contribute!