Last month we sponsored the National Computer Science School’s summer program. We are involved with the school in a number of ways – our staff go along to help out as industry mentors for their programming competition, we run a site tour to give them an insight into the working world of software development, and we donate software for them to help test their projects.
This year one of the tutors for the program, Erin Jamieson, agreed to tell us about her experience at NCSS and what the school does so that we could share it on our news blog.
Erin was a past student of NCSS and returned this year as a tutor and to write their newsletters. She is currently a student at Macquarie university studying a Bachelor of Biotechnology.
What is NCSS?
The National Computer Science School (NCSS) brings together eighty or so students from years ten, eleven and twelve and gives them a very intense action packed ten days of programming. Students are chosen from all over Australia for their ability and computing expertise. For the first time for some students they will meet, socialise and get to work with other students of the same ability and interests as themselves and build lasting friendships.
NCSS aims to give students a taste of uni life by having the students live on campus in the womens dormitories of Sydney University and attend several lectures and computer lab classes daily. The program is intensely focused and teaches a lot in a very small amount of time. For many students they are learning a new programming language entirely from scratch and then using it to build something on such a huge scale when they would never have worked on such a large project before especially with such a large amount of people before. The project really teaches focus, team work skills and time management which are all necessary for successful study at university level. We hope that students enjoy their time at NCSS and consider a future in IT or study at university level.
In order to get groups of thirteen plus adolescents working together as a team on such a large scale project when they arrive we get them sorted out and have them start on team building exercises straight away. We have name get to know you games, the knot game and the infamous newspaper tower challenge where team member roles are starting to take shape as people adjust to the different personalities in their group.
We have other team based competitions on later days in the program such as trivia night, scavenger hunt, cryptography challenge and the programming competition which keeps things fun and builds logical thinking skills while giving the students a break from the computer lab keeping the atmosphere fun.
There are a few activities now that have become a staple in the program and a few new ones that everyone has been really excited about. These have come together thanks to an interest from our sponsors who come and participate in competitions and talk to the students giving them first hand advice and answering industry related questions which have been playing on the students minds. We also pay a few of these companies a visit this year we went to Macquarie bank, Google and Atlassian. The sponsors also ran some mock interviews for the students and were very impressed with their level stating they wished the students were older than seventeen because they were ready and able to work for their companies.
Our trip to Atlassian was one of excited anticipation as the students had already been introduced to confluence and had been shown how helpful it was and how they would be using it to help communicate in teams during their project work. The students were excited to meet the people behind the program and sat quietly rapt throughout the presentation absorbing like sponges how to work on big projects in teams and how to design superior products that other people will want to use. Students were even more psyched to find out they got a free shirt and that they would be able to wear it around bragging that they’d been to Atlassian. The students were happy to see such a fun open atmosphere with which work was done at Atlassian and some female programmers which made the girls happy. Many a student smiled when they learnt that on stressful days one could go downstairs and play the wii to unwind or help themselves to free food and drink. The students thank Atlassian for putting on such a great lunch and had a wonderful time exploring the world of programmers and IT workers chatting excitedly about how wonderful it would be to work for such a company.
This is the first year in which the project has been to make a functional facebook social networking website instead of the old search engine project and everyone was very excited to have such a current and relevant project. It was a huge task considering the students only had four days to work on it and have it complete. It was obvious however that everyone had taken a lot from the talk at Atlassian as the groups quickly organised themselves into roles and responsibilities and wanted to get stuck into their work straight away. Groups were using confluence to delegate work, sort out team roles and make storyboards and lists of things that needed to be completed to keep everyone on task and focused on what needed to be achieved. Pair programming was used and was found extremely beneficial in keeping the amount of work rolling ahead at a good pace and the work being put out of a much better quality. Students also took to heart that they wanted to make a product that they could be proud of that looked good, felt good to use and solved problems they themselves had as users of Facebook. Everyone had such good communication that they always new what their teammates where up to and kept on task so the job got done in their extremely limited amount of time and all the students were happy with the results.
We are very thankful for Atlassian’s donations, time and support as well as our other sponsors who made NCSS possible especially for students who had to buy plane tickets and had extra costs getting here. It was a great opportunity and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the huge learning experience.