Softer skills do compute with industry engagement

Students brainstorming ideasBy Dr Bruce Sharlau, Senior Lecturer in Computing Science at the University of Aberdeen.

Dr Bruce Sharlau

I’ve always been interested in the practical side of computing; the ‘how do I use this’ aspect of programming. I want to know how I can use the technology to make an impact on whatever project I’m developing. I carry this through in my teaching so that I find ways to bring the student learning experience closer to what students need to know to work in a software development role after graduation. This means finding ways to bring similar skills and opportunities to students. This has resulted in a range of opportunities that we offer to students.
These vary from using the same tools and technologies as professional developers, to group and individual projects with live clients under the Interface administered Innovation Voucher Scheme.

Using Innovation Vouchers I am able have students work with me to resolve the challenges presented to us by our industrial partners. Now, the student moves beyond a good degree to also include industry experience when they start their career after graduation. The students have stories to tell about working with live clients, and delivering work for these clients. This aids student confidence in phenomenal ways. Many of the students are capable, but they lack confidence in their softer skills, which working with live clients enables.

I have been able to set up the Aberdeen Software Factory with the help of our Research and Innovation unit so that we can pay the students, who work on these projects. This too helps to validate their role and to help them move to career-related work, which adds to their student experience and helps their career. Students who have worked with me on these projects have moved onto successful software development careers both locally and nationally.

As the supervisor of these projects I gain a number of benefits. I gain experience developing larger applications on live projects, which can offer examples and lessons to explain in the classroom. I also gain income from the vouchers too, which enables a number of other opportunities for me to facilitate placement opportunities for students while at software developer and agile conferences, and to find collaborators at academic conferences. These also provide introductions for speakers at events I organise too, which helps participants at those events.

Taking part in the Scottish Funding Council Innovation Vouchers Scheme provides part of a virtuous circle for me. Here is an opportunity to bring students into the real world with live client work, which might also offer lessons for other students in the classroom as we better understand the technology being used. The funds and experience help the students in their career path too. Plus, I gain funds to attend events where I can disseminate my work, while also making connections with others too. And one never knows where those connections will lead. Some have become great friends over the years, others are collaborators on various projects, and others help provide placement opportunities for students. I know that I owe much of my career to what these small pots of money have enabled me to do for my students and me. Thank you everyone at Interface for making this possible.

Innovation Vouchers up to £5,000 can be applied for by universities and research institutes working with businesses (which matches the amount in cash or kind). The scheme is administered by Interface and funded by the Scottish Funding Council. More details can be found at http://www.interface-online.org.uk/how-we-can-help/funding

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *