Industrial engagement: top tips for getting the class out of the classroom
On day #8 of our 2017 Summer Programme (the middle Wednesday), I took our 18-strong class on a trip to Accra, a 2-hour bus journey Southwest along highway 4:
We could barely afford the time – we’ve got a thick curriculum and a strict no-homework policy. The second week is where the magic really happens – we’re building systems on Python and Linux, using our everyday tools like git and GutHub, and starting to work with each other as a class. Day #8 is when I’m wishing we had a couple more weeks!
On the other hand, it’s exactly the right spot to do the community-building work that’s an intrinsic part of a programme like ours. We’re explicitly not lecturing in Computer Science. We’re trying to build intelligent, well-rounded engineers – with a sense of purpose, society, and fun!
19 Go To Accra
The day turned out to be a great success. We visited two successful Ghanaian IT businesses (shoutout to Rancard and Hubtel!) where our students learned about program management, project delivery, and the daily trials and tribulations of a Professional Software Engineer.
Feedback from our students was clustered around three points:
- It was great to get out of class – seriously!
- The tech on display was awesome
- Our hosts were welcoming and responsive, and really great at answering our questions
Let’s take those one at a time:
Into the wild
After a week and a half of code, code, code, it was great to spend some time together as a group. As any teacher knows a two-hour bus journey can be a trial by fire, but the benefits in terms of social cohesion can’t be understated.
We’re very relaxed in class but we figured out some ground rules together – work together but no blind copying; out the door at twelve and four; anyone can speak but everyone must listen. The time we spent together on the bus was much more raucous, lively, fun. I’d thought of making up some fun q&a games – to sneak in some left-field revision, but in the end decided against it. Take some time off, together.
We felt like a tribe because we were wearing our branded t-shirts. Josh had been back and forth between Accra and K’dua buying blanks and designing logos, and his hard work definitely paid off. Firstly, everyone loves a free t-shirt; secondly, it made our hosts lives much easier (I don’t want to say we were a herd of cats, but…) and thirdly we felt like part of a gang – myself included. Definitely a good investment.
Our hosts were serious, well-established comms firms in the Ghanaian capital, and you could tell. Both had their engineers deliver engaging, thought-provoking talks about their projects, careers, and daily lives – then kindly showed us around their offices.
Everyone we met was honest and open about the work they did – from engineers to marketing managers, sales people, and members of the board! We’re so grateful for the time and energy they all gave to us. Thanks Rancard and Hubtel!
For our students, the best part of the day was meeting coders. Can you imagine wanting to be a plumber or a teacher, or a lawyer, but never having met one? Software Engineering is still so new here in Ghana, many of our students have this incredible love for the craft that’s just based on books, blogs, videos and their experiences with the local maker community. For me personally, that’s very humbling, and I wish I could find that drive in my younger self!
The tech on show was amazing – brand new hardware in clean, fresh offices – it was such a driver for our students. And screens full of code – and bash! It was really incredible to be able to relate the work the professionals were doing with the skills we were learning in class, and a real validation of the hard work we were all putting in back in K’dua.
Questions & Answers
Our hosts were phenomenal – I’d like to call our particularly John at Rancard and George at Hubtel. They were patient and kind, encouraging to our class, open and honest about challenges and difficulties they sometimes faced, and above all – they were engineers. We could all relate to them.
Both companies were kind enough not to hit us with a sales pitch, although they both spent time detailing the application process, sharing contact details and giving us the inside scoop on how to find quality work in the field. One of the things we try to concentrate on is solving Ghana’s well-known brain drain, and to show our students that there’s a bright future as a Software Engineer right here in Accra is incredible.
So, how did we do it?
Here are my tips for building a successful, effective day trip into your programme:
- Plan far in advance. It goes without saying, your hosts time and space is valuable. But if you give plenty of notice, and communicate clearly and effectively, you’ll find that people want to support you. Remember the Ben Franklin effect.
- Choose wisely. Don’t pack in too much, and try to find hosts in different fields – we’ll do better at this next year. If you plan far enough in advance you shouldn’t need to overbook, and if you get a last-minute cancellation you can always declare ad-hoc free time.
- Be clear and specific about you and your goals. We told our hosts that we were (1) a group of young, aspiring Software Engineers (2) who were working over our Summer Holiday (3) learning Linux, Python, and professional software skills. We asked to (4) hear from Software Engineers and (5) see the environment they worked in.
- Relax. It’ll be fine.
- Get someone else to pay for the t-shirts. And the bus. And the food.
Learn more about Global Code and our inaugural Summer Programme. We teach Linux, Python, IoT, and practical, professional software engineering skills over 3 weeks every summer. You can help us by getting in touch and buying a Raspberry Pi as a gift to a student.