Friday, June 14, 2013

Hanging with coders in Trinidad & Tobago

We met at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad Campus

I never regret meeting up with the real people on the ground to get a pulse of what's up. Today* I had a meetup with a few persons from Trinidad's tech scene. Including +Kyle E. deFreitas, a teaching assistant in the Computer Science Department of the University of the West Indies St. Augustine, +Vani Kalloo a PhD student at UWI, Moodle guru +Anil Ramnanan who works at UWI's Open Campus and was a participant in Google Summer of Code, Kenfield Griffith and Crystal Peters of mSurvey. I decided to borrow +Shannon Clarke's "tell us your worst or most interesting developer experience" approach.

* note: it was Today on the day that I started this post, it is now many days later. I've decided not to alter it.
Vani is a PhD candidate in the Computer Science Department, she's working on game content for teaching maths. Her biggest fear is related to live demos going wrong, while she didn't get into specifics most of us knew exactly the type of thing she was talking about. If there's any consolation it might be that even Bill Gates' Traf-O-Meter was a failed demo before Microsoft found their feet. I also wondered if there might be some synergy between here work and what Edufocal is doing in Jamaica

Vani and Kyle

Kyle de Freitas shared with us about an initiative that he was involved with to develop "apps for the benefit of Trinidad and Tobago" (my words, I probably got some details wrong). For various reasons they deployed to Google app engine (GAE). The platform was new for all involved and this brought the usual learning curve related challenges, additionally they had to figure out (or are still figuring out) how ensure that the project will live after the initial work, one of his concerns was whether they would find expertise with the GAE related skillset to continue the development afterwards.

Kyle who is orginally from St. Vincent also runs a small company called Knowledge Hope (I really like the name) with 3 directors. Finally he mentioned a group called "Code Jammers" which in summary "encourages people to do great things" so far members of the group have placed in almost every [app/technology] competition they've partipated in.

Crystal (centre) and Kenfield (to the right) (yeah it's a bad pic)

Crystal Peters and Kenfield Griffith are part of the mSurvey team that develops tools for mobile data collection, their solution is used beyond the shores of Trinidad and Tobago as far as Kenya.

Kenfield's scary developer moment was related to a system that he developed in his earlier life as a which effectively overloaded Google's email servers at the time. The solution did a lot of parsing on the headers in SMTP messages.

Anil (in the foreground) (another bad pic)

Anil Ramnaran works with the Moodle Learning Management System platform and was tasked with creating a system that works in parallel with Moodle to integrate student registration and other academic administrative activities more tightly with Moodle (again, I may have some details incorrect). I certainly know who to reach out to once I need to do tinkering with the Moodle API.

David Bailey (right)

+David Bailey joined us later on in the meetup, he works with Infolink Services Ltd. which exists to allow the national inter-bank ABM systems to communicate properly with each other (fun job). He also does programming with mSurvey. He shared with us the challenges (not Infolink specific, in case his employer is reading this) of dealing with inheriting an existing system and grappling with whether to start from scratch or to extend said system. Often a system can be so straight jacketed that starting from scratch is faster than discovering and extending the existing system. Documentation may be a solution to the "starting from scratch" issue and Anil advocated for proper use of version control and David suggested further that developers should "put the documentation in the code".

Limited Customer Imaginations

David also raised the issue of customers' limited imaginations limiting projects which I totally get. If you as a developer have been around and are in tune with new developments you probably have a broader view of what is possible. Limiting your deliverables to what the customer imagines can be a bit of a straight jacket. When possible you really should find ways to convince customers not to hold on too tightly to ideas and to favour outcomes instead.

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