This semester the co-op students at Zero Gravity Labs attended TribalScale’s TakeOver Innovation Conference and shared their takeaways here.
Welcome To TakeOver
This summer, the co-op students at Zero Gravity Labs had the chance to attend TribalScale’s second TakeOver Innovation conference. The conference was a day long, and featured exceptional speakers from a variety of organizations. They ran enlightening talks, workshops, and demos throughout the entire day, covering the topic of innovation in every way imaginable. I think we speak for everyone when we say the the conference was extremely well-organized, and we all took away some new ideas that we can apply at work or in our own lives. Here are the co-ops’ main takeaways from TakeOver 2018.
The Power of Pair Programming
Walking into a presentation about pair programming, I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew nothing about the methodology, let alone its appeal and benefits (of which there are plenty). The presenter started off explaining the basics of pair programming, and the premise was simple: two people code on the same computer at all times. One monitor, two mice, and two keyboards. The concept was that by having two sets of eyes and two brains thinking about every problem means, the solutions that are produced would be more robust and more efficient. At that point I thought to myself why the presenter, who was a seasoned software engineer, decided to book a whole presentation time slot at a premium Toronto tech conference to talk about something so simple to a crowd of other seasoned software engineers. You could hear his passion about the topic in his voice. He was selling pair programming like he was selling a car, and he was doing it well.
He outlined the fact that although the term pair programming is often heard in the industry, it is often misunderstood, and very rarely used. One of the biggest misconceptions is that code production would be significantly slower if the company distributes their engineers in such a way. Logically, it would make sense that pair programming would be 100% slower. But in fact, according to research done by the University of Utah in Salt Lake City it is found that pair programming is only 15% slower. However, it also results in 15% fewer bugs. This is a trade that many companies would take as the time required to fix the additional 15% of bugs may even cost more than the 15% of time initially saved. He told a joke about those who are reluctant to adopt pair programming:
A: “But if all of our programmers are pairing, won’t they write half as much code?” B: “No, hopefully they’ll write even less than that”
But wait! There’s more. The benefits do not stop there. By employing pair programming, at least two people would have touched every line of code. This way, if coder 1 happens to be away, or if he/she moved to a different company, coder 2 could still answer to any questions that the rest of the company has about the code. Putting two eggs in two different baskets would allow the company to better retain information about the code base.
Additionally, in terms of hiring new people, it becomes really quick and easy for the company to validate if a new hire is a good fit for the company. Getting feedback from the employee who is pairing with the new hire, rotating the pairs, and gathering more feedback provides management with a trustworthy mechanism to identify if a new employee has the capacity to succeed in the role, thus allowing the company to act accordingly in a timely manner to keep the efficiency of the office at an optimum.
For me, in my reference point as a co-op student, the most appealing benefit of pair programming is the opportunity to be paired with someone who is better than myself and being able to learn from those who are more experienced by being completely immersed in his/her process. Full-times pairing with co-ops would be a huge benefit to the company because co- ops will learn much faster and become a full-fledged contributing member in a shorter amount of time, while the full-timers can potentially gather new ideas from the co-ops’ fresh and creative mindset. Creating this synergistic environment within the workplace really fosters fast growth by way of close collaboration and open-mindedness, which to me sounds like the ideal condition for innovation to brew.
All in all, I was converted. As soon as I got back, I started pair programming with my fellow co- op and we definitely felt the boost in efficiency. We were making fewer mistakes and were keeping each other on track. As a result, we were able to produce a working prototype of a new project within the span of just three days. Pair programming works. I’m excited for you to try it out and see for yourself!
Inclusion = Innovation
Among the many talks, panels, and workshops at TakeOver 2018, the “Work it, Flip it, Reverse it” lightning talk session was one that stood out for me. This session featured four inspiring female leaders who were not only pushing the barriers of technology, but also using it to empower others.
Jodi Kovitz opened the talk with a presentation on #MoveTheDial, an organization she founded last year. #MoveTheDial works to increase the presence of women in the Canadian tech ecosystem through a variety of channels. As a woman working in technology, it can sometimes be discouraging to read statistics about female participation in this field, but it was uplifting to hear from somebody who is actively trying to change this in my own city.
Next, we heard from Eveline Buchatskiy, who works for One Way Ventures, a venture capital firm that focuses on immigrant-founded startups. She highlighted how it makes sense to fund startups led by immigrants because these are statistically the most successful – 51% of unicorn companies were founded by immigrants! She brought up the fact that immigrants tend to have certain traits that lend themselves well to starting a business, such as grit and perseverance.
The next two speakers both focused on the topic of the changing nature of workplaces. Lori Casselman from League was next on the stage and spoke about the many changing facets of the working environment, and specifically about how as things evolve, we need to ensure that employees receive the proper health benefits. Finally, Sarah Stovold from IMI International spoke about how a new generation means a new workplace. Millenials have different needs, habits, and lifestyles than the previous working group, so companies need to adapt if they want to attract talent.
Although these talks didn’t necessarily reveal new applications of cutting-edge technologies, or introduce a secret recipe for innovation, I think the theme here was much more important. These four women each discussed how they are working to increase inclusivity and improve workplaces, whether it’s throughout the entire tech industry or in individual companies. I don’t think we can achieve the full potential of technology without having everyone involved, and these women are working to make that happen.
Love the Problem, not the Solution
During the Takeover Conference, an unforgettable moment for me was when E-sight restored the vision of a girl who was suffering from visual impairment. The company gifted her E-sight glasses which allowed the visually impaired to see. Witnessing this life changing experience reminded me of a quote from earlier in the conference, when Bloomberg’s Jessica Hatch articulated that in order to innovate you “must be in love with solving the problem, not the solution”. It was at this moment that I realized how relevant and important this message truly was. During the presentation, I could see the gratification felt by the E-sight employees, as their hard work had come to fruition. The employees were truly passionate about this problem space and worked extremely hard to ensure success. This presentation proved that innovation must focus on a definitive objective to become successful.
This theme of focusing on the problem and not the solution was prevalent throughout the entire conference. All the speakers on the panels had identified a particular problem and found the correct emerging technology to derive a solution. A cautionary tale was explained where companies invest an exorbitant amount of money on an innovative project but are victim to either falling in love with their first solution or pivoting so much they forget about the original problem. It was further stressed that innovation does not consist of using as many emerging technologies as possible but instead its about using the correct technology to solve the problem. E-Sight is a perfect example of innovating correctly as their solution is extremely effective. Their product consists of using cameras and screens to project the surroundings to the user which is a practical solution. E-Sight did not require AR, AI, or blockchain technology to successfully solve their problem, yet it is evident that they did innovate. From the conference, I learned that it is not what technology to use, but how that technology is used to solve the problem that is most important.
The co-ops and I have now adopted this new way of thinking when tackling our project at ZGL. Before the conference, our team would brainstorm a variety of ideas based solely on the types of technologies we wanted to work on. The end user was far from our minds when deliberating. Furthermore, we would continuously add features that seemed appealing, while neglecting the very people who would use our app. Fortunately, the conference helped bring our team back on track. By using the knowledge gained from the conference, our project has narrowed in scope to a specific user group and we always keep the target customer in mind when prototyping. I think it is fair to say our team is now truly innovating.