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Alan Chung

Computer Science with a year in industry at GotFocus Solutions as a Mobile Developer


A New Year

Monday 14th October 2013

I'm back. My placement is over and I'm here at the university again for one more year.

Of course as it's my final year I have to do a project and dissertation. The project I've chosen is on improving the Java Formal Languages and Automata Package, otherwise known as JFLAP. It's a piece of teaching software that's used in first year Computer Science. I also used it my first year, so I at least have at least some idea of what I'm dealing with.

The first thing I did was to attempt to forecast how busy I'm going to be for the year, and I have to say it looks pretty tough. I've got two open assessments and the final stages my project all happening at the same time towards the end of the Spring term. I'm going to try and get stuff done early so it doesn't all stack up. I'm aware it's easier said than done though.

But it's not all doom and gloom! Being back at university means my timetable is more flexible for making the most of my time outside of work, specifically with the Juggling Society. The freshers' fair and the first couple of sessions were all pretty busy which is a good sign, and hopefully we'll have a lot of new regular members.

Now for a shameless plug: come and learn all kinds of circus skills (not just juggling!) in Hendrix Hall 7-9pm on Thursdays and Sundays! http://www.yusu.org.jugglesoc

Done. No shame whatsoever.

Two Weeks Left

Sunday 30th June 2013

I've only got two more weeks left at my placement with GotFocus Solutions. It's all gone so fast, yet at the same time I've experienced so much since starting that it feels like I've been here a lot longer than a year.

My most recent work has been the iCrick app for iPhone and iPad. It's a cricket coaching app with the aim of helping users improve their cricketing techniques through professionally made videos from Andrew Gale and Tim Bresnan. I'm pretty pleased with how it's turned out given the fact that I know basically nothing about cricket. Plus, apart from some of the imported libraries, I was responsible for virtually all the code. We've even had some good feedback from the public. You can find the app at gfms.co/icrickapp



The next placement student, Ali, came to the office for a few days last week to get a feel for what the job would be like. I showed him the ropes and guided him through some of the code I was working on. It's odd to think that I was in the same position as Ali only a year ago. I was aware that when guiding him through some of the code, some of it would be obsolete by the time he gets going because of the upcoming release of iOS 7, which as you may know seems drastically different from iOS as we know it currently. I've already tried compiling some of our current code for the new OS and what can I say... it should be a good learning experience for Ali when it's released. I'm going to stop there before the people at Apple come and kill me for saying too much about it.

So all in all I'd say this year has been a great experience. It'll be a strange feeling going back to uni in September. I'm not sure what else to say, so here's a picture of Stitch trying to distract me from work.

Ludicrous Endurance Challenges: Episode 2 and a half

Monday 17th June 2013

In my last post I was telling the story of how my colleagues and I all nearly died from walking nearly 30 miles in a day on our journey along the length of Hadrian's Wall. Here I am once again to continue the story. There was no time for feeling sorry for ourselves as we had another 50 or so miles to left to go.

I began day two feeling astonishingly refreshed considering what we'd put ourselves through on the previous day. (That said, I still felt pretty rubbish.) During the day we actually got to see some of Hadrian's Wall which was a nice surprise, as had been no sign of it since the few blocks of stone back in Newcastle.

When it began to get dark, we took to the roads so we could actually navigate. This proved to be the bane of my existence - my knees and hips were not enjoying the hard surface of the road at all. I ended up trailing quite a long way behind the group. To make matters worse, it had begun to snow pretty badly. I felt like the protagonist in some hilariously depressing B-movie. We then thought we'd overshot our destination which was just about the worst news we could have asked for at that point. Luckily we hadn't, and we made it to the hostel before the worst of the blizzard hit.

So what did day three have in store for us? The answer: snowdrifts and some rather steep sections of path. We ended up almost climbing the route at certain points. Then disaster struck as one of the team began to suffer from shin splints and could go no further. As we were in the middle of nowhere, we made our way to a nearby farmhouse to procure a phone number for a taxi. On our way to our destination it was discovered that the hotel was in a different town a good few miles out of the way of where we thought we were going. I think we were all grateful for the taxi ride for that reason. Making the most of the break that afternoon, we spent the rest of the day playing dominoes and cards like a bunch of old folk.

We set off on the final day of the expedition without Shaun, who decided it would be best to let his shins recover. We bade him farewell and soldiered on. The terrain for the final leg of the journey was actually fairly flat and forgiving. We arrived in Carlisle at about 4pm with plenty of time to catch the train home.

So overall, as crazy as it sounds, I would actually recommend the walk along Hadrian's Wall. Just don't try and do it in four days unless you've trained for it for months in advance. Also, if you can, take the next day off work. We were all feeling terrible in the office the next day and productivity was at an all-time low. Happy fun times! See you in the next blog.

Ludicrous Endurance Challenges: Episode 2

Saturday 18th May 2013

If you thought the last endurance challenge was stupid, think again.

At the beginning of the year, Craig announced that he wanted to walk the length of Hadrian's Wall at the end of March and invited the rest of the team to go with him. Agreeing that this would be a fantastic achievement, we agreed to join him in the 84 mile walk across the country which would take place over 4 days in March.

The walk began at Wallsend in Newcastle, with the aim of getting to Bowness-on-Solway by the end of Sunday. We decided to travel up from Yorkshire to Newcastle on the morning of the start of the walk to avoid having to spend an extra night in a hotel. Of course this meant I had to be up and ready to leave York at 4am.

By 8am, after collecting everyone in the car and numerous traffic delays, we were finally ready to begin the first 26-mile leg of the journey at Wallsend. After this shaky start we were on our way, which also happened to be the wrong way. It was a whole mile before we realised our surroundings didn't match those described in the guide book. So we retraced our steps and found the start of the route again, heading in the right direction this time.

We powered our way through the rest of the morning with no trouble at all. After navigating our way out of Newcastle we reached a muddy path close to the river that slowed us down considerably. This is where the trouble began. To our horror this was also at the bottom of a rather steep hill, upon which stood Heddon-on-the-Wall, our lunch break stop. By 3pm we had reached the top of the hill and found a tea room where we refuelled ourselves and got our bearings. This was when we discovered the pub where we were staying for the night (still 10 miles away) stopped serving at 8pm. Our hearts sank. There was no way we were going to make it.

I don't remember much of the afternoon, except that we walked the next 10 miles along roads, without stopping. We reached Corbridge by about 8:30pm and found our pub. We then had to walk down another street to find another pub that was still serving food. It may have been just down the street, but it felt like the longest street in existence.

The food at the pub was absolutely amazing. Despite this, we were all feeling utterly terrible and had completely lost our appetites. I sat through the whole meal unable to move my legs thanks to unbearable cramp. I'm not sure how I managed to make it back to the first pub and up the stairs to my room, but I did. I slept like a baby that night.

That was the end of day 1 of the walk.

Ludicrous Endurance Challenges: Episode 1

Wednesday 17th April 2013

Hello peeps. Time for a blog post. This one and the next will be about the downright cruel stuff I've willingly put myself through so far on my placement.

The first challenge took place in December. Since the weight of client work was steadily increasing and we hadn't done any of our own apps for a while, Craig took inspiration from other small development teams and decided that it would be a good idea to put all other work aside for 24 hours and build a complete app from start to finish in a day in a coding marathon. We heard that other people had achieved some great results from doing things like this, and we were up for a challenge, so three of us agreed to join Craig on his somewhat ambitious endeavour.

Starting at midday, we spent one hour brainstorming ideas and storyboarding an app that could work. In the end we decided on a flight control style game for iOS, that was to be Christmas themed and out on the App Store before the iTunes Connect Christmas break. The aim of the game was to direct the steady stream of Santa's elves to their sleighs without letting any of them crash into each other. The game would get progressively more difficult with special elves and bonuses being unlocked along the way. It was beginning to look doable.

By 8pm, when the other half of the team had long since left, it was time to get the pizzas in. We had the basic app structure there, and the fundamental game mechanics were well under way. Spirits were high.

By midnight, a fair few yawns had crept up on us. The office was getting very cold as the heating was off and it was the middle of winter. We were okay though; we had the electric heater. We could get this done in 12 more hours.

2am. Development and design work had slowed down significantly. Venturing downstairs to the loo required additional layers of clothing as it was perishingly cold in the corridors. Confidence was slipping.

3:30am. I hadn't written a useful line of code in about an hour. Even simple problems were a huge effort to work out and fix. Rate of work was basically zero.

4:15am. Morale hit rock bottom. We were all feeling utterly terrible.

4:30am. Eat some of that cold pizza. Maybe that will improve things.

7am. Received a phone call from Andy offering to bring us breakfast. Everyone felt awful and declined the offer.

9am. The sensible half of the team arrived fresh and ready for a brand new day of work. We coding marathon participants sat hunched over our desks, huddled in our coats. The app was nowhere near finished.

11:30am. Time to call it a day. We are never going to get this finished and out to the app store in half an hour.

Sadly the app was never finished, and it still sits incomplete in our SVN repository. Perhaps it will come out of retirement for next Christmas...

Comparatively non-work related things

Wednesday 20th February 2013

As the title suggests, in this post I think I'll write about some comparatively non-work related things.

As you probably know, it snowed rather badly several weeks ago, forcing me to walk to and from the train station in the mornings and evenings. I have had trouble getting to and from GotFocus before, when we had severe flooding a few months ago. This is something I've had to get used to. It all sounds rather horrific, but it's not too bad really. The walking made a nice change, and it got me talking to fellow commuters who catch the same train to work in Knaresborough. I know, talking to people on a train seems controversial at first - perhaps even a little crazy - but having a chat with the strangers you see every day really helps to break the repetitiveness of the morning commute.

In other news we had a bit of a rearrangement and redecorating of the office, complete with new furniture. We now have a nice little coffee table and sofa, and some shelving to house all the books and cuddly toys lying around the office. We've also spruced up some of the walls with scaled-up versions of Space Invaders and Asteroids. (Not playable, sadly.)

When I've not been at work I've managed to stay involved with the Juggling Society at the university as well, though I handed over my Treasurer role to someone new a couple of weeks ago. Noteworthy JuggleSoc things I've recently been busy with include Chocfest (York's annual juggling and chocolate cake convention!), fire juggling for a wedding in Museum Gardens in York, and helping out with the organisation of the 2013 British Juggling Convention taking place in April.

So, if you're going on placement and you're worried about having to work 9 - 5 every day with the stress of work constantly looming over you, you should know that you will still have time to let your hair down and be a normal student. Or a cake-eating fire-juggling loon who talks on trains.

Frogs, Fireworks & Farmers

Monday 7th January 2013

Hello, it's blog time again and I mentioned in the last post that I'd be writing about this frog game and some of the other things I've been doing at GotFocus Solutions.

First thing I'll say is that while I've been here I've worked on a lot of different things, and sometimes the schedule can get super busy. I could be working on a different app every day of the week. I could be developing one app for weeks at a time. I could be releasing three apps in a day. There's really no time to be sitting around with nothing to do!

The first thing I did after Costcutter was the Lily Pad Band game (inspired by the 1980s hit single 'We All Stand Together' by Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus), for iPhone and iPad. The idea was to have a choir of frogs sitting in a pond, and to have each frog sing a different musical note when it's tapped. With the help of background music the user would be able to play tunes by tapping each frog in different sequences. As we wanted the game to appeal to children of all ages we kept the idea simple and decided that there would be no predefined objective or Guitar Hero-esque madness. It would simply be an entertaining little app to experiment and play around with.

Sadly we haven't been working on it for a while as the schedule has since been filled with other work. Notable things filling the schedule have been the apps ImageIT and CheckIT, allowing farmers to make photographic analyses of their crops and compare images to help determine nutrient deficiencies; a new playable character for Firework Fever, an iOS game for bonfire night originally written by the previous placement student; a carbon footprint calculator for the Church of England; student sign-up apps for The Economist, Morrisons and Virgin Media; a fun festive app for Boofle, the little hand-knitted dog you can find in Clinton Cards; plus a plethora of other apps.

Although the schedule is incredibly busy at the moment, the frogs will no doubt make their return when the time comes.

Learning the Ropes

Wednesday 5th December 2012

Hello!

As promised, this time I'm going to write a bit about what I got up to after actually starting at GotFocus Solutions.

My first few days were spent shadowing Richard, the previous placement student. At the time of my arrival he was actually the company's lead Android programmer - proof that being a placement student doesn't mean being shoved in a corner to make cups of tea!

Richard would be leaving in 3 days and I was told that I'd be taking up the role of Android developer until someone more permanent was hired, so I had to learn as much as I possibly could while Richard was still around. On top of that, the company had just taken on the responsibility of creating an app for Costcutter, on Android and iOS. So that was pretty daunting. Even more proof that being a placement student doesn't mean being shoved in a corner to make cups of tea!

Luckily an Android developer arrived within a couple of days which took the pressure off. He had a lot more experience with Android, though I was more familiar with object-oriented design patterns (Android apps are written in Java) so it was great to share our ideas and help each other out.

The app would have a store finder, special offers, a shopping list functionality, and a page to let users enter competitions. Future versions of the app would have a click-to-buy service for their customers.

We persevered with the Costcutter app for a couple of weeks until we could go no further; we ended up having to wait for the guys at Costcutter to write their web services. In the meantime I moved on to a fun little iOS game involving frogs and music!

Next time I'll be writing about the frog game and some of the other projects I've been working on at GotFocus.

Bye for now!

P.S. I know I keep saying that being a placement student doesn't mean being shoved in a corner to make cups of tea, but the fact is I do happen to have my desk in the corner of the office and I do happen make cups of tea. I assure you it's purely coincidental.

Pre-Placement Preparations!

Tuesday 27th November 2012

Hi again! Today I'm going to talk about the time in between getting my placement and actually starting. I realise I haven't really said anything about what I do at work yet - that can wait until next time - but I can tell you now that making preparations before starting work will help you massively, as I found out.

So after securing the placement I agreed to go and visit GotFocus towards the end of the Autumn term. So one sunny Wednesday morning I hopped on the train to Knaresborough to go and see them. I'm still living in York and getting to work is pretty easy (provided the trains are running)! I normally cycle to York station, take my bike on the train and cycle down the hill in Knaresborough to the office. In total it takes under an hour.

I arrived in the office and was welcomed back by the team. They showed me one of the children's story books they were working on at the time: A Not-So Fading Light (now available on the Apple App Store!) It features some impressive 2D physics, a sprite engine and a multi-channel sound mixer among other things. Who knew something as simple as a children's story could be so technically diverse? It was great to familiarise myself with the office while I was there too, and play with Stitch (the dog). Another other reason for the visit was that they had prepared a Mac Mini to take away with me and with familiarise myself with programming for iOS.

For the next few months in between uni lectures, exams and assessments, I took the time to watch the CS193p course lectures from Stanford University on iOS development (you can find them on iTunes U) and build up my knowledge on iOS programming and Objective-C. I can honestly say I don't know what I would have done without it. So speaking from experience, if you ever get the opportunity, visit your placement before you start your work! It'll be worth it.

Next time I'll be talking about the first few days at work and how I (kind of) learned to program for Android in 3 days. But until then, bye for now!

The Interview

Monday 19th November 2012

Hi! I'm Alan. Nice to meet you. :)

I suppose I should give some sort of introduction shouldn't I? I'm a CompSci student at York, in the middle of my year in industry at GotFocus Solutions: a little company based near Harrogate that designs, builds and markets apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows mobile devices. In this blog I'll be giving you a flavour of the sort of thing I do at GotFocus, and life as a student in the big, scary world of work. (It's not that scary really!)

It all began when I was first interviewed almost exactly a year ago. At the time, the company was made up of just 4 people including the current year in industry student, which was a little daunting considering that I'd be making up 25% of the workforce by the time I arrived. So that was pretty scary. I must have done something right though, because a couple of days later I got a message from them inviting me to their office in Knaresborough for a second interview!

The first thing I noticed upon arrival was that everyone else in the office was in jeans and t-shirts. Despite it being a life-altering job interview I suddenly felt horribly overdressed for the occasion. As I entered the office the next thing I experienced was a small dog running around excitedly and bringing all his toys to my feet. This is the moment I realised that this was no ordinary office job.

The interview flew by and before I knew it I was on my way back to York. Just as I stepped through the front door my phone began to ring. It was GotFocus telling me that they were giving me the placement!

But this is just the beginning of my tale...