Our journey with CodeClan has led us a long way since the initial idea of providing the digital academy’s students with a real-life project to work on. We have had the pleasure of taking on four cohorts so far since July 2018 to build the foundations of our platform theArena17. There have been exciting challenges along the way and many ‘sprint’ brainstorming sessions have taken place with whiteboard sketches, wireframe designs, and post-it notes to capture ideas. Of course, to implement the ever-evolving vision was a plethora of code that required to be understood and added to as each new cohort arrived.
Recently, we have reached an important milestone in this journey, the magical ‘MVP’ (Minimum Viable Product), which in simple terms, reviews some options available for organisations to save money and energy and estimates their impact. Note the term, minimum, we have a whole host of plans to expand this to other resources such as water and waste, as well as measure the impact of contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and ways to improve!
Given this brilliant step forward, it’s time to reflect on how we have got here and look at what’s to come. Therefore, we are going to take a trip down memory lane to recap on the progress and process of each cohort as we found everyone works differently, even ourselves week after week. After that, it would only be fitting to recognise the progress of CodeClan and their wonderful placement program, be sure to get in touch with them for more information and explore some opportunities for yourself. Finally, we will reveal a sneak peek of what’s in store this year for theArena17!
Cohort 1 – So, how do we start?
Mike Heneghan, Claire Connachan and Simon Atkins
Our first cohort and what a way to begin. Mike, Claire and Simon really set the bar high with their commitment to the project and had the pleasure and pain of being first. This worked fantastically in some areas as they had a blank slate to work from and knew how everything functioned as it was entirely theirs. However, being first meant putting in all the legwork to write each and every line of code from scratch, rather than building upon something existing. The Beyond Green team also had to understand what is achievable in five days and so our biggest takeaway point was to prioritise and have a clear plan! After a fantastic week, we had simple energy spend input boxes, a series of back-end calculations leading to an estimated energy and carbon performance, and some potential options to improve displayed on a fixed graph.
Cohort 2 – The world of graphs and charts.
Yang Chen and Ruairidh Grass
The next cohort built upon the first’s and faced many different challenges. The first was to explore the existing code and make sense of it all, which we learned took time but was worth doing right. The scope of this project would be to improve some graph functionality and begin to explore how to represent performance in areas outwith the world of energy. This included gender equality, access to green space, active travel etc. which would be compared to the national average. Radar charts and sliders were the answer and Yang and Ruairidh built some very impressive visuals, particularly working as a two-man band. We discovered along the way that our data required manipulating to ensure consistency and help the user experience so there was a lot of testing and re-calculation required. Our biggest takeaway point from this cohort was to spread the five days of work over two weeks to help manage the student’s commitments such as job interviews (no surprises that there were a few of these given the skills they gained during the academy course). This also helped with reflecting on ideas and processes to come back strong the next working day.
Cohort 3 – Functionality over all else.
Mike Thorpe, Kirstin Ryan and Patrycja Graczyk
Making good use of our takeaway points from previous cohorts, we refocussed the project into a tool that could function fully on its own. That meant having clear input boxes and an understanding of what the user is to expect at each stage, all back-end calculations working correctly, and, the ability to select improvement options and see the benefit relative to the organisations starting position. You would then be able to submit these choices directly to Beyond Green with contact information so we could follow up. In order to achieve this involved a great deal of understanding the existing code and refactoring it to restructure its architecture so that it had a solid foundation and could easily be added upon. What we were left with was a simple tool that did what we wanted; user inputs energy spend; user understands current consumption and environmental impact; user views opportunities with their relative impacts and selects those of interest; user submits choices with contact information to Beyond Green. Now, whilst this functioned as we wanted, it had the appearance of a monochrome spreadsheet slapped onto a screen, not the most inviting (and those were the cohort’s words!). Not to worry, we had a plan. Mike Thorpe to the rescue.
Mike’s Solo Mission
In the weeks leading to Christmas, we sought the help of Mike from the latest cohort. He had a job lined up in early 2019 and some time to bring theArena17 to life before that started! We took Mike on board for two weeks full time to improve the visuals. Lots more ‘sprints’ took place to design how each page should look and Mike got to put his CSS skills to use (plenty of on the job learning here). We were hugely impressed with the outcome and very grateful to Mike for helping us across the line with something we could proudly show off. Mike also came along to our Christmas party as he really became part of the team in that short space of time.
Cohort 4 – “Do you think we could just add this?”
Ana Martinez, Oksana Richards and Thomas Gracie
With Mike’s contribution, we felt we had something solid, something that worked. Now, we wanted to add a few more features and have that user experience nice and smooth. Ana, Oksana and Thomas took this challenge and split up to tackle a page each. Some extra features included reactive graphs that compared similar opportunities and switched between metrics (cost savings or payback period). There were plenty of text alterations, user instructions being made clear and concise, tweaks here and there to images, as well as an improved introduction to theArena17’s purpose, origins and direction. There was a brilliant attitude of ‘let’s just try’ from the students who would go away to research how to achieve a task and come back with a solution more often than not. As you can imagine, this quickly led to more and more requests which we had to reign in and remind ourselves of what we learned right at the start, prioritise!
We have a huge amount of gratitude for CodeClan for testing the idea of a commercial placement. They have been able to expand this experience with their students and in February 2019 are about to send their 20th group of students to work with charities, NGOs and ethical enterprises.
As a business in this modern era, we have recognised the need to utilise technology in order to more effectively offer our services in a scalable manner. Our experience with CodeClan has been fantastic in supporting this transformation and we look forward to continuing the journey with them. The quote below sums this journey up nicely:
We love working with Beyond Green and are inspired by how they leverage their existing knowledge and resources with the use of technology, develop new skills and prepare for digital transformation
Dr. Pawel Orzechowski Lead Instructor CodeClan
What does the future hold?
The progress we have made with CodeClan has been wonderful to see. With our recent successful Innovate UK grant application, we are very excited to build on the work of the 11 students by taking the platform to the next level. The aim of the grant is to support the development of a platform that translates data collected in cloud accounting systems for businesses to quickly and reliably find the best way to reduce costs from resource efficiency, and to evidence their contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.