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Mission to Mars successfully launched in October 2017 - Software Cornwall

Mission to Mars participants

In October Software Cornwall opened its doors to 20 budding software developers for a Mission to Mars. Over four days participants formed startups, each with the goal of winning a contract to develop software for the Mars Rover robots. Using the C programming language, the objective was to get Ada and Alan, the robots, to complete an incrementally difficult set of challenges. Only then can the terraforming of the Martian surface begin.

Hosted at the Bluefruit office in Redruth, the experience offered a glimpse into professional software development. To propel the development cycle forwards, Agile project management techniques were used. Retrospectives at the end of each day facilitated reflection upon the work completed, allowing the teams to spot inefficiencies and highlight change for the remaining days. This rapid feedback mechanism informed changes to the team’s approach to the tasks and dynamics within the team.

Alongside Agile, a raft of professional software development tools and practices were experienced.

  • Git version control
  • Mob programming
  • Test Driven Development (TDD)
  • Physical prototyping
  • Presenting their end product to investors

Code had to be checked in using Git, one of the more popular version control tools. The teams coded as a Mob programming troupe during the week, swapping drivers on a regular basis. This ensured that existing skills were shared amongst team members and the whole team to be involved in the evolving solution. One of the new mentors, a professional software developer, was surprised at just how much professional elements were included in the week.

Matt Cosby Goonhilly

On Wednesday, the group received a visit from Matt Cosby, Director of Space Engineering at Goonhilly Earth Station. With his code currently sitting on the Martian surface, his experience added an element of realism to the week. Goonhilly and the potential spaceport both being in Cornwall, the county is perfectly positioned to offer digital careers in the space industry. It was also mentioned that projects within the sector are financed years in advance, currently reaching as far as 2028. This could offer a long-lasting and rewarding career for anyone who takes up the challenge.

This was the first Mission to Mars to run as part of Software Cornwalls revamped education offering. While the inherited program is well established, a few tweaks based on feedback from past participants and parents. It was expressed that more professional skills could be included. To this end, the teams developed their presentation over the week through a series of workshops, practicing distinct elements independently before joining them for the weeks’ crescendo. Given that this is many of the participants first experience of public speaking, and some suffered from high anxiety, it was a good way to make it as positive an experience as possible.

The new education programme from Software Cornwall was established to help provide a pathway into software development for young adults in Cornwall. As the first at scale event we’ve held, it was interesting to talk to participants to gauge their digital journeys direction. Each one had a different endpoint in their mind. Over the coming years, working with numerous partners across Cornwall, the hope is that these directions will lead them to a career working with technology in Cornwall or beyond.

If you’re interested in applying for a future Mission or similar activity, join our education outreach mailing list or keep an eye out for us on Twitter and Facebook.

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