SEPnet’s Software Bootcamp

QMUL School of Physics & Astronomy is a partner of the South East Physics network (SEPnet) and on 13-14 June we organised and hosted a Software Bootcamp at QMUL’s Mile End campus. The event was attended by students from many of the SEPnet partner universities. The aim of the bootcamp was to equip students with technical skills whilst giving them an insight to the industry of web development. Sean Cooper, 3rd year MSci Physics student at QMUL shares his experience of being thrown in the deep end of programming and what he learned.

The weekend before last I attended SEPnet’s notorious Software Bootcamp. Wait…let’s jump back a month: it’s a warm Monday afternoon, too warm may I add to be sitting in the library for what may as well be the thousandth consecutive day, and I’m studying with a couple of friends for our upcoming Nuclear Physics exam. Suddenly, one of them mentions some ‘coding workshop’ that everyone but me seems to know about. I jump on my mail app and fire off an email. Apparently, I should learn to check my emails more often. These kinds of events are especially popular among my peers and it’s no wonder that I didn’t get a place. I did however get put on a waiting list and after a few more weeks I got a second chance at applying for a ticket. Alas, I was at my cousin’s wedding, but that ticket will be mine yet. Now, if you read the first line of this paragraph then you can probably guess what happened next: third time lucky I suppose.

SoftwareBootcamp_Crop5 (2)

The Event

Ben Evans, co-founder of jClarity, hosted the workshop. I had never heard of Ben before, but there was one thing that I knew for sure the moment I saw him: this man has a fantastic head of hair. It soon became obvious that Ben had done this whole public speaking shebang before; he quickly gained the room’s full attention. Among the plethora of subjects that were touched on we covered:

  • The origin story of Unix operating systems.
  • Command line programming in Unix (Bash).
  • An introduction to Python.
  • The Agile software development methodology.
  • Git, GitHub and how to use repositories.

Of these topics, I definitely found the Unix stuff the most useful. The internet is full of great resources for learning about Unix but many of them assume some basic knowledge. Ben did a great job of introducing us to the subjects without assuming the patronising tone that many of the online resources do. He weaved interesting anecdotes into his explanations and gave a good grounding from which we could go on to build a more concrete understanding.

The Inside Approach

Ben, and his colleagues who helped throughout the weekend, didn’t just bring their skillset with them, but also their real world experience. I found it really interesting to see how people who work in industry would approach problems and suggest solutions. Often, when people give talks to students about working in industry, it feels as if there is some impenetrable barrier between our world and theirs. This weekend tore down that barrier and I was able gain a real insight into what it’s like to be a software developer. These two-day workshops really do allow you to make a more personal connection with the presenter, something that was far more useful to me than the skills that I learned. SEPnet and the careers department at Queen Mary University of London always do a fantastic job organising events like this one. They help students find internships, give them the chance to fund their own projects, and offer invaluable real world advice. I’ve definitely had more of my fair share of these opportunities; I even received funding to start my science outreach project ScienceNation. If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt from this weekend, it’s that I am 100% going to be attending the next one.

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