Launching a startup is, out of necessity,  an exercise in impatience. Whether you start with no money or ten million dollars: if you’re working on it full time a startup has to be successful (or reach levels that allow it to raise money) before it runs out of money. Every founder should have a burning desire to get their product into the hands of reviewers/customers. I think a proper amount of impatience is a good thing. Today I’m going to write a “semester in review” from the perspective of an impatient startup founder.

In a Nutshell

Our recently completed first semester consisted of learning to code (centred around completing three projects), business class, networking, and extracurricular opportunities not specific to UIT or Sydney. I introduced the concept of impatience for a reason: the content need be relevant and at the right pace. Too fast is too fast and too slow is too slow: an impatient startup founder has little time for either. At the end of any non-optimal day or imperfectly relevant assignment the gnawing thought comes unbidden: “could I have made more progress towards my goals elsewhere or on my own?”. But then there are the days where I learn lessons and get support that would have taken a week of work alone! It’s such a tough task UIT has: not only must it teach how to start a startup, but it must do so to an impatient audience. I think I can answer my blog post 2 “Can you learn to launch a startup in school?” in the affirmative but have just identified the bigger challenge for the program and its founder-participants.

Coding

Our coding lessons this semester culminated in three projects: a portfolio, chat app, and SaaS app. I was super excited that I my SaaS app was a rough mvp (minimum viable product) of my startup idea! This was obviously highly relevant and generally learning about the engineering that goes into a site will serve me well while progressing down the founding path. But did I “learn to code” in three months? Certainly I can do some things but I didn’t acquire a full suite of training that would make me employable. This is no failing of UIT.. a bachelors in Computer Science is a 4 year degree for a reason. And I must remember we’re only a third of the way into the course! But overall, is learning to do some coding a perfectly efficient use of my time? As I’ve struggled to learn it this semester I’ve had my moments of doubt. If this is my one foray into the startup world it probably isn’t. If this is the beginning of a process and preparation for a life in startups it probably is a great foundation. The problem is: when you’re starting a startup you believe it will work (and act like it will) but you don’t know what turns the journey will take.

Business Class

It’s been great to have some direction and instruction learning about LEAN canvasses and business models and having a curated feed of business content has been very valuable. This was the part of the program I most eagerly anticipated for the first half of the semester. But again, pace became an issue as I developed the foundation to be able to continue meaningful learning and planning in a more self-directed way.

Networking

Three problems:

  1. We didn’t get a lot of mentor visits this semester. And that’s by design and will change. That’s going to be one of the greatest strengths of this program. Making one amazing connection can turn any aggregated program review score to an eleven out of ten in a hurry. Having this portion of the program come later means I’m more prepared now to take advantage of good connections. I impatiently, but understandingly, say: “Bring it on!”.
  2. I’m in a young cohort with only a few participants really interested in starting a startup so there isn’t a sense of a “shared struggle”. I think this speaks to the need for me to meet some peers (and maybe a cofounder?) in Sydney and elsewhere. I’m probably being impatient as I’ve only just created my mvp, and opportunities are visible on the horizon.
  3. Sydney is in an isolated geographic location relative to our families, and my wife and I have a baby and plans for more. “Should I go to UIT?” was a question I was able to answer affirmatively for the relevant programming. But if we’re not staying in Sydney, am I in the best place to meet the most relevant network that will provide long-term partners, opportunities and support?

Extracurricular Learning

UIT has done a great job introducing me to some relevant local resources that have been wonderfully informative and supportive. The resources available in Sydney are matched only by larger population centres in the Maritimes. I couldn’t be happier with these opportunities but I don’t think they’re unique.

Conclusions

These three months have been a rollercoaster of excitement and doubt but I think that’s what it’s like to start a startup (and travelling in some earlier than usual winter conditions hasn’t helped). Being apart from my wife and young son has added a layer of pressure to make sure the sacrifices are worth it.

One down, two to go! After three and a half months of work class the first semester at UIT is finished. That’s one third of the time I’m going to spend here and I find it absolutely insane that this much time has already passed! Over the course of the first semester we’ve created apps, explored the creation process of a startup and the principals associated with working in a startup environment.

The first major project was to create a portfolio using CSS, HTML and to integrate bootstrap for responsiveness. While CSS and HTML were familiar for me bootstrap was a whole realm of new. Many of the works I’ve done before then used it but I didn’t question how and just kind of rolled with it. It was very nice to learn how it works so I’m able to implement it myself in the future.

After learning CSS and HTML we dove into the vast world of Javascript and JQuery! This is where things really started getting fun! I was able to create things, that actually do things! I learned much from this. One: when things work out its super satisfying. Two: When things don’t work out its massively infuriating to the extent you want to punch a hole in your monitor, run your computers remains over with a truck then proceed to throw them in a blender while chanting around said blender. BUT, when you get past that point and actually solve the issue you’re dealing with. It becomes even more rewarding than it would’ve been had you not encountered any problems.

I’ve learned a great deal about coding in my time at UIT to date. One of the biggest lessons I’ve taken away thus far is that it’s just like anything else. Practice makes perfect. It won’t magically come to you without it. The first app I created was my chat app, a fairly simple idea but also effective. But the app that means more to me is my service app. The idea was a song request management app for DJ’s and eventually automated song queues for bars and clubs. The end result of the project was below my own standards. I was unfortunately busy at the time we were working on the app and I let myself go and the app ended up being minimum. But I’ve since began looking at the code again and plan to work on it and build it into something that could become great. In the new year I’ll be doing some DJ work. So I feel this will be an excellent opportunity to test this app in the real world! I’m think of even maybe building it in Ionic for mobile and have a spate desktop app since the uses of each platform will never interfere because of the way the use is intended.

The takeaway overall this semester for me is simple though. I have to put more effort into my work at every given opportunity because I only get out of UIT what I put into it.

It’s the final week of the semester at UIT. We’ve just finished our final presentations of the year! After we pitched our service apps at the start of December, we were given two weeks to take what we learned, and apply it to our other projects. This last presentation we did was to tie that all together into our portfolios and show off what we’ve achieved this semester.

As I was looking back at my other projects I’d done, such as my portfolio page, and my chat app, I realized how much better I’d gotten at working on web based projects. I’ve been programming for a while before attending UIT, but working on programming projects with actual deadlines was a new experience for me. Working on my own projects meant that I could work on my own time, with no deadlines. I was able to learn how I worked while I had a fixed deadline, which is something that I’ll be doing lots of in the real world.

I’m honestly happy for the most part with how I used the time I had to get things done. I mean, there are times where I’ll procrastinate. But the projects revolve around one of my favourite hobbies: programming. Procrastination usually just means programming something else for a while, and switching between projects to keep from getting bored with one thing.

Portfolio


My new portfolio. I really like how clean it is. Everything’s easy to read.

When I looked at my first portfolio page I made in the first few weeks of UIT, I decided rather than improving what was there, I’d do a better job if I just scrapped the whole thing and did it over from scratch.

This worked out really well for me. I was able to get something I was happy with, rather than just hacking something together. It wasn’t cluttered like the original. Just a simple, clean looking page.

I made some icons for my portfolio items this time, and although I don’t consider myself a graphic designer, I had a lot of fun coming up with the ideas for the icons, and I like how they turned out!

 

Chat App


YTRoom with a new theme.

After I looked at my chat app, YTRoom, I decided if I was going to really do anything serious with it, I would want to redo that whole project as well, and build it from the ground up. I really like the functionality it has but I feel like the user interface just isn’t there. The sidebar is kind of annoying, in that it changes the size of your video every time you hide or show it. That’s just naming one thing I noticed that could be changed, there are many more.

For improving YTRoom, I changed some of the styles to reflect the look of YouTube a bit more, and it turned out looking super Canadian. I’m not complaining though. I also added some simple fixes to the code like persistent auth, added enter key press to send a message, and fixed an annoying issue where there were scrollbars on the page all the time, even though there was no more content to scroll to. Really minor fixes, but it’s all I could think of to improve without completely rewriting the app from scratch.

Service App


Vennio Prototype V2

As far as my service app goes, I’m in the process of planning out the second prototype. I decided to build it with some frameworks and languages I’ve never used before. For the new version, I’m using React for the front end, and Ruby on Rails for the back end (React on Rails!). It’s going relatively slow right now, just because I’ve been focusing on other projects.

Now that it’s the winter break, I’m going to be picking up the pace with development on it. Right now, I just have the concept landing page, and I really like how it looks. I’ve showed it off to a few people and they have all agreed that it looks really professional. Woohoo!

 

 


Overall, I’m super happy with how this semester of UIT went. I’m really excited to go back in January, and keep working on projects, learning new things and working on honing my skills. Being in this environment has been great for me, because it’s helped nurture my love of programming, and put a serious use to it. I’ve seen what my work will look like at the end of this whole school year. Especially when I look at the code I’ve written before UIT compared to the code I’m writing now. There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to keep making progress and pushing ahead!

The Semester

I’ve had lots of semesters of school in my life, but this has been the best. I’m very happy with what we learned and with all the extra things we did. We went to laser tag, local events, and engaged in ways I hadn’t in the past. All things considered it cements the idea that UIT is more than just school.

 

The Projects

I’ve always hated doing tests: not because I did poorly on them. It’s because I always felt they didn’t really prove anything. As such I’m pretty happy that all of our evaluation at UIT was through big projects. Those actually tested our skills rather than tests. Each one of the project was a great experience. From the simplest of the portfolio to trying to learn angular for our SaaS Apps it was both a good learning experience as well as a good time. I’m going to give some details into each of the project including how they evolved and improved even after the projects were done.

 

Portfolio Website

The portfolio website started as a really simple project to get us all into some Bootstrap, CSS, and HTML. I had a pretty good time with it because up to that point I had only ever done JAVA and C. The default template allowed the website to have some cool features even through I wasn’t able to code the JS for them at the time.

Now the Portfolio actually houses my work and I’ve since improved it by changing images and adding little bits of JS. I love having it because even people who don’t get the details on code can see it and think its cool.

 

Chat App – Text and Paper Chat

I loved working on Text and Paper. I set out to solve a problem I felt that I had and created something I’m decently proud in. The idea was to make a platform for helping play pen and paper games online. The platform that exist I like but other people have trouble working with. However, the core feature evolved in a way that wasn’t what I originally imagined and as such I have never been truly happy with the final product.

I fully intend to go back and completely remake this at some point, but that’s far in the future. I did revise the stylistic elements, since I figured out some nicer design tricks and wanted to go back and apply them to the chat app.

 

Service App – The Merchants Guild

The service app started with me unsure of a concept and jokingly suggesting an idea. However that idea evolved into “The Merchants Guild”. I’m a big fan of how it turned out. It’s a market place that really could be used to sell anything, but with a focus on LARP and Medieval goods. One of the important features is that it allows you to post requests as well as products. Meaning if you wanted to commission something custom you could post and someone able to make it could contact you. It also ended up looking pretty good too (I think at least). I used some design ideas and CSS that I hadn’t used it the past and it ended up something out quite well.

Since it finished as a product I have been working away at fixing problem. I made a Trello board for development and have been working away. I have faith that it could be an actual thing if I add a few more features.

Overall

This picture sums up how I feel pretty well. This first semester was a real treat and I can’t wait to get more done. For now I plan to relax over the holidays. Although I also have lots of code to write. I’m sure I’ll find a decent balance.

When I look back on this first semester, I can really appreciate where I started and where I’m now. Is my coding perfect? No, but it’s a hell of a lot better then it was coming into this course, and it continues to get better. I know that I have to pay attention to detail. That best practice is really the best way to code.

The hope I had when coming into this course was that I’d get a challenge. I definitely have been challenged, but it really is a good challenge. Especially when you know that you are striving at something and you notice bit by bit you’re getting better.

Looking back on this month I’ve had a chance to see where I did start from, polish my code a bit and really finish this semester the way i wanted to. I changed my portfolio to really reflect my work journey, and show kinda how I got to U.I.T. That between my sales and technical background it made U.I.T the perfect fit. I also had a chance to revamp my service app, I’m very proud of it, and I even believe it may turn into something down the line. Also I can show potential employers and say,”hey! I did that!”.

I personally think it’s been a great first semester here at U.I.T. Its been a great experience, I love the course, the curriculum, mentors and my classmates are great. It may be a small class, and we all come from different walks of life, but I think that diversity is what makes this class so unique. I can’t wait for next semester to start, we have a 10 week program up coming where even the mentors will be learning a thing along with us noobs, should be fun!

I hope that everyone has had a great first semester, and that everyone has a great Christmas break. I’ll see you all in the new year!

First UIT Project.

Me, working on my MacBook Air.

The first project we did at UIT was our portfolios, which is basically our online resume. When I walked into UIT for the first time as a recent high school graduate, I had next to nothing notable on my resume. But I knew that after a year at UIT I would gain a lot of experience by completing all class assignments and projects.

My first portfolio, to be honest, wasn’t too great. It was my first time ever making something myself using HTML / CSS code. Since it was our very first project we got to use bootstrap portfolio templates to get us started. Thinking back on my first portfolio now, it does not look good. After presenting it, I knew it was far from finished. The design of it was bland and it barely had anything note worthy as portfolio projects. Then I planned on re-working it at some point before the end of the year.

Making Apps for Gamers!

Throughout the semester I created a chat application for gamers who want to discuss gaming news, and I also created a service application that allows gamers to meet other gamers and create teams. These teams can be used to organize meet ups, events, and tournaments. I created these apps to be very similar for two reasons: 1) I’m a gamer, so creating an app that my friends and I can use daily is what I’d want to do. And 2) Since both apps aren’t too complicated, I feel I can combine them both to make an app where gamers can meet and talk to other gamers, form teams, and view any news about events or game updates.

A Second Chance!

After finishing both the chat and service apps, near the end of the first semester we were given some time to revisit our portfolios and add our newly gained skills. I was really glad to give it another shot. This time I picked a good looking theme and actually had some experience in creating things with code! And since I was very familiar with HTML at that point I was able to easily read the 700+ lines of code a lot better than I could before. I quickly got the hang of editing the new bootstrap theme I picked and I think it looks really good now. I really love the design for my new portfolio, I will definitely keep it up to date as much as I can and share it with people to view, starting with YOU! Click here to check it out.

Blogs!

Another thing we do at UIT are regular blogs. I honestly didn’t think I’d write blogs before this year but now I’m writing one nearly every week and I’m actually really enjoying writing them. These blogs allow me to share my opinion with the world, and who doesn’t love that?! My favourite blog post I wrote was about my first job. I like this one because, well… it’s about me being extremely lucky on getting a dream job for a nerdy teenager. Most of my blog posts can be seen on the UIT website here. I look forward to writing more blog posts when I move on from UIT so you can enjoy reading about my life!

The first day of 2016-2017 UIT!

The Future!

When I was a kid, adults would say “Time flies when you get older”, and I’d think “Wow, I wish time would fly now because then the video game I’m waiting to come out will be available!”. Well, 6 months out of high school and it seemed to go by quite quick. Even though it did consist of long and stressful workdays of finding that one mistake I missed in my code. I will really enjoy the Christmas break, but that won’t stop me from learning. There’s still so many things I want to do. For example, setting up very my own website, which will contain either my portfolio, my blogs, or even a video game review / tips and tricks website. I definitely need to brush up on my Javascript so I’ll be doing the Javascript 30 challenge. I’d also like to find out what I’m doing with my life after UIT. A selling point for UIT is that most of the students would land jobs in the coding / startup industry after graduating but for me, I feel like I need to stay in school for a few more years to learn as much as I can. So right now, I’m aiming to figure out all these things by the end of semester 3 of UIT.

Portrait of Jeff Amerine with Start-Up junkie for AY Magazine's powerful men. Photo by Beth Hall

Portrait of Jeff Amerine with Start-Up junkie for AY Magazine’s powerful men.
Photo by Beth Hall

Well another week has come and gone. It seems each week is surpassed by its latter. I know that I continually praise that “this week” has been the best, and again I can’t argue that entrepreneur week is right up there with being one of the best.

When you have a whole week geared up for two people you kinda wonder what you’ll except for content in that week. Will there be enough substance seeing the same people. In my case 4 times, in the run of the week. I can honestly say it was a great week that honestly did leave you asking more.

The week started out at the lounge with some classmates giving presentations, and Jeff and his wife were very down to earth. After class we proceeded to the golf course, and that was my favourite time hearing Jeff speak. From there you really got a sense that he was just an average Joe American with a good sense of humour and a lay back demeanour. Don’t get me wrong I did enjoy the , the meeting in navigate, when Permjot did his own bit on WW2 allied airplane statistic digram. Or the one on three was great as well.

So much content!

Hearing all 3 entrepreneurs was great, especially when hearing about completely different fields. Like Chad’s who is on the other end of the spectrum of what we are used to. Or the Celtic Colours story and how it has become something internationally known, and the struggles of getting it off the grown. And even Jeff’s story of how things are in Arkansa, which in some ways to do have the same growing pains we have here in Nova Scotia.

All in all another great week here at U.I.T, (I know I say that ALOT). But when you go to a school, that you tell your friends back home, that while it is a challenging course, it’s still the most fun course, I’ve ever been apart of.