All posts by zachamid

Student Life vs Working Life

On July 17th 2013, I stepped into Maybrook House, Manchester for my first day of my year-long Industrial Placement at IBM. The dust has finally settled down, and I am starting to feel like I am learning the ropes quite quickly. While I am learning loads of skills that will help me towards my degree, I feel it is the non-technical aspects of the working life that are making more of an impression on me. I will now share what I have discovered, having been in the working world for 3 months

  1. There’s no such thing as a ‘9 to 5’ job. Working 9 to 5 is essentially a standard, but in reality a job is given to you to complete irrespective of time. So in my opinion, a standard working day is how long it takes to complete the designated task, whether that takes a 9-to-5, an 8-t0-5, or (my worst yet) an 8-to-6:30.
  2. Working life is easier than student life. Most people may disagree here, so I shall clarify – Working, as a 20-year-old full of youth and life, is easier than studying. In my case, as a student, I had a 20+ hour week, followed by (ideally) 20 hours of coursework and revision. However, that is rarely the case, because in actuality, coursework takes a lot longer to do, and the amount of revision you do reflects on how badly you want the top grades. With Working however, you have the standard ’40 hours/week’ (see previous point), but that’s it, anything after that is voluntary, which means, after coming home from a hard day at work – you have the rest of the night off where you can do anything you want [See point 4]
  3. The hardest part is settling in. The first days are exhausting, in every way. Mentally, Emotionally and Physically. You have inductions, seminars, workshops, H&S talks, registering on various systems, not to mention meeting new people, adjusting to  a new place and learning new things. I remember coming home from my first day and falling  asleep immediately – but that maybe because it was in the middle of the hottest summer in recent memory and I was in a black suit.
  4. You begin to morph into a semi-functioning adult. The prospect of late nights with your friends no longer look appealing, since you have to be up at Xam to reach work nice and early. You do your best to avoid the university traffic on your way to work, because you cannot stand the prospect of sharing a bus with students. A nap or a session at the gym are much more prominently featured in your schedule. You now own an iron, and actually use it. The worst though, is the changes in your eating habits – last week my weekend lunch consisted of a salad and smoothie, because apparently Health isn’t a joke. To cap it all off, at a Children’s’ event earlier this month some kids mistook me for a 43-year-old.
  5. Long-term planning becomes more real. I am at the beginning of my professional career, and I am in my first job which is about as permanent as my UniRider, so naturally I can’t help but look to the future with the cliché questions: What do I want to do with the rest of my life? Is this where I see my future? Where do I want to go? What about my course units next year? Not to mention that your bank account is uncharacteristically not-empty, and with your new found maturity you don’t really want to bust all that on your final year.

A personal retrospective on my placement so far

I was assigned a role as a Tester in the Systems & Technology Group at IBM, located here in Manchester, testing the new Storage products before they are released. Upon starting, I was very apprehensive for two reasons: Firstly, as a CM student, I had had very little exposure to storage or hardware in general, and hadn’t really been exposed to technology on such a low level. Secondly I love coding, and I felt being a tester would not really facilitate that passion.

That being said, weeks later, I could not be happier in my current position. I am learning skills that are not taught in classrooms at a company on the cutting edge of technology, and I am still getting opportunities to cultivate my skills and passions. All in all I am looking forward to the next 9 months, because I cannot be more excited for the opportunities that will arise

Recently I was exposed to NCLab and online Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) aimed at Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students. This enables students to explore and investigate various technologies used in their disciplines. The site mimics an actual desktop, and with the various icons to indicate the various subcategories.

The site resembles a Computer Desktop, with specialist Applications
One of the apps is a Web Dev IDE, which can teach anybody to use the technology associated with creating websites
It has applications relating to Physics as well, exemplified by this Projectile Motion Applet
It also has other Applications to learn other Programming Languages
This seems like a very effective way of conveying ideas, concepts and techniques to students, and has been used by educators for primary and secondary students. Collaboration and co-operation is heavily encouraged on the site, as free users are obliged to share (and allow for cloning) all work they produce through the site’s modules, and generally benefits all in the process.

NCLab looks to be a breakthrough in Education. People can gain knowledge through the free resources (such as e-books and wikis), experimentation through the online lab, as well as help from fellow members with no impact on or influence by, the users computer.
VLEs are nothing new to the education sector. I personally have used them in some shape or form both in Secondary School and University. However, this takes it to the next level. Most traditional VLEs make use of just one of the key features that NCLab exhibits: online resources. I have also experienced environments where collaboration is encouraged through Wikis. There are even several online laboratories to help students, so what is the breakthrough?
This idea that now online resources are truly accessible and versatile is the major selling point. Now irrespective of platform, make or specifications means that students can use sites like NCLab in any location, on any (internet-connected) device.
The Future of Education
I think that the future of education may be severely influenced by this new type of VLE. I believe that it will take the pressure of the the teacher and onto private learning, whether from home or in the classroom. The way I see it, using this type of website on a school level, will enable teachers to put work, tutorials, videos (anything really, as there is no restriction as to what type of resources can be accessed by students), and then see and mark any work that is done.
When put like that, it does seem that incorporating Cloud technology does not do much for the future of education, but what has to be understood is that doors are opened and limitations reduced. In my opinion the best part about it is that NCLab is still in its infancy, with only 10,000 registered users, which means that the full power of Cloud Computing is yet to be harnessed in education.

Exam Period June 2013: 5 things I have done instead of Revising

  1. ‘Revision’. Not the productive’ this-will-get-a-good-grade’ revision, but rather the I-have-a-book-open revision. Which is very effective, in about 5% of times.
  2. Finding my Celebrity Lookalike. I recently found out the App MyHeritage can find the celebrity look-a-like, which I thought was accurate, until i tried to test it with various other photos. The first iteration of this process yielded Kanye West and Wayne Brady. Not exactly doppelgangers, but resemblance can be seen. However, later experiments showed that this App cannot be trusted. Why you ask? Well this man:

    bears resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe, Ashton Kutcher, Colin Farrell and Tom Welling. You’d think that that would be the worst? Nope, apparently this writer also looks like Serena Williams, Halle Berry, J.K. Rowling and Dakota Fanning. Yeah, me thinks that broken!
  3. Finding the ideal Revision Anthem. Of course the one thing more important than revision is coming up with the ideal tune to make the ordeals of revision bearable. This time I was able to narrow my large, tasteful, music collection to 5 songs to get you through revision:
    1. “You Raise Me Up” -Westlife. Is there anything more inspiring than the most timeless song sung by the one of the most timeless boy bands in History? Also, most people who know me would be expecting a Westlife song to make the list, so here it is.
    2. “All Rise” -Blue. Its catchy tunes means that you are revising at a higher tempo, which means that you can derive the Illumination Model in about half the time. At the very least, you can practice counting to 4.
    3. “With a Little Help from My Friends”-Joe Cocker. It is nice to know that you aren’t the only one suffering through this ordeal, because all your friends are going through it as well. And somewhere, there are a group of people, who are laughing at the very thought of me having friends.
    4. “Dream On”-Aerosmith. Its a tune, I dont think I need to justify that (OK fine I listened to the Glee cover, don’t judge me)
    5. “I’m like a bird” -Nelly Furtado. It has proven to be a bit of a good luck tune of mine, plus as most of the second year know, I do love BIRDS.
  4. Simpson TapOut. A Game for your iPad that will make you forget the concept of revision, and all other parts of your real life as you are engulfed in the life of Homer trying to rebuild Springfield. Shout out to Chris Pottage here for supporting my procrastination habits, by introducing this to me slap bang in the middle of exams. But I’ll have the last laugh: Two weeks in, Level 10. Respect.
  5. Making useless phone calls at odd times. I dislike my mobile service provider a-lot, they have caused me nothing but trouble for the best part of a year. But when I am revising they are almost like an old friend that I feel the need to reconnect with. So at about 2am, or 9pm, or whenever revision got especially tedious I rang them up, with no reason in mind, and after I exhausted all the phone options and I got put through to the call centre, I was speechless and rudely cut off. Awks.
  6. BONUS: Writing this post. I am trying to put off revising Algorithms, so I decided to procrastinate and write this post. It looks like the article has come to an end so it looks like a time to re-hit the books…

Bogle 2013: A few thoughts at the end of an incredible journey

This year I embarked on the most physically demanding challenge of my life: The Bogle Stroll 2013, a 55-mile walk in and around Manchester. It was a strain, not only on my body but my mind as well, and the emotions I endured during the walk varied from euphoria to despair.

The Route of the Bogle Stroll
The Route of the Bogle Stroll

Part 1: Stroll to Stockport

We, my partner Lee and myself, started in high spirits and good time. The initial hour of walking took us through familiar territory, from Manchester City Centre to Withington, and were able to storm through the first 10-15 miles to Stockport within the first two-and-a-half to three hours. At that point, finishing the stroll felt like not only a possibility but a high likelihood.

Song to sum up Part 1: The Proclaimers – I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)

I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more…

Heck, if they would do 500, I should be able to manage a tenth of that.

Part 2: Return to HQ, and the temptations on the way

It did not take long for the initial adrenaline of beginning the trek to wear off. In fact about 5 minutes from that point I had already fallen behind the crew I was walking with as my pace continued slowing down. The pains were starting to creep in and they were swiftly taking a toll. The second leg of the Southern Route took us back through Withington and Fallowfield, straight up the Curry Mile. The first pangs of regret were hitting in as I passed my favourite Take Out joint Lahori (formerly Sangam) and my bed, which after 6 hours of walking at 2:30AM has never seemed more appealing. I feel that after that it was a straight run back to HQ, with no looking back.

Song to sum up Part 2: Busted – 3AM

I’m calling you at 3 AM and I’m, I’m standing here right outside your door And I don’t think that my heart can take much more

That’s right, my bed felt like a loved one at that point. I feel no shame in admitting that.

Part 3: The Highway of Hell

I spent about 15 minutes at HQ, having completed just over half the walk in about 7-ish hours. It was quite a morale-booster knowing that I had made it within such a short amount of time, and I was fairly certain that I could finish the walk in a sub-20 time.

After navigating a few of the roads in Manchester City Centre, I started my trek across the A62 towards Failsworth – five quiet empty miles of nothing but warehouses. If there was ever  a time I felt like quitting it was then. You would walk towards a horizon, thinking that on the other side would be the checkpoint we were so eagerly awaiting, only to discover another stretch of road awaiting me. By the time I reached the end of Oldham Road I was genuinely contemplating packing it in right there. It was a mixture of the friendly faces at the checkpoint and the feeling of “oh-the-next-checkpoint-isn’t-too-far-off” that had me off again towards Prestwich, as the sun started to rise.

Song to sum up Part 3:  Imagine Dragons – It’s Time

The path to heaven runs through miles of clouded hell. Right to the top

The only thing i told (and at times sung to) myself, to keep myself from quitting.

Part 4: “Oh God, We’re in a Different City”

The trip to Prestwich was fairly uneventful, I became more tired, I felt less and less in my knees and ankles and I was growing sick of the sound of my iPod (because at times, even Nickelback can’t motivate you). I did meet a pair of hikers who had caught up with me (and writing this two months later, their names escape me), and it did motivate me to continue. Then, towards the afternoon, we hit the sign: “Welcome to Bolton”. We had walked to a different city and were still a substantial distance away from the finish, it was not a very happy prospect to say the least.

That was until the road hit a 30 degree incline, which in any ordinary circumstances would have been a fine walk but not when you had been through 40 miles on foot. Every stride was met with aches and pain and usually accompanied by a curse from your’s truly. I was truly relieved to reach the checkpoint at the top of the hill, as we readied ourselves for the final stretch.

Song to sum up Part 4: Kate Bush – Running up that Hill

The song has never made more sense to me, EVER.

Part 5: The final stretch from Salford

Salford was few miles ahead of us, and I can safely say I have never been happier to see the “This is Salford” sign welcoming us to our final stop before the end. I then fell behind for a second time, as my knees and ankles started playing up, and making it difficult for me to continue walking for long periods of time. I told my new group to go on ahead, as I strolled in my own sweet time behind them

Reaching checkpoint 10, the penultimate checkpoint, a full 19-and-a-half hours from beginning the walk, felt great. I thought I was well on track to obtaining a time around 20 hours, with just 2.5 miles remaining. I could see a silhouette of Oxford Road in the horizon and was on my way. A single wrong turn later, I had ended up close to Deansgate, with not a clue how to get back to the main track. I ended up resorting to the one thing a man never resorts to (apparently): I asked for directions. With my foot firmly on the correct path after that, I lumbered back to HQ – recording a finishing time of 21:34. While an incredible journey, it had evidently taken its toll on me:

21-and-a-half hours later

Song to sum up Part 5: Any generic song about coming out on top.

Part 6: Epilogue

Long story short: It was a great experience. It was the furthest I had ever pushed myself to, and I came out successful. Although my legs needed well over a week to recover and I couldn’t stand up right for several days, because of blisters, nothing really beat the adrenaline of the event, and I look forward to taking part in it again next year.

I had such incredible support to keep me going on the way:

  1. My family, who called me when they really should have been asleep, just to make sure I was OK, and to instill me with confidence
  2. My friends, who gave me calls and texts throughout the day, giving me tips and motivation to keep me going in the final stages.
  3. All the people who pledged money for the charity MenCap, and showed there support for me, financially

Welcome: A Short Introduction and FAQ

Since this is the first post, I may as well start with the pleasantries:

Hi, I’m Zac. I’m a second year Computer Science and Maths Student (and one of very few to blog for the school). I have been an active member of the Computer Science Society (CSSoc) since the beginning of my first year, and have helped organize several events for students in the school.

Since this is the first of many posts, I will try to answer many of the initial questions people may have:

What on Earth possessed you to take Computer Science AND Maths?

I can’t quite remember, but I think it had something to do with me not being able to choose between the two subject so…

Why Not Both?
Why Not Both?

No, Seriously, WHY?!

I had been studying IT/CS for many a year prior to starting university, and I quickly realised that I wasn’t interested in the way that all the things at the back worked, I was more interested with the way we could make the computer work to our specifications. This meant that, at least during the first two years, half the courses in any of the other degree programs did not interest me

Aside from that, I have always been interested in Maths, and it would have been a right shame to give it up.

Are there any advantages to doing this Joint Honours Program?

Personally, I think that the main advantage is the versatility of the skills you learn. The programming skills are useful in some of the more practical Maths units (I have found this to be the case in Numerical Analysis (MATH20602)), while the maths knowledge, as well as the various other skills learnt, has come useful in some of the Computer Science units. The use of MATLAB in Maths has proved helpful, for me at least, in the Machine Learning (COMP24111) labs, while some of the mathematical theory is applicable in the Graphics (COMP27112) labs. It is worth noting that this degree has not been proven to be distinctly advantageous in any specific course unit.

Also, I would like to think my options are more open in the future. I feel that when I apply for graduate roles, I have a wider variety of fields to choose from. Teaching, Finance, Actuary, Software Development, IT Support, Banking, Research… the opportunities are endless.

That being said, are there any drawbacks?

It is difficult (not theoretically) but in every other way. I’d be lying if I said I was breezing through this degree. I takes a lot of time out of your week from the word “GO”, it takes nights, it takes weekends. It does take its toll.

Also, you end up running in between two completely different faculties, two tutors, two timetabling systems, two types of assessments, clashing submission dates… It is a real pain in the neck keeping yourself organized in this course.

That brings me to the end of the first entry into this blog. I think the next three or four will be recaps of my first three semesters, and then after that I’ll talk about anything that springs to mind