It has been another intense year of learning how to make innovative products, develop entrepreneurial processes, how to work as startups, and understand the importance of leadership.
Last year, the small engineering team built the cubes for VIATEC. By the end of it, I had just about had it with hardware and vowed to not return to it. Yet, return we did…
One of the students had an idea for a lightwall that would use sensors to capture people’s images and display them with LEDs. We pitched it to Dan Gunn,the chief of VIATEC, and he said that he did not overly have a use for it. What he did need though, was some work for a potential installation at the Victoria airport. They wanted to show off Victoria’s strong tech sector and how we work hard to make things happen in a funky, cool, interactive exhibit. This was very exciting to the team (well, some of the team, a bunch decided to not pursue this mission).
In the middle of where the exhibit was going to be is a pillar. Dan gave us the idea of creating a structure around the pillar, representing the people in the airport who were arriving and departing through LEDs, all in a steam punk design. This really got our entrepreneurial juices flowing and we got to work on planning and modelling.
We planned to have a clock on the outside as well as numerous gears and moving parts to really give it that steam punk feel. In the middle would be strips of LEDs. The bottom, representing departures, would be blue and at the top, representing arrivals, would be white. We would then tap into the airport’s API and have a real time representation of the people who are coming and going in the airport using LEDs as they move up and down grid. Very, very cool.
I am not an engineer, my strength is as an entrepreneur and making connections. I got to work trying to figure out how we were going to make this all happen as we lacked some resources both in knowledge and equipment. I was able to find a metal fabricator who was willing to construct the internal frame. I then reached out to Ladies Learning Code, who are amazing and they wholeheartedly were ready and willing to help us tackle the API. They then put us in touch with a super cool guy named Ben Abromovitch who went through the VIATEC incubator coming out the other end with this interesting app to control LED light strips. He was obviously going to give us a hand on the LED side. I felt that we were really striving to achieve the purpose of the project – to show off how Victoria can come together as a community to make, grow, and progress together.
Unfortunately, the timing just did not work out. We were running out of school year and the permits and proceses of the airport were just not going to line up. So, we had all of these LEDs kicking around and we needed to do something with them. I had just produced a big circus show, and for it, we created a rather large tetrahedron made from angle iron. We actually didn’t end up using it in the show, and I was like, what the heck am I going to do with this thing? My mind jumped to the LEDs. Of course! So, I brought it to the school. It did not fit in the door. So, we had to cut it in half.
The team then enthusiastically jumped on the project. A little too quickly. Luckily, at this time, we had an engineering student teacher who really helped the process. Again, I am definitely not an engineering type. I did not realize the amount of power we needed to run this thing – it was a crap ton of power. Way, way more than I was thinking. As this was a “salvage the year let’s build some hardware project”, it was not properly planned nor executed to the best of our abilities. We ran into numerous problems and roadblocks. We were able to fire up a side which looked so amazing (the picture does not do it justice):
But when we tried to get all 3 sides going, we kept hitting problem after problem. We also ran out of school year. We will have to pick it up again at the beginning of next year to finish it off. One of our talented robotics students is going to build a mechanized sign for the top of it and we are going to put it in the front window as a (hopefully) effective marketing tool for the school.
The kids laugh at me, but after this year, I am swearing off hardware for awhile.
While all of this was going on, we were also working in a serious piece of software, building an art platform for Limbic Media.
This was our 3rd year collaborating with Limbic Media and we had yet to make something that actually worked. Again, no more hardware, we were going software all the way this year. And we did it! The team got to MVP (minimum viable product) by year end. It is still under wraps until September where we will go into alpha.
Collectively, they wrote over 16,000 lines of code, did hundreds of mock ups, QA, and much more. They had to work through so many technical challenges and truly learned so much about how to develop not just a piece of software, but a platform. I cannot think of a greater learning experience for the times we live in. Most importantly though, they are learning how to truly work together as a team. There are still human problems to be ironed out next year. And that is where it really counts. It is quite easy to bring in some technical expertise to fix a tricky issue, it is much harder to fix people issues. In every organization, it always comes down to talented leadership. If I can instill how to really work together, how to step up and lead, it is the greatest thing I can do for society as whole as they are going to leave school and know how to make this happen.
To facilitate building this software, we used scrum. We have been using a lot of scrum principles at the school, but this team actually did true scrum and it was impressive to see the results. I swear by it as a tool to implement disciplined processes in building a startup. As scrum master for the third year, I am learning how to effectively ensure the team are completing sprints and feeling good about it all. Not easy to do in a regular startup, even harder with teenagers.
I have to give a huge shout out and thank you to Manjinder Benning, director of Limbic Media, for still believing in us and our school even after years of failing to produce something that works. His company is shooting for the moon this year with a major product launch, and he still found the time to come in every two weeks for sprint reviews and set up our work as the product owner. I can’t thank him enough for providing mentorship and insight to our aspiring tech workers and entrepreneurs.
What is amazing, is that this will carry on into next year. MVP is just the first step. We plan to go into alpha in September, beta by mid winter and then fully launch by the end of the next school year. This is a tremendous opportunity, one that is so rare in most schools. Most schools do not even allow their students a month-long project, let alone one that will take 2 years to complete.
As a performer, I love producing shows, and this year I felt that I needed to step up the school show a level or two. The learners created some compelling original content. Part of this was developing costumes and make-up. I had 2 students whose goals are to become a costume designer and make-up artist respectively. As I have spent years as a freelancer/artist, I try to provide as much insight, skills, and knowledge into becoming a successful solopreneur. This is really easy to do when people are allowed to follow their passion. This is what they want to do with their lives, so they are all ears. In my experience from 10 years in education, it is much more difficult to impart wisdom when students are not at all interested.
Most importantly, the skills that these 2 learners developed were beyond just their chosen craft. They both had to consult with the performers, ask numerous questions, re-evaluate, come back at the performers again, and again, until everyone agreed on the requirements and aesthetics. They learned how to work together in a small team to create an overall, purposeful effect for the show design. They had to remain nimble, changing on the fly as we ran into problems. I strongly believe that these are some of the most important skills to leave high school with.
An example of their collaboration (you can read about how it was created here):
As an entrepreneur, I love to be surprised with new, potentially profitable information. This year, I was thoroughly introduced to the phenomenal rise of eSports, Valve, and Steam. A small group gathered around CS:GO (Counterstrike Global Offensive). This is a huge market that I was totally unaware of. Apparently, you can design skins for guns in the game. They get voted on in the community and if they make it to the top, they will be put in the game. It is sheer genius. Valve (if you do not know them, look them up) has created passionate players all over the world who are designers and enthusiastically develop high level graphics for the company. They literally have the world as their pipeline of talent.
If one of your skins gets in the game, people can make upwards of $12,000 per day for the first few days they are released. That definitely got my attention. So off we worked, trying to organize them around scrum philosophy. They did well for a bit, but the team fractured. What was left, were 2, totally dedicated, fanatic 15 year olds learning how to become top level graphic designers. We are committed to getting something into the game and making $40,000. I get 10%. I have them for 3 more years, I am sure we can do it.
One of the guys did a full mathematical analysis of why he was getting the views and likes he was getting and how to ensure that he gets maximum effect for his work that will get noticed and be put in the game. Here is one of his top ranked:
The other guy has gone just about as far as I can see anyone improving in one year. He has become a full fledged designer, hustling for work in forums, making pocket money doing intros, banners, and branding for YouTubers. He has done well and gained numerous clients, practicing his craft over and over (if you need something done, go here).
Again, I am encouraging them to work together as a small team, and at the same time, develop their talent and move as far as they can in their freelance abilities. This will be their future, and it is best that they learn it now, at the start of high school. As I said, we can do this together for 3 more years. That gives them a gigantic amount of time to practice and become experts in their craft as well as pick up critical entrepreneurial skills to move their ideas forward.
Lastly, as I was developing Island Circus Space this winter, I had a group of students helping me. And did they ever! They made the website, filmed video, did our photo shoot, put up posters, developed music, passed out handbills, wrote content, helped with social media…
…and designed the main poster that was put up all over town:
In the process of helping me, they learned many freelance and entrepreneurial skills. I am just trying to give them opportunities to practice their skills, build up repertoire and become professionals as quickly as possible. I tried to utilize their diverse talents. I gave them major responsibility and they came through for me.
Freelance and entrepreneurial skills, while different, have so much crossover. It is my mission in life to develop high functioning, disciplined teams, and raise people’s talent through continuous integration of learning. These are a few examples of the work that I do to change the education system to where it needs to be today. I have many more.
Here is another one.
I love learning.