If it’s the developers who are shaping the way we use our smartphones, then it’s the teachers who are shaping the developers. After all, very few of us are born with an innate ability for anything other than eating and being smelly.
Last week we spoke to Rob Crocombe, who is studying for his Computer Science degree, about his early experiences of being an app developer.
This week we are returning to the University of Hull in England to talk to one of his lecturers. Another Rob… Rob Miles, 55, who teaches Software Development using C#.
When he’s not teaching, Rob also develops his own apps, keeps a daily blog at robmiles.co.uk and is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP).
Was there a magical moment in your life that made you want to work with computers?
I don’t know about magical, but I first started writing programs in the Fortran language at Sixth Form, punching each line of the program onto a card. We sent the bundles of cards over to York University who ran them through their mainframe and posted back a listing from the line printer.
It took you a week to find out that you had typed a line wrong but I still found it fascinating. I still remember the thrill of being able to sit at a terminal and talk to the computer directly. This was in the seventies by the way. I’ve been hooked on programming ever since.
Do you get the same satisfaction out of teaching others to develop as you do out of developing for yourself?
Oh yes. It’s great watching light bulbs come on in people’s heads.
What qualities do you think a good programmer needs?
Patience, persistence and the ability to get on well with other folks are very important. Also an ability to “think your way out of trouble” is very useful.
What has been the effect of smartphones and apps on programming?
Smartphones and apps are great, because they provide you with a shop window for your skills. Even if only a few people download the app you wrote, it will still be out there showing what you can do.
I think that Computer Science is getting more popular at the moment because people recognise that it provides a path to employment. The world will always need programmers.
What inspired your Voice Music app?
I wanted to be able to select the music I wanted to hear when I was driving. And I wanted to be able to play the album containing a track I was listening to at the time.
So I spent a lunch hour playing with ideas and got something going. I couldn’t believe that it would be that simple to make.
What difference will Windows Phone 8 make?
I just find it a friction free way to do the things that I want to use my phone for. I have a Nokia Lumia 920 and it has an awesome camera, a lovely screen and it’s just a nice place to be.
I like the elegant simplicity of the interface.
I also like the way that the phone and desktop are converging, so that skills picked up in phone development can be applied to desktop applications.
As someone with a lot of technical knowledge in this area, do you find yourself judging the apps that you use?
Sometimes I wonder how it works. The worst thing for me is when I find that something is hard to do in the app just because the user interface has been badly designed, or where you have to “know” a magic trick or action to get a program to do what you want. I hate that.
It’s one of the reasons I like Windows Phone so much. Once you have learnt a few simple actions on the phone you can use them on whatever program you are working with. Usually what you guess should happen is what actually does happen.
What is a Microsoft MVP?
Microsoft gives the Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award to a number of folks every year. It is for work done in the community that helps people use a particular branch of technology.
I’ve done a fair amount of teaching on Windows Phone over the years, with things like Windows Phone Jumpstart and the Windows Phone Blue Book. I also go to conferences and give phone-based sessions for developers.
MVPs can also get to interact with the Product Group for their specialism, which means that I get to pass comment on the way the phone development is going and sometimes we get early access to tools and technologies so that we can help find bugs and potential issues.
You can follow Rob Miles on Twitter @robmiles.