Restructuring UBC's Software Engineering Design Team
Sept 2019 - April 2020
I was the Co-President of UBC’s Software Engineering Design Team, UBC Launch Pad, this year. It’s a community for tech enthusiasts (nerds) to build ideas, teach one another, and make (many) programming puns. We have 6-7 teams that each brainstorm, develop, and complete a software project over the span of 8 months.
Timeline: September 2019 - April 2020
Team: Yichen Cao + myself (2019/20 Co-Presidents), Rene Huang + Robert Lin (2020/2021 Co-Presidents)
I had been part of the club for a year as a Design Lead, and felt that there were some structural changes we could implement to improve Launch Pad.
Some points that came to mind:
- Projects were under researched with unrealistic MVPs
- UX and UI were considered as an afterthought
- Projects didn’t solve any real problems/create real value
- Teams lacked drive to finish their projects
- Abandoned projects left members empty handed at the end of the year
These were difficult problems to tackle, but I met with Yichen, Rene, and Robert many times over Summer 2019 to discuss how we could improve our club.
Step 1: Kickoff Event
Each year, Launch Pad organizes a “Kickoff Event” in October which involves icebreakers, an overview of the club, and a brainstorming session before teams are formed. We wanted to take advantage of this day to set the tone for the rest of the year, so we organized a “Planathon”: a UX Design Sprint condensed into one day like a hackathon!
Here was our plan:
We then placed members into teams based on their project preferences and invited our lovely friends at UBC UX Hub to host a UX workshop. Historically, designers at Launch Pad have a difficult time integrating into their teams and finding the confidence to suggest UX as part of the core development process.
As a designer myself, I was happy that the workshop was not only educational, but sparked newfound interest in UX/UI design within developers. Teams were now ready to set up and begin building with their teams.
For the admin team, the question then became:
How can we maintain motivation and ensure projects are completed by the end of the year?
Step 2: Flexible Timelines
How we differ from other UBC Engineering Design teams is that we’re not collectively working towards one big annual competition. This is a double edged sword in that our members have more freedom to build what they want at the risk of losing motivation near the end.
Students respond to deadlines, so we set two of them.
- End of Term 1: A demo day to show your team’s progress thus far to the rest of the club.
- End of Term 2: A Launch Pad Showcase, structured like Hackathon presentations, with industry professionals as judges and networking opportunities.
The demo day was a success! I got a lot of Github notifications the days leading up to it, which meant that teams were getting things done.
A Change of Plans
Unfortunately, our Launch Pad Showcase was cancelled due to COVID-19, but we wanted to wrap up the projects and help members create something they could show off in their portfolios or interviews. I responded by creating a new set of deliverables.
- A 30 second - 1 minute video “ad” explaining and marketing the finished project and its corresponding thumbnail
- A project writeup explaining the team’s process, technology, challenges, and achievements as well as the results from user interviews and testing.
6 teams brought their projects to completion this year as opposed to the 1 team of the previous year! Success!
Leading a software team as a “design person” was daunting and I doubted myself non-stop over the year. I thought consistently that our club could have held more events, workshops, more tech talks, more, more, more... but I wanted to remind myself of the things we were able to accomplish. Approaching leadership from the lens of a UX/UI designer has its benefits, and helped foster this community of new friends who compete in hackathons together and help one another with job searches and interviews. Thank you for reading!
The incoming Co-President, Robert, did an amazing job at implementing my website design. You can check it out here.