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Developing a prototype Culture Night App

  • One of the joys of the Northern Ireland Developer Conference is the spread of input from both new and seasoned technology professionals. Students and recent graduates are as likely to turn up in the busy programme as people with thirty or more years of experience working in IT.

    Rebecca Martin had to develop a prototype as part of her MSc Software Development course. Her choice of project was born out of her frustration attending her first Culture Night in Belfast in 2017, having to rely on the minimal website and paper leaflets to navigate the myriad of events crammed into a single September evening. Along with her friends, Rebecca ended up racing across the city, turning up late for events.

    The scale of Culture Night, with more than a hundred events on one day, run by largely unconnected volunteers and organisations under the one umbrella, creates an interesting problem to tackle. How can you help Culture Night goers who are travelling from further afield and can’t pick up a brochure? Could paper-based programmes be eliminated to minimise environmental concerns while also increasing the amount of information visible to attendees?

    Her initial notion of developing in Python using the lightweight Flask and Django frameworks proved inappropriate. Instead Rebecca turned to the TypeScript Ionic framework and Laravel PHP framework, which had the advantages of being cross-platform and scalable, but the disadvantage of being less familiar technologies.

    Laravel was “easy to get up and running … and enjoyable to work with” while TypeScript had a tight learning curve, leaving her “continually encountering new and exciting errors”.

    Rebecca had resurrected an old build of her student app to demonstrate during her half-hour talk. While the prototype web app was rough-and-ready, it demonstrated localisation and user-centred features missing from the existing paper and web-based programmes.

    The development was an academic exercise and the software – unconnected with the Culture Night organisers – was not intended to go live. But it taught Rebecca a lot about designing and creating software.

    “I enjoyed building it’ explained Rebecca. “Back then, I was reluctant to ask people questions.” Earlier this year, she joined Flexera as a junior developer, working in the core API team based in Belfast.

    “Nowadays I’d ask people to look over the app and ask questions much sooner.”

    And, realistically, the app would be purely optional for Luddites!

    Subscribe to the NI Dev Conf YouTube channel to keep up to date with recordings of the talks being uploaded from the June conference.

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