Software Productization Center

Student Blogs

"Bridging the Gap: Concept to Completion" by Matthew Pape
May, 2010

Over the past couple of months I worked along with the SPC and MRG Power Labs to develop software to interact with their new product, the Grease Thief Analyzer. It was really an enlightening experience working from start to finish. From the very beginning we worked along with one of their lab technicians to understand what it was they needed the program to do, and what additional features they hoped to see along the way. Without a clear understanding of software capabilities they were not entirely sure what to ask for. And without any understanding of their new instrument, we didn't really know what to expect.

It took a lot of communication back and forth. We had to learn from them, and do our best to immerse ourselves in their world. When we were more clearly able to see what it was they did on a daily basis, and what they needed the software to do for them, we were finally able to begin work on a design. Still this design went through many iterations, and it involved a constant back and forth stream of communication and clarifications. In the end we came up with what we felt was a very solid data model that represented everything we needed conceptually.

The next step of course was the put our hands to the keys and start cranking out code. This has always been my favorite part of any project, and it only becomes more true every time I do it. I absolutely love starting out with a blank white screen and ending up with whatever I want it to be! I imagine it must be the same way an artist must feel when they start with a blank canvas or a block of clay.

In the classroom and labs we have completed many programs and assignments, but most of them were smaller and fairly straightforward. Furthermore, they had clearly established guidelines and requirements sent to us by our professors who understood the things we were trying to accomplish. This, however, was completely different. We were treading on new ground here, and dealing with things that had never been done before. We were interfacing with a piece of hardware that had only just been invented, and doing it in a programming language none of us had ever used before. It was a little scary at first, not having a teacher to get advice or guidance from, but it quickly became exhilarating. I know this is what the real world is like, and you must be prepared to succeed or fail on your own sometimes. It was also nice to prove to myself that I was able to succeed.

The day of the launch party I was actually lucky enough to help haul the new instrument from the truck to the room for our presentation. I was so excited to finally see it in action, and to see our finished product as well. I can't describe the feeling of knowing that something we made from scratch is going to be used in their daily operations, and even sold to prospective customers. Now that I know the kind of work we are capable of I am excited to try my hand in the market and that much more confident for the day when school ends and life begins.

"Working with the eMarketing Primer" by Seth Eck
April, 2009

Working with SPC has been a very rewarding experience. Seeing a project through from conception to production outside of school gives me a real working perspective. Being a graphic and interactive designer, I looked at both the printing and web-based mediums. 

One project in particular, the eMarketing Primer, was an event for small businesses to further understand eMarketing and how it can be a benefit. I became the creative director and steered the project in the direction I wanted to take it. In being the creative director, I had the freedom to design basically what I thought was appropriate for the event. Of course, I still ran my ideas by the rest of the team and my supervisors, but to have that control made me feel like an actual designer. The project included a brochure, a survey, and a nametag that fit into a lanyard to be worn around the neck. This way, the businesses would have everything they needed for the event in an easily accessible package. I developed an idea using dots to lead your eyes through the brochure using the colors of the SPC's logo throughout the packet. The survey was edited to so it would fold four times and fit in the lanyard. The nametag was an easy way to see someone's name or business when introducing yourself. The production aspect of the project had the same amount of labor as designing the brochure, nametag, and survey. It was a little frustrating at times when I found errors in spelling somewhere and had to keep making example prints before completely printing the project. But, it is all part of the process of creating a successful design. 

Overall, the event was a success. The businesses liked the lanyard with all of the information in one packet. They said it was very easy to maintain all of the information and keep things organized throughout the event. With the help of my peers and supervisors, my concept developed into a solid idea, which in turn resulted in an efficient and uncomplicated production process.

"Using Use Cases" by Elyse Dougherty
April, 2009

One of the most common issues encountered in software development is miscommunication between what the clients actually want and what the programmers actually create. Fortunately, it can also be one of the most preventable.

For Cruzcourt, we chose use cases to be the most effective way of communicating with our clients while ensuring that we built what they envisioned. Use cases are simply scenarios that walk through the theoretical application, determining how all of the parts will interact and how data should flow. They describe the system from the user’s point of view, which is generally helpful from the client’s perspective.

Our Cruzcourt application has four different user types, each with its own panel and set of actions. Therefore, we walked through each of the panels from each user’s perspective, listing all of the actions that could be performed by each. We found that once we walked through each use case with the client, we identified holes and addressed issues that would have otherwise slowed development time if we’d found them later.

Use cases are typically considered from an external perspective. System internals and other technical details are ignored, since they are not usually meaningful or relevant to the client. For example, one of the use cases that we used was “A Cruzcourt administrator adds a new menu item.” Behind the scenes – the system would display the menu item form, take in the details provided by the administrator, add the menu item to the appropriate database table, establish the cuisine and meal into which the menu item fits, add the item and the attributes to the appropriate associative tables, etc.

Obviously, that is MUCH more than what the client needs to see or hear. However, the use case of simply adding a new menu item brought up issues like how we should decide into which categories the item should fit, how to select the attributes it will have, and what fields are necessary for the item.

Overall, we found use cases to be incredibly helpful in bridging the gap between our technological capabilities and the ideas in the minds of the clients. I would not hesitate to recommend them as an excellent tool for any developer/client establishing and gathering requirements.

"Public Relations Perspective" by Amy Duggan

Through working with the SPC, I have gained a lot of experience within the fields of both communications and graphic design.  The very first summer I was involved with the center, Chris Willet and myself worked to build its identity by creating the logo, letterhead, business cards, envelopes, website, etc. At that time, I also worked with Theresa Russel-Loretz to send out public relations materials like press releases and creating a media list of the six surrounding counties. The next phase of the center was working with actual clients, gaining a better understanding of what they do and what the center could do for them. As a group of students, we met on a weekly basis to do research and come with ideas and materials for both of the clients we worked with, Cruzcourt and Express Dynamics. In March, the center held a workshop on campus called the eMarketing Primer, aimed at helping business entrepreneurs learn more about Internet marketing. For the event, I helped with event planning and creating the necessary event materials. For the next phase of the center, I will be involved with continuing to create identity standards for the center, and helping prepare materials for future interns that may become involved with the center. Also, I will be sending out several press releases for future application processes and working on the event to be held in October to launch the SPC's collaboration with Cruzcourt. My experience so far with the SPC has been wonderful. I am able to work hands-on with both students and faculty, and I would recommend getting involved to anyone.

"Graphic Design Work" by Erin Kauffman

Working with the SPC has been an excellent experience. I've gotten the chance to see and do things that I'd otherwise not have the opportunity to do while still in school. Being a part of this has given me more confidence for my work in the “real world” after school is done. Specifically, working with Cruzcourt has been exciting. I've been putting together a identity standards guide for the company, which is something I had never seen before, let alone helped to build. Having the ability to be guided by both the company founders and my teachers at Millersville has allowed me to explore this new area and be certain that I'm producing something useful for the company. I only hope to continue to grow and learn from both the professors and the leaders of the businesses that we are helping.