Kit Chen - HackLab Student Developer Conference Keynote Speaker

Kit Chen will be a keynote speaker at HackLab Student Developer Conference, March 21 at the Shaw Conference Centre. She is a great example of putting your skills into practice while still pursing formal education. She embodies our “don’t wait, start now” mindset. Alieo Games launched at Edmonton Startup Week 2014 and supports creative learning through play. 

Q: What do you do & how did you get here?

A: I’m a PhD candidate in Computing Science at the University of Alberta and my research is in Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning. Originally, I’m from the U.S. and my masters advisor told me about the AICML and how great the UofA was for Machine Learning research. My supervisor here, Mike Bowling, was a big draw and frankly so was a chance to live in Canada. I moved to Edmonton in 2009 and I’ve never looked back since.
Describing a typical work week is difficult. Since we’re such a new company, none of us are working full-time yet on Alieo (though that will change soon). Each of us spends at least a couple days a week working on other projects – I’m a teaching assistant for a first year computing course at the UofA. Joel is a professional photographer. Chris is a children’s book author. Neesha is about to defend her thesis.
The one consistent thing we do on a weekly basis is have a two-hour long Alieo team meeting on Google hangouts. We set an agenda and we discuss pretty much everything: new features we want in the next release, marketing campaigns, teacher conventions we’re attending, business plan competitions we’re applying for, the outcomes of meetings we had with various advisors, support questions we got from teachers and students, etc..– just about any task big or small that you could imagine having to do to make a company run. The meeting orients us towards what we’re doing in the next week/month/quarter so that we’re all on the same page about how to move forward. In general, people are really down on meetings, but when run efficiently (and ha, I guess I’m suggesting we run them efficiently), they can be very helpful – especially when you don’t have the benefit of a central office where everyone comes to work every day and especially when one of your team members lives in a different province, as Chris does.

Q) What are three skills you would recommend student developers add to their tool kit before they leave school?

A: There are a lot of skills that transfer from classroom to the workplace or to making a startup. If you have the chance, sign up to be a tutor or work as a teaching assistant. You get tons of practice explaining things to people really clearly and patiently. Definitely comes in handy when a teacher asks about how to use COW or when you’re pitching to people. Tutoring/TAing also gives you insight into how to ask questions of others which is helpful when you’re talking to mentors.
Neesha’s research has her running user studies with human subjects and almost everyone’s (science/engineering) grad research requires them to run experiments and analyze the results. Being able to process and extract conclusions from a spreadsheet of data is super useful. For Alieo, we’ve done user tracking to see the who/what/where/when/how people use our web app. We’ve made surveys to solicit feedback from educators and students. We’ve visited schools and had students and teachers try COW.
Even though the experimental skills translate, there are some major differences. If you do a user-study as part of University research, you need to apply for ethics approval in order for the work to be publishable. Also, you follow some gold-standard scientific method where there’s a control group and an experimental group and you mitigate pretty much every conclusion drawn from the data because you care about statistical significance. Most of the studies you do as part of a company or a startup aren’t run for the sake of furthering human knowledge. You’re running them for the sake of making an informed decision about the future of your company. Depending on how much you stand to risk, you may or may not have to be very disciplined about running the experiment and drawing conclusions from it.

Q: What are you most looking forward to sharing with the participants at HackLab Student Developer Conference?

A: All I have are my experiences as a student who got together with some friends who collectively worked to make something cool. :) 

HackLab Student Developer Conference is a chance to level up your software development skills and learn from leaders at some of the best tech-enabled companies in the world, like Apple and $35 includes talks, workshops, lunch & coffee breaks, and an all-ages evening social.