Working with a robotic platform changes how we learn to code

Terry Denney details how you approach a complex robotics-focused project.

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In the third of our team profiles, we focus on one of our technical leads, Terry Denney. She’s the technical lead on an un-announced Robotics project – an initiative that could change the way kids first learn to code.

This un-announced project is Terry’s 2nd robotics focused-project. She was previously involved in the software platform that powered robot capabilities from the cloud. Before joining Finger Food, Terry had never worked with our robotic friends!

Two way communications!

As tech lead for the team, Terry is involved in day-to-day technical discussions around how features are implemented, as well as helping the project management team scope out releases to ensure delivery features due for each release.

The robotics project focuses on an educational platform to teach high school students how to program. It uses concepts from flow-programming to provide a graphical way to program a Pepper robot. It also includes a simulator that acts like Pepper for times when you don’t have access to a robot. Eventually students can learn more by inspecting the code that’s behind each “box” on the graph which leads to them writing their own custom box to make Pepper do something.

Robots = Hardware + Software

The project sounds like one that everyone would love to work on – but as we know there are technical challenges in any software project and implementing a tool for a robot is no different. 

Terry’s main challenge with the project was to make all the different pieces fit together. “We have a web app that’s the base of our tool which communicates with an API that we designed that talks to an Android app that runs on the robot’s tablet. That’s the first piece. In between, we are also using different languages, as the web app is built using JavaScript, but the tool is supposed to teach Python. 

There’s more, “….. an additional challenge is that when we send a request to a robot to do something, there’s a delay until the robot performs the action, so we need to make sure things happen in the right order and are intuitive to the user. We’re almost there!”

I love being a sounding board for the dev team and working with the broader group…

Terry Denney

So what does Terry enjoy most about her work here? “I love being a sounding board for the dev team and working with the broader group to come up with solutions to complex problems. But, what I really enjoy is mentoring the more junior members of the team – I think it’s important to provide support for others both technically and socially”.

Terry’s passionate about the education angle to the project. With a Bachelors and Masters degree in Computer Science, Terry’s in a good position to comment! 

Every kid should be able to code!

“I’m on my kids’ school PAC exec team, and have worked with the school district for the last few years trying to get schools built in our neighbourhood. I believe that education is such an important part of a community and it builds a very important foundation for our kids to build their future on. There is nothing more rewarding than to know that what you are doing can help improve how kids can learn!

Sending Robots to Classrooms

But what about robots in schools? Sounds like a story from a sci-fi movie!

“It’s a reality. I just wish robotics played a role when I was in school! It’s such an engaging way and get kids interested in technology like programming, and even the mechanics of how to make robots move. I have two young children (5 and 7) and have seen how interested they are whenever they get to see a robot!”

As female software developer, Terry wants to encourage more girls and women to seek a career in technology. She has a few words of advice for aspiring young coders. “I’d encourage girls to believe in themselves, and not be afraid to speak up. It’s something that took me a while in my career to do, and wish I’d been more confident, earlier. 

I’d encourage girls to believe in themselves, and not be afraid to speak up.

Terry Denney

Even though it’s a male-dominated business, Terry doesn’t believe that should make a difference, “a great developer is a great developer, regardless of gender; our industry is still very male-oriented, and it can be difficult to speak up when you’re in the minority, but I’ve found that we all have good ideas that should be shared with everyone.”

When it comes to how girls can get into the business Terry doesn’t really have any specific advice on what to study, but has some broader advice  “I believe it’s important to study something that you are passionate about. Computer science is part of so many different industries these days though, so it definitely doesn’t hurt to get exposed into programming at a young age.”

We can tell you more about secret project later this year, when Terry and team will have a wonderful new robot to bring to schools across the continent.

For more information about the company, or if you have any further questions, please email our team