Rolling with the punches
Ted Xiao, the engineer on Nguyen’s safety team, felt that the criticism in India was a bit more than some students were prepared for. As an electrical and computing science major from Davis, Calif., he was one of the lucky developers with the power to choose a team during the speed-dating round.
“In the States, our cultural education is that we’ll give you 90% praise and a tiny bit of criticism,” he said. “In India, it was a short compliment, then 20 minutes of criticism.”
The old adage goes, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. In the end, Xiao’s team built four prototypes over the course of the fall semester, and he got to call all of the technology shots.
“We’d get to decide if there was a value-add,” said Xiao, describing the experience of being the gatekeeper for the entire project. “That was foreign to me. It was empowering. A lot of our business team members would say, ‘Can you do this?’ And I’d say yes or no. I was able to promote a lot of the features I was going to have to implement.”
As for the technology used, Xiao is truly a millennial coder. “We used Continuous Integration because we were doing Continuous Deployment. There weren’t really milestones,” he said. “I decided to experiment. I used Meteor.js for the first time. I am a Rails guy, but switching to Meteor wasn’t a huge change. I was surprised by how similar they were. We pivoted so many times, I had to be fast. It was fun learning a new stack.”
In the end, Xiao’s team produced a mobile application to map crime, giving both the police and citizens a way to report incidents and keep track of where bad things are happening in their town.
Getting to that point, however, meant being grilled and cajoled as if these students were on “Shark Tank,” sometimes with multiple pitches and pivots in a single week. Nguyen appreciated just how much work this meant for Xiao.
“The great thing about Ted is he’s good about dumbing it down,” said Nguyen. “I got to understand all the things that were happening. We worked side by side a lot. I’ve seen him throwaway hours of code and change features. I’ve seen the interface change from one day to the next. He’s great at keeping me in the loop.”
The biggest lesson these two learned? Choosing your team matters a great deal. Other groups in the Berkeley program were not blessed with as much interpersonal cohesion, according to Serrato. Perhaps the biggest lesson some of these students learned in India was about the importance of having a good team dynamic.