July 24, 2015, by International students
What I learned from the Nottingham Advantage Award IT Consultancy Project
As I said in my previous blog post, before I came to the UK, I had never taken part in any volunteer programmes. Why? Because my background is in IT, while the main problems in my home country (Indonesia) are related to social issues, health, education, and the economy. I did not know how to contribute to the community except by giving to charity. When I read about the IT Consultancy Project, a module in the Nottingham Advantage Award programme that specifically offered computer science students the opportunity to get involved in a community project, I decided to apply. I wanted to gain insight into how the University works together with communities and what kind of contribution a computer science student could make. Hopefully, I would be able to establish a similar programme between the community of computer scientists and local people in my home country.
My first impression was that this programme looked very serious and professional. After submitting my application form, I had to attend an interview as part of the selection for the module. I was interviewed by two people, Andrew Shearsmith, Service Manager (Teaching and Learning), and Jacqui Storey, Sharing and Knowledge Exchange Manager, Community Partnership. Andrew asked me about my technical knowledge, while Jacqui enquired about my competency.
Once I was accepted, I was assigned to a group with other two students to work with Integritas Advocacy, a charity organisation run by a small number of paid staff and volunteers. Due to our client’s limited availability, my group had to meet them even before the IT Consultancy induction session was given. Several hours before the induction session, we met the project manager of Integritas Advocacy at their premises. We found that their IT use and requirements are modest but the organisation lacks of any in-house IT expertise which can cause difficulties any times. We identified their major problem was time consuming and inefficient processes in generating reports. They record anonymised information of their clients in great detail using Excel Spreadsheets and manually extract a regular report, report the progress and key milestones reached by their clients as feedback to their funders which are vital for funding sustainability.
Although I was nervous about the freedom to take ownership of the project, after the first meeting and induction session I felt more relaxed because apparently we always get support from the mentors for consultation if we get stuck with the project. Quite similar to my former module, I was prepared with relevant training, an induction session, team building, ‘thinking outside the box’ and presentation skills. In the induction session, we were told that when delivering a recommendation we should always bear in mind the constraints, sustainability of the solution and possibility to re-purpose.
Considering their budget constraints and IT resource, we decided to utilise existing applications, in which could help them to make a better use of what they have already had. Also this hopefully makes the solution more sustainable in a long run rather than asking them to learn and use a new tool. As a solution, we proposed a macro excel function that would automate the report generation process.
The project manager was amazed when the programme could generate a report in less than three minutes, a process that used to take ages for her. For me and my group mates, this was a simple solution, but they just didn’t have time to explore what they have already had. What I learned through this project is that we often take things for granted which for other people are very helpful. So, no matter how small or big you think your contribution is, it might be really going to benefit others.
The last session of this programme was the celebration event, an opportunity for us to tell the audience about our time during the project. There were representatives from the charities, Careers and Employability Service staff, School of Computer Science staff and also a couple of employers who were invited by Career and Employability Service team. After all of the presentations were completed, we got our certificates and plenty of time to mingle and enjoy some lovely cupcakes over tea and coffee.