This post is part of an ongoing series recapping my experience in Oregon State University’s eCampus (online) post-baccalaureate Computer Science degree program. You can learn more about the program here.
Six-word summary: One big project, make it count!
You group up with two other students and spend the entire quarter making a project together.
CS476 is one quarter-long project with a 3-person team of your choosing. If you can’t find groupmates, you can volunteer to be assigned a team. I looked for my groupmates a quarter ahead of time and I think it’s how I ended up with such a high performing group. My team was great.
You can pick one of the instructor-provided projects (which is what my team did) or you can come up with something of your own design, but you’ll have to “sell it” to the instructor or a TA to get approval to make it.
There were a good 20 or so instructor-provided projects to pick from and about half of them seemed to involve developing some kind of mobile app, so if you aren’t keen on developing an app (which some people in the class weren’t) this might rub you the wrong way. I wanted to build a React website and, luckily, there were a couple suitable prompts.
There is very little (if any) instructor/TA feedback on what you make. You won’t get any feedback on your code or what you make, or at least no one on my team did.
Every week you record a 3-4 minute video demonstrating the progress you personally made, and at the end of the quarter someone on your team will put together a poster that summarizes the project.
The class doesn’t really “teach” anything – there’s no lectures or worksheets or tests, it’s just there to make sure you make progress each week. We had to make a presentation poster at the end, but I have no idea who actually saw it (our project showcase was held virtually in the midst of COVID-19 and I couldn’t attend due to my kids’ daycare closing).
If I have any complaint it’s that I had to spend $2000 to just… do a project. I can do that by myself for free. (And I have done that: see OSU Course Explorer, my collection of WordPress plugins, Scene Together, Amazin’ Link Checker). But my group was solid and we made something cool, so at least it was a positive experience overall.
The class’s instructions tell everyone to spend 10 hours a week on it but they also lay out a list of requirements that, in my opinion, could not be achieved if everyone on the team just shut their laptop at the 10-hour mark. I put in around 20-25 hours most weeks.
Since everyone in the team either already worked in web development (or aspired to), choosing React for the project felt relevant and meaningful.
- React 16.8
- Google Firebase and Firestore
- Web speech API and Azure Speech Services
Just to give you a feel for what an individual might contribute to a quarter-long project, here’s a list of my major contributions:
- Project setup, structure, naming conventions
- Early working examples of routes, components, and features to serve as a template/guide for the rest of the project
- User account creation and management (using Firebase Authentication API)
- User schema in Firebase to hold additional user account data
- All of the user-facing forms
- Account linking system, whereby one user can “invite” another to follow and that other account either accepts or declines the invitation
- Settings page where account links are viewed, deleted, and account profile details are changed
- Researching, prototyping, and implementing the “voice to text” feature which required access to the on-device microphone and camera
- Prototype work for the “photo reply” feature
- “Quality of life” improvements, such as being able to refresh app and stay on the page you were on, the header collapsing into a drawer for mobile users, form validation, supported browser notification text
- Responsive app UI works on desktop, iPad, and mobile (in both vertical and horizontal layout)
- CSS-based solution to create “envelope” graphic that has open/closed states
- Created art assets and icons for the project
- App “look and feel”
- “Sent” animation
- Heroku pipeline owner
- Contributed to fixing bugs found by teammates
My teammates had similarly long lists of accomplishments. We arranged the workload such that each of us owned a full “slice” of the app, so they took on the creation, sending, and display of messages between users. Everyone owned the “full stack” of their features, so (hopefully) everyone finished the project feeling like they owned a section of it top to bottom.
What we made
We called our app “Hola, Oma!” and it was based on a prompt provided by the instructor. We built a messaging app wherein the interface is simplified for the “grandparent” user but more complex for the “post creator” user. The user can send text, photos, or videos, and the recipient can respond with text or a selfie. We implemented “voice to text” to make replying with a message simpler for a less tech-savvy user.
Here’s our poster:
Main screen for the “grandparent” user:
User log-in flow and “link up” screen on mobile (for “post creator” type user):
Post-creator type user’s home screen (mobile and desktop):
Post creation (mobile and desktop):
By the end of the quarter the app felt pretty robust! We completed all of the goals we set out to achieve, and even had time for some nice extras. I think it helped a lot that everyone on my team had either an internship or an industry job already, so it was truly a team of professionals.
Capstone was the final course in my OSU CS studies and it was great to end on a high note. You can read my reviews of other OSU CS courses here.