Hot Sh!t List 2012

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Attribution Some rights reserved by kyz

We have been tracking startups and people for a while. In 2011 was the first Hot Sh!t List, but it won’t be the last. There are a number of amazing individuals in the ecosystem like Mark MacLeod (LinkedIn, @startupcfo), Boris Wertz (LinkedIn, @bwertz), Dan Morel (LinkedIn, @dpmorel), Debbie Landa (LinkedIn, @deblanda), Chris Arsenault (LinkedIn, @chrisarsenault), Dan Martell (LinkedIn, @danmartell), Jesse Rodgers (LinkedIn, @jrodgers) and others. Over the past 7 years the community has grown, and connected, and continues to help each other.

But this list is different.

It’s not about the people who have raised the most money, or who have the biggest social graphs. It’s about who we expect to talk about over the next 12 months. Be it the ideas, the companies, the impact, etc. My goal was to find a mix of the unsung heroes, the founders, the developers, the doers, the troublemakers and the faces of different companies across Canada that we think are amazing/interesting. What do I mean by “interesting”? Well it depends. But these people are doing the stuff we’ll be talking about over the next 12 months.

The list is no particular order. But there is no denying it, these folks are the:

StartupNorth Hot Sh!t 2012 BadgeHot Sh!t List 2012


Teaching Software Engineering and Startups at UofT

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About 5 years ago I was asked to teach a 4th year undergrad software engineering course at the University of Toronto. The course had been previously cancelled due to low enrollment; in an era dubbed the “Software Gold Rush” a cancelled course indicated something was wrong…

Software engineering is difficult to teach
Students are expected to learn how to avoid mistakes they never made. A great divide results from the instructor talking about concepts suitable for a mature organization when students are all about working their ass off and getting things done the night before. We borrowed several lessons from startups, having been personally involved with two startups over a dozen years. The way startups work are much closer to students ways of doing things. Since launch, course enrolment has tripled and two Y Combinator applications have been submitted based on class projects. Here is what we have learned so far:

1. Use a startup software process
Students are all about getting things done the night before; similar to how startups work. Teaching a heavyweight process feels foreign because students haven’t made the mistakes to understand reasons for the overhead!

2. Change the project every year
There is nothing more of a turnoff than a make-work project with antiquated technology. Instructors that use the same project over and over are sleepwalking. A new project each year puts the instructor and students on equal footing, solving problems together. Make the class goal to have someone apply to Y Combinator. Discuss the non-technical issues of software such has how people are going to use the product, how are you going to sell it, what is the competition like, what is the business plan. One big class project brings issues into the classroom better resembling the real world. This also allows non-trivial projects to be developed and students to test-out roles (e.g. project management) that would not otherwise exist.

3. Allow controlled crashes
Let the students make mistakes. For example, let them avoid source control. A student who looses code because of clobbered checkins will be a lesson learned for the entire class. However, when crashes occur, it is the instructor’s responsibility to manage and fix it. After the mistakes have been made, teach them about process. Keep things light and give them references for their future travels. During lectures on process, tie them into the mistakes that were made. Make process real.

4. Demo early and often
Create a culture where the principal deliverable is working software rather than documentation. Use early demos to correct mistakes and give guidance rather than having them worry about their grades.

5. Instructors should code
The instructor-student relationship changes dramatically if the instructor contributes code. Everyone becomes a peer instantly. This improve communication and follows the startup philosophy that even managers should write code.

Next steps
The course has been well received by the students at UofT. I have much more regular contract with students from this class than the other courses I have taught at UofT and UofW. I am interested in hearing from anyone who is interested in providing continuity to the students; a partner that would provide input on the project at the beginning, stay involved with it during the course, and offer a path forward for interested students ready to commit to a startup.

CanCon 3.0

I was doing some evening reading I came across and interesting  thought on the intersection of social networks and content:

Media is fast-becoming an important area for the social network. The news feed, long a place for friends to share personal photos and thoughts, is becoming more of a content discovery engine

I’ve posited elsewhere on the role of content in the evolution of the Internet. In a nutshell, if Web 2.0 is the social web, then I respectfully submit for your consideration that Web 3.0 is the content web. What I mean by this isn’t that the Web 3.0 is about taking traditional content that has been available in traditional media (literature in books; movies on film; music on CDs) and putting them on the web, obviously we are well into that trend. What I’m referring to is entirely new forms of content that have yet to be created for the social web

Then my thoughts drift to Canada and the potential behind Canadian start-ups. Canadians have always been innovators in content, even if that innovation didn’t happen at home. Note:

So does all this bode well for Canadian content companies? As we think about national competitive differentiators, aspects of a country’s economy that sets it apart from the rest of the world- should we be thinking content?

If Canadian start-ups could combine technology smarts and content smarts, could the result be a whole new class of content, the likes of which we haven’t seen yet?