2017: A Year in Review

It’s that point in the year where streets can seem to be as bright as the sun thanks to house decorations, where advent calendars have been in shops for about two months and where, yet again, I’ve been trying to avoid that song. It’s also a year to the day that I wrote my post about 2016, so I thought it was as good a time as any to write a blog post looking back at how my 2017 has been.

The biggest thing that I’ve done this year is starting university. The process that began last spring finally arrived at the summer of this year, where I sat my final set of A Level exams (Further Maths, Physics and, of course, Computer Science). Overall, they weren’t as bad as I feared that they were going to be, I struggled with the maths, but one of the nice things about only needing 3 grades to get into my firm choice whilst taking 4 A Levels is that I had a safety net if I needed it. In the end, I managed to get AAB, which met the entry requirements for where I wanted to study. (Refreshing the UCAS Track page from about 7am until 7:30am might not have been a great idea in hindsight, but there’s nothing that I’ve really experienced compared to the relief and joy that I had when the page updated to tell me that my choice had accepted me!)

And so, for the last 4 months, I’ve been living at studying computer science at the University of Nottingham. I’m absolutely loving it here: the campus, the staff and the people that I’ve befriended are better than I could have imagined. Before starting I was “a bit scared”, to say the least. Yet, after just a week or two, I’d managed to get into the groove of things. I’m no longer scared of being here. I’m enjoying myself, and I’m looking forward to the next few years.

This year, there are quite a few different projects and other such things that I’ve done. For starters, I started to learn how to program in the C programming language. This was a part of my degree, and to my own surprise, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I had it in my head that it was going to be a massive and incredibly difficult task seeing as it is such a low-level language (especially when you consider the number of years’ experience I have with Python!), but it turned out that, when you really get down to it, C is just another programming language. Once you know one, it’s not as difficult to transfer your skills (problem solving, writing with the correct syntax and googling error messages spring to mind) to another language. I’ve also, as a part of my degree, been learning how to program in ARM Assembly Language. Unfortunately, whilst my earlier sentiment about transerring skills mostly holds when learning asm, the exact syntax and procedures that you need to follow make using it a chore. I’m rather glad that, after an exam in January, I won’t necessarily have to use it again in the future.

Another project/event that I’ve taken part in is DigitalOcean’s Hacktoberfest, a challenge to submit 4 pull requests to public repositories on GitHub throughout the entirity of October. I submitted changes to vidsum, hubot-hackbot and GitChat, as well as to hug and quizwipe (although the last of these was in fact the repository I worked on with a couple of others for a hackathon, as detailed later). Unfortunately, the shirt and stickers that were sent out haven’t arrived yet, so I can’t put a picture up here of them. Hopefully they will be here by the time that I return to university in the new year.

As I mentioned earlier, I took part in a 24 hour hackathon called HackNotts. Well, it was supposed to be a 24 hour hackathon, but it happened on the weekend that the UK moved from BST back to GMT, so it was actually a 25 hour hackathon. For the unaware, a hackathon is an event in which you have to create a thing in a limited amount of time. I know it sounds vague, but that’s because the range of things you’re allowed to create is really broad. The team that I was a part of, Scheduled Overs (which consists of me and two friends on the Comp Sci course, and which was named after this brilliant sketch by Mitchell and Webb), decided to create a quiz game that could be played on a large screen using phones or other such devices as controllers (à la the Jackbox Party Packs). Other teams created interesting applications, such as one which would automatically notify you if a news story was posted including a keyword you gave it, and another team created a really cool 2d space/shooter game that you controlled by moving your hands above a sensor and which displayed across 3 adjacent screens. It was a really great weekend and I’m glad that I was able to be a part of it. Something I’ve learned for future hackathons I attend is that sleeping is not a bad thing. Even if it’s just for an hour or two, it’s a much better plan than trying to go the entire weekend without sleeping (I made it through from 12pm on the Saturday until about 8am on the Sunday, at which point it was suddenly half past and I was being woken by somebody nudging my chair. Suffice it to say that I was quite confused about the entire situation).

Since 2015, I’ve been taking part in Advent of Code, an advent calendar consisting of programming challenges. Every time I’ve tried it, it’s been great fun, though I’ve never been able to make it through an entire month’s worth of challenges. This year, however, is different. I’ve managed to work my way through every puzzle that’s been released thus far (even though today’s was quite a challenge!) and I’m super happy to have been able to! ⭐🌟 I’ve been working through it with a technology-oriented community in Nottingham, and I think that’s really helped. If you want to see my solutions to the puzzles, then you can find them here.

I’d be hard pushed to talk about this year and not mention i60. It took place this Spring and was the first Insomnia event that I’ve been to. This also means that it’s the first time that I’d ever met a good proportion of the friends that I’ve known for the better part of 2 and a half years, and boy, what a rollercoaster of emotions that was. I’m not going to go too much into that side of what happened, but if you want to have a look for yourself then you can here, here and here. I’m not proud of what I slipped into over that weekend, but I am incredibly pleased to have been able to finally meet such great people. I was a bit of an awkward mess (as should be expected, really), but overall things turned out great. (Incidentally, that weekend is the reason why I absolutely love the Gregory Brothers’ “Hello Again” - such a lovely song 💜)

This year, I was also a part of the creation of the gameshow that I’ve mentioned numerous times on this blog. In the run up to the event, I was… stressed, shall we say. I had been putting in a lot of work and I managed to push myself past my breaking point. Several times over. It led to arguments and upset, and there’s one person in particular that I’d like to apologise to. If you’re reading this, then I’m sorry for what I did. I shouldn’t have done it, and I hope that going into the new year, we can definitively put it behind us.

Moving on, if you’d like to see some of the things that were created in the run up to the event, then you’ll be able to find blog posts here and a number of promotional screenshots on our group Twitter account (they start around the end of July). You can also see the YouTube releases of the livestream here.

On a similar theme, the community that I’m a part of held a 24-hour-gaming-marathon-livestream-y type thing last month. For 24 hours, we played games from Minecraft to Cuphead to Choice Chamber. It was incredible fun, and I’d jump at the chance to help do it again next year. In the end, we were able to raise an incredible £607.50, which completely blew our original target of £300 out of the water! If you’d like to see the YouTube releases of each stream slot, then you can find them here.

There are a lot of things I have to be thankful of. First of all, I’m thankful to my family, who’ve been there this entire year and helping me not completely fail to adult whilst I was at uni. I’m also thankful for the friends that I’ve made at uni - they’ve helped me from being a nervous wreck on the inside to being kind-of okay with it all. I’m also incredibly thankful for my friends I know online (and now, in person, I suppose). So many people have helped me throughout this year, and I cannot say thank you enough!

Next year I plan to keep on making random stuff (it’s worked out alright for me thus far). I’d quite like to take part in more hackathons, as well as otherwise just practise my programming skills. I’m keen to keep writing, and I’m sure that I’ll find ways to do that. Either way, I’m looking forward to 2018, and I hope that the new year brings you what you’re looking for too! <3

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and, until next time, o/