Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Powering IPRO

Those who work with me know that I’m a big advocate of teamwork. From kids’ soccer teams to pair programming, I know that the power of a group working collectively toward a shared goal is formidable. I partner with my co-workers in some form or another every day, and I can attest to the positive dynamics that come from a team working in sync.

I recently saw an example of teamwork in action that was so remarkable, I’m still talking about it. It was part of a program that teaches college students vital and valuable skills they need to succeed both personally and professionally: problem solving, analytical thinking, creativity, meeting deadlines and presentation skills, to name a few.

The setting was Spring 2011 IPRO Day – the Interprofessional Projects Program – at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). IPRO is a semester-long course that brings together teams of students from every major, from sophomores to graduate level, to tackle and solve a real-world problem. While every project has goals that can be resolved in a relatively brief timeframe, the challenges are substantial. Consider some of the IPRO challenges to be assigned during the upcoming summer semester:

Adopting and implementing a Diabetes Electronic Support Center at Mount Sinai Hospital

Harvesting and determining the beneficial use of condensate from air conditioning systems

Prototyping and user testing of decision making tools for visualizing corporate performance indicators on mobile devices

Prototyping and testing an integrated rooftop photovoltaic solar system design

Real businesses provide real projects for the IPRO teams to tackle. Teams of roughly eight to 12 students, majoring in everything from architecture and biology to chemistry and humanities, work together to solve the challenge. At IPRO Day at the semester’s end, the teams formally present and showcase their projects to a panel of judges and the community.

This is where GeneXus USA comes in. I was invited to serve as a judge for the event, and GeneXus USA developed the technology that enabled the 570+ students and faculty in attendance to vote for their favorite video from the 24 teams competing, a competition that came with a $500 prize.

Here’s how this came about. Back in April, IPRO Director Dr. Michael Gosz attended a GeneXus demo and got so excited about our technology that he asked April Welch, IIT’s Director of Educational Planning, to attend our GeneXus USA event. There, she saw an application we developed that allowed attendees to vote in our smart device competition. She asked if we could design a similar solution for IPRO Day that would allow participants to vote for their favorite video. Right then and there, we sat down with April and created an application in about an hour. The voting app runs on the iPad, while a web-based back office application lets you enter the data together with the database. At IPRO Day, there were iPads running the GeneXus app that everyone in attendance used to vote for their favorite team video.

Meanwhile, I judged the IT track at IPRO Day, which was great because I was truly interested to see what new ideas these students had to offer. The ideas were really terrific. As each team presented, I noticed that most of them relied heavily on PowerPoint. Now, their PowerPoint presentations were great… they had a good flow, they incorporated strong graphical elements, and they made their cases effectively. But what I really wanted to see was more working prototypes. I wanted to see these great ideas demonstrated to me not just visually, but operationally. I was surprised that the majority of the teams did not have a working prototype to showcase to the judging panel.

This is where GeneXus USA comes in, part II: We are providing IIT with a software tool that will allow IPRO students to more easily develop prototypes, starting with the Sumer 2011 semester. We’ve already begun installing the software and training students and faculty on its use. The GeneXus software speeds up and simplifies application development by automating code generation, allowing students to more readily build out prototypes. I look forward to enabling these talented students to develop more working prototypes. With their talent, dedication and graphical expertise, when given the right tool, they can really bring their ideas to life.

Now, I heard a rumor that someone on an IPRO team referred to me as “the toughest judge there,” but I have to admit, I like this! I want to see more working prototypes, even bigger and bolder graphics, and more thinking outside the box. The teamwork and innovation I saw from these students is awe-inspiring, and I am forever grateful to IIT for allowing GeneXus to help power the IPRO program.

IIT was the first university in the nation with an IPRO program, and I look forward to it earning the recognition, distinction and acclaim that it deserves. Take a minute to check out to learn more.

Also, be sure to visit to see our photos from the event.