Starting with TC-1, assignments are to be done by groups of four.
The first cause of failures to the Tiger project is human problems within the groups. We cannot stress too much the importance of constituting a good group of four people. The Tiger project starts way before your first line of code: it begins with the selection of your partners.
Here are a few tips, collected wisdom from the previous failures.
- You work for yourself, not for grades
- Yes, we know, when you’re a student grades are what matters. But close your eyes, make a step backwards, and look at yourself for a minute, from behind. You see a student, some sort of a larva, which will turn into a grownup. The larva stage lasts 3 to 4 years, while the hard working social insect is there for 40+ years: a 5% ratio without the internships. Three minutes out of an hour. These years are made to prepare you to the rest of your life, to provide you with what it takes to enjoy a lifelong success in jobs. So don’t waste these three minutes by just cheating, paying little attention to what you are given, or by just waiting for this to end. The opportunity to learn is a unique moment in life: treasure it, even if it hurts, if it’s hard, because you may well regret these three minutes for much of your life.
- Start recruiting early
- Making a team is not easy. Take the time to know the people, talk with them, and prepare your group way before beginning the project. The whole TC-0 is a test bed for you to find good partners.
- Don’t recruit good lazy friends
- If s/he’s lazy, you’ll have to scold her/him. If s/he’s a friend, that will be hard. Plus it will be even harder to report your problems to us.
- Recruit people you can depend on
- Trust should be your first criterion.
Members should have similar programming skills
- Weak programmers should run away from skilled programmers
The worst “good idea” is “I’m a poor programmer, I should be in a group of skilled programmers: I will learn a lot from them”. Experience shows this is wrong. What actually happens is as follows.
At the first stage, the leader assigns you a task. You try and fail, for weeks. In the meanwhile, the other members teach you lots of facts, but (i) you can’t memorize everything and end up saying “hum hum” without having understood, and (ii) because they don’t understand what you don’t understand, they are often poor teachers. The day before the submission, the leader does your assignments to save the group. You learned nothing, or quite. Second stage: same beginning, you are left with your assignment, but the other members are now bothered by your asking questions: why should they answer, since you don’t understand what they say (remember: they are poor teachers because they don’t understand your problems), and you don’t seem to remember anything! The day before the submission, they do your work. From now on, they won’t even ask you for anything: “fixing” you is much more time consuming than just doing it by themselves. Oral examinations reveal you neither understand nor do anything, hence your grades are bad, and you win another round of first year…
Take our advice: if you have difficulties with programming, be with other people like you. Your chances are better together, and anyway you are allowed to ask for assistance from other groups.
- Don’t mix repeaters with first year students
- Repeaters have a much better understanding of the project than they think: they know its history, some parts of the code, etc. This will introduce a difference of skills from the beginning, which will remain till the end. It will result in the first year students having not participated enough to learn what was to be learned.
- Don’t pick up old code
- This item is especially intended to repeaters: you might be tempted to keep the code from last year, believing this will spare you some work. It may not be so. Indeed, every year the specifications and the provided code change, sometimes with dramatic impact on the whole project. Struggling with an old code base to meet the new standard is a long, error prone, and uninteresting work. You might spend more time trying to preserve your old code than what is actually needed to implement the project from scratch. Not to mention that of course the latter has a much stronger educational impact.
- Diagnose and cure drifts
- When a dysfunction appears, fix it, don’t let it grow. For instance, if a member never works in spite of the warnings, don’t cover him: he will have the whole group drown. It usually starts with one member making more work on Tiger, less on the rest of the curriculum, and then he gets tired all the time, with bad mood etc. Don’t walk that way: denounce the problems, send ultimatums to this person, and finally, warn the assistants you need to reconfigure your group.
- Reconfigure groups when needed
- Members can leave a group for many reasons: dropped EPITA, dropped Tiger, joined one of the schools’ laboratories, etc. If your group is seriously unbalanced (three skilled people is OK, otherwise be four), ask for a reconfiguration in the news.
- Tiger is a part of your curriculum
- Tiger should neither be 0 nor 100% of your curriculum: find the balance. It is not easy to find it, but that’s precisely one thing EPITA teaches: balancing overloads.