Beautiful Canoe was set up in 2013 by two computer science academics at Aston University, as they had seen that there was a need to give students real experience of delivering software to clients and users. This sort of professional environment and challenge stretches the students in a way that their degree course cannot, by its nature, provide. Our founders’ vision was to help students gain the skills and attitudes required to work together to deliver high-quality, release-ready code, adapt to changing and emerging requirements, and maintain software in-use by users.
Unlike many other student enterprises, Beautiful Canoe works on a commercial basis. This is because we believe that students should be paid properly for doing a professional job, and are often unaware of the value of the skills they already possess. As a social enterprise, the students’ development is at the core of the work Beautiful Canoe does: they learn about working with agile values and principles, sprints, planning, retrospectives, dealing with legacy code bases, maintenance, and testing for release-readiness. We predominantly develop and maintain web applications with database backends, and have worked for clients in the public, private, and third sectors. In addition to technical skills, we put a strong focus on the development of the students’ attitudes, people skills, and emotional intelligence. We also ask the students to lead in the relationship with their clients, and we complement this with a number of coaching sessions, based upon an organisation and relationship systems coaching approach. This supports the students in exploring and developing their own self-awareness when working in a team environment.
For the students they tell us that they have not only learnt new technical skills but also how things fit together in a professional context. It enhances their CV with some practical, commercial experience, with real clients. They also tell us that they have learnt what roles and cultures work for them as individuals. But most importantly, they get to reflect on their own attitude to work, including understanding whether a career in computer science is one for them or not. For the employer, they get access to graduates with not only the required technical skills, but more importantly a set of skills that allows them to hit the ground running. For our clients, they get professionally developed bespoke software to suit their needs, while also knowing they are contributing to the development of young people.
For Aston University it helps with graduate employability and reputation. A number of former Beautiful Canoeists have gone on to get jobs very quickly in the local job market because of their experience with us and the employers know the high standards we instil as part of our own ethos. It provides the university with a USP for students to know that when they come to Aston they have the opportunity to get real life experience in a relatively safe environment.