When I heard the word “apphaus” for the first time, I definitely didn’t know what to expect. To find out more, I attended what was a very unusual job info session at Waterloo. By unusual I mean, not the typical “look how great our company is!” or “here is what we have achieved so far.” Instead, it started out with a low-tech social network interaction session between the attendees. I was there for only 30 to 40 minutes but, together with the other attendees, we managed to “chart” our interests via sticky notes, played “rock, paper, scissors” (I lost to the person who won the entire game, so I didn’t feel too bad then) and saw some hilarious video of suburban dad rappers taking their babies on a stroller made for a product called Recalls Plus that SAP recently launched. Need I say more?! I was SOLD at this point, even though I had convinced myself before this to only apply to jobs outside Canada for my last work term. I simply couldn’t resist the opportunity.
Fast forward a couple months and here I am at work, working for SAP’s apphaus team in Waterloo. So, what exactly does apphaus mean again? Apphaus is an SAP program that focuses on building consumer mobile apps headed by Sam Yen, owner of User Experience at SAP. They adhere strongly to the design thinking philosophy of Stanford’s Hasso Plattner School of Design (or commonly known as the d.school). Design thinking, simply put is practicing empathy, seeking inspiration from users, cherishing multidisciplinary teams (like me being a mechanical engineering and designing iPhone apps) and doing rapid iterations which goes well with the agile programming sprints of design, test, build and do it all again.
So, before I begin my first few week’s encounter, let me tell you. This is absolutely unlike any co-op position that I have ever held. The first week was primarily focused on team building, we played several games; from playing throw a sound ball, building a LEGO city while doing it in an agile fashion, visited the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) in Toronto for a scavenger hunt, to playing more sound ball game and finally, to understand our users better, we formed teams and interviewed each other of how our ideal work place environment would look like just for fun. I thought it would end there, but surprisingly; we were given a small budget to go and make these ideal workplaces come to life! And yes! We went and bought them from IKEA. The next day when we came to our office, the majority of what we had ordered was waiting for us to get started on. The whole of that next morning we built our own furniture that we ordered as a team.
While the first week was primarily focused for training on design thinking, sprint planning, and working together as a team, the second week was spent introducing us to our specific products and were trained on how to conduct user research, which is one of the main proponents of design thinking. And guess what, we put our new found knowledge of user research into action at the Toronto Blue Jays stadium (now commonly known as the Rogers center) where we interviewed a large range of fans for our project needs. Why the Jays stadium you might be wondering? We are working on building an iPhone sports related app and who better to do user research on other than from the hard-core fans from around the stadium before a game. Granted, the Jays are not doing very well these days but the fans we met were very enthusiastic to speak to us.
The Apphaus project at Waterloo consists of 3 teams of 4 people each (1 Designer and 3 developers) and our objective is to build an iPhone app from scratch within 90 days. One thing I forgot to mention is that, the majority of the team members have little or no experience building mobile applications. This means that the 90 days cover learning, user research, designing, learning to work together as a team (very similar to a start up environment) to develop both the front-end and backend of our applications which will be in an entirely new in-memory database called HANA. Let’s not forget we still have to get approved from the Apple AppStore. In short, the experience is like working in a start-up environment within a big enterprise, which is exactly what it is.
Nothing sums up the excitement as what they said to us on Day 1 of the product cycle: