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How to Get Your Hands Dirty!

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From SW Interview with Mahsa Mohaghegh

As a PhD student at Massey I spent many long hours at the University. I had 24 hour access and was usually the only one roaming the campus late at night.

One night that changed. I came down the corridor to find lots of people working intensely late into the night. I wanted to know “Why are all these people here at 2am? On a weekend?”

I had discovered Startup Weekend and it looked amazing. I signed up the first chance I got.

What I learnt

My favourite part of the weekend was working intensely in a small team to a pressing deadline. My big takeaway from the weekend was all about customer validation. As a developer you just don’t learn about that kind of stuff, so you don’t do it.

It’s easy to sit behind your screen until you have the perfect product. Startup Weekend taught me the value of putting your work in front of people before it’s perfect, before it’s working that well or working at all. Talking to people about your idea is hard, you are making yourself vulnerable by putting it out there, but it is the most valuable thing you could ever do.

By talking to people, we discovered a major flaw in our thinking around the product. Once that became clear we had to completely redesign the prototype. That would never have happened unless we got out of the building and talked to some real people.

Scary but priceless.

Now I insist that all of my students validate their work before it’s complete. I know it’s not easy, so they have to record the conversations with potential customers. It makes their work even more compelling to the review panel at assessment time.

My tip for the weekend

Don’t join a big group! Go for a small group of around 4 people. In a small group you will have a clear role, will get your hands very dirty and have a more intense learning experience.

You want to have a mix of people to learn from, with different backgrounds and capabilities. So make sure your team is a mix of designers, developers and non-technicals. The more diverse, the more you will learn.

The team I wanted to work in was too crowded by the time I got there. So I went with Plan B, picked a smaller team and had a great time. I think it was worth it!