Rate your Beer Web App

Jay Bennett, BSc Computer Science graduate 2011.

I’m faced with an interesting situation as I begin to write this post, I am a graduate of the University of Surrey’s Computing department, already looking fondly back on my time as a student and cautiously optimistic about my future. Putting that aside I’ve been asked to share a part of my final year which took place in my free time.

One of the modules in my final year; Web Technologies, required the completion of a fairly large assignment in which our small groups would develop some form of dynamic website. The site had to be supported by a database, and with multiple levels of user authentication (i.e. admin users and regular users had to exist).

My good friend and fellow graduate Owen Jones put forward the idea that we should develop a Beer rating website. Yes, students went straight to an alcohol related activity, are you surprised?

We did plenty of research, both relevant online research, and somewhat less relevant research in Chancellors bar. Finally deciding that the website should be entirely community driven in a similar way to social networks in existence now.

The result is still running today, and can be seen at RateYourBeer.co.uk. I should say that it started being run on a bedroom server, using a very simple source control system for Owen and I to work with. The migration to the Amazon EC2 cloud where it now lives was only in the past couple of months.

RateYourBeer finished up development and was submitted to the University in December 2010. With the exams finished I looked at my modules for the final semester, I realised I was about to have a very theoretical few months, why not develop something myself in C# to keep my skills sharp?

That’s how I justified it, really I just wanted to make some apps for this cool new Windows Phone I’d recently purchased (although I did end up developing an app as part of my dissertation/project, so it was helpful in my degree!).

Developing for a mobile platform has matured a lot since the days of Java ME, developers can now create some very sophisticated apps using very comprehensive programming tools which rival their desktop counterparts. In particular C# was very easy to learn considering my experience in Java gained from the University’s Computer Science course.

What’s even more exciting about mobile development in the modern age is that you can take a completely new approach if you so choose, focusing on creating a fantastic User Experience through new and intuitive GUIs. If nothing else you should give it a try just to better understand UX design!

I strongly encourage anyone interested in mobile development to head to the Microsoft App Hub and take a look through the Windows Phone developer documentation (and sign up for a free Student account), as it’s a very easy platform taking me just one week to have a prototype up and running. With the prototype I quickly started promoting my app on Twitter via a RateYourBeer account.

The app has changed a lot since then, and you can see the current screenshots and information on my development blog: JayBennett – Portfolio, where you’ll also find information on the opportunities such an app provided.

Shortly after the app was released I went to my favourite Windows Phone news site and offered to develop the official WPCentral app which has now been downloaded over 11,000 times and is the number 1 rated News & Weather app in the Windows Phone marketplace. I’d never have been able to accomplish this amazing achievement without the experience I gained in just expanding my coursework into something I loved.

I thought I’d finish this post with some advice, you are of course welcome to take it or leave it. If you really want to distinguish yourself not just as a developer, but as a person, take a bit of your personal time to follow something you have a passion for, something you enjoy. I was able to take my experience and my enthusiasm into job interviews and I’m now very lucky to be working in an exciting company in central London, leaving cautious optimism to end this post full circle.

You can find more about Jay on twitter or at jaybennett.co.uk