Student Startup Passion vs. Market Potential

As part of my Startupinformatik initiative (in German), I’m trying to motivate student startups. Here, I want to talk about student startups coming out of a Master’s program. These are different from startups coming out of my research lab, which are based on work with my Ph.D. students. Master student startups are typically smaller, not based on significant intellectual property, and my working relationship with the team has been much shorter than with my Ph.D. students.

What are the three most important factors that make a startup successful? As the old saying goes: Team, team, and team. There is plenty of advice on the web on finding and building teams. I have a bit to add to this as well, but will do so in a different post. Here, I would like to focus on the next two most important success factors, which are product and passion. Without a good product there is no money to be made, and without passion, the startup will fall apart too quickly.

Sadly, being a student, having a good product idea, and having passion for it are factors that are hard to align. The following figure helps illustrate the problem.

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Favorite Story of Student Entrepreneur Ageism

I teach a course on software product management where I sometimes cross over into startup-land. During a recent class, I showed students a rara-talk by a VC, who was trying to convince them to become entrepreneurs. So I asked the class:

Statistically speaking, a 40-year old entrepreneur is much more likely to succeed than a student entrepreneur. Why is this venture capitalist so eager to get you to become an entrepreneur rather than a more experienced person?

After a bit of back and forth, one student finally said:

Well, if it takes 10 years to grow a startup, a 40 year old entrepreneur may not be be able to stick around for such a long time.

I’ve gotten used to such statements and take them rather stoically. A 40-year old PhD student of mine, however, was rolling on the floor laughing.

M.B.A.s or Engineers for Product Management?

I teach product management at a public German engineering school, where I am a professor of computer science. Product management is my nod towards “business informatics”, otherwise I only teach engineering courses (and one general how-to-perform-research class).

There is an old debate as to who makes better product managers: M.B.A.s or engineers? Having worked on both sides of the fence and having gotten both degrees, I can confirm that as so often, the question is wrong: A hiring manager for a product management position needs to focus on skills and attitude, not on degree credentials. The degree may be an indicator of such skills, but it is not a sufficient indicator.

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Non Sequitur #DesignPatternsHumor

A colleague earlier today showed me this student answer from one of his exams:

The student answer for “name a design pattern” is “hotel” and the answer for “that pattern’s intent” is “book hotel”. Repeat for a second pattern called “flight” and its intent “book flight”.

Should You Learn to Code?

The U.S. president Barack Obama wants to learn programming and so does former New York City major Michael Bloomberg. Germany’s chancelor Angela Merkel does not, but reports tell us that her cell phone connection was spied on by the U.S.A. As long as it doesn’t turn out to specifically have been Barrack Obama’s code which cracked Angela Merkel’s cell phone, I’ll stay out of politics and focus on the question: Should you learn to code?

The short answer: No. Don’t waste your time.

The long answer: It depends on your age and your goals.

The confusion arises from different goals you might have for learning how to program. I see the following possible reasons one might want to learn coding:

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Looking for Simple Examples of Product Management Failures and Challenges

I’m looking for simple examples of product management failures and challenges that I can use in teaching our product management course. Photos or short stories would be great. To give you an idea of what I’m after, here are three examples.

Unmaintainable Teacup

This unmaintainable cup with saucer is probably a best seller, but I’d only give this as a gift to a person I don’t like. It will probably be destroyed during the first dishwasher run or will cause cleaning grief to the owner for many years to come.

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Exemplary Research Papers?

I teach a hands-on lab course on how to do research. Students perform a small research project and write a paper about it, preparing them for the research work of their final thesis.

I want to revise the set of example research papers I’m using. We study these research papers as good examples of how to perform and present research. (Think: “Best XYZ ever!”) So I thought I’d ask you: What research papers would you consider exemplary for these particular aspects of a paper:

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Teaching Materials for Agile Methods Course

Update 2018-08-01: The old materials are not available any longer; please watch this space for the new release!

I finally put my teaching materials for my agile methods course on this website. The slides are available in “source” form, i.e. Open/LibreOffice format, as well as PDFs. I also added supplementary materials like the videos I use for illustration purposes. The slides are made available using the Creative Commons BY-SA license and are based on a course I’ve been giving several times now. It is far from being perfect but obviously good enough for a real course. Feel free to use or copy from the slides for your own courses!

My goal is to keep improving the slides. I expect there to be a new version every year or maybe every semester. For me, this is an experiment. I honestly don’t know how to collaborate around a format like ODP and ODT. It sure doesn’t feel like source code. So, my best suggestion is that if you find this useful and would like to see it improve in a direction that suits you, please let me know of your suggestions. I might then incorporate the suggested changes into the slide set. In general, my philosophy is that the content will grow, but ideally in a consistent fashion.

Agile Methods Course at Tsinghua University

Update 2018-08-01: The old materials are not available any longer; please watch this space for the new release!

Update 2012-03-28: I made the course slides available to the public.

I just finished teaching a one-week course on agile methods at Tsinghua University, the top (mainland) Chinese engineering school and one of the two leading Chinese universities. My host told me that I was the first non-Chinese-speaking lecturer to have held such a short course, not only in Computer Science but at Tsinghua as a whole. (I’m sure there have been plenty of prior foreign lecturers, but apparently I was the first one not to teach for a whole semester, but only for this condensed one-week half-day type of course). Yay! Adventure and breaking new grounds is still possible on this planet.

Moreover, with my research partner Prof. Bai, I’ll be leading a joint distributed agile software development project, involving student teams from both Tsinghua University (THU) and Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU). The goal of the project is to learn about what makes or breaks distributed agile development. We’ll start with simple hypotheses but hope to grow this into something larger. We already have student teams, but are looking for more. If you are a software engineering student at either THU or FAU, please come and talk to us!