Matt Zimola – The Infinite Loop Series

Today I’m launching a new series of posts about student engagement with ShiftKey Labs I’d like to call “Infinite Loop”.

If you’re a programmer, you know all too well the dreaded infinite loop that can wreak havoc on a computer or server. I’d like to redefine this term and spin it into something positive.

The “Infinite Loop Series” name represents the continuous cycle of support we provide to students through workshops, hackathons, networking events, and one-on-one advising sessions while engaged with ShiftKey. This programming helps students at the earliest stages of innovation gain business and technical skills, expand their professional networks, and enhance a student’s degree in a variety of ways. We become part of team that assists with the discovery process, learning, and journey forward to help students evaluate the potential of a project idea. This is truly an “infinite loop” of feedback and support as students weave in and out of the lab to access the resources they need to be successful.

Matt Zimola has leveraged a variety of ShiftKey Labs programming since 2016. He attended workshops, hackathons, participated in the first cohort of the Creativity and Innovation Bootcamp, and was a Lab Resident from Fall 2016-2017. He has accessed almost every innovation-based program at Dalhousie and as a Lab Resident alumnus, has now spread his wings to access other innovation-based supports in the region. Matt describes some of this journey in the video below.

Matt Zimola – Master of Applied Computer Science student, Dalhousie University

If you would like to learn more about ShiftKey Labs and start your innovation-based journey, please register for one of our events in the Calendar or contact us for more information.

Play is an Essential Part of Failure: Here’s Why That’s a Good Thing

If you’ve ever been around children while they’re playing tag, you’ve probably had to make a difficult interpretation. Are they screaming because they’re having fun? Or are they screaming because they’re terrified and need help? Without context, it can be really difficult to tell the difference. Play is frequently reminiscent of behaviours that are dangerous or just plain boring. Have you ever seen a toddler playing with dolls? It boils down to changing the doll’s clothes or pretending to go to work – things that, in reality, are just uneventful rituals of our daily lives. As adults, the behaviours we pretended to do when we played as kids become the norm. Picking out a shirt in the morning isn’t the fun process that it was with the dolls because we do it every day.

Play, at its core, is one of the most difficult-to-interpret behaviours that a living creature can exhibit. If you’ve ever witnessed two dogs playing, it can look vicious. They snarl, bite, and the noises they make can even be scary if you don’t know them well. In fact, modern psychology views play as a learning tool for practicing behaviours that won’t be necessary until later. Tag looks so much like running from a predator because that’s exactly what it is emulating. Play is the reason we don’t have to teach ourselves how to run and scream when a predator really does come our way.

If you can subscribe to this interpretation of play, then it shouldn’t be a huge leap to see how play helps us even in our adult lives. But, at some point, playing tag and dress-up became a thing that kids do and we don’t. Is there really any reason for that? The desire to play is still there. Video games and organized sports are still fun for adults, after all.

So where did the toys and the children’s games go? Why did they stop becoming as much fun as they used to be? One way to interpret it is this: we stop playing tag because we’ve already learned to run as fast as we can. We stop playing dress-up because we know what kind of clothes we like to put on in the morning. Now that we’ve got the basics down, play takes a different form of modeling the other behaviours we still need to practice. For programmers, this might be fooling around with a new programming language. For artists, it could be drawing exaggerated, ridiculous creatures that never make it to the final draft. This is the most important part of play: it gives us a circumstance in which failure is okay. In fact, it’s even encouraged.

There are several reasons why the majority of start-ups fail. Here at ShiftKey Labs, we completely embody the philosophy that failure should be an integral part of developing any business idea. However, if failure is going to happen, it should be early enough in the development of your idea that the consequences aren’t severe. And how do we ensure that failure happens early? We play, of course!

This isn’t to say that students at ShiftKey Labs are running around playing tag (although, under the right circumstances, they could be). Instead, play could involve making a cardboard cut-out of a fake phone with paper screens to simulate how an app might work. It could be roleplaying a phone call to a new pizza delivery service. If it seems silly, it should. If we are simulating an environment where failure is an encouraged option, then that environment should positive, fun, and contain at least a little laughter. Play makes it hilarious when you realize that you forgot to add a button to bring your user back to the main menu. And, more importantly, play makes it easy to modify your idea when it does fail. It is so much easier to add a paper screen to your cardboard phone than to program a button into your app.

Encouragement to fail even extends beyond modifying just one idea. Part of the design process involves generating as many ideas as possible. Some of those ideas might not be practical, plausible, or even possible. Maybe that edible pizza box just isn’t sanitary. But ridiculous ideas can be a great place to start. After all, a blank page can be so much more intimidating than one full of scribbles. Students who come into the lab almost never end with the idea they started with. Sometimes, ideas have to be scrapped. Sometimes, a great idea has already been done. It happens to the best of us. But it’s how we move on in the face of failure that matters so much more. Having a drawing board with more ideas ready to try out means that failure is taking a few steps back instead starting at the beginning. And if we’re going to fail, we should probably do it with a smile on our face.

So prepare for failure. Embrace it. Have fun with it. ShiftKey Labs is one of the Nova Scotia Sandboxes for exactly that reason. Build a sand castle. Laugh when the tide washes it way. Reshape it. Rebuild it. Build a moat to protect it from the water. We believe that if you can play with failure, you’ll have built your sand empire by the end of the day.

Women in Entrepreneurship Week Panel Discussion

In support of Women in Entrepreneurship Week (Oct 13-20), we are inviting everyone to an informative panel discussion—highlighting three prominent local female innovators. Following the facilitated discussion, there will be a short and fun trivia challenge, then we will open up the session to the audience for Q&A.

In support of Women in Entrepreneurship Week (Oct 13-20), we are inviting everyone to an informative panel discussion—highlighting three prominent local female innovators. Following the facilitated discussion, there will be a short and fun trivia challenge, then we will open up the session to the audience for Q&A.

Featured Panelists

Melanie Little

Melanie Little started her career as an elementary school teacher, before staying at home to raise and then home educate her two kids -during which time she pursued educational research and worked on writing a (still unfinished) book on how humans learn best. She is an active  Non-profit board member with the Nova Scotia Home Education Association which works to support home ed families in the province. She has worked for many years, with her cofounder, on various iterations of a business ideas that would leverage online services to empower users, rather than exploit them – culminating in their most recent start up, vlife: a support local online marketplace.

Kate Pepler

Kate Pepler grew up on Toronto Island and came to Dalhousie in 2011. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Environment Sustainability and Society, Environmental Science and a minor in Marine Biology.  After graduating, she was overcome with a sense of doom. So she took action and created Our Positive Planet – a platform to share environmental success stories, and tips on living a zero waste lifestyle.There are now over 50 writers from around the world contributing to the website. This led her to stumble upon the Zerowaste movement and from there she was inspired to open up The Tare Shop. A package-free coffee shop, bulk store, and community hub.

Kate-Lynn MacPhail

Kate-Lynn MacPhail is a developer specializing in backend and data technologies. She graduated from Acadia University in 2014 and has been working mostly with local start-ups ever since building data platforms and APIs. She loves sharing her passion for Data Science and Analytics, and getting others involved in this exciting field!


Please click the button below to register for this event


Big Data Congress Education Day

Halifax hosted one of the world’s largest premiere Big Data for business conferences from October 19-21. The conference brought together business, government, and academia to discover how Big Data is contributing to business productivity and to our day-to-day lives. Partners of the conference included big names like Google, Boeing, Cisco, IBM, Hitachi, Adobe and NTT Data.

During the final day of this exciting conference there was an Education Event specifically designed for high school students to connect them to entrepreneurship and technology. The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is supported approximately 600 students from all across the province to attend the event and hear about the impact that technology has on the world around them. The focus of the day was entrepreneurship, technology, hands-on learning, and engagement – which was perfectly aligned with our goals here at ShiftKey Labs. This portion of the event included guest speakers, mentoring opportunities, idea generation, workshops and more!

ShiftKey Labs had a great day promoting NS Sandboxes to high school students and facilitating a business model design challenge during this event.

Big Data Educationsandbox