Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How it all happened? - The Real Story


Along with my nostalgia, In this post I take pleasure to talk about my college day pet project that helped solving a real-time problem, also a hearty gratitude to my real life Heros.

I studied Computer Science Bachelor degree in my home town Davangere and when I was studying, (not so long ago, but in the year 2003), my college (UBDT College of Engineering) university was putting huge effort in setting, generating and securing question papers for examinations.  

Problem
Every 6 months there are semester exams. At a time, students from 4 semesters (of one branch) has to attend it. Each semester had like 5 to 7 subjects, and there were 7 branches in my college, so university of our college had to prepare at-least 140 question papers! (4 sems X 5 subjects X 7 branches = 140) and another 140 in the 12th month (so per year at least 280 papers only for Engineering courses! and the  university was handling 57 other courses along the side!).  

Question paper setting for these examinations were happening through manual process!!! also the biggest risk university facing was securing question papers from exposures before exam date. The manual effort was huge and tedious. Some more details  here.

Solution
My respected Sir.Shreedhar (who guided me in all aspects of my learning during college days) gave me complete details of paper setting process and inspired me to build a software solution, that can store and manage questions-with-answer bank, allow setting any type of question paper format, generate question papers and secure from before exam exposure. 

The expected software solution should support network (LAN) environment, should run on any version of Microsoft Windows desktops.Also, the software had to address automating functional needs and as less possible training time. It took long time for me to study User Interface Principle for Windows 98/Me (OS at that time :). For networking I had to gain pragmatic understanding of RDBMS and Windows networking

After so many long readings, coding and testing, the software was ready. I installed on university (year 2003) computers and very soon university academic staff started building questions banks and prepared question papers.(in fact, during semester final exams, I had to answer question paper generated from my software! it was tough, damn! later we thought to introduce question complexity levels :)  One fine day I got this official thank you letter: http://srushti-soft.com/quickquest/story/certi_Registrar_view.jpg from university and that day, It was one of the happiest moments in my life!

'Quick Quest' emerged!
Going forward, many other institutions in India and abroad found this software very useful http://www.srushti-soft.com/QuickQuest/SuccessStory and started using. 
Not just that, when I was about to finish my 8th semester exams, got job offer from Starmark to work as Associate Software Engineer. The Vice President of Starmark, Arun Tumati used to visit our college to motivate and train students from technical and soft-skills and during his visit Shreedhar sir suggested me to demonstrate 'Quick Quest'
Today, after 8 years, the same 'Quick Quest' is helping me to start my own company. 

I just can't thank enough to Sir.Shreedhar and Arun Tumati. They are my continuous (on and off the scene) motivators and mentors. My professional existence wouldn't have happened like today if I had not met Sir.Shreedhar and Arun Tumati.

Unlike every man, I have two men behind all my success ;) [women, please excuse me!]

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Top 10 checks before buying question paper setting and generation software

When an educator start searching for question paper generation software, he/she will find plenty products claiming they are the best in automating paper setting and generation process. As the number of similar type of software is more, complexity to settle down to one product increases.

Let me put some helping points to simplify software selection process. 
  1. Software price tag is bit more expensive than your planned budget - but wait! Many of us feel that software price is fixed and not negotiable, In-fact, some companies do offer discounts if they are selling product under promotion period. so make sure you check with them regarding the discount. It's a customer right to negotiate, nothing bad about it!
  2. You checked features list, all competing software has all-most all features! Which one to pick for analysis? -Really, this is a puzzled situation. In that case, Look for the product screen shots or ask for a demo. Take a scenario, such as, how to compose a question paper pattern. Every software has its own way to set a question paper pattern prior to generate question paper. Poorly thought software design will offer you too many confusing options and rise a need of getting trained. Some old-fashioned software will have series of buttons lined up in the bottom or top of  screens and you have no clue what to press and when. Chose the one which is simple and require no or very less training to use. The better software solution should give you the feeling of simplicity and easiness.
  3. Check for online blog or documentation about the software -. Whether you read them or not! This is still an important aspect to look for (seriously, I never read windows help [which pops-up when you press F1 key] or windows product blog, in these 12 years of my time with windows computers!) Still you should look for it because, it defines 'on-line presence of the company' and its dynamics. This directly influence the product quality, future developments and companies sustained support for your current and future needs. You should be purchasing product from a dynamic company and not from the dull one. Isn't it?
  4. If software was built on or before year 2005, then wait! the internal design can't be well thought to support latest internal updates happening in Windows. In another 3 or so years, you will start using Windows 8 operating system and as you can read here. Microsoft's upcoming operating system Windows 8 with WinRT file system (now in developer preview edition) expected to break many traditional programming approaches like accessing database (this is where all your questions, answers..etc gets saved) and other application behaviour aspects. So the old-fashioned software you may wish to purchase for relatively less price may stop working at that time. So keep this in mind and look for software solutions built using latest technology from Microsoft or Sun/Oracle..etc.
  5. Look for the quality -. There is no different analogy than differentiating well branded cell phone (like iPhone, Nokia, Samsung..etc) with a local make (usually cost less) mobile phones. The evaluation of quality considers how does product look, function and your overall feeling after using it for some time. Following same analogy, download demo version of the software, check whether you are able to use it without much confusion, how easy to operate it? are screens good-looking? by the time work on all features in the demo software exploring yourself, you will definitely have firm opinion about overall quality of the product. Be cautious about average quality product, like local make mobile phones, they run good for 1 or 2 years and later break for operating system latest updates or fail to satisfy your varied needs.
  6. Is the software customizable enough to meet your current and future needs? - Let’s say you may want to allow space to write answers in the question paper itself or how the question entry area helps to enter a table data...try to remember your most rare need and figure out how software is providing solution to it. The most effective software does it in a simplistic manner and re-uses your existing knowledge of computers, instead telling its own way of doing it. Remember! if software is providing many options for setting many things, it will be a pain in the long run. You may either forget how to use all those or get confused after few months. Keep it simple, stupid yet effective.
  7. It is always good to move to cloud based computing compared to traditional private database server - Any software providing this feature out-of-the-box should be considered with high priority. Future of internet and computers going to change the way we are leading life now. You may go on vacation but wanted to tweak some questions in the middle, your cloud database will be available for you all the time anywhere in world.
  8. Is Software Company having open system to showcase how their future/updated version of software is coming along? It could be a forum like website or product features/defects tracking website. Whether you buy updated version of software or not. You need to check this to gauge many things like,
    1. It showcases company's commitment and quality of deliverables about the product. Remember any company working systematically will definitely provide an online system for you to review their product development progress. If there is no such system, there is some catch and you need make cautious move before progressing to purchase software.
    2. You can review forth coming product features beforehand.
    3. You can suggest or post your problems to the website and track its progress.
    4. It ultimately shows the company's technical competency and makes sure you are not confused by a middle-man who is pretending to be a real-software solution provider. Don't you like to buy product from best company? You will for sure!
  9. Think about security - Everybody look for user login accounts are allowed to create, subject wise restriction is possible or ability to track user activities. Not just this! Consider, if the software is providing export of complete question bank to a word or excel file or a user is allowed to take print out of all previously generated question papers and there is no way to restrict/lock it? In the beginning, some features may appear sensational, but they may be offering easy way to steal all your data at one shot! So look for usage wise security breaches and how they are tackled in the software.
  10. Compatibility and setup challenges - You may upgrade or degrade your operating system or may apply some service packs to the existing one. Is the software compatible to all those variations? if you prefer to test on different operating systems, you can download free virtual machine software (check link below ) and test on it. Check that data backup/restore and setup related activities are easy to do.
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Virtual machine free software for download: https://www.virtualbox.org

Windows 8 WinRT file System breaking changes and discussion: http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/winappswithcsharp/thread/380b4b7b-72e2-4435-b7f7-0d2afca4eac0

In the interest of guiding educators.

Thank you!

Visit our product page: Quick Quest - world's most advanced and easy to use question paper generation software for any sized institution.