The Wrong Solution

Two months ago I built an alternative digital textbook system for the day job that read from existing source material, sliced and diced the data, and presented something that was the same, but different. The amount of thought and effort that went into the task was not inconsequential and the work resulted in a lot of late nights and even a couple of all-nighters to get out the door. The system has been used at a limited number of schools here in Japan for a month and has received mostly positive reviews. As a result, the software will be deployed across the rest of the country this coming Monday.

I should be proud, but I'm not. In fact, I started to feel as though this was the wrong solution earlier this week when I started to see the work that had been done by another team that was working on something very similar.

Deacon Jones Quote

The problem, as I see it, is that the digital textbook system I developed is too much about me. It was instigated, designed, coded, and refined by me. Every line of code that powers the system was written on the very same computer that is being used to write this post. While this means the tool is tiny enough to run relatively well from a Raspberry Pi, this doesn't solve a larger problem that the company is going to face in six months time when every school across the globe consolidates on a single system. A system that I did not create.

My mistake was putting expediency and pride above logic. What I should have done was build the tool into Moodle, an open-source Learning Management System that the organization already has experience with. Putting my efforts into this system would have made it possible for the alternative digital textbook system to be properly compared with the other tools that are currently in use and in development. More than this, it would make the next year or so of work much easier for me given that I'll be responsible for managing a Moodle-based system in 2020. Refining skills and improving my knowledge of that system would benefit more people.

Seeing as how it's currently Saturday night, there's little chance of getting everything converted over to Moodle and ready for Monday. Instead, a little more planning and foresight will be required.

Over the next couple of weeks I'll put some time aside every evening to work with Moodle and test the feasibility of using that platform's Books feature to display textbooks with the appropriate format and responsiveness. The current textbook tool will continue to operate as a test of the design and features list, and I'll use this to collect feedback from teachers to see what they like and dislike about each of the digital textbook systems in use at the company1.

Hopefully this next attempt to solve a business problem will be done a little better.


  1. There are three, now. Two coded by me, and one from HQ in the US.