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User:Nicolas Connault

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Contact Details

ICQ: 826611
Yahoo : nicolasconnault
AIM: NikoZeta
Skype: nicolasconnault
Cell: 0435423748

First steps towards Moodle

Born in 1978 in France, I have 4 brothers and 1 sister. At age 19, I spent 2 years on a mission in England for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There I learned much about human nature and saw much misery and suffering, mostly caused by dysfunctional relationships between people, especially in families. I decided I would study psychology and become a family counselor, to help alleviate the hurt I saw all around me.

I returned home to France in 2000, and shortly thereafter met my wife Anne-Marie while chatting on ICQ. We discovered we had similar interests, beliefs and values, and within 2 weeks (!?) I proposed to her over the Internet. I hadn't yet seen a picture of her. To me, physical appearance was not a concern.

She came over to France 6 (long!) months later, and we were married in France (civilly) and in England (for eternity in the Temple). A few months later we moved to England for a job which did not work out as expected, following which we moved to Western Australia in 2001.

University and Self-teaching

There I started taking interest in Web Development as a hobby (I had already built a couple of static websites as a youth), and used the many resources available online to teach myself LAMP/WAMP development. When I started my psychology degree (externally at Edith Cowan University), I chose a minor in professional computing, which included Object-Oriented programming, Database design and Web Development, but these added little to the knowledge I had already gained through learning online. The vibrant PHP community was the greatest source of learning for me.

A few years ago I undertook my first serious open source project with two other friends, Christopher Vance and Vickie Comrie (both from the USA). The project was a PHP auction framework, along the lines of Ebay but much more simple, which could be implemented by small companies wanting an auction system. It was a voluntary project for a fairly large american charity. This project hasn't been maintained for years, and I would probably cringe if I looked at the source code now, but the skills I learned while working on it have proven invaluable.

The code for the auction project attracted the attention of a small web development company, Triangle Solutions, who contracted me immediately on a part-time basis, later to become full-time. During the 1.5 years I worked for Triangle, I contributed to many different projects, but the most important was PHP Support Tickets, an application originally written in horrible spaghetti PHP which I was asked to upgrade. My decision was to rewrite it using Object-Oriented principles, of which I knew enough to improve the application at the time. Unfortunately I did not have the time resources available to devote enough time on this project, which greatly hindered its development. I still think it has great potential, but I would certainly refactor it if I had the opportunity to work on it again.

Beginnings at Moodle HQ

In December 2006, I applied for the developer position at Moodle HQ in Perth, and was hired on a full-time basis. I started out doing mainly bug-squashing for version 1.8, but was also made responsible for unit testing, an area which had been greatly neglected until then. As soon as 1.8 was stable and released, I started working on the new gradebook internals for 1.9, together with Yu Zhang, Martin Dougiamas and Petr Skoda.

Other programming interests


One last note on development: I have recently taken great interest in the Ruby language, although that interest started much earlier than the current Ruby on Rails craze. I find the language extremely elegant, intuitive and fun to write in. It enables me to be much more creative than with PHP or Java. I also enjoy the Rails framework, although it certainly isn't as easy to learn as some people would have you believe. I am currently working on a real estate application (sales and rentals) written on that platform. You can see the front-end for one of my clients at Glenmar Realty.

Test-Driven Development (TDD)

Since my early days with Object-Oriented languages, I have been a strong proponent of unit testing, and a keen supporter of the Test-Driven Development approach. Unfortunately it is not always easy to adopt such methodology when working on a project like Moodle, with much legacy and non-OO code. The approach was successfully used when developing the new gradebook for Moodle 1.9, although it could have used better.

In the last 6 months I have given 3 presentations on the subject of Unit Testing. One was at the 2007 UK Moodle Moot, and the other two were given at two different branches of the BCS, Derby-Nottingham and Hertfordshire. My slides are available at these sites, but there are minor differences between them, since I try to improve my presentation each time.


On the topic of psychology: during my external studies, I became more and more disillusioned with the traditional counseling practice. I felt that, although the intentions of most professional psychologists were noble, their skills were often exercised within an ideological framework of manufactured needs. This meant that often, their contributions to the well-being of the human race were more imagined than real.

My interests diverged towards community development, group processes, interpersonal relationships, child development and the learning process. I became aware that people tended to get better emotionally when they had a strong support network, and that non-professional assistance in the form of support groups was often more effective than prohibitory and extensive therapy sessions.

I also became more and more disenchanted with the educational practices of the universities in Australia. They seemed to be based on ancient traditions and to ignore the very principles they were teaching. I especially abhorred the lecture medium of teaching, which was one reason why I chose to study externally. However I did a few units on campus and was glad to see some tutors trying to change their delivery methods to something more informal and participative. Overall I was extremely disappointed in the appalling quality of external teaching. It was extremely difficult to connect with other students, and you only got help if you persistently sought for it. Feedback was as rare (and precious) as gold. BlackBoard was inadequate in many ways, and most tutors didn't even use it. The drop-out rates from external courses was so great that it was very difficult to extract that figure from university staff. I wouldn't be surprised if only around 10% of all external students across all Australian universities actually stuck to their entire course, not to mention those who stay but fail.

My project for the honours degree (which I have delayed for next year) was to compare the teaching methods of a German university with those of Edith Cowan University, and to compare the measurable results. The project for my doctorate was to develop an online, open source software suite that would enable external students to connect with each other as a vibrant community, in order to facilitate self-motivated learning and participation. This was a major factor in me accepting the job with Moodle, which represented exactly what I had in mind.

Well, this is a rather lengthy description, but those that have read all of it now know a lot about me, and will be better able to understand the person behind the posts and the code.