May 5, 2020

Ben Hayes in cap and gown

My name is Ben Hayes and I recently graduated with a 2:1 in Computer Science from Cardiff Met. My journey from starting as a new student to graduating was filled with hard work and determination, and receiving my degree was one of the proudest days of my life. Since then, I have looked to further my understanding of my subject by researching chatbots.

While I was a student, my supervisor Dr Simon Thorne invited my soon to be employer, the CEO of Business Butler Mr Bhupinder Sidhu, to give a talk. During his lecture, Bhupinder discussed his new and innovative idea of creating a business advisory chatbot, designed to talk to and recommend experts and services to users interacting with the chatbot. This discussion ignited my enthusiasm, and soon after, I started my journey with Business Butler developing chatbots.

Ben Hayes with friends, all in cap and gown
I could not be more thankful that I took the plunge and studied at Cardiff Met

Through Cardiff Met and Business Butler, I was able to secure a position as an Associate and Software Developer within the SMART Partnerships programme, to begin my MPhil at Cardiff Met while working for Business Butler. SMART Partnerships is a scheme created by the Welsh Government to help businesses tap into the expertise of graduates in various fields, while having the support of university lecturers and researchers to develop new and innovative projects.

Within my first week of working for Business Butler, I had already been presented with many new challenges and opportunities that come with working as a software developer in industry as opposed to developing code for university projects. Working for Business Butler required me to think and act independently to improve my work within the business, and further my understanding of our project and final creation.

One of the pieces of work I am most proud of is developing a COVID-19 business funding chatbot which guides its users to the most appropriate funding available to them in response to the outbreak. From government grants to loans, the chatbot has seen a lot of interaction, and you can visit it here.

Ben sitting at a table with the Business Butler team
Busy at work with the Business Butler team

My advice to new software developers and to those looking to start making their own AI, is to always research and plan around your users from the very beginning. During my time at Business Butler, I have trialled many different software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms for developing chatbots as well as open-source solutions, in an attempt to find the best solution for us. I found that most solve a unique problem compared to their competitors. For example, Pandorabots has very powerful NLP (Natural Language Processing) capability, and in the hands of the right developer can produce some of the most conversational chatbots around. Whereas solutions like Dialogflow offer more interactivity outside just holding a conversation with a user, and can enhance user experience. It is easy to get led astray with choosing what seems to be the most powerful tool for solving your problem, but you need to ask yourself if that suits what your users are looking for.

Looking back, going to university wasn’t always something that I wanted to do, but I could not be more thankful that I took the plunge and studied at Cardiff Met. Being part of Cardiff Met has taught me the necessary skills and mindset required to work in industry and so much more. It also gave me friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. I now look forward to what the future will continue to bring!