@gSchool Week 17

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a good developer.  A challenge I battle daily on this programming path is the feeling that I don’t learn ‘fast enough’. In its place, however, is knowledge that I can ‘outstubborn’ most anybody when I’ve set a goal for myself. And my goal is to learn. So the sense of programming deficiency in the present is usually met with a feeling of “it’ll be okay… you’re going to be really good at this in the future!”

When I think how far I’ve come in four months, knowing my study trajectory, I can only imagine to be in a great place a year from now. In Brandon Hays’ blog post to aspiring developers, he referenced this thought by saying “I think a given developer is 6-12 months from being proficient in any language/framework of their choosing…. many [5-to-10-year veterans] have had the same year of experience, 5-10 times.” Thoughts like this help inspire me to keep learning.

Waking up this morning, a story came to mind that a friend has told several times over the years. I look to Fred for inspiration since he’s methodical about achieving his goals. I asked that he e-mail his story so that I could post it here:

“I got into triathlons because I was having nightmares.  I kept finding myself in the middle of a large body of water at night with no boat or land in sight.  In retrospect, I think I just wanted to be comfortable handling the unknown. But at the time, I took these dreams to mean I wasn’t a very good swimmer.

My first open water triathlon had a swim that was over a mile long.  Up to that point the longest swim I’d completed (and not well, by the way) was a 400 meter swim in a pool.  My best friend was at that race.  He said he’d never seen me that close to death as when I came out of the water.  So how did I top that?  I topped it by letting another friend talk me into an even longer race and an open water swim.

To his credit Jerry, was nothing if not encouraging.  He swam with me to train, he kept telling me not to worry, “a mile isn’t really THAT far,” he’d say.  And for some reason I believed him until I got out of the car and walked with him down to the lake.  That is when I knew a terror that made my nightmares seem trivial.

I think Jerry must have sensed my fear as we looked out at the lake and tried to spot the turn buoys in the distance.  “Well, maybe swimming out to that and back is a bit further than I remembered,” was his comment.

The next day, I got in the water with a plan.  I would swim as far as I could until I got tired, then I would just stop and float on my back and rest.  If I got really tired or frightened, I’d hold onto a canoe.  It took over an hour, but bit by bit, I finished the entire swim without assistance.  It is a lesson I have used over and over since.

Jerry, the friend who convinced me to do the race would years later remark, “I have no idea how you stayed in the water that long.  If it had taken me that long to finish anything, I would have quit.”

A few years and many open water swims later, I would be in another open water swim but my fear wouldn’t be of swimming, I would come face to face with the experience of drowning.  The swim wasn’t long but the water was deep.  The course was accidentally directed through a large patch of seaweed.  Swimming through this was like having someone grabbing at your ankles and trying to drag you under.  A lot of swimmers panicked and had to be taken out of the water.  I was in a pack of swimmers who were all freaking out, screaming to the canoes for help.  But the canoes were busy trying to assist other swimmers.  At first I tried swimming harder.  But that made things worse.  And I was getting tired.  Then I tried to kick my legs free.  That didn’t work either.  Finally, I wound up calming down and it is then a crazy thought occurred to me.  “Just stand up.”

As it turned out, the underwater grass was so thick, it supported my weight.  I wound up walking out of it until I could swim to the finish.

In the ensuing years, I’ve completed two Ironman distance triathlons.  These are races that begin with a 2.4 mile swim.  I don’t know if I’ll ever not be afraid of open water swims of that distance. But what I do know is my friend Jerry who got me to try that first 1 mile swim so many years ago has never raced that distance.  Jerry quit racing years ago when he got to the point where he couldn’t win races.  Even though we started racing at the same time and were pretty equal in cycling and running ability, Jerry had a lot of early success in triathlon.  So much so that he soon began racing elite division.  Once he moved out of ‘age group’ the competition was much tougher.  And when he didn’t win, he didn’t enjoy racing and that was that.  He asked me once how it was I could still race when I hadn’t had as much success.  By this time I’d won a couple of smaller races and had a few age group wins.  I told him that wasn’t why I raced at all.  I wasn’t in it to beat anyone as much as to face my fears and see what I was made of.  Any time I got close to death or fear and came through it, I learned something about myself.  That is always a win in my mind.”

So the takeaway that inspires me regularly (best expressed by Dory)…: Just keep swimming…. Just keep swimming….  Just keep coding….


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@gSchool Week 16

The first half of gSchool passed so slowly. Now, as we’re finishing the last few weeks until graduation, time is passing at a breakneck speed. Having recently focused largely on Rails CRUD drills, I’ve started expanding additional study efforts to include more Ruby basics, migrations, relations, models and basic active record with authentications. I’ve begun a Game of Thrones Rails app theme to house the multiple moving parts for study and practice (nothing fancy, barebones HTML and no CSS). Presently in the app, one can create and view people (e.g. Arya Stark, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister). Over time, I hope to add the houses (e.g. House of Stark, House of Lannister), cities (e.g. cities ‘belonging to’ the traveling Daenerys) and possibly banners representing the various houses.

Also this week, I made a first foray to a company to learn about a new developer position. For my bravery, the followup treat was a trip to Elitch Gardens in Denver to ride roller coasters.  The view at night is gorgeous and the freefalling Tower of Doom after dark was my favorite ride followed by the wooden coaster Twister II.


Tomorrow is a practice assessment so I can take another look at progress toward becoming a software developer. I don’t want to stay up too late and yet I wish to get a little assessment study done tonight. With that, I’ll cut this week’s post short.

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@gSchool Week 15

With just a few weeks remaining before graduation, we’re starting to feel the time crunch of how much learning needs to be accomplished before we’re set loose into the programming world. We’ve buckled down with plans to review or be introduced to topics such as serving APIs, Ruby in-depth, ActiveRecord in-depth, Social Logins with OAuth, Deployment, Email (e.g. ActionMailer and attachments), and File Uploading (e.g. Carrierwave and images/resizing). This past week, we started the deep dive by trying our hands at a single-page JavaScript app. I look forward to approaching JS more systematically and thoroughly after finishing gSchool since it’ll be a great outlet for creativity.

Meanwhile, I’ve continued practicing Rails CRUD and am reviewing Ruby and accessing of data structures. (In fact, if anyone knows a good resource for drills on accessing Ruby data structures, please leave a comment. I’m wanting to start with simple hashes and arrays and build up to accessing more complex nested structures.)

Additionally, we’ve finally been given the green light to start looking for employment options after graduation. As an extra motivation, we took a tour this week of neighboring SendGrid‘s new office (known for their cloud-based email delivery service). Needless to say, our minds were blown by their business culture, office space and hospitality. I imagine they can expect 20+ gSchool resumes to arrive within the next several weeks.

Knowing how close we are to the end of school, I spent last night updating my resume. Since I’m shifting careers, I revamped the resume to be more goal-oriented with hopes of finding a ‘learning-supported’ software developer position while being introduced to real world business workflow. Here’s a copy of my resume in case anyone knows of job leads or would like ideas for updating their own resume. Constructive feedback is also appreciated.

My Resume

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@gSchool Week 14

Last night, our class held a mid-gSchool celebration (organized by EmilyPlatzer and Rachel Logie). As Emily was taking the photo (above), I remember feeling such joy! The day was beautiful with a gorgeous view of the Flatirons and I was surrounded by an amazing group of friends. Our class has been fortunate to have such a strong bond.

The tail end of this week has me refocused on building Rails CRUD. An eventual goal (per instructor Jeff Dean) is for each student to build a CRUD in under an hour without referring to notes. My time has exceeded two hours with plenty of notes review. Inspiration to whittle down that time came from watching a classmate make huge gains with CRUD. Initially, Aubrey Howell was at a similar pace taking 2+ hours per CRUD with notes. In a matter of a couple days with disciplined effort and implementation of RubyMine keybinding shortcuts, her time has dropped to an amazing 25-30 minutes per CRUD without notes! Thanks to Aubrey’s example, I’ve dug back in to tackling CRUD. My most recent time is under 50 minutes with just a couple glances at notes for the most stubborn lines of code. I hope to be completely independent by the end of the day tomorrow.

Regarding my personal project, its focus has transitioned throughout the week. Initially, the plan was to construct a camera review site. Ultimately, I’ve shifted focus toward a concept of allowing users to email cards to friends with uploaded images or by way of taking their own picture using a webcam. Users might also use photos pulled into the site from image feeds. I hope to incorporate image manipulation with simple filters or text overlays with an eventual user authentication element. So I’ve scrapped most of my existing code and am starting over with big intentions and a large learning curve. The image manipulation element really attracts me due to an ongoing love of Photoshop. So this new direction should be fun!

Tomorrow’s another study day. My stupid body alarm is waking me at 6:30am regardless of morning plans or how late I might have stayed up. I’ll try now to get a bit more sleep.

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@gSchool Week 13

This upcoming Tuesday is the inaugural Demo Night in which a handful of gSchool students will present personal projects-in-progress. Having glimpsed some of the projects, I am thoroughly impressed with what’s been accomplished during the past 13 weeks. Not knowing what’s ‘under the hood’ but speaking on visual aspects of the apps, participating students should feel very proud of their successes.

My little app is still chugging along. Today was spent debating whether to focus energies on pushing through a few blocks on the app to be ready for presentation in the upcoming Demo Night. Ultimately, I decided against it since I can’t yet take pride compared to past projects created with Photoshop and Flash. Inspiration is finally beginning to hit, though, with regard to making the app more visually appealing and creative (halle-frickin’-lujah!). I don’t know how (or whether I can) accomplish a particular brainstorm but I’m excited to try! At the same time, I daily resist the urge to rip the code apart and start over. It feels slightly yucky building on such a rough foundation, I miss having more ‘order’. But I feel a need to continue for that same reason… to acclimate to messiness.

Even though I’m not presenting on Tuesday, I will go ahead and provide a link to Heroku where the app-in-progress resides. Functionality is limited…. There’s a simple (unformatted) CRUD on the ‘Reviews’ tab that isn’t yet able to upload and store images,.. but the ‘Photo Contest’ tab pulls in images via API from the subreddit ‘Earth Porn’ on reddit. There’s a lot more to do but I’m bumpily moving forward and feel the app and I will be at a more comfortable place by the time we make our social debut.

If you wish to attend the gSchool Demo Night, you can RSVP here.

screenshot from the Photo Contest tab of the Camera Snapshot app

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@gSchool Week 12

The halfway mark has arrived. 12 weeks into the gSchool program and I’ve gradually become more aware of how little I know in proportion to what’s out there. The programming world is HUGE!! Fortunately, career development will be an ongoing process continuing well past the 24-week graduation point. Thinking about 9 to 11-week programming bootcamps, I wonder if their students feel prepared for web dev employment. In any case, I feel extremely fortunate to have an additional 12 weeks on a disciplined learning track before being released into the world as a software developer.

This week, I spent time thinking about what I wanted to achieve during the second half of the program. Focusing on end goals, I’ve started zeroing in on areas of study for extra practice outside the classroom. Surprisingly, this focus on ‘ends rather than means’ has brought an increased sense of joy to the independent learning experience. As a result, I’ve felt more confidence interacting with code and more excited about learning as a whole. That feeling of creativity is what kept me motivated to study when I was learning on my own, and I’m grateful to feel its presence.

I’m giving over to exhaustion so it’s time to put the keyboard away. But I look forward to digging deeper into Rails tomorrow.

cartoon of man having set goals and half the way toward achieving accomplishments by way of discipline

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@gSchool Week 11

The week was full of excitement during Boulder Startup Week. gSchool students had the opportunity to be introduced to and bond with the tech community through local events and meetups. Our class represented by having several from the cohort form teams to enter and win 1st and 2nd place in Battle of the Games Hackfest against programmers from the community. (Huge congrats to: Paul, Cory, Martha, Nate, Jenny and Emily!) Notably, our parent organization Galvanize also expanded its reach by opening doors to the new 5th floor Boulder office (up from our 2nd floor classroom). The sunlit, open space is a huge hit with us students, as is its balcony with grill and amazing views of the Flatirons.

In other news, our studying continued as we launched development on several large projects for a pseudo client called the Bradtke Group. Story has the Bradtke Group as a “science education company run by scientists, for scientists. They publish content, sell products, run meetups and facilitate an online community…”. gSchool students will release products for ‘Bradtke Group’ including an Event Manager, Online Store, Newsletter Manager, Social Network and a Dashboard to track all events that occur through the entire suite of tools.

Additionally, gSchool is taking on a real client in the company mobiDECKS. As they describe themselves, “mobiDECKS is a content management and delivery system for mobile that engages users with impactful content via an incredibly intuitive deck-of-cards UI”. These six projects combined will keep us busy for the next several weeks as we rotate from project to project, dipping our hands into new-to-us code bases.

Meanwhile, we students continue working on individual projects. Here’s an early version of a site I’m creating that will offer digital camera information and reviews (on GitHub and Heroku):
screenshot of 'Camera Snapshot' site

I’ll add functioning links and content in the weeks to come.

This is a good time to mention the phenomenon known as ‘Impostor Syndrome’. I’ve been in its throes since arriving at gSchool, and have defended a stance of ongoing programming ignorance despite protests from others that I “know more than [I] think [I] do”. With the hope that readers (and writer) can gain comfort, confidence and techniques to combat the unpleasantness of impostor syndrome, here’s a talk by Denise Paolucci on ‘Overcoming Impostor Syndrome’.  Her talk offers strategies for those who deal with impostor syndrome firsthand, as well as techniques for allies and leaders to help people realistically judge their own work and accomplishments:

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