Every day I’m dabbling

After talking to the co-owner at the MITS company, I’ve decided to dabble again. This time, I’m going through some free CompTIA A+ certification prep materials to see if I could transition into the MITS side of the house. Whenever I stumble across things like this I always wish I could go back in time and tell younger me to change my intended major to Computer Science or something.

I’m happy to say that I feel super supported at my job. Some of my coworkers think that me preparing before even being approved to take on extra tasks at work is overkill. That I’ll be great because half of it is googling/following procedure and the other half is just knowing how to talk to people— the obvious joke being that the techs are not very good at the latter, but TBH the people here are no more awkward than any other workplace I’ve been in.  I’m going to keep studying either way. I want to be great at this and have zero personal or professional experience… aside from using a steak knife to disassemble my old HP ProBook to unplug/replug the keyboard ribbon–SO to ease my own anxieties, I need to know that I know what I’m talking about. There are so many articles out there about sexism in STEM and at the moment, I don’t think that that will be a problem in my current workplace but when I eventually move on, I need to know that I’m just as qualified as anyone else to be in these spaces.

Anyway, I’ve gotten some good PC parts from recycling days and managed to score a Dell Optiplex 9010. The processor is a few years old, but it’ll still run faster than my laptop. I was so excited I put a blank HHD in and hooked it up to a few peripherals to make it into the BIOS and then used a Linux USB to watch it boot up. Today I’m going to install windows and hopefully begin moving things over to make it my main workstation. Then I can finally refresh my laptop. It’s been YEARS. The laptop doesn’t have an optical drive which is a first to me in addition to Dell’s UEFI method of reformatting your PC.

I’m gonna hug her extra tight cuz she’s been through the tail end of my BA with me and all of my dalliances into coding meet-ups. Let’s hope for the best.

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Starting Over

Anyone who’s had to use “starting over” as a title knows how weird it feels to admit that things did not go as planned or promised.

At this present moment, I am living in California. After many years in Chicago, IL, we moved to be closer to my family since my mom is going through some health issues. My father passed away almost 10 years ago. At the time he was in NYC while I was in Miami, FL so, moving to California just in case my mom’s health started to tank felt like the right thing to do. But also, for as much as I love, live, and dream Chicago, it’s always felt temporary because of the cost of housing and terrible winters. In my 20’s I thought that at some point in my 30’s my husband, dog, and I would pack up our stuff and move elsewhere– I just didn’t realize that that would take place between age 30 and 31…but I digress…

Anyway. Moving means starting over. At the moment I work two jobs. Yes! With a BA, you too can have as many (entry level) jobs as you want! One of the companies I work for really excites me because it’s a managed IT services firm. This was intentional since I love working in smart environments. However, I’m a paper pusher. Again. And I’m not really sure what to do about it. At my last job, I was surrounded by new product development professionals. It was easy to say that I wasn’t going to go back to school to figure out if I’m good at mechanical engineering or industrial design. As far as I’m concerned, those ships have more or less sailed. But I’ve been in Cali for over 6 months so I’m starting to feel the itch to get back into development. California is supposed to be the promised land of tech opportunities, so who’s to say that I can’t jump on that ship and rise up with the tide?

This cross-country move isn’t my first rodeo, but I’m hella sick of starting over without having a well-defined career. I want to be able to have well-paying work wherever I go. In fact, I hope that one day, I have a job that allows me to work from home (#themillenialdream), save for retirement, and live without debt. For me, these are my big dreams.

So. I’ve started getting back into the FreeCodeCamp tutorials and I’m doing pretty well at chugging through a few lessons every night. We’ll see how this run plays out.

Code on,

Alex

Looking Back and Moving Forward

We’re already 29 days into the new year and I have YET to sit down and finish this post! While that’s poor planning on my part, there is power in being able to encapsulate your experience at different points in time — so for the sake of documenting my progress I’ve just gotta get this stuff off of my chest.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 2014

The short of it is that for a few years now, I kept pushing to make my way into the non profit field or lower level jobs in higher education. After a year of interviewing, it was clear that my passion for the fields and experience weren’t enough, so I focused on finishing my BA. Even if neither of those fields worked out, I knew a BA would allow me more options in life.  I am at the tail end of this project and decided to switch fields and explore web and software development.  No one in my family nor social circles has gone down this path so I’m exploring it all alone. Thankfully, I live in Chicago which is a great city for web tech and have been able to meet people via meetup groups and local communities.

I know I have a lot of ground to cover but I firmly believe that if I am committed, I will be able to show off my skills in about a year. With that said some stuff just has to change.

WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO HAPPEN IN 2015

Get organized

As the saying goes “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” and it is still true when it comes to making sure that you’re getting things done and meeting your goals. This may be a personal project, but tracking time spent and milestones met will give me an idea of how I am doing and where to change things. At work, we use an XLS timesheet, but it’s not very easy on the eyes and I wanted to venture out and see what free services I could find. Google spat out toggl which has a free option as well as a premium one.  The interface is pretty simple and there are web, desktop, and phone app option which all sync with each other.  After using it for a weekend I can say that it’s a useful tool that allows you to tag your time according to what you’re working on. You can access reports that tell you how long individual tasks take as well as your total time spent for the day. This could be achieved with a simple paper timetracker, but with it being a free software and having cross-platform access, it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Alternatively, since I’m a productivity junkie, I’ve also considered that keeping track of time might be half the battle and managing tasks is the other half. For this, I would suggest Trello. I’ve tried it for a few weeks at work as a means of not only listing my tasks but organizing them by project and for the most part, it’s allowed me to incrementally plan each step of each project and easily remove or add tasks as necessary.

Ultimately, productivity systems are only useful if they’re used, so we’ll see which one’s i’m using in a year or so.

Get madd skills

I am about to jump into a purely technical field and I really, Really, REALLY need to know what I’m doing.  Since I’m taking the self-directed learning route, building out a comprehensive curriculum is imperative. Thus far, I’ve been working on Codecademy (which will be mentioned countless times on this blog) and attending meetup workshops to feel out this new developing landscape. Since Codecademy was my first it will always hold a special place in my heart. If you’ve never used it before, lessons  walk learners through a concepts within each language, building upon the last until you’ve come to the end of a unit. At that point you will use all of the concepts learned and proceed on to the next unit until you complete all of the lessons for that language. The languages are independent of eachother so you do not need to complete one before proceeding with the other, but I started off with the HTML/CSS course to just get my feet wet. Another neat bit is the gamification aspect that rewards the learner with badges upon reaching milestones within the language they’re learning and for completing a streak (consecutive days of code).

If you’re not completely new to coding or would prefer something more project based, I would suggest FreeCodeCamp. FCC is a community of developers and students who work together to complete projects for nonprofit organizations. The curriculum was created out of multiple free coding resources on the web and then assembled into a long 50-something point to-do list. Once learners reach the end of the list, they are able to virtually work alongside developers on projects in exchange for material that you can put in your portfolio. When I found FCC it made me feel like the little nook on the internet that it inhabited would be the ultimate sweet spot for me to get involved in. After all I may have changed careers, but that does not mean that I’ll never step foot into a role at a nonprofit again.

GET OUT THERE

This last point is broken into a few different goals

I want to build relationships with other coders at varying levels to receive and deliver support. 

I want to have several projects that I am proud of that were created alone and with others.

I want to know enough to lead (at least) one class focused on teaching others how to code.

From where I’m sitting right now, these things are scary and exciting but the truth of the matter is, I’m privileged to be able to access resources that will steer my life in a different path. This opportunity needs to be nurtured with time and hard work.


Code on folks.

The genius that comes out of stupid side projects

A while back, an article came out with Spotify’s design lead instructing us all to indulge in side projects–especially the stupid ones.  There are plenty projects that started out with a different objective in mind or  forays into our own imaginations and we should all do our best to harness these ideas when they happen, sprinkle a little bit of time and nurturing thoughts onto them to see where they go.  Truth is, while some things have come into creation on purpose, others were serendipitous (ever hear of velcro or post-it notes?).

Personally, I work full-time and attend school full-time so usually my free time is spent on homework and mind numbing activities (i.e. Facebook and Youtube).  However whenever I do have some mental space, I try to put it into something like working on this blog(sporadic as the posts may be) or spending a few hours crafting things, or even adding to my list of imaginary businesses I would like to run one day.

Side projects give you the ability to work on something that you’re interested in without any real-world consequences so the next time you have a kooky idea, doodle up a plan and put some time into it to see where it goes.  Even if you end up on this list, it’s better than letting those thoughts stay in the gray matter…

….well maybe we could’ve done without the toilet mask.

 

Later,

Alex

Unexpected success: Finding an opportunity to code at work

Work has lightened up a little and marketing initiatives have moved up to the top of my list of things to do.  Some of these tasks involve making updates on our company’s website. Since I’ve been feeling pretty good about my super basic coding skills, I mentioned to a few people that I would like to take over managing the company’s website updates. The current staff member who takes care of this was open to the idea and let me sit in and watch while he made updates.

It was a real eye opener to see that the CMS ran on a template (like WordPress) where you enter your content into the fields. More surprisingly, you actually need to use HTML to format everything to customize how you would want your content to look. By the end of the tutorial, I was able to upload a file and link it to text on our website. Additionally, I was able to fix a few broken links that I would not have known how to address prior to dabbling in code.

If anything, this experience has provided some much needed motivation. Somewhere in the future, I might be able to be paid to manage company content and website updates. Because of this, those hours on codeacademy, freecodecamp, and the events I’ve attended are all worth it.

Code on folks. Code on.

General Assembly’s Day in the life of a UX Designer

This holiday season, I decided to get into as many intro-to-tech events as I could before the year was up. The second event that I found was hosted by Chicago Startup Community, a meetup group which is focused on helping its members get more involved in the local entrepreneurial scene. The event was a Day in the life of a UX Designer (UXD). The event was hosted at the relatively new General Assembly downtown office. Upon arrival, I could tell that this event was different and it was mostly because of the crowd who attended. A lot of attendees were already in a design-y field or company (mostly on the product or sales side) and they were interested in moving over to UX. For those who don’t know, UX stands for User Experience which involves a person’s behaviors, attitudes, and emotions about using a particular product, system or service. User Experience includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership (thanks Wikipedia!). While UX has been around under other names such as Information Architecture and User Interface (UI is usually used in when it comes to user-product interactions in the physical world) it is one of the quickest growing fields that touts some of the highest salaries out there.

The panel was composed of people who are currently working in the field– most of which did not have a traditional background in design. For instance, there was only one person with a background in visual design, but others had their backgrounds in electrical engineering, video production, and geology! Of course, now there are opportunities to seek out UX on an academic track, but for the most part they followed their interests within their former positions which is what led them to where they are now. A few takeaways I got from the panel are:

  • UX is a mindset: UXDs are “empathetic problem solvers”.
  • The user is never wrong: There may be a flaw in the design, or perhaps you do not have a grasp on who your true primary user is.
  • There are two main UX work environments: As a UXD you might work at a company whose product is UX design services, therefore you will work with other designers. On the other side of the house, you may work at a company whose product requires UXD maintenance. In that case you might be a department of one and you will work cross departmentally with other people to support the product. Ideally, you would at least be a department of two so that you can bounce ideas off of another UXD
  • You do not need to know how to code: However, the more knowledgeable you are about how code works in the first place, the easier it will be for you to communicate ideas to the developers.
  • Not every project begins with talking to users: There is a process to good UX design, however if you’re working with clients that are coming to you for a service, they might have already done the research and the only thing you’ll have is the data. In other instances, you won’t even have data, you’ll have someone who is supposed to know the users inside and out. The world isn’t perfect, but being able to work these scenarios will make you a much better UXD in the end.
  • Transitioning to UX is like other tech transitions: Read your face off. Make side projects. Repeat. If you’ve got the money and think it’s valuable attend a boot camp.

A final point that was made was that UX Design is a big deal. More and more, companies are paying attention to how it affects the bottom line. Even the C-Suite is a part of meetings regarding UX and business decisions are starting to be made with the data. This is a big deal as it ups the value of the UX department and its staff.

From what I gather to be a full-stack developer it would behove you to have a grasp on what make UX design better than others so while this isn’t my main focus it wouldn’t hurt to keep an ear to the ground for happenings in this field.

RailsBridge Chicago – The first encounter with Ruby!

This is a few weeks late, but I felt that it was such a great event that it needed to be written about! As I mentioned in a previous post I have decided to change careers and am spending time outside of work teaching myself how to code. The big switch is going from a very generalist, office admin gig to becoming a web or software developer. Since I am at the beginning of this path, a lot of the advice I’ve heard is to fully immerse myself in the new information. Typically you hear this kind of advice when learning a new language so I figured that the best way to research what I would be getting myself into was by attending local events. Lucky for me, my first event was an intense two-part (11 hours total) workshop which allowed me to dive head first into a new language while surrounded by other ladies in the same boat.

The event I attended was a Ruby on Rails Workshop hosted by RailsBridge Chicago.  RailsBridge is a totally neat organization. Their mission is:

RailsBridge is working to make tech more diverse and welcoming by teaching programming, connecting human beings, and listening to people’s needs. We organize and teach free workshops on Rails, Ruby, and HTML & CSS in cities all over the world, targeted at groups of people that are underrepresented in tech.

Following the mission, that meant that this was an ALL LADIES EVENT! The event space was graciously donated by Brad’s Deals, located in a the swanky near-loop area. The poured cement floors, bistro tables for standing while working, and open floor plan eked of “today’s modern office” only to be emphasized by a refrigerator filled with organic juices, energy drinks and beer. That this is a place where people work hard and play hard.

As I mentioned, the workshop was two parts–and for a totally good reason. Friday night was dubbed the “Installfest” complete with instructions and snacks (if you’re interested in playing along at home, you can find resources here). For almost three hours attendees plowed their way through instructions as Teaching Assistants (volunteers from the local Dev Bootcamp) helped students inch their way to the major checkpoint for the night. There was one moment where the majority of folks with PCs were having issues, and it was because of an errant “s” in “https” that essentially cause a 3-program pileup. When another TA swung by my laptop to eliminate this single naughty “s”, I mentally buckled myself in for what would be an eye opening weekend.

On Saturday morning, I wanted to show that waking up early to attend a totally new to me class didn’t scare me so I cabbed in to BD’s office and was SUPER early. I settled in and started chatting with people near me. I was so surprised to find out that a lot of the women at the event were already in the tech field. On my right I had two software developers who work at call centers and on my left, a hardware resource manager who works a start-up.

After an introduction by RailsBridge Chicago, we are directed to our assignment for the day. For the next few hours it’s ⅓ self directed, ⅓ co-directed, and ⅓ TA assisted learning to plow through the lesson. I will say that there are some Pluses and Deltas to what went on:
( Pluses and Deltas is just an evaluating tool I learned from my days of volunteering. I’m sure you know what Pluses are, but Deltas are things that you would like to change)

Pluses

  • 3-hour Installfest the night before was such a good idea! What better way to make sure that everyone is ready and prepped for a whole day of coding than to make sure that you’re ready the night before.
  • TAs were super knowledgeable and the other attendees were also very helpful during moments when I felt lost in the lesson.
    The lessons were fairly straight forward and offered tasks with screenshots.
  • Being able to write into the console and text editor yourself and post changes made to a (locally hosted) website really helped you get over the hump of “OMG am I going to kill my computer?!” Personally, the console looks way too much like the command line so the first time I saw it I panicked a little and said an apology in advance to my laptop–but all is well! The console is a place to tinker and run servers, not ruin your computer.
  • I really appreciated the list of resources that were sent out to everyone who signed up afterwards. There were links to websites and other suggestions for attendees to continue on with their independent study

Deltas

  • I would have liked more information on the concepts that make what we were doing work instead of just following instructions.
  • Tiny change would be to make sure that links to all of the presentation slides are posted somewhere (on a website or in the physical space itself) ahead of the presentation so that attendees could follow along instead of trying to find a place to sit where you can see the TV that the presentations were projected onto.

On a non-content side of things, the donated food was amazing! There was a huge line of pizza on Friday night and Saturday was filled with tasty and healthy munchies. I was super impressed and while this has nothing to do with what we learned, it totally helped to make a very comfortable learning environment.

As for what I learned, I’ve really only scratched the surface of RoR.  There is a lot of jargon to pick up and a ton of referencing the same thing in several different places within your app. Building a tight procedure is going to take some time to establish (“first update this, then that, and the other”) but ultimately, I think that coming up with an idea that could be executed in RoR is going to be one of my biggest challenges. Hopefully by the time the next event comes along, I’ll be able to get through my assignments quicker and have ideas for dynamic sites.

New Updates Added to Our Code Wiki

Here are some resources from other folks in similar circles!

Our Code

Hello all,

I updated Our Code Wiki with some goodies for you learning pleasure.  It’s been a while since I updated, so I added plenty to keep you all busy.  Enjoy and have a great holiday season!

Open2Study’s course UX for Web

CS258 Software Testing Methodology course

CS253 Web Dev: How to Build a Blog course

CS262 Programming Languages: Building a Web Browser course

CS255 HTML5 Game Development course

CS271 Intro to Artificial Intelligence course

CS215 Into to Algorithms course

Reference Guide on Linux Command Line

Reference Guide on Unix

Google’s Guide for Technical Development

Checklist for Responsive Web Design Projects

Stanford’s Practical Unix course

Links to Code School and Google Developers University

If you would like to join as a member of the wiki or contribute, subscribe to Our Code Blog, or check out instructions here.

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This lady has two dates with Ruby!

Typically, I never get my hopes up when I am waitlisted for something (colleges, classes, videogame releases) but THIS time it totally paid off to sign up anyway!  Tomorrow night and all of Saturday I will be joining Bridge Troll for Rails Bridge Chicago, a two-part Ruby on Rails event.  Friday night will be spent doing an install fest and making sure that my laptop is prepped for Saturday–which will be an in-depth introduction to Ruby on Rails. This will be an 8-hour workshop that will hopefully make me smarter than the average bear when it comes to making web apps. Wish me luck!

The Odin Project

I might try this after I finish Codecademy.

My Life at Harvard

After hearing much buzz about The Odin Project, I decided to check it out. Part of my personal learning while I’m here at Harvard is to build skills that will make me more hirable. I’m still exploring possible career paths but generally, most of the things I’m interested require a better understanding and familiarity with the technical side of things.

The Odin Project is a free self-paced course on web development. This is from their site and explains their project:

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 8.31.11 PM

I think that’s a pretty cool concept. I don’t know exactly how many people are using this site, but I think it has the potential to be a massive space.

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 8.39.38 PM

While not all the lesson pages have user discussions, I think it’s great that on the ones that do, there’s interactions and exchanges between users. I also think it’s great that the site has a section on forming in-person study groups…

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