12 Weeks of Code.week 11: Pursuing Excellence

12 Weeks of Code. Week 11

Before I die, I want to see the Muir Woods. You know, the giant redwood grove in California? I just have to see that place. I want to look up into a tree that’s more than ten stories tall. That kind of magnificence is dizzying. I want experience that.

My time here at The Iron Yard is not, I imagine, all that different from taking a stroll among the redwoods.

This week a friend asked me what life was like here at The Iron Yard and how I enjoyed it. In answering him I realized something that I think is pretty key to what makes The Iron Yard unique:

What I’ve love most is the people I get to be around. They are the kind of people who are taking chances at being a part of something bigger than themselves. They’re pursuing things they could not have done on their own. My fellow classmates, the accelerator attendees, even the leaders of The Iron Yard – they are all doing incredible things, despite obstacles. I admire that a lot.

It takes guts to pursue being a part of something bigger than what you can do in and of yourself. This week we have all been working on our final projects. Hours upon hours of coding to create something we would have never been able to do 12 weeks ago. Even now, many of our projects contain elements we didn’t cover in class. We are aiming for something beyond our knowledge but not beyond our ability. Every week I get to meet and work with ‘redwood’ kinds of people.

I’m so glad I came here. The future is wide open and to be honest I find that a little unnerving – but at the same time it’s exhilerating. I have always wanted to be part of crafting something excellent. Now I feel empowered to do so.

Photo courtesy of Jason.

12 Weeks of Code. week10: Seeing the Light

12 Weeks of Code: Week 10

The long road I took from Texas to South Carolina is quite a trek (about 1,000 miles). There is a portion of that road that goes through a windy, curvey valley. I hit it at the absolute worst time – sunset during a rain storm. I hate driving in the rain and I hate driving at night. Every muscle in my body clenched.

And then I hit the tunnel.

The tunnel was basically a hole in the side of a gigantic mountain. You can’t see far ahead because the tunnel curves the entire time. You might think that being out of the rain would feel like a reprieve, but it didn’t. I could feel the mass of rock above pressing in all around me. I had no idea what was coming around the bend but I couldn’t slow down because there was a massive amount of traffic behind me. So I pressed on.

Being a student at The Iron Yard is like driving through that tunnel.

Ten weeks ago there were a lot of unknowns. What were my classmates going to be like? Would I like my roommate? Would I be able to find gluten free groceries? And the ultimate questions: Was I going to make it? The only thing I knew for sure was I was going to be surrounded by talented & accomplished people. In part, that’s why I chose The Iron Yard. I learn best by surrounding myself with people I can learn from.

With the last day of class just around the corner, I feel like I can see the way ahead becoming a little lighter. Can’t see the end yet, but I can feel it coming. I can sense changes in my own way of thinking, particularly in terms of design. When I dream about future possibilities I’m starting to see some details a little clearer. I still have a lot of questions and tons more to do, like cleaning up old projects and getting a resume ready. But I want to be careful not to overlook what I’ve accomplished so far. Feeling the pride of a job well done so that I can fuel the road ahead, put my head phones back on and hunker down.

Which brings me to the task at hand: my final project.

I am fortunate to have an awesome partner working with me and we are making some good progress, but we have a lot to do still. The plan is to present our final projects at Grok, a yearly web industry conference that takes place here in Greenville. That kind of ramps up the expectations for me a bit, especially since it’s just around the corner.

I don’t want to say too much about the concept for our final project at this point since we are still fleshing it out, but here’s some of the logistics we are tackling:

  • Implementing Ember.js as our framework
  • Using Firebase for our data/server needs
  • Mobile First design process
  • Integration with a couple of API’s including Google Maps & Instagram

So far, here’s what we’ve completed:

  • Wireframes
  • User testing/feedback from a prototype
  • Basic structure coded using Ember
  • Integration of Firebase
  • Google maps & Instagram API integrated (still perfecting what we call)
  • Style guide
  • Implementation of our mobile first strategy in initial coding

I have seen a lot of value come from having the style guide hammered down first. It’s made building each page feel pretty easy. I’m also really liking the Mobile First approach (at first it felt a little uncomfortable – like building a house by starting with the roof). It’s not for every project, but makes a lot of sense for the goals we have for this project. More to share on that later.

For now, I’m gotta keep plugging away to make our deadline.

Onward. Towards the light.

12 Weeks of Code. week 9: In The Wild

12 Weeks of Code. Week 9

Learning JavaScript is like being on a safari: it’s not for the faint of heart but can be incredibly thrilling. JavaScript holds the key to some pretty killer web page interactions, but if you don’t know how to wield it things can get pretty fierce.

Prior to coming to The Iron Yard, I had been chomping on HTML & CSS for about 2 years. I’ve been able to learn a ton of valuable things via the Internet through sources like Lynda.com and Treehouse. But when it came to creating more complicated web interactions my internet searches almost always led me to JavaScript – at which point I was confronted with a ferocious animal that I couldn’t make heads or tails out of. I couldn’t get through the JavaScript barrier by myself, certainly not at a significant rate anyway. It was frustrating & frankly a little scary.

As a student in the Academy, I have been taken on a guided safari of JavaScript Land. Here’s a few of the stops we’ve made:

  • Initial intro to JavaScript.
  • jQuery – A JavaScript library designed to simplify the writing of JavaScript.
  • UnderScore.js – A particular JavaScript library that helps simplify even more complex JavaScript tasks into easier to write syntax.
  • Backbone.js – Another JavaScript library designed to help programmers work with API’s. It is also built on a programming design paradigm which helps to organize JavaScript code.

Even if you aren’t familiar with all of this code stuff, you can see that the repeating theme is JavaScript. Each component we have studied has a slightly different form of syntax and some minor philosophical distinctions, but much like family reunions they all have a certain common resemblance.

So, when I was told to complete a tutorial on Clojure for homework I was surprised to discover that it was NOT part of the JavaScript family. Clojure is a completely different language. What’s crazy (and awesome/embarrassing) is that I didn’t realize this fact until I was about 1/3 of the way through the tutorial. I had assumed that this was just another species of JavaScript (and we all know what assuming does). As I continued to make my way through the tutorial my questions kept piling up – why was this so different than anything else I had seen before? And then I realized Clojure was not JavaScript but a Lisp programming language. At which point I was like:

“I’m learning a completely different computer language and I didn’t even know it!”

Besides feeling a little foolish for taking so long to realize this, I was totally elated. I had been wrestling an entirely new animal and had completely skipped the initial stage of being overwhelmed by the unfamiliar. It was proof that I had been building muscle memory for grappling with difficult (and new) concepts. Fear of the unknown/unfamiliar just got a little less scary. I’m a hacker yo.

I still look at JavaScript (and computer languages in general) as something like a lion – wild, somewhat unpredictable, always keeps you on your toes, etc.

But now I’m feeling a bit like a lion tamer.

Photo courtesy of Joe Turco.

12 Weeks of Code.week 8: Teamwork Makes The Dream Work

12 Weeks of Code. Week 8

It’s the end of the eighth week of my 12 week course at The Iron Yard and I’ve noticed a significant change in the pace of the program. Up to now, the volume of learning was like trying to take a sip out of a firehose. But now, no longer is it about getting the elephant eaten bite by bite. The elephant is gone and our plates are clean (although our stomachs are still aching). Now it’s time to perfect what we have learned. How do we turn those elephant bites into a delicious soufflé?

One of the most valuable things I have received at the Iron Yard has been the many opportunities I have had to work on team projects. So far I have had 4 group projects (including my time at StartUp Weekend) and I have grown so much through them. Personally, I love working on teams. I love the collaboration of ideas, both from the creative and technical perspectives. I feel like I learn so much in a team context – I glean from the expertise of my partners and in the process sharpen my own areas of strength. I’m also kind of a social guy so I dig people in general.

I’ve done a lot of project management in the past and had some really positive experiences, but up to now hadn’t done so on a team of developers. I’ve found that the challenges of working on a team are impacted significantly by the overall goal of the project and the personalities involved. A team project in an environment like The Iron Yard Academy holds a lot of unique challenges. We are a bunch of students that come from a variety of backgrounds/working styles/communication styles who are in the process of learning a giant set of new skills. That can make for a lot of stress. The Academy itself is already a pressure cooker, so tackling a group project is like putting a pressure cooker inside another pressure cooker. How do you organize a project that you simultaneously trying to learn the skill needed to build it?

I think the thing that has surprised me the most about these group projects is the fact that there has been no drama. With each group project our technical skills are growing steadily, as well as our familiarity with each. As time goes by things are getting smoother – but even from the beginning I have had great partners with zero drama. Everybody seems to be genuinely glad to work with each other. That’s pretty incredible. Drama is just a part of life, particularly in high stress situations. So why has there been so little drama? Not sure if it’s due to the fact that I have some amazing classmates, or if there is something in the water around here, or if it’s the fact that we all recognize we just don’t have time for it.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the next group project. And I will continue to drink lots of the water.


Photo courtesy of Brilestakespictures.