Can’t stop, won’t stop.

That’s been the theme of the last couple of weeks. Truly non-stop. Now that my fourth week of MakerSquare is over with (holy crap, almost halfway!), and I have a minute to get some thoughts down again… I can barely remember the third week. I do remember that we learned about Sinatra, and did Javascript “exercises” for hours and hours, and had our first introduction to APIs.

And then there was the Hackathon. Instead of a weekend off, we had two days to work on projects of our own choosing. My team made this Lorem Ipsum generator. It’s pretty satisfying to be in class and notice people using it when they need filler text. I personally am having way too much fun plugging songs in from bands like Mindless Self Indulgence, Ke$ha, or even Insane Clown Posse, and just doing dramatic readings of the results.

The process to make Lyric Ipsum would not have been terribly intense if not for the APIs we had to/tried to use. Primarily, it runs with a Ruby gem called Lyricfy that has two APIs for lyrics databases wrapped up neatly inside. This was a pretty cool find by my teammate Jesse, but we wanted more from it by Monday than it was willing to give. Specifically, we wanted people to be able to search for, say, “Wu Tang,” and have our app understand that the user means “Wu Tang Clan.”

I learned quite a lot about a lot of music-related APIs this week in the name of bringing that idea to life. In the end, I have unfortunately learned that there are a lot of APIs (and gems) out there that are a pain to work with, and more than a couple that don’t do what they claim to (and in one case, that doesn’t even connect to its own database using its own methods, but anyway…). The idea isn’t dead yet, but it is definitely on hold until we learn more about AJAX calls in jQuery. I heard a rumor that this might solve the problem.

Also within the last week, after my class built our first functioning web apps, the team at MakerSquare (finally) introduced us to Rails, which I am a little in love with already. The first few days were rough, but then the lesson on Thursday made everything make sense. I had a few moments (and all of Friday morning) of frustration while trying to complete my lessons using individual concepts without connecting them to each other, but for the final lessons, making everything in Rails work together the way its supposed to was easy. I suppose this is why the term “Rails magic” gets tossed around a lot.

I finished Friday’s assignment in a short amount of time, and took a look at the extra credit “extensions.” I didn’t like the look of the extensions (i.e., I was in no mood to deal with another API-wrangling session late on Friday afternoon), so I made my own “extension,” based on a small feature that I thought the project should obviously have. In doing so, I discovered why this seemingly simple little thing had not been included in our lesson, but I did still make it work; I want to shout out some love for my classmate Lynda here, because she took a look at what I was trying to accomplish, said one thing to me, and that was The Thing I needed to get my idea working in under 10 minutes. Suffice to say, I’m incredibly excited that Lynda will be my pair-programming buddy for this coming week.

 

 


Week Two Recap

I’m not even going to discuss in detail how far behind I felt in class for most of this week. Really, pretty much from last Friday on, my confidence was dropping as fast as my own assessment of my abilities.

Luckily, I have some pretty great instructors who are incredibly responsive to the needs of their students. When they realized that a good handful of the beginners in my cohort were feeling the burn maybe a bit faster than they meant us to, they set up office hours so we could get extra help. Between attending office hours, Shehzan and Mike’s patience in answering my questions well after 6pm, and learning about RSpec in regular class time on Wednesday, everything started to gel. A lot of what was eluding me in Ruby now makes sense.

On Friday, I finished both my evaluation projects (like weekly tests, except we don’t get report cards in bootcamp) with enough time left in the day to get one last pull request in on GitHub (for a total of three that day): the project that had started my spiral of frustration last Friday. I have no idea if three is a lot, a normal amount for a productive day, or total amateur level stuff, but I’ve been coding for two weeks and it’s my personal best, so I feel pretty damned good about it.

One thing I’m really loving about this immersive “bootcamp” learning experience is the absolutely ridiculous level of intensity, no matter how stressed I sometimes feel. I simply do not have the time to fully indulge in things like insecurity. The only way out is through. (Totally jacking that phrase from a classmate’s t-shirt, by the way.) I will do this. I can do this. I made 14 RSpec tests pass in 3 hours (again, no clue if this is a lot or not, but all that green made me happy). I got this.  

# don't actually run this code:
life = ['code', 'sleep', 'eat']
  life.each do |activity|
    puts activity 
    life << life
  end

Week 1 of MakerSquare

MakerSquare. The big game-changer for my life. The reason I made this blog. It was taking up most of my time all summer even without having started yet. I completed tracks on Codecademy, started others that I only got partway through, completed classes on Codeschool, read bits of documentation and so many blog posts about different concepts, worked through a few more tutorials, and then spent most of the last week before Labor Day reviewing as much Ruby as I could on Rubymonk.

I am now here to tell you that no amount of preparation is really enough.

Since my cohort had all of the aforementioned prework (the first cohort apparently didn’t), the MakerSquare team was able to start us off “easy,” but still with more advanced concepts than the first group had in their first week of class. Of course, “easy” is a funny word. People were struggling on different concepts every day, and I know that at least a couple of us (myself included) were (not figuratively) near tears on Friday as we worked on the projects meant to evaluate how far we had come this first week.

That said, if I had any doubts about how much I was learning, I can look back to last night. I was showing off my projects to a friend, joking about how it took me all day to create the 100 or so lines of (still incomplete but) working code, and my friend pointed out that I had just explained to him exactly what every bit of it did in such a way that he completely understood it. That was pretty cool.

Also pretty cool: Harsh (one of the instructors) came by at the start of my first solo HTML/CSS project to give me some help. A while later, I called him over to have him check the finished product, and the first thing he said when he looked at it was “wow, that was fast.” He didn’t make a big deal, it was a very casual statement; but that casual tone made me feel better about my work and grasp of the ideas than a big deal would have.

I am pooped, to say the least. Part of this is that I am, by nature, a night owl (take note that this is the most extraordinary of understatements), and starting last weekend, I’ve been waking up at 6am. On Tuesday, my cohort and I arrived an hour early for the “breakfast/meet and greet” before class, and since then, I’ve been getting on the bus at 8am to be at class before 9am. Except for Thursday, when I stayed late to push myself through a project and understand a bit more about class instances, I get out of class at 6pm. I’m in bed most nights by 10pm, 11 at the latest.

No matter how tired I am (my body is starting to adjust to the new schedule; I don’t hurt so much in the morning anymore and my skin is calming down), and how frustrated I get (that 100 lines of Ruby code from yesterday still needs (what feels like) a few hundred more for the project to be complete, but I think I can do it faster now), I need to stress that I am loving this. The team at MakerSquare really knows what they’re doing, and just as importantly, they really know how to teach it. There have been a couple of curriculum hiccups (as the second cohort, we’re still guinea pigs for a curriculum that will always be evolving), but the team’s response times on adjusting to the level of the class are nothing short of amazing. If my teachers in school had always been this good, my life would be a very different place. Of course, I’m now happy they weren’t, because my life led me instead to a place where I get to do MakerSquare. 😉