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 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. 😉

all day and all night

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I spent the week before last moving from one part of town to another, and last week was all about unpacking and organizing with my new roommates. My life has been chaotic, to say the least. The evidence of this chaos is all around me, in the form of all the things around the apartment that my roommates and I haven’t had a chance to unpack before resuming our regular daily lives (which are, of course, enhanced greatly by the fact that our new complex has a pool).

Of course, we got the vital stuff squared away quickly. The kitchen is organized (with 10 whisks, at least 50 coffee mugs, and enough baking equipment to start a small cake business between us), and, more importantly, my “office” is set up, bigger and better than ever. My new desk is huge, and I’ve set things up so that my TV is also my second monitor. Coding has never been so comfortable, leaned back in my nice reclining drafting chair, keyboard propped up ergonomically above my lap, blasting through Codecademy exercises on this huge screen.

In exactly 3 weeks, I start MakerSquare. Between the minor life upheaval of moving and the impending major upheaval that is the program itself, I’m both extremely excited and somewhat stressed. Time management is the big issue at the moment; I have to get everything in my room organized (I really have too much stuff) before MakerSquare, while also staying on schedule with my prework for MakerSquare (one of my deadlines for that is this week). And all of this, of course, must be worked around my daily break at the pool. At age 31, I’ve finally learned to float, and my freestyle swim stroke is beginning to look less like flailing and more like actual swimming. It’s remarkable what one can accomplish in an hour a day within two weeks.

Hello world!

Hello world, indeed! I’m Nicole, and I’m incredibly excited to be joining the fall 2013 cohort of The Maker Square. I’ll talk more about why this is going to be such a game-changer in my life later, but for now, I’m just here to express my happiness at having this, my first blog post, up for you to read.

To be fair, this isn’t really my first ever blog post. I’ve kept a private blog for years on; the sort where one keeps up with old friends with postings about day-to-day life and the terrific dinner I had last night. It’s been fun there, and certainly a great exercise in how to write for an audience, but there are only so many posts of, “I had a cheese sandwich today, here’s a picture of my cat,” that anybody but my Mom wants to read. Since part of becoming a web developer is having a public presence on the web, one of my first projects, before I even start out in the program itself, was to get this real blog up and running.

Believe it or not, in the ten years I’ve been geeking around the internet, I’ve never had any reason to set up a proper space of my own before, although I did once figure out how to point a domain name to a Tumblr account. So, just getting this blog up and running has proved to be a learning experience.

So… hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but cool stuff is coming, so subscribe, maybe?