Creating Rad


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Last week I had the awesome opportunity to volunteer at the Giant Conference here in Charleston, SC. The theme of this conference was “Creating Rad Experiences” and it brought together some of the best UX professionals in web, design, print, retail and branding to learn from each other.

I was tasked with helping backstage at the main venue and was able to meet and talk with some of the great minds in the industry. I loved how they were all so willing to give advice to someone like me who is so new to this world. The emcee, Mike Watson, was especially great and after asking me why I was pursuing web development, ensured me I was on the right path. He worked in an industry for way too long that he did not love and even though it was lucrative, it was not worth it. Life is too short to spend it at a job you hate.

The closing keynote speaker, Ethan Marcotte, blew my mind on all things responsive and the future of the web. I won’t try to explain all the awesomeness he spoke of, but in short, his message is that we should be creating designs that anticipate and respond to users’ needs, no matter what device they access the internet with.

The after parties were very fun. I was able to make it to the ones on Thursday and Friday. Boomtown hosted the one on Thursday at The Ally. It was filled with great food, drinks, and of course bowling! The party on Friday at Blue Ion was also a great time. It was there that the Giant founders announced their Giant beer, Breakthrough Blond, which Palmetto Brewing produced. Very delicious indeed! As a side note, we’ve toured both these companies with The Iron Yard and they are definitely creating Rad experiences!

Overall, it was a amazing experience that I am so glad to be a part of. I hope to make it to the next Giant Conference in Denver!

 

 

 

 

The Home Stretch


I cannot believe I have three weeks left at The Iron Yard! This week we are starting on final projects. We are going to pitch our ideas to our instructor and the campus director to see if they are viable and/or worth pursuing. I haven’t nailed down my idea just yet but I have a few concepts floating in my head. It’s a little overwhelming knowing that these projects will be demoed in front of perspective employers. 

For the past couple weeks our instructor has had us neck deep in AngularJS. We were tasked to use it to built an online store with a shopping cart and a blog section. It took some time getting used to Angular but I quickly found it to be an awesome and very useful framework. It will definitely be apart of my final project. I would also love to use it wherever I end up working. Another very cool thing we have learned is to deploy our applications using Heroku and MongoLab and we are currently learning how to deploy them using Firebase.

I am both excited and scared for the next chapter in my life. Yes, it took a leap of faith to quit my job. Yes, it has been one of the most challenging endeavors I’ve ever faced. However, with everything, you settle into a rhythm and get some what comfortable. I’ll soon be transitioning back into the workforce but this time will be different. I have direction now and know I’m stepping into a career field that I truly love and that makes all the difference.

 

Creating Products


John Saddington recently spoke to the Charleston Iron Yard about turning projects into products. He said valuable products are ones which have a story. They are not built just to make a profit. They are created by people who are invested personally and see an opportunity to benefit others.

We were recently assigned a project to build an application using what we’ve learned so far. We were let loose to create whatever we wanted. I set out to build a product that I would actually want to use.

You may have noticed my references to crossfit in previous posts. I started going to a crossfit gym about two years ago and ended up having to stop my membership. I bought some equipment for my garage and have been working out solo for almost a year now. Part of the beauty of crossfit is always having a workout that is different and varied.  There are also benchmark workouts to track your progress. Being on my own, I’m having to either come up with the workouts or get them from other gyms’ websites. I usually have to substitute some of the movements due to insufficient equipment.

There are many things I miss about going to my gym, especially the awesome community, but one in particular is not having to come up with the workout. You walk in and there it is on the whiteboard ready to destroy you. There are apps already in existence that will randomly generate a workout but I couldn’t find one where the user could edit and customize them. So, I decided to build one that would be part journal for progress and part workout generator to come up with a random workout. The random workout generator pulls from a library of workouts that the user has already entered in. You can record your score/time and it will time stamp it so you know when you last did that particular workout. It’s a fairly simple application but one I’m excited to use.

We presented our applications yesterday and it was very cool to see what everyone came up with. It amazes me that we are only halfway through this course but can already build usable products.

50%


50% is how much I have left at The Iron Yard. I can’t believe I’m halfway through. The journey so far has been hard and trying but very worthwhile. We celebrated on Friday with a cookout and of course beer! We also had some engineers from Benefitfocus come and talk to us about what they were incorporating in their development process. The simple fact that we were able to follow along with what they were talking about proves to me how far we’ve come in such a short time. A month ago I would have been lost by their presentation.

I know this next half of class will be even more challenging but I’m definitely more confident now after what we’ve been through. The fear is still there though. Fear of the unknown. I believe this means I’m on the right path because a life without risk is a life not worth living.

Iron Yard Crossfit


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So far, my experience at The Iron Yard reminds me a lot of when I first started Crossfit. I had watched videos of Crossfit and tried doing some of the WODs (workouts of the day) on my own. I did the same with coding, using free online courses and watching tutorials. I eventually decided to visit an official Crossfit gym and thought it wouldn’t be much different from what I was already doing. I was soon proven very wrong.

When I walked in to the warehouse-like building I was quickly overwhelmed with what I was witnessing. I thought I had stumbled upon the Navy Seals training for combat. None of my previous experiences had prepared me for the torture I was about to endure. The workout completed destroyed me and was left sprawled out on the floor not able to move. I was immediately hooked.

In the same respect, The Iron Yard’s bootcamp style of training and methods are continually stretching and challenging me. We are being broken down in order to be built back up as professional-level programmers. Our instructor isn’t handing us everything on a silver platter, just as a Crossfit coach wouldn’t pick up the barbell for you. That would be of no benefit to you.

The Iron Yard is equipping us with the tools and mindset needed to overcome anything that is thrown at us. Programming is always advancing so we need more than a step-by-step guide. We are being taught to think like engineers in order to adapt and survive.

I still have fear of the unknown but everyday I’m grinding away and getting better and stronger.

 

Me vs Underscore


 

This past week at The Iron Yard we were assigned group projects and had to incorporate Underscore.js. For our project, my team decided to make a website for an online store and to use Underscore to help in building the products page and the shopping cart. We thought this would be the simplest option to try out our JavaScript skills. It was anything but easy.

Most of the week I felt like I was in a battle with Underscore and it was winning by a landslide. There were times I wanted to go Office Space on my computer with a bat. There is no greater feeling though, than when you refresh your page and see your code actually function correctly! That moment came late Thursday night. I was sleep deprived and over-caffeinated but I wasn’t going to let Underscore beat me. I had a revelation on what was missing from our code and like magic, everything fell into place.

Another difficulty was working as a team on GitHub. Previous projects were solo assignments so pushing up changes was a piece of cake.  Don’t get me wrong, I see what a great resource GitHub is, but never using it in a group aspect before made it very difficult. Our team kept having merging conflicts and other issues. We quickly found the value in talking through who was going to do what before we actually started to code. Having a plan was key to completing this assignment. By the end of the week we became merging masters!

As a cool side note, our campus director, Sally, taught us about Scrum, the agile software development framework for managing software projects. It was very interesting learning about how professional developers work together to reach their goals and also to see how I will be working in a team one day.

To sum it all up, this week brought many challenges but also very sweet victories. This weekend will be ‘active rest’ for all of us front-end students to do some research and practice our new-found skills. I’ve learned invaluable lessons from this whole experience and look forward to what next week will bring!

 

 

 

Burn the midnight oil


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It seems that many creative types love to work late at night. That’s when the muse speaks to them. The problem for me is that I cannot keep my eyes open past 10pm. Maybe its because my toddler sucks all of my energy so by the time I try to code I end up falling asleep in front of my laptop. I inevitably wake up to a blank screen because in my delirium I’ve deleted all of my content. I’ve since learned to ‘command  s’ (save) every time I blink.

I’ve decided my best bet is to go to bed at a reasonable hour. This of course leads to waking up at an ungodly hour to burn the early morning oil so I can finish my assignment. The rest of my day is fueled by coffee and pinching myself.

I enjoy this routine though. It works for my life right now. I think it’s very important to create routines, no matter what your profession is, to get the work done. If you waited for the right moment, you’d be waiting forever.

Change is inevitable, so it’s also important to adjust these habits to accommodate whatever season of life you are in. Know when you are most productive and use that to your advantage to create great work.

WordPress Meetup


The front-end engineering world is fascinating but also a little scary. Scary because of how much I don’t know at this point. I’ve dove head first into a new world I never knew existed.

Last week I was able to attend the Charleston WordPress meet-up group hosted at The Iron Yard. It was a great time of meeting people around the area who want to learn and challenge themselves to grow as programmers. We also had the pleasure of having Zach Schnackel show us the aspects of his Boilerplate theme ‘Basey’ and why he built it. During his talk I was quickly overwhelmed at how much I don’t know about programming. Sometimes I question how I will ever become a “programmer.” All sorts of negative thoughts haunt my mind but then I remind myself that I am a “programmer.” I’ve been able to accomplish a great deal in just two weeks with the guidance of an awesome instructor and the help from fellow students.

The truth is, I will never be done learning and that is very exciting! To stop learning is to stop living.

The Iron Yard Path


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Getting out of your comfort zone is hard and not the path most of us choose to take. We like predictable outcomes and the safety that accompanies them. The problem with that sort of life is that it is really boring!

Great things in life come with a risk of failure and defeat. When you take a chance, there is no guarantee that everything will work out. In fact, it probably won’t work out perfectly like you hoped for. If you look at the great men and women throughout history you will see that they all took the road less traveled.

Most of my career I’ve taken the predictable path. You know what I found? Those paths are usually very disappointing. I want more out of life than ordinary. I don’t regret getting a four year degree but it hasn’t really brought me what I hoped for. The traditional route isn’t for me. I wasn’t made to wake up and do that same boring work day in and day out. Doing so makes me feel as though I’m wasting away.

I need to be challenged and stretched. I need to work with people who feel the same. People who think outside of the box and like to challenge the status quo.

I found exactly that when I stumbled upon The Iron Yard coding school. At first, I passed on the idea that I could become a programmer and completely change my career path. But something told me to look further and dig a little deeper. The funny thing was, I was actually teaching myself how to code last fall and really enjoyed it. I thought it would be a cool hobby and maybe make some extra money on the side. To pursue this new life, I had to take a huge leap of faith. I had to quit my job in order to accommodate a full-time, 3 month intensive course. “Rational” thinking would have said to forget about it and stay at my company. My company afforded safety and guarantee, after all.

I had an unexplainable force urging me to take this leap and go all in. The best part about it is my wife is fully supportive of this venture. Now, here I am after week two of school and I have no regrets WHAT SO EVER!

Fridays are for coding


My life for the past two weeks has consisted of digesting tons of material on programming. My eyes have been fixed to a 13″ screen for hours on end and my ears are destroyed from listening to music nonstop to cut out the world.

To tell you the truth…I absolutely love it! I’m learning some incredible stuff and I’m meeting some awesome people along the way.

I’m out of my comfort zone and that’s exactly where I need to be.