Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why Programming, Why Now? (Really...Why?!)

I wanted to talk a little bit about why I chose to take up programming now. I've mentioned some major life shifts earlier this year which prompted me to go a different direction, but if you know anything at all about me, you know that I've been partnered with a fairly prominent programmer for more than 15 years. I've been around you techy types for many years, so it's kind of a mystery as to why it took so long to pique my interest. So, why now?

I've had my own projects and interest in the past, but the timing, along with other changes, has coincided with a lull in those projects. I've been having many conversations about job hunting, trying to figure out what to do after 14 years as a mom and volunteer with a degree that's not exactly lucrative. I have been told over and over that programming is something any reasonably intelligent person can pick up and learn on their own with some time, commitment, and gumption. I like to think that I'm a reasonably intelligent person most of the time.

The seed had been planted. Around the same time, I ran across a New York Times article on twitter about women in tech and some of the challenges they face, including some of the more recent controversial incidents. I'd been following this particular topic for the last couple years through my partner because my background, in part, is in Women's Studies. The gender discrepancies, occasional hostile attitudes, and active movements to address these issues were very interesting to me. As I read the article, I found myself thinking "Wow, this sounds incredibly discouraging to women thinking about going into tech." However, immediately upon finishing the article, I realized that my personality is very well suited to both the current and evolving tech culture. So why the hell not? I *want* the opportunity to be a participant in change and possibly even a voice in the community should I ever figure out what I'm doing. :)

Just today I read a blog post about a RailsConf experience that was overwhelming positive despite low expectations based on past anecdotes of sexism and racism at tech conferences. It was both funny and encouraging for someone like me who is just starting to test out these waters. I'm a confident, opinionated, logical, occasionally outspoken person and I still have trepidation about merely attending a tech conf as someone who doesn't yet "belong" (although this nervousness is diminishing).

Since I made the decision to go down this road just a few weeks ago, I've gotten nothing but encouragement and enthusiasm. That says a lot. And it keeps me going. It's worth the frustration and pain of pushing through my weak spots because the payoff will be worth it. I've spent years around someone who loves what he does, who was so passionate about his project that he took a vacation from his day job to spend a week in the basement working on his "fun project." Now his fun project is his bread and butter. I have always found this inspiring. It's an exciting challenge that I'm definitely up for.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Frustration, Plans, and Pre-ClojureBridge

My work schedule has not been very conducive to self-study for the past couple weeks, so I'm afraid I don't have much to update.

I have continued to work through the SICP while realizing that I truly am learning a new language. I'm definitely getting the simple stuff, but when I get to the exercises, I can't help but think "I see that you've written these things that I'm supposed to understand and answer, but I do not know your language." There is a vocabulary that I don't have. I admit, I've had moments of frustration.

I'm hoping that watching some of the SICP lectures will help, but I have not yet had a chance to get to them. I'm so anxious to start an edX course because I feel like it's a better way to break down those vocabulary barriers. In the mean time, I'm going for the submersion technique. I'm continuing to read, doing the exercises I understand, and hoping that at some point, something clicks and I suddenly understand (at which point I can go through those things I couldn't comprehend the first time through). This has worked for me in the past, so it's not a baseless plan.

It's difficult to admit that I just don't understand some things. Not that I'm not capable of understanding, but that right now at least, much of what I'm reading is Greek to me. My language is based in the humanities, literature, and policy. It's an adjustment.

About a week and a half ago, I attended a Clojure.mn beginners night that was geared toward preparing for Clojure Bridge, which starts tonight. I was clearly very much a beginner. Of course people like me are exactly who these workshops are designed for, which is comforting. The install process was definitely a following directions process and while I'm still not entirely sure what I'll be using some of these tools for, I suspect I'll know a good deal more come Saturday night.

I went through a series of installs, with help, at the beginners night. Over the course of the night, I installed Leiningen, Light Table, and Heroku. I needed a SSL public/private key in order to set up a repository on GitHub (where I was already registered) and to deploy apps to Heroku. I cloned an app from GitHub, made some modifications, and deployed it to Heroku; I believe it was designed to be a “hello world” application. This is basically what’s going to be happening at tonight’s InstallFest. If you are curious, the curriculum for this weekend's workshop can be found on GitHub.

I have a few things in the works for the near future. I'll be attending a RailsBridge workshop here in Minneapolis on June 6 and 7. I had planned on attending one in Madison later this summer, but when this popped up a few days ago and there were spots still open, I jumped on it. I only hope that I'm not muddying the waters having *just* started playing with Clojure. In all fairness, I did start playing with very basic Ruby first. I'm working through a couple books, but have not had the opportunity to delve very deep into the more tutorial based books given recent time/work/logistical demands. As I mentioned above, I am digging into the SICP though it feels like a painfully slow pace as there are some basics to pick up as I go. Just today, my copy of The Pragmatic Programmer arrived which I understand is a good read and something I can easily fit into the time I have available.

As I wrap up this post, the ClojureBridge InstallFest is getting underway. I'll be posting a recap/post-mortum/personal takeaways in the next few days!