Category Archives: Learning to code

How it looks matters

I’m not good at design, and for some reason I believe this is an innate thing that won’t change about me. I can’t imagine getting better at design, and I also don’t have the drive. (Example A, this website. Example B, my high tea app, and so on and so forth).

However, I have come to accept that I need things I build to look some basic level of decent, or no one will use them. I can take ages making a little site that does something amazing to some user input, but invariably when I show it to someone they will say something like “Can you make it look better?”, “Maybe put some images?”. And I’ll huff and puff and get annoyed and say – who cares what it LOOKS LIKE, look what it can do!!!

But, the fact is. People prefer things that look nice, and sometimes that look even makes it easier to use and understand.

I’m not thinking I’m going to get great at design any time, but there is this tiny tutorial I’ve looked at many times, and I’m posting it here to remember it when I need a reminder to make the design of my things just a bit less crap -¬†http://jgthms.com/web-design-in-4-minutes/

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Learning to Count Again – As a Programmer

Posting once a month on a blog is not a big commitment, but somehow I managed to not post at all in February and have only just scraped in for March. If anyone other than myself were holding me to account, my excuses would include that I went to Ruby Conf, I went to Japan for 2 and a half weeks, and that I have been busy organising the next Sydney Rails Girls. I would also say that I have not been idle programming and learning-wise. In fact, the¬†point of this blog was to be a record of things I learnt – so I wanted to note that I read Steven Frank’s book “How to Count”. I read this book because at the recent Ruby Conf it was recommended to me during a Go Programming workshop run by Katrina Owen.

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How I Feel About Being a Developer

I’ve had a request (from my huge online fan base) for a post about how I feel about being a programmer, my opinion of it as a job. I really wish people would ask me my opinion about things more often, I love to go on a rant.

I have to say that being a programmer is the best job I’ve had so far, and I’m not young. I’m 35, I’ve had quite a few jobs already. Apart from the fact that my current job is amazing, with genius, helpful people and great work-life balance, I also just love the fact that I get to do programming all day.

My career before becoming a programmer was so random: I studied a double degree in Chemistry/Economics, I was a budget analyst on the Federal budget in Canberra, a researcher at the Crown Prosecution Service in London then Head of Analytics in Shanghai for a UK digital agency. That Shanghai job was my first introduction to any kind of ‘online’ work. I was responsible for doing reports and analysis on the online performance of clients and it was fascinating to me how much information was available in web analytics.

Then my partner and I, who both worked for that agency, decided to move back to Australia and work on similar client work for ourselves. It was online stuff, digital marketing, and through this I had my first taste of programming. Writing small scripts for Adwords and Analytics, making changes to clients web pages. I was so interested in this aspect that I did a night-course in back end web development, and then eventually changed jobs so I could do programming full time.

That was the moment when I stopped doing jobs that I ‘could do’, and started doing a job that I enjoyed.

At previous jobs I wasn’t so interested in learning more outside of work hours, but in programming I attend meet ups, read books, attend study groups and build things outside work to learn more. This seems to be very common among programmers, and less common among any other kind of work I’ve done before. I don’t recall many public servants or marketers learning outside of hours for pleasure. If they were doing it at all it was for career reasons. While programmers careers definitely benefit from all the learning they do outside work hours, I’m pretty sure that like me, they do it more for personal interest.

So that’s the first reason I enjoy this job – because it’s something I naturally want to learn more and more about.

I love how dynamic programming is. There are some old principles yes, but there are always new languages to find out about, new ways to do things, new libraries and packages you can play around with. It doesn’t stand still. This can be daunting for a junior like me. I kind of want it to stand still so I can have some time to catch up, but at the same time, it’s also good to know that no matter how experienced a developer is, there is always more they could learn, always something they don’t know. No one knows everything.

Another thing I enjoy about programming is that it’s problem solving. This is the kind of work I enjoy doing. I don’t have to write briefs or reports anymore. I just sit down and nut out logic-type problems all day. It’s like getting to do (sometimes frustrating) puzzles for a living.

I enjoy the immediacy of my work. When working in policy for the Government, not only is the Government slow, but policy is excruciatingly slow. With programming I can change a few lines of code and see results immediately. I can imagine up a feature and build it myself. I can see a problem and go in and figure it out and fix it. There’s a lot of satisfaction in that.

With programming, what I do all day at work is not irrelevant to my home life. I’m learning skills at work to build things, so that if I have ideas I have the capability to make those ideas become reality. It’s pretty exciting to think that if I have an idea, even that simple one for chores, I can just sit down and build it. And if I can’t build it myself, I can figure out how, with the million of resources online and the help from all the lovely programmers I know.

So, I would highly recommend programming as a job. It’s probably one of the best choices I’ve ever made.

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On Getting Better at CSS

Over the last month or so I’ve been making a concerted effort to up my skills in CSS. This is because I’ve had to do a bit of it at work, and to be honest, if no one was making me do it, I wouldn’t have made the effort to get better at it. At my last job, I never had to do it, so I kind of forgot about it’s existence.

But, now I’m glad I made the effort, because CSS is not going away, and it’s better to know something, than not.

Of course, I am not an expert yet, but I wanted to list out the things that I’ve been using this last month, because they really have increased my confidence in my CSS skills.

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On Learning and Satisfaction

Two years ago I wrote a little rake task for my husband to help him with his work – it simply went and checked a URL every day to make sure a certain tag was still on the page, and emailed him if it wasn’t.

He has found it useful so wanted to add another check to it. I opened up the 2 year old repo, and looked at the code. Instantly I saw a dozen things wrong with the code. I didn’t just add the new check, but I refactored the entire file, making methods out of stand alone lines of code, using loops and passing parameters. All things which were so obviously wrong to me now (even though they worked), and so easy and satisfying to fix and clean up.

I’ve been working as a dev for over a year now, and never has my improvement been so obvious to me as in fixing that little time capsule bit of code from 2 years ago.

Satisfaction is refactoring an old bit of code you wrote and seeing how far you’ve come.

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