Last year, I volunteered with TEALS, working with a local teacher once a month who was teaching the AP CS class. There was some extra time at the end of the year, so my teacher requested that I put together some materials to teach the kids something new. Since I was teaching myself Rust at the time, I decided to write a guide specifically aimed at high school students who have learned some Java but are now interested in Rust. I was heavily inspired by the Rust Book, but tried to simplify it so you could make it through in about one and a half hours. I’d love feedback on it and I hope someone finds it useful.
A while ago, I built this super basic Sinatra app to post tickets to JIRA. Here’s the use case: you have non-technical people who are part of your company/team that need to be able to add bugs to JIRA. However, they aren’t putting the right information into the ticket. Here comes this super basic app. To get it running, you just need to update .env with your JIRA username, password, and project key. However, I would recommend changing it to use OAuth. Right now, the form is very simple and, if you decide to use this, I would highly recommend you update it to ask for whatever information you want. Just don’t forget to update the JSON in sinatra_jira.rb! This application is completely open source - feel free to copy any of it for any reason, whole or partial. Let’s dig in a bit and do a quick overview of how Sinatra works.
To start off, the Gemfile is minimal. The biggest thing is that I’m using dotenv, a super useful gem that helps manage environment variables using .env files. Other than that, rubocop, sinatra, and we are using thin for the server.
The main file (sinatra-jira.rb) contains the routes and the actions. It’s basically a combination of a controller and routes file all in one. The initial get just displays the form and all the work happens in post. Even that is fairly simple though… we just take the field contents and put them in the form that the JIRA API wants.
The form is pretty simple too and really ugly. I would definitely recommend adding some styling and don’t be like me… internal users deserve nice looking apps too! Since the problem I was facing was that I wasn’t getting the right information, I made sure to put examples in the form to increase the chance that I would get the information that I need.
This is a SUPER basic response. Don’t miss that we are passing key to the response. That is the issue key which, depending on how much your end users use JIRA, might be useful to include.
Hope this was somewhat useful in some way. I’d love to see feedback too!
I started my new job in mid-June and have had this in my drafts since my job search last year. I’ve now done two remote job searches and I don’t think I’m ever going back to a regular office job. So far, I’m really happy at Stitch Fix and I’m hoping I don’t have to find another job for quite some time (years??? 🤞🏽).
During remote interviews, have a list of questions and type up the answers as you hear them.
Often, companies will ask for you to do a 5-8 hour final interview via video. Feel free to push back and request that a video interview be broken up. I’ve noticed that it’s less likely for interviewers to think of someone on video needing a break and, since you are on video, it’s harder to ask for one.
If they want you to travel to do the final interview in-person, consider pushing back and asking for video interviews. Here’s why: you will be working with the company primarily over video. The interview process is what helps you evaluate how they work remotely. If they have to have you come in person for the interview, how can you be sure you won’t be stuck on dev island when you actually start?
Out of my questions I have listed, here are the two most important ones for remote jobs: What tools do you use for remote collaboration? How do they work together and ensure good communication and collaboration? These should be a priority because remote employees require good communication more than in-office employees. It’s easier to ignore them… so you want to make sure that’s not going to happen to you.
Favorite Recruiting Group
Mirror focuses on Ruby, JS, and mobile devs. I’ve used them a few times and it is only chance that I haven’t taken a job through them because they have consistently put me in front of companies that I hadn’t heard of that I would actually be interested in working for. I definitely would recommend them.
As part of my work with Arcadia, I've built a Rails application that added a cookie that contains a JWT (pronounced jot). Great! That was fairly simple. Then I had to go over to our Scala application and get it to accept the JWT as identification. Right now, we were keeping it pretty simple and we only care if it's valid. This post will cover what I think is the simplest way to do that, from start to finish. Or you can skip all that and just go look at the full gist.
We want to start off with the JWT parsing. And before we add the code to actually do that, let's add some tests! I decided to use the JWT Scala library and, in particular, jwt-core. It had, in my opinion, the most easy-to-understand documentation so I could indeed RTFM and get my work done. Since I didn't need to add encoding in the actual application (the tokens would be encoded in another application), I added a quick line to encode a token within the tests.
Now that I have my tests, let's add the actual code to decode the JWT! Thanks to JWT Scala, this is pretty simple! The real secret sauce is in this line:
userTokenData = parse(decoded).extract[Token].data. That does a lot of heavy lifting!
decoded is just a string and parse turns it into this
Jvalue object thanks to json4s, but that object is a bit hard to work with. However, I can extract it out to my case class,
Token, which is downright magical. If it doesn't include all the fields that I have in
Token, it will produce an error. Perfect!
Next I need a reusable
Authentication object. This wasn't too bad because I found out that
HttpServletRequest has a method called
getCookies which... returns the cookies. Excellent. I'm sure this looks weird as an
Either, but in this case I really did want
None because I didn't care about returning the error to the actual user. I did want to log it though, hence the liberal use of
Last, but definitely not least, I need a servlet. Well... tests for the servlet, then the servlet 😛. This is where I actually ran into trouble because I wasn't sure how to pass cookies to the
get request in a test. With some help from my boss, we found out that
get takes a
headers param and you can pass a cookie if it looks like this:
headers = Map("Cookie" -> cookie_value). To be honest, it required a bit of trial and error and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what values are being passed.
And finally... my servlet! Short and sweet.
I went to RailsConf last week and it was an amazing experience. DHH's keynote reminded me why I love Rails. Eileen's keynote made me super pumped for Rails 6. And all the talks were a delightful reminder of why I love programming and why I love the Ruby community. Here are some deeper thoughts and notes, divided up by talk:
Note: I'll post links to talks that I reference as soon as they are up.
This talk really hit home for me since I was very recently battling with Play for 4 months. One of the things that I do really love about Rails is that I can focus on solving the problem I actually want to solve, not problems that have been solved before (like... authentication). And, while I do agree that junior developers and people just starting out should not have to know SQL, I do think that knowledge of SQL is still useful if you want to be a good Rails developer. Relying solely on ActiveRecord is a mistake.
Crash Course in RSpec: stubs and doubles and mocks -- oh my!
This workshop managed to be both good and not quite what I wanted. I had hoped by the title that there would be a big emphasis on stubbing, but it was more of a footnote. It was a good crash course though and if you don't have much prior RSpec experience, check out Nicole's tutorial.
Jennifer Tu of Cohere gave an excellent workshop on interviewer skills that I have about 4 pages of notes from that I will try to sum up here. One of the first things she brought up was that a team should have specific goals in mind when interviewing:
- What values does the team have?
- What characteristics does the candidate have?
- What actions does the candidate take in certain situations?
- What makes someone successful on my team?
For each attribute that the interviewers want the candidate have, they should ask questions that dig into how a candidate behaves. For example, if your team values kind feedback, instead of asking "Do you give kind feedback?" or "Are you nice when responding to pull requests?", ask "Have you ever given feedback to someone whose code was not good? What did you do? Why?". If you value independent learning, ask:
- How do you learn something new?
- Do you have an example of a time when you ran into code you didn't understand?
- Share a time when you had a problem dumped into your lap but you had no idea what to do.
Make sure to wrap a question in context to ensure the candidate fully understands what you are asking. For example, one of the attendees wanted independent thinkers and people who would question decisions. They were currently asking this question:
You get a user request to add a blue button. How do you add a blue button?
However, in the context of an interview, someone who would normally question a decision like that might resonable think that the interviewer just wants to know if they know how to add a button to a page in HTML. What they should ask is:
We get a lot of feature requests and they aren't always valid. What would you do if you got a feature request to add a blue button?
Allow interviewees to show the skill if you can. Theoretical scenarios often just end up only showing red flags. Play acting is the better option. For example, if you want to know if someone gives kind feedback, give them some bad code and have them review it. If you want to know how they handle conflict, play act with the two interviewers coming up with conflicting ideas and ask them how they would resolve it.
It is the job of the interviewer to give the candidate the opportunity to show off. Interrupt (politely) if needed. You will be doing them a favor! Here are some possible polite interruptions:
- I like where you are going with this but....
- I'm sorry to interrupt, but I'm really curious about...
- This is interesting, but I really want to hear more about...
You should also be sure to set an agenda and share rubrics with other interviewers ahead of time.
Pairing: A Guide To Fruitful Collaboration
I can't not use this gif even though pairing is not this.
Anyway! You should be actively collaborating. The best way to think of pairing is to think of it as one little meeting. If done right, it should push you to be a better dev and away from bad habits. Above all, pairing needs trust. If you are condescending, that breaks the trust of your pair and makes you a lousy pair. One good way to pair is to have the driver write a test, codes until the test passes, writes a new test, then switch driver to the other person, who then repeats the process. Never say "let me do this quickly by myself." That is not pairing! Help the driver solve the problem and stay on the same page, so you both understand. There's a lot more to this talk, but I think you should watch it yourself 😃
The Practical Guide to Building An Apprenticeship
- plan (what are they going to do?)
- cash (pay them!)
- buy-in (convince the boss!)
You can sell it by noting that apprenticeship programs:
- eliminate onboarding costs (you get to teach a newbie developer your way of doing things)
- eliminate recruiting costs (why pay a recruiter $10K when you can give it to your apprentice)
- easier to hire seniors (who love to mentor)
Here's what you want to know about your plan:
- How long will the program be? (suggestion: 3-4 months)
- How many apprentices do you want to have? (ensure there are enough seniors to mentor them)
- What should they know prior to starting? (do you expect them to have a basic working knowledge of Rails?)
- What should they learn?
- How will they learn it? (through tickets, a big project, pairing, etc)
For hiring your apprentices, you want an application (basic questions to get to the heart of what they are about), a code challenge, and a final interview. If possible, do end-to-end anonymization until they get to the final interview. You also want to ensure you have a rubric prior to starting this process. After you hire them, try giving lessons on foundation concepts, then give them small changes (bugs/internal code). Then rotate them around to different teams, including customer facing product. And don't forget to set early expectations!
Eileen Uchitelle totally pumped me up. She discussed the various ways she is looking to make Rails more scalable by default. One of the things that really stuck with me was when she mentioned how so many companies are doing these things individually... so why not make them part of the overall framework and share the knowledge!
The Code Free Developer Interview
Can you tell I am into interviewing? This was a talk by Pete Holiday, also from CallRail. Here are the problems with coding during interviews:
- don't replicate real work
- disadvantage people without free time (code challenges)
- live coding is very stressful, even for experienced people
- difficult to develop and maintain a good code challenge
- many passive candidates won't do the takehome (I've done this before)
So what's the solution? The primary solution is to just talk to candidates.
- Ask all the candidates a consistent set of questions
- Define a rubric ahead of time
- Write down thoughts right after the interview
That's it! But there's more. Here are three possible techniques for a code-free interview:
1. Dig into their experience. Let them direct you to what they feel is most important. Ask questions like:
- What was your role in the project?
- How does the feature work?
- What's the worst technical debt? Why hasn't the team fixed it? How would you fix it?
- Has it had any bugs/outages in production? What happened? How did the team fix it?
2. Have them do a code review. If you choose this, make sure you are not using production code (they will have no context), are actively reducing complexity, and include realistic bugs without making it a bug hunt. One good option is to have a completely contrived situation with a simple application and a pull request to that simple app. Another is to fork an open source repository and create a contrived PR. The pull request should include no detail in the commit message, unsquashed commits, non-idiomatic code, overly complex, bad variable names, and actual bugs.
3. Try doing a collaborative system design. For this, you want to hypothetically build a tool, platform, or a project. You don't want any code or pseudocode and you should be working with the candidate. The general idea should be easy to understand and either related to the skills you're hiring for or well known. This can be forever-long, so it needs to be timeboxed. Let the candidate lead and build complexity if it's needed. For example:
Let's say we want to build Facebook. Get rid of the boilerplate (we already have users) and then ask "How do we implement status updates?". Once they get there, we can go deeper and ask about privacy controls, then granular privacy controls, and past that potential performance problems.
I loved this talk because I think code-free developer interviews should be the norm and have also been advocating for it at companies that I have been at.
Plays Well With Others: Improv For Nerds
H. Wade Minter gave this workshop and I don't have any notes on it because it was an improv class. But! One of the big things I took from it was our last activity. To remove bias from ideas, we did the following:
- each wrote down an idea on how to improve RailsConf for next year
- exchanged that idea with another person
- each paired up with someone else, compared ideas, and gave each idea a number of points (total points for the two ideas could not be higher than 7)
- exchanged ideas with a different person
- wash, rinse, repeat until we have compared ideas 5 times
At that point, we had seen about 10 different ideas (plus our own) and the best idea could have a total score of 35 with the worst having a score of 0. Our top idea had a score of about 26, with a good number being around 22. We had a couple of bad ideas in the double digits (I'm looking at you, bacon table). This definitely seems like a good practice for any organization with a decent number of people.
And that's it...
I signed myself up to teach a Scala class through Girl Develop It Pittsburgh a few months ago and the class was supposed to be tomorrow. I say "supposed to" because we only had two people sign up, so we ended up canceling. However, I still made a presentation! And since I spent all that time on a presentation, I decided to make a set of screencasts to accompany that presentation. If you've ever been interested in trying out Scala, I hope this helps. If you need any help or want me to go through some other aspect of Scala, feel free to contact me.
It's story time, y'all! All the names have been changed.
One of my earlier jobs, I worked at a company that had the family vibe. Everyone hung out together, and we were all "friends." The company also really valued "niceness." I put that in quotes because the people who tended to get pinged for not being nice were women about 80-90% of the time. Heck, there was a guy who would regularly tell people they were "fucking stupid" and we'd laugh it off. At this company, my team consisted of:
- My manager (Peter)
- A guy who had been on the team for a year (Keenan)
- A guy who had been with the company for a long time but just joined the team (Erlich)
- And me
For a while, I really liked my manager and my team. The one caveat was Erlich who, like his namesake, was a total creep. He could be funny, but he was distracting and disruptive and just generally skeeved me out. For about six months, Keenan, Erlich, and I shared an office. Then a new developer joined the team (Richard) and I moved into an office with him. It was a lot quieter, and I got so much done. After another six months, Richard was let go. I went to Peter and requested that I stay in an office with this other guy on a related team, instead of moving back into the office with Erlich. I told Peter that Erlich was distracting and he creeped me out, and I would be more comfortable not sharing an office with him for 6-8 hours every day.
I went on vacation a few days later, and while I was on vacation, Erlich was let go. I was a bit concerned about the timing, but he was also a shitty employee! So I didn't think it had anything to do with what I said. However, after I get back, Keenan starts treating me differently. I’m making a presentation to explain what we do to support, and I’m supposed to get feedback from him. I go back to Keenan at least five different times, and every time he tells me to make some other big change. Every time, I make the changes, but every time, it’s not enough.
Then Keenan reports me to Peter for being abrasive. I can't remember the exact content of the email I got from Peter (which had HR copied), but it made it sound like I had cussed out this other guy on our team (Nelson) and I had to wrack my brain for what I said. I kept wondering if I had blacked out and forgotten saying something horrible. When I finally remember, I realized all I said was a rather direct “no, you’re wrong.” I got reported to HR for telling a coworker they were wrong. I talked to Peter about it, and he apologized to me and said he should have spoken to me first, but at that point, I realized I would probably just have to switch jobs.
I've seen this double-standard exist in many places, but that was the most egregious. Maybe a month or so before this I had been eating lunch when Keenan decided to make the argument that "people with downs syndrome aren't people," and yet I was considered offensive for telling a man they were wrong.
I don't have a summary for this story. It's just one I need to tell in hopes that it will make others consider more carefully how they are treating their female colleagues.
I've now been using Scala since November (so a little over 4 months) and Play since January (exactly two months today). When I first started writing this application, I was brand new to Scala. My boss recommended Scalatra since he had some experience. Since I had none, I agreed and got started. I learn by example, so I first went through and found some projects that I could look at and base my project off. With Rails, this was easy. The Rails Guides are FANTASTIC (I miss them so much). With Scalatra, this was much more challenging. I made some progress, but then I came to a screeching halt, which caused my boss to post to Reddit asking for suggestions. Lemme pull out some of my favorite comments:
On stack overflow there are around ~250 questions tagged with scalatra. There are around 15k play framework related questions. You're pretty much on your own if you go scalatra.
Akka HTTP you pretty much have to have a PhD to understand.
Play lacks a coherent, functional API, documentation for a good 60% of it, and completely lacks the composability and ease of use of alternative frameworks like http4s. Most of these problems with Play are due to poor planning, and being a Lightbend technology which is contorted to work with Akka(and akka-http), yet another poor Lightbend tech. It's a pervasive rot in the community, just like Akka.
GREEEAAAAAAATTTTT. Anyway, we decided to try Play It has documentation (the bar, it is low), at least one book written about it, and some decent templates. I migrated my project over to Play and got going. One of the major differences I noticed between Play and Rails is that Play is not very opinionated. In general, if you look at a Rails project, everything is generally in the same place. Pretty much everyone uses ActiveRecord and the RDMS you choose doesn't really matter. With pretty much any Rails project, you can initialize the database with rake db:create. This is not the case for Play. As far as I can tell, you have to create the database and then Play will run evolutions (migrations). The real problem I have is that there also is no standard. Slick is very popular, but we decided to use the newer kid in class, Quill. And I couldn't find a single example of someone using Play 2.6, Quill, and PostgreSQL. And Play 2.6 is a breaking release from Play 2.5. I found one template that used Play 2.5, Quill, and PostgreSQL, but it broke when I upgraded to Play 2.6. Right now I'm having some database connectivity issues, but I'm hoping to resolve those soon. As soon as I get the app working, I'm going to create a template so hopefully, others won't have as hard of a time as I have.
Overall, I sorta wish I was still working in Rails? I love the simplicity of Ruby and how easy Rails makes it to get a decent CRUD app up and running. It definitely would have only taken me one week to make this app in Rails and it's taken four months (and counting) in Scala.
Everyone has days where they constantly mistype things and their muscle memory is failing them. Enter
fuck. It's a CLI app that allows devs to type out what they are actually thinking to get the command that they actually want. If you mistype a command (like
chiwn instead of
chown), all you need to do is type
fuck next and it will correct your command and then run it. Here's an example gif:
I'm used to Ruby. In Ruby, you can use
nil with abandon and just do something like
if variable to check if it exists. Below is valid Ruby code (though forgive me if I'm now out of practice):
When I started on this project, I started treating Scala the same way. However, I found out that apparently you want to avoid using
null in Scala. My first iteration prior to discovering this was the following:
This is not proper Scala. Unlike Ruby, Scala has
Option allows you to have
None. As you might expect,
Some has a value, while
None is the equivalent of
null. Here's an example of how to do that same function properly:
Either provides a similar function to
Option but is better for returning error messages. The problem I was trying to solve was creating an organization user. For that to happen, there must be an organization and a user. Here's my inital way I did it, thinking as a rubyist:
However, the better option (hehe) is to use
Either in this case. So here's the better way to do this same function:
And that's how you use
There's a new package out that simplifies
man pages and it's GREAT: tldr. Here's an example:
tldr doesn't include every command, but it's growing with community support. Install it one of the following ways:
npm install -g tldr brew install tldr gem install tldrb pip install tldr
There are many more ways to install, so if one of those doesn't work for you, go to the
tldr github and find one that does.
Yeah, just another hot take on that sexist Google memo. I could only read bits of it because it was just such garbage that I didn't want to waste my time on the whole thing. I also read a few other takes, but it overall seems like standard garbage and it doesn't really surprise me that a senior engineer at Google thinks this way. One of the bits that really stuck out to me was this:
We always ask why we don't see women in top leadership positions, but we never ask why we see so many men in these jobs. These positions often require long, stressful hours that may not be worth it if you want a balanced and fulfilling life.
This just sorta pissed me off because it's ignoring that most women don't opt for these jobs because sexism forces them to do almost all the household labor. Maybe it's also because, as a man, you can have what society deems as a "balanced" life while working long hours because your wife is taking care of the kids and a man isn't considered a bad dad if he's not super involved in the kid's life. This is total crap and bad for women and men that people think this way.
The real downside is that tech is the perfect industry to help even this out since it's pretty easy to work from home in most jobs. In one of my first dev jobs, one of the senior engineers that I worked with worked from home twice a week after his kid was born, alternating days with his wife, so she could go back to work too. I thought that was pretty cool and not a freedom most industries have! Maybe this is a faulty assumption that I'm making since I'm not a parent, but I'm assuming if you have kids you want to spend time with them?
I've been thinking about this for a while, but keep not actually writing this post. One of the biggest mistakes I see juniors make is not to ask questions when needed for fear of looking like they don't know what they are doing. Granted, part of that is the way senior developers often react to questions. April Wensel wrote a fantastic article last August about the toxic tone that is prevalent in tech. So two points here:
- Senior devs should all read that article and consider more carefully how they talk to junior devs (or any other person for that matter). I'm not picking on anyone - I have definitely been guilty of this as well. However, being able to explain concepts plainly and empathetically shows your knowledge more than making someone feel dumb because they don't also have that knowledge.
- Junior devs need to make sure to timebox themselves. Give yourself a chance to do some googling, see if you can find an answer to your question on your own. However, after that first 30 minutes/hour, you should bring your question to someone else. Ideally, you have someone that you can approach who will answer your question compassionately. Make sure you give them all the information you have and the attempts you have already made. This will help avoid feeling like you are getting repetitive information.
So this is a weird issue I just came across. Here's an example table schema:
mysql> describe queues; +--------------+---------------+ | Field | Type | +--------------+---------------+ | id | int(11) | | customer_id | mediumint(9) | | request_time | decimal(12,0) | | item_id | smallint(6) | +--------------+---------------+ mysql> select * from queues; +------+--------------+--------------+--------+ | id | customer_id | request_time | item_id | +------+-------------+--------------+---------+ | 6829 | 15066 | 201704161118 | 1 | | 6872 | 15066 | 201704161118 | 2 | | 6875 | 15066 | 201704161118 | 26 | | 6880 | 15066 | 201704161118 | 8 | | 6881 | 15066 | 201704161118 | 15 | | 6930 | 15077 | 201704161942 | 6 | | 8683 | 14625 | 201704171412 | 10 | +------+-------------+--------------+---------+
In my example, I might have the same customer requesting multiple items at the same time. I want to display all the items they have requested in the same line. That means I want to get a list of all the unique customers and request times combined. Yes, this isn't the *greatest* example because this table should probably be designed in a different way, but stick with me!
If I only want customer_id and request_time, that is pretty simple.
mysql> SELECT DISTINCT customer_id, request_time FROM queues; +-------------+--------------+ | customer_id | request_time | +-------------+--------------+ | 15066 | 201704161118 | | 15077 | 201704161942 | | 14625 | 201704171412 | +-------------+--------------+
However, in my case, I need the queue id to do additional queries. That's where it gets just a smidge bit more complicated! Instead of just a simple DISTINCT, I've got to count the distinct records and then use HAVING to actually limit it.
mysql> SELECT *, COUNT(DISTINCT customer_id, request_time) as unique_orders FROM queues GROUP BY customer_id, request_time HAVING unique_orders >= 1; +------+-------------+--------------+---------+ | id | customer_id | request_time | item_id | +------+-------------+--------------+---------+ | 6829 | 15066 | 201704161118 | 1 | | 6930 | 15077 | 201704161942 | 6 | | 8683 | 14625 | 201704171412 | 10 | +------+-------------+--------------+---------+
Not too difficult, but I did go through a few different variations before getting to this result. I wanted it to work, but SELECT id, DISTINCT(customer_id, request_time) definitely does not!
I'm a big fan of committing early and often. However, if you are anything like me, that means your commit history looks something like this:
added feature fixed typo oops another typo added tests fix failing test fix another failing test UGH TYPO
Fine for me alone, but not a great reference for the rest of the team when they try to figure out WTF I was doing a month or a year later. I've already written about how to rebase and squash commits before, so I won't cover that again. I do want to go a little more into why it's important to do so. Each commit message should reflect a distinct piece of work done. What I need to do now is rebase and change my commits to be more like this:
Added endpoint to return list of components Added unit tests for component index endpoint
Now, if someone does a git blame, they can get the full context of what I was doing, not just a one character typo change. It's also worth expanding out your messaging and putting more context in the description. Every team has their own style and rules, but, personally, this is my normal git workflow and I'm a huge fan.
This morning, I thought I was losing my mind. I'm writing a little web app (mostly Angular) that makes API calls. I know the API works, but for some reason, the calls from my app to the API were getting a 500 error in response. I tailed the API logs to see an "ArgumentError: argument out of range". However, the only thing that happened on this line was the date parsing. I open up the Rails console and start debugging. First I type out the date that isn't working. It works. Then I copy and paste from my browser. Failure.
irb(main):027:0> "2017-02-13T13:12:51Z".to_time(:utc) => 2017-02-13 13:12:51 UTC irb(main):028:0> "2017‑02‑13T13:12:51Z".to_time(:utc) ArgumentError: argument out of range
As you can see above, they look IDENTICAL. One of my coworkers suggested that I check the ASCII value of each character. Lucky for me, Ruby makes this easy.
If you look at a chart of ASCII characters and values, you can see that 127 is the end of the standard characters. My fifth character starts with 226. I know that the pattern of 226, 128, 145 repeats twice and in the same spot as the dash. Looking at a UTF-8 encoding table, I can see that set of characters represents the non-breaking hyphen, which is definitely breaking my API call. Mystery #1 of the morning? Solved.
Originally given as a talk at PyCaribbean on February 18, 2017. Modified slightly for the web.
I started programming in Python six years ago and have been doing Ruby development for the past five years. When I would go to user groups as a new developer, it was very intimidating. People seemed to know each other, and I wasn't sure who to ask for help. In the end, I stopped going and just created my own group. But many people get so discouraged that they decide programming isn’t for them.
That’s the reason I believe that building a community for beginners is so important. Let me explain why. We want to ensure that our communities are open to beginners because we need to expand and diversify. The more diverse our community is, the more diverse our teams will be. According to the Harvard Business Review, "working with people who are different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance." I also think that everyone should be able to learn to program. Programming shouldn’t be limited only to people who were privileged enough to learn to code in grade school. No matter their age, gender, or background, if someone wants to join our community, we should be open to helping them learn. Having community to help learn should not only be open to people willing to pay thousands of dollars for a code school. I started PyLadies Boston almost four years ago with the express intention of bringing more women into the Python community. I am also involved with Boston Ruby Women, leading weekly study sessions where I answer any questions that people bring me. More on these and a few others as we move on…
How can you do your best to make sure your group is open to beginners? First, let's talk about new groups. As I mentioned, existing groups can still benefit from many of these ideas, so don't totally zone out if you already have a group that you run.
1. Make sure the way you describe your group and events is beginner inclusive
Ex. “no problem too big or small” “good for people of all levels”
2. Be clear about what knowledge and skills are required
Be clear about what level of knowledge is required. People will often underestimate themselves, so keep this is mind when describing what is needed. Ex. “basic Python required, should have mostly completed a tutorial like Learn Python The Hard Way”
3. Find out what your local community needs
This is important. Every community needs different things. With PyLadies, we have a large community of academics and scientists, so there's a huge desire for tutorials and code reviews. With Boston Ruby Women, we have a lot of recent boot camp grads, so we spend a lot of time talking about interviews and finding jobs.
4. Ask for feedback all the time.
Every year, I have an anniversary party and ask everyone who attends for feedback on the past year (what did you like, what did you not like) and for suggestions for the future. This regular evaluation of PyLadies has led us to have new types of events that I would never think of on my own and to get rid of ones that I thought would be successful that weren’t.
5. Try out different types of events for the whole group. Depending on your local community, some may work better for you than others. Here are some event types that I've had success with:
- Presentation Nights are the standard, but often there's an idea that you have to be an expert to give a presentation. Make it clear when asking for presentations that you are open to presentations about beginner projects.
- Lightning Talks are a great way to get people to do their first public talk. One of the ways that I have encouraged people is to say that, while it should be related, if you have a hobby that you want to share with everyone, we'd love to hear a lightning talk on it. One of the members of PyLadies ended up doing her first presentation on bird-watching, and it was a huge hit!
- Tutorials are always successful. They give experienced people a chance to share their knowledge in a meaningful way and beginners a chance to learn a new skill or toolset. However, with tutorials it's key to allow for extra time in the beginning, or before the event, to get set up. Even if you give clear instructions and ask people to set up prior, believe me, you will still likely need extra time.
- Mob Programming is where the whole group looks at the same problem and tries to solve it together. We started running events that were combination mob programming and code reviews, and they have been a blast. Everyone can participate: even with limited programming knowledge, you can get an idea of what kinds of problems other people are facing.
- Host separate beginner-focused events. These events will draw out people who are still too intimated to go to the main meetings. We regularly have women show up to our beginner events that almost never go to the main group because they don't feel they are ready, despite my encouragement.
- Study groups can help people teach each other. At PyLadies, we try to have study groups every week and have a mentor each time. However, we've also encouraged our members to start study groups in their neighborhoods as well and have had a ton of success with that. I've used these to target people who are just starting to learn to code. If you are trying to provide mentors at study groups, it can be a challenge. One way to sell it to your more experienced members is that it's a way to both share their knowledge and improve their understanding of fundamentals. I have one woman who comes every week who always challenges me and makes me go deeper into the language than I had before.
- Mentor sessions are similar to study groups but more focused on career growth. These target people who know how to code and are looking to enter the industry. Job hunting as a junior is often very discouraging, and it helps to have regular meetings with someone who tells you that you can do it. Also, by getting to know a larger amount of junior developers, it makes it easier for you to find great developers who just haven't been given a chance yet. Through these groups, I've gotten two people hired at both Akamai and a previous company. Frequently, it is harder to get to know people in a larger group setting. Having a smaller subset like a mentor session can help your more experienced members get to know the individuals who are just getting started.
So that's some of the basics for starting a beginner-focused group, but what if you are currently running a group? Here are some suggestions that have been successful at bringing more beginners into both Boston Python and Boston RB. I'll start with the simplest:
- Send an email to everyone who joins with a message that emphasizes that everyone is welcome, no matter their level of programming experience and let them know what they can expect to happen at your events. With Meetup, you can write a message once and automatically send it to every new member.
- If you can, have someone greet people as they walk in. Ideally, it will be one of the organizers, someone who is there regularly. This individual should do their best to get to know the people who have just joined. It will give all newcomers a friendly face each time they return and someone who is familiar with their level.
- For presentations nights, ensure that there are regular talks that are suitable for beginners. These talks do not have to be about ‘how to write a for loop,' but more ‘here's a problem, this is how I solved it,' with less emphasis on pure programming. Organizers I spoke to said they got large influxes of new sign-ups for nights when they had multiple speakers from a variety of fields.
- For project nights, a few suggestions:
- Have a couple of beginner tables and, if you can, have a few experienced programmers to staff them and help new people work through issues.
- Do introductions at the beginning. Have everyone introduce themselves and mention what they are working on. You can ask experienced people to raise their hands if they are willing to be available for help throughout the night. It can be time-consuming, but it will help build community and create opportunities for people to collaborate.
- Reassure people that it's ok if they are not working on a project. You can have people raise their hands at the beginning if they are looking to collaborate on a project.
Ok, last but not least: running workshops and finding the best way to teach people to code.
- Running workshops is, personally, one of the biggest challenges as an organizer. Here's a rundown of some the problems and some suggestions on how to deal with them.
- Space: given that a workshop is at least 6 hours long, you can't run one on weeknights. Therefore, most businesses won't want to host. However, you should try reaching out to local universities and community colleges - even better if you have someone in your group who works at one.
- Volunteers are a challenge at any time, but getting people to give away their Saturday (plus maybe their Friday night) is another problem entirely. Expect at least a couple of individuals to bail last minute, so have a backup plan. Make sure to have a few more volunteers than you think you need and be prepared to present if someone who is supposed to present doesn't show.
- Content is probably the easiest if you are doing a Django or Rails workshop since there are already full tutorials for both aimed at a weekend time frame. If you want to run a workshop for either of those, check out DjangoGirls, RailsGirls, and RailsBridge. If you want to do a workshop for a different language or framework, consider still looking at those for example of what you should include and adopt it for the framework that you want to cover. If considering a workshop on a language, review the material covered by the Boston Python Workshops. Though the materials are in Python, you could adapt them to fit other languages.
- Food - it's important to provide at least lunch when you have people stuck in a room for a full day. You can reach out to local companies who use the language or framework that you are teaching and get someone to provide food. Usually, they'll also want to send a volunteer for the workshop too so they can have someone to represent their company.
- Continued engagement is probably the biggest challenge. When people come to a workshop, make sure they know what the next steps are. When a RailsBridge Boston workshop occurs, they always make sure there is a Boston RB project night the week after so people can keep learning. You could also have lightning talks soon after and encourage people to talk about problems that they want to solve or applications they want to build.
- There is no "one best way" for teaching people how to code. However, I have had more success with some methods than with others.
- Doesn’t work:
- Class style setting that builds on itself week after week potentially works if people are paying for it. However, if you are like me and just trying to provide a free service to your community, do not choose this option. I did this when I first started PyLadies because there was a demand for beginner classes. I held classes for just two hours every other weekend. I had a fantastic turnout the first week - 30 people showed up and were super engaged. The second week was still good - 20 people. Then it started dropping drastically. By the fifth week, it was just me and my co-organizer.
- Just giving a text tutorial (like Learn Code the Hard Way), with no support. With no support group or place to reach out for help, when people get to a tight spot, they can assume that they just aren't cut out for programming and quit. There's still a stigma that you have to be good at math to be a programmer, and some non-technical people think that only geniuses can program (have been told that I must be super smart because I'm a developer). Often it's just a matter of seeing the right example for a concept to make sense. Just because someone has trouble learning using one resource doesn't mean they couldn't learn using another.
- Does work:
- Short one-off tutorials on basic programming concepts that don't build on each other. You can't necessarily do a ton of these since most of programming does require knowing other concepts. But you can teach the idea of object-oriented programming without involving a significant amount of code. There are also other languages that you can learn the basics of in a two hour period - SQL being my favorite, but HTML also being a possibility. The goal is to share knowledge, so get creative!
- Having beginner focused events where people can bring questions from any tutorial they choose. As I mentioned above, this is an essential part of PyLadies Boston. I always suggest my two favorite tutorials, but if someone learns better another way (say a MOOC or videos), then they can use those and I will still be there to answer questions. I also try to make it clear in all communication that I am always available by email. Unless you have a group that is 5K plus people, this is not as big of a deal as you might think. I make myself available to about 1500 people through the groups I run and countless more through my website, yet I maybe get an email a week max. It will give people a lifeline if they need it, but it will not take up too much of your time.
- Doesn’t work:
These are my recommendations on how to build a community for beginners. However you involve yourself, being part of a space where everyone is welcome to learn is a valuable and rewarding experience that can really make a difference to someone just starting out.
When I moved up to Boston, I felt very lonely. I had my partner, sure, but that's never quite enough. I tried going to existing meetups but I found that they were too large and I still felt isolated. I had been part of a PyLadies group in Atlanta, so I decided to start one in Boston. From the very first meeting, I was energized by the women who came. They were all so excited about the group and the possibilities that it pushed me to spend more time organizing, where I might have otherwise said I was too busy. Every event we had, no matter how small or large, gave me energy and life. It was so gratifying to be able to give people who had never spoken in public before a platform to share their knowledge.
A few months after the founding of PyLadies Boston, I heard about a Ruby women's study group that had formed. Since I was by then working in Rails, I joined hoping to get to know more people in the Ruby community. That group moved from a mailing list to Meetup a few months after I joined and became Boston Ruby Women. That group has also been a source of good in my life. Every month, I'm able to help junior developers not lose confidence during tough job searches. Every month, I talk to brilliant women who routinely give wonderful advice on how to deal with all the bullshit that life throws. The group is always up for a table flipping conversation and I love it so much for that.
I am excited to be moving to Pittsburgh and to start a new chapter in my life. But I'm brokenhearted to leave these two communities. I have faith that I'll be able to meet rad and awesome women in my new home, but I know it will take time. Thank you to everyone who has helped me grow over the past four years. Y'all mean so much to me.
This semester I have been taking a computer architecture class. Overall, it's been pretty fun because I was given three projects and allowed to do them in the language of my choice. I chose Ruby. I'm pretty proud of these projects, so I decided to post them all to Github. If you are interested in the actual code, you can find it here. While I was doing this, I realized I needed to up my average documentation game. I needed the grader, who didn't know Ruby, to be able to easily understand what I was doing and why I was doing it. For the first two projects, I just wrote up documentation in a relatively reasonable way, and they were able to read through the code comments to see how it worked.
That's when I found YARD. YARD uses markup (I used markdown) and tags to create delightful HTML docs. What were just comments in my code turned into this, with almost no extra effort. I'd heard of it before, but I hadn't had a project that was worth massive documentation. YARD made the documentation a delight. You create the necessary documentation by using markdown, so your README functions as the homepage for your docs. Then, within each class, you use tags to explain params, return values, and add notes and examples. Here is an example from my MIPSDisassembler project:
You can see the result of this code here as well as the image below. The result is easy to navigate documentation that you can share with anyone. It also gives the ability to see the source code of each method inline, so you don't have to go far to see the actual code behind public methods that you would want to use. I know I'm a bit of a dork, but I seriously loved putting this documentation together and I'm hoping it made my code just a bit more accessible.
While I haven't written a coding post in three months, I swear I do code every day. Recently, I started taking night classes again. This semester, I'm taking Computer Architecture and Data Structures with Java. My first project in Computer Architecture was to build a MIPS disassembler. I decided to use Ruby, which ended up bringing up some unique issues, mostly because Ruby does not have a short variable type within it's Numeric class. In Java, the short type is a 16-bit signed two's complement integer. Ruby does not use primitive types because everything has to be an object. No short object == no short type. Also, while binary and hexadecimal numbers can be converted easily to decimal in Ruby, they are initially strings. What does this mean? It means that in addition to the other parts of the translate, I also had to convert from hex to binary and from binary to signed decimal. I'll probably share all of my code in the future, but for now, here's a walkthrough of those two functions:
Translating to binary
This was pretty simple. I just had to use sprintf and it immediately converted the hexadecimal numbers into binary. Only one hitch! I needed the leading zeros (if there were any), so I had to use rjust to make sure it was a 32 bit binary by padding it to the left with 0s.
Converting to a signed integer
Since I couldn't just cast as a short, I had to use two's complement. With two's complement, I knew that if the integer version of the binary was greater than 2^15, then it was actually a negative number. Otherwise, it was correct as is.
Boom! I hope this helps someone else who might've had the same trouble I did at first. I'll go into the program in full after my whole class has actually submitted theirs. 😛