The blog of David Wickes, software developer

Makers: day 5

I thought I’d be writing a blog post everyday about my experience at Makers. Or at least every two days. That went out of the window pretty damn quickly. Things move quickly, so let’s go for a quick update and review before I get along with my Saturday…

Day -2

Headed to the graduation of the cohort 12 weeks ahead of ours and met some of the guys joining me in the August group, as well as the ‘seniors’ (that’s seniors by a full 6 weeks – I don’t thinks they’ll be taking my lunch money). Got to see the different final projects that had been created – really beautiful stuff such as the artist portfolio site, and a fun way to work out which film to watch with your friends using the IMDB API. I was struck with how polished these projects looked - fleshed out and beautiful.

Day 0

First day. Start early and meet everyone. We all introduce each other with interesting facts (much antipathy towards mushrooms), and the Makers team do the same. Many of the names have sinces wondered off into the sunset of my memory, but we’re mainly being taught by Enrique, Stephen and Roi who’s the TA (and who has only just finished the course – amazing) at the moment.

Our first challenge is to get set up and create a web app that generates motivational posters from a Google image search. In one day. And, amazingly, we all manage it. There’s some pretty hairy moments to begin with (imagine a room full of people all downloading the same software at the same time using the same WiFi). But it happens.

I asked Enrique whether I should stick with the Linux laptop or try out one of the MacBook Pros the Makers kindly offer for students to borrow during the course. He used to use Linux himself but was converted in a single day having borrowed a friend’s. So I thought I’d try it out…

I’m typing this on the Mac. Enough said.

Day 1

And it’s straight into the first project - creating a student directory for our cohort using Ruby and the command line. We’re all at different levels of experience at the moment - I’d describe myself as confident with a CLI and Ruby having prepared (over-prepared?) extensively for the last few… months (I was just looking at GitHub and I’ve been pushing there since February. Time flies!). The exercises are kept as a text document on GitHub with links to pills on how to use Git and the Unix command line. I pair with Chris who I’d met on the open day. We have a great time getting through the work.

Day 2

There are lectures throughout the day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – with additional talks during the day from other people coming in to the building. Today was the turn of the technology heads from Compare the to talk to us. It was interesting to hear them talk about how their technology and culture had chnged over the last ten years, especially the shift to an Agile culture. The more I hear and read about Agile the more excited it makes me feel about working as a programmer - not just writing code but having a wide-ranging input into what is being developed. It was also cool to hear the coders described as being, essentially, ‘customer-facing’ – that they were the closest staff memebers to actual customer experience and so were expectd to both feedback as such, generate ideas, and importantly care for the web app all the time, with flexible working hours. I’d never thought of it that way, but in a world where a company’s only contact with their customers is through the web, coders become the customer facing members of staff with all th responsibility that entails.

We also get talks from the cohort above us – the seniors. It’s great seeing these guys wanting to pass on the knowledge, the hints, the tricks – everything they’ve picked up in the last few weeks, on to us. This tradition started spontaneously but fits so well with the ethos of Makers. I’m looking forward to maybe doing one myself.

Erique talks about his keyboard layout for five minutes today – well maybe more than five minutes. Not only is he a Vi(m) weezard but he also uses (1) COLMAC layout on both (2) the MacBook if he’s out and about or (3) the scariest keyboard in the world if he’s wanting to type a lot.

Vim is enough for me, although Andy in our cohort borrows the keyboard for a day and starts to learn Colemak. Brave.

Day 3

I’m ahead. A few of us are ahead. In fact a few of us are wondering why we’re not useing OOP methods to write this code because, frankly, it’s looking a bit messy right now. My code is particularly awful until [Ben] and I chat about it and he suggests refactoring to make more but shorter methods with much better names. I kick myself – I knew that! – but bad habits die hard.

But I don’t mind being ahead – I’m not straining at the bit. At the beginning Enrique and Stephen said that we’re as strong as our weakest member, and that we should never leave a man behind. I think of my cohort as a team, and I’m responsible. So I float around answering questions and trying to help out where I can. I had a great moment in the morning with Ruth in which we both learned new things about symbols, and I’ve enjoyed speaking to Javier about – well lots of things. We have pretty similar motivations for getting in to Makers; we both want a better, more fulfilling work life. I’m more sure now that I’ve found it.

And I like talking about code! I hadn’t realised that this is what I was missing so much. Talking and working everyday in Ruby has increased my confidence and my knowledge. Helping others helps yourself, teachers learn more from their students. The last time I felt this way was at University, and it’s a great feeling.

Stephen and Roi introduce the finer points of using Git today in a fantastic lecture. I’ve found myself getting tangled up in my own branches so much that it was good to have things explained carefully and accurately, and with a demonstration as well. I learned a lot.

Day 4

Test Driven Developmet (TDD) drops with a bang today as Enrique and Stephen introduce RSpec and a completely different way of writing code. Really. I’d heard of TDD, I’d heard people moan about or praise it – but I’d not seen it until Enrique started hammering away at Vim on the projector to create FizzBuzz by first defining what the code ought to be doing and then making it do it, then expanding the spec’, making the code fail, making the code pass, expanding the spec’… repeat, rinse… it was amazing. He hooked it up with the idea of both the scientific method and a good doctor washing their hands. And it made sense – declaring where you’re going and then getting there, rather than just blindly, messily, hacking around until something drops out.

We should be able to repeat these steps, write a FizzBuzz implementation using TDD, in less that five minutes. My first try was 33. I think it’s a great way to practice.

We also had a talk by Reuben and Sam who both work to get Makers students placements when they graduate. It was a really good idea to have them introduce themselves and talk about what we could do to make their lives (and so our lives) easier. Which boiled down to:

  1. Pair. A Lot.
  2. Always TDD. Always.
  3. Push often and always to GitHub.
  4. Don’t worry about the job. Do the course.

Which was a load off everyone’s mind.

The Friday Challenge was CLI based, so I waltzed blithly through (and had a really good time remembering some fun commands). Excitingly it was marked with an RSpec file which checked whether your changes ‘passed’ – literally. Unfortunately the file was written in an earlier version of the RSpec syntax and so the tests failed even when they should’ve passed. So Spike and I got to do our own Friday Challenge and fix the RSpec file. I say challenge – we made more of a mountain out of that molehill than maybe we should’ve, but we learned a lot about octal, binary, Unix permissions and bitwise operators on the way, as well as Rspec.

Mulling over what was going on with permissions & 0000100 while leaning on a beanbag, talking the problem through with a new friend while drinking a cold beer at six-thirty on a Friday, I felt happier than I have in years. In the last week I’ve literally eaten and slept code (I dreamed in Ruby one night. It was odd) almost every hour of the day. And I love it.