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When Life Happens

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I was on a good track for a while. A long while. Can you believe that in a few months it will have been A WHOLE YEAR since I’ve started this?

I’ll be honest. I started this in July and I didn’t have a great flow going untill fall rolled around, but it was a great flow man…

I was spending about 30% of my work day coding. I was studying 3-4 hours every Wednesday night. I was going to workshops every other weekend. I was feeling great about my progress.

Then life got real.

I mean this is a “day in the life” blog so that means posting about my failures too huh?

There’s now so much work coming through that my QA team doesn’t have enough people to cover it all. Goodbye 30% coding time… I hope I see you again soon.

I went on vacation with my family. It was fantastic. We really needed it. Although I wish I had known how little time is required to pass by before your brain starts wiping out what you’ve just learned.

After vacation ended there were a really bad couple of weeks personally, and my Wednesday nights were one of the casualties.

Lastly, I’ve decided my heart is more in front-end development. I loved the graphic design courses I took in college and I really liked the Javascript classes I’ve gone to. And that Java book was REALLY hard to open back up after vacation for some reason.

All in all I have not worked on this coding thing for over a MONTH. So what does one do when they’ve lost opportunity and even worse, their concentration?

I have no idea. So I will complain write to you, whoever (if anyone) is reading this.  First of all to keep it real, because learning a new skill is not all sugar-pops and rainbows (sugar-pops?). Second of all for therapeutic and thought-processing reasons. I guess listing out all of these obstacles that are keeping me from doing what I want to be doing and listing all the things I will do to work around them is a healthy way to go about it.

By the way, this has always been my problem… Life gets in the way and I take the easy way out. I convince myself that I just can’t make the time. There are more important things I need to do. Besides, life is short, shouldn’t we all just sit back and enjoy it while we can and not take on too much? I toyed again with the idea of taking that same way out this time, but this time was different. This time I don’t think I could live with myself.

To rectify this situation…

  • I’m going to be scouring the internet for front-end workshops.
  • I’ve applied for a dev boot camp scholarship.
  • I’m going to be 1,000% dedicated to Wednesday night studying.
  • I maybe might have to try to be better at delegating work. I hate that word.
  • I need to come up with a project to work on. One that I am excited about doing to keep me motivated. That’s harder than you think.

On that note, I just took up a solid hour of my Wednesday night writing this. I think it cleared my head and organized my thoughts though so I’ll chalk that up as a win. I’m also starting fresh at the beginning of my JavaScript book and I whizzed right through the first chapter – win #2!

Goals for next week:

  1. Find the smallest bug to fix at work.
  2. Complete chapter 2 of the JS book.
  3. Come up with a project to work on.

That’s a hefty list. I’ll try to post an update next week if you promise not to judge me on the results.

No Fluff Just Stuff, A Review

Last weekend I was lucky enough to have my employer send me to the NFJS conference (No Fluff Just Stuff). I hadn’t ever attended a conference before so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had a feeling a lot of the sessions would be over my head since I’m just a beginner. I also feared my eyelids would become insurmountably heavy while listening to session after session (1.5 hrs each) of tech talk for 3 days in a row. Four sessions per day. That’s 12 sessions, which is 18 hours of input. I mean really, how interesting can you make a tech talk? My last preconception was that I’d be one of 4 women in a sea of men. Kind of like the bachelorette.

Along with stating that I’ve never attended a conference before, I’d also like to state that there is definitely no one paying me to write this…

It turns out that there are speakers out there that can make an almost 2 hour presentation of what’s new in Java 8 almost exhilarating (okay maybe I am showing too much nerd now). Venkat Subramaniam (@venkate_s) held a handful of Java 8 sessions that left me wanting more. He did some amazingly fast live coding during the talk, but somehow he explained it all in a way that even little ol’ me could keep up with. He used children as analogies which were hilarious and also super relatable to everyone, even if you don’t have kids.

I haven’t been exploring front-end technologies much, but I decided to go to a two-part Angular session by Raju Gandhi (@looselytyped) even though I was at high risk of being in over my head. Raju also did a lot of live coding during these sessions which helped me tremendously because I’ve never worked with Angular. He’s really a very engaging speaker and was making everyone laugh as he did it. It’s a great talent to be funny and engaging while live-coding and explaining how it all works at the same time!

Raju also held a couple of non-technical sessions as well. I actually never intended on going to the non-technical sessions. It just so happened that for those time slots it was best for me not to go to the technical sessions… know what I mean? The first was called “Learning to Learn”. Perfect for me, right? I had assumed there was not much to learn about learning. You know what happens to assumers. I actually learned a lot. Raju is extremely well read and has taken all of the great things he’s learned from reading a bajillion books on the subject into this amazing session. And again, he was very engaging and funny.

The second non-technical session Raju held was “Get Things DONE”. I didn’t realize how much I needed to attend this one. I may have had an inkling that the 5,493 emails in my inbox were not good, but it turns out that was just a symptom of a much larger core problem. Again Raju rattled off book title after book title referencing the good things he’s learned from each like he’s got the dewey decimal system in his head. He even demonstrated tools and how he uses them in his every day life. I left that session inspired to get my life organized and guess what… my inbox is down to 959 now and I am getting things done like nobody’s business!

Now you can’t have a tech conference without a magician, right? Michael Carducci (@MichaelCarducci) was the resident magician who’s a software engineer by day (or is it the other way around?) He brought the party to every table with magic tricks that were truly amazing. I was stumped every time, even when he demonstrated how he did it. The session I attended of his was “The Art of the Impossible” and it was all about how to find solutions to impossible problems. He used so many real-life examples of how hustlers and magicians think outside the box to trick people and showed us how to apply that thinking to our own puzzles at work and in our lives. Truly inspiring.

I did go to a couple of sessions that were a bit over my head so I don’t think it’s fair that I review those, but even so I’m glad I went to each and every one. The ones that were beyond my understanding were good for exposure purposes. Later on down the line I might recall something I learned here when I come across that technology and something will click!

Oh and I forgot about the gender ratio. There were a few more women than I expected, but we can do better! If I had to estimate there was probably around 10-15 women and maybe 150 or more men. We need to work on getting some female speakers in there too… from what I’ve heard I think the ratio’s been improving over the years, so let’s keep working on it!

There’s no doubt in my head that NFJS is a fantastic conference. I plan on going every year if my employer will send me… I’ll also be expecting a magician at all future conferences I attend.


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We’ve Missed You Mom… We Want Dad!!!

10457694313_1291ea6217_oI just Google searched multiple phrases similar to “when you’re a mom studying for a career transition” and this is what I got:

  • “How to Relaunch a Career After Being a Stay-at-Home Parent”  (on how employers shy away from hiring mothers and how to get around that.)
  • “What Can I Do to Make My Transition from Career to Stay-at-Home Mom Smooth”  (um… self explanatory.)
  • “Work-at-Home Opportunities When You’re Pregnant”  (I thought exercise was good for pregnant women?)

Not exactly what I was looking for… I wanted to hear stories from actual moms about their struggles to find the time to learn a new skill. Stories about how that time away had affected their families and how they dealt with it. Stories about how they basically “went away” for 3 days to a TOTALLY RAD techie conference and came back to children who suddenly preferred daddy over mommy and a husband who knew how to run the ship better than her.

Okay, that last one was a little specific. I know, you think I am so transparent. Obviously that happened to a friend of mine who I am writing this for.

Fine. It happend to me.

My employer was kind enough to sponsor my attendance to the NFJS (No Fluff Just Stuff) conference this weekend (of which I’m planning on posting a review of later). So I went to work Friday morning and didn’t see my babies again (ok they are 4 & 6, not “babies”) until Sunday night, one hour before bedtime. It was truly an amazing conference and I am SO glad that I went. I would go again in a heartbeat. The thing is that it was hard being away from my kids for such a long time. The weekends are when we get to hang out. Actually, I hadn’t really seen them on Thursday either since I took some “me” time to meet my sister-in-law for birthday drinks and by the time I got home they were asleep.

Anyway, my point is that you can’t be away from your kids for 4 days in a row and not have any repercussions. For some reason those repercussions were a little soul crushing to me this time. It’s not fun hearing your kids scream bloody murder when you give them a bath, and when your husband takes over they are fine. It breaks your heart a little when one of them asks you to leave the room at bedtime so only daddy can sing them to sleep. And your ego gets a little bit bruised when your husband, while definitely helping, made you feel for an instant that he knows how to do it better because he’s been running the ship lately.

What the hell!

I know tomorrow it will be better, so this is when I go down to the kitchen to break out the wine and the blog.

Kids tend to favor the parent who is with them most often and I know my kids love me the same as always, but it still hurts man… This is part of the price we have to pay when we take the time to improve a non-mom part of our lives. We could feel guilty for that, or we could keep the balance act up and be a role model to make ourselves and our kids proud. You know which path I’ve chosen.

Of course this happens to the dads out there too, but I’m a Mom and this is how I deal. By talking blogging. Writing is such a permanent and declarative way of discussing things that most people might feel uncomfortable posting such personal content out on a blog. Obviously I don’t mind. I could just call up my bestie and dump all of this on her. She would be completely understanding and empathetic, but then how will I get more women to join the programming field with me?

I’m lucky enough to have an awesomely supportive female engineer for a friend, but it would sure be nice to have a fellow programming mom to support and commiserate with too.

See you at Gr8Conf?


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For the Love of Code

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Before I started on this weird journey I only had a hunch that I would enjoy coding. I based that hunch off my experiences with test automation when I was just fresh out of college a million years ago. I remember really liking the feeling of solving a puzzle to get something to work. In order to figure out if this is what I really want to do with my career now, if it’s really worth sacrificing my sanity for, I would have to try it on for size first.

Trying it out meant I’d have to learn enough to get my hands dirty, and going from zero to dirty hands is no easy feat. I guess I’ve been at this for almost 6 months now and I’m just starting to decipher my feelings for it.

In the beginning it was love at first sight. When I wrote my first few lines of code it was exhilarating and I definitely wanted to do more of it. As our courtship has progressed I’ve started to experience the “work” part of our relationship. The part where I’m responsible for coding actual stories at my place of employment. Even though everyone knows I’m coding these stories as a form of learning, and even though so many co-workers have happily offered their assistance, it’s still on my shoulders to get it done. I don’t want to just get it done though. I want to do it correctly and understand what I did completely. I also don’t want to take an obscene amount of time to do it either. I mean someone out there is waiting for this stuff! This is the stress I was worried about back in the day when I was teeter-tottering between becoming a dev or a QA. I took the easy way out then, but not this time. I’ve decided I can handle this stress.

What I really dislike is being a burden on people and that I am doing this alone. It took me a while to realize that’s what was bothering me. It crept up so slowly that I had been confusing that sinking feeling with all the other things that were uncomfortable to me. Like the time spent away from my family, the exhaustion that comes with all the extra hours and effort it takes to learn a new skill, the fear of not being able to learn enough to get a job as a real developer until retirement age, and the pressure to keep it all going strong because if I don’t, well… I would be really unhappy with myself.

Out of all those uncomfortable feelings, being a burden and doing it alone is the worst. Of course there are a zillion people around me every day, but no one else is there learning by my side and going through the same struggles like they would be in a traditional educational setting. I also really don’t like asking anyone for anything. Ever. I don’t even like asking my husband to help with things I normally do around the house or for the kids even if I am on the verge of a collapse. So asking my coworkers to take time away from their responsibilities to help me learn a new skill is equivalent to me drinking a 32 oz. guilt shake in one gulp. I don’t even have anyone to share these shakes with! At least I have this blog.

Even though shakes are not good for you, and neither is guilt, I’m not planning to stop (unless someone asks me to). I’ll continue to carefully sprinkle my questions around like confetti, express my complete gratitude to each and every poor soul who volunteers to help me out, and post all of my successes and struggles on this blog for all the world to see. This has been my practice and so far people actually seem kind of excited about it.

If someone pulled a Freaky Friday on me and the roles were reversed I know I would absolutely love to help someone learn to code. Because of this completely logical thinking, I figure this burden thing might be one of those irrational feelings that has no ground to stand on.

OK, there’s a little ground, but someday Freaky Friday will happen.


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A Tale of Two Icons

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Those photos are from one of our epic family dance parties, which is exactly what I wanted to do after I finally got 2 teeny weeny icons to display. An epic dance party. Finally meaning just about 5 weeks has gone by since I started this one. Okay, maybe there was a 2 week winter break in there where I only played with my kids and didn’t open my computer, but I probably put a good solid 1-2 weeks into this one. I’m not ashamed! Two icons doesn’t sound like much you say?? Don’t make me angry…

There is this app with a page containing a list of files, each of which correlates to a set of statuses and indicators that are displayed as icons next to said files. The icons I was adding were to indicate whether or not the file was sent or attempted to be sent. Sounds simple enough, right? That only now just became funny.

The table this indicator was coming from wasn’t being used on the screen the list was being displayed on. That meant I had to write a brand new Hibernate Critera query to get the data. I knew SQL, but HQL and Criteria queries were brand new to me. I then had to hand convert the data gathered from multiple sources into a single file object. Before I added my indicators to the mix, the data was being converted with a convenience method and for some reason it wouldn’t work with the new data, but I am not clear as to why. This is one of those questions I didn’t know I had until I wrote this and will have to get answered. I updated two separate gsp files even though I was only working with one page. I think the gsps are nested somehow since the icon legend was on the main index.gsp and the table containing the data was on a _fileName.gsp. (another question discovery), I also updated one controller to give it knowledge of the two new indicators, and a partridge in a pear tree.

I’d been writing and rewriting code and getting help and advice from 4 different people and rebuilding and refreshing that page over and over and over again for the past 5 weeks (except winter break – it’s important that you remember this). And when that page finally came up without error displaying those beautiful icons, I did not even notice. I was so used to seeing exception after exception after exception that I assumed I was on the wrong screen or hadn’t clicked the link to get to my screen yet. So I clicked it again. When the page refreshed just the same I took a closer look to realize THIS IS MY PAGE – IT IS WORKING!!!

Ignore all your dumb fears, be painfully persistent, don’t be ashamed to ask for help, and you can do anything.

Even display 2 icons.

Although I still have unit & integration tests to tackle. I cannot for the life of me wrap my head around how to test this. Yeah, I’m QA by day. What’s your point?

::: cut to dance party :::


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Humanism

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Every once in a while I have a revelation. Like I’m waking up from a dream and entering reality for the first time. Last week I wrote about how the extremist views had ruined feminism for me for a while. Since then a lot of great conversations and some deep thinking have been sparked.

I’m actually ashamed to say that I think the real reason behind not wanting to label myself as a feminist was sexism itself…

There’s an implicit feeling that women who speak up about how they (or women in general) are being treated are viewed as whiners who can’t handle working alongside the boys. If you wanna survive out there then toughen up. Why would I be ashamed of this? Well, because I’ll admit that I pride myself on not letting anything intimidate me and being almost inoffendable. I’m so disappointed in myself that I let sexism intimidate me. Even if it was subconsciously.

The scary part is that I *knew* it was the extremists who ruined it for me before my revelation. How many of us don’t know where our beliefs, feelings or actions stem from? Do we even know we would like to change them? That’s one of the biggest reasons I am writing this.

To be honest it’s a little nerve-wracking posting this article knowing my friends and coworkers might be reading it and thinking “Daaamn, this girl is one of those hard-core feminists where this is all she talks about!” That is so far from the truth. I’m actually exhausted talking about it. I’d rather see some action. My action will remain to pursue my professional goals and being a feminist role model for my daughter and my son and their friends and to be more aware of sexist influences around them and offer a better viewpoint.

Though before I can stop talking about it there are 3 more points I’d like to make…

1) Feminism is not just for women.

fem·i·nism

ˈfeməˌnizəm/

noun

the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

I think we can all read that definition and agree with it. Every man, woman, son, daughter, mother and sister should be a feminist. Every human being needs to advocate gender equality.

A friend of mine had me listen to the speech Emma Watson gave to the UN back in September (how did I miss that!?). She is amazing and her speech inspiring. She reminded me that men suffer from gender inequality too. When a woman decides to become a nurse she is viewed as successful, noble and caring. When a man takes the very same profession people might wonder why he did not become a doctor. When a woman seeks mental health assistance she is brave. When a man does, he’s weak. Men are made to feel like they have to be strong and in control.

"We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. 

If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled."

- Emma Watson
2) Women are being objectified all over the place, even today in 2014.

We’re engraining these stereotypes in our children without even realizing it. Women are being horribly objectified in video games like Grand Theft Auto 5 (read about it here). Yeah, that game is rated ‘M’ but who plays these games? Teenagers. I bet those teenagers ran straight to their parents to tell them all the details of the game and get permission to play it. Way to set teenage boy’s expectations Rockstar Games. It disturbs and enrages me to think about how many people must have approved this game to be made and then released. Oh, and have you read about the culture at Zillow? And what happened to this female Tinder co-foudner? Also Gamergate. I just learned about this one. While those are all extreme examples, it’s scary how many you can find just by spending a few mins online. Way too many. Remember, one day we’ll have to let our daughters venture out into this world.

In addition to all the news stories about the obvious objectification and mistreatment of women, our culture is setting unachievable expectations of women to look beautiful and be feminine and of men to be strong, masculine and powerful. Most stores fill the “Girls” section with princess garb, “Batman’s Wife” t-shirts and failed Barbie “I can be…” books while the “Boys” section is filled with superheroes and books about building stuff. Boys are expected to be tough, interested in video games and computers and girls are expected to look beautiful, need boys’ help, and be interested in dresses and mothering.

I don’t find anything wrong with girls loving the color pink and wanting to dress up like princesses, but let’s not set their expectations that this is all they can do. Marketing is such a huge part of our culture and children are influenced so very easily. We need to inspire our children by talking about and celebrating female role models who are admired for their smarts and male role models who respect women. We don’t need to get rid of the superheroes, princesses and pop stars, just don’t concentrate on them so much. I mean I love Elsa… so this is the best thing I’ve discovered since Starbucks: Learn to Code with Elsa and Anna.

3) It’s scary how easily kids are influenced.

I have the perfect example. My 6 year old daughter and I were reading “My First Book of Girl Power” where each page featured a different heroine and focused on her strengths. One was computer programming, one was super-strength and one was bravery (there were 8 total I think). At the end I asked her which was her favorite superhero. She picked Black Canary. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Black Canary has zero super powers. My daughter told me she picked her solely because she was wearing the most beautiful dress and high heels! I tried to hide my disappointment that her idea of the “best” heroine was the one who looked most beautiful. I innocently asked why she didn’t pick one that had a cool power or was super smart or brave. She didn’t really have an answer, but she must have thought about it long and hard. The next morning while I was getting ready for work she brought that same book to me to show me her new favorite super hero: Batgirl, who can “program a computer to do anything!”. That’s just one example of how easily children are influenced. Kinda scary if you really think about it.

It’s going to take more than the feminist movement to fix all this. We need a humanist movement. If we teach our kids to expect great things of themselves and of others, then they will.

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On Workshops, Women & Gr8Ladies

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Lately there have been a lot of techie groups geared towards women popping up out there. I love them. I go whenever I have a chance. I just finished a Gr8Ladies weekend-long workshop that I’ll tell you all about, but this has got me thinking… Does that make me a feminist? Yeah, I just went there. Don’t be scared.

I really can’t put my finger on it, but the word feminism stirs up conflicting feelings for me. On one hand I fully support the good intentions of this movement. On the other hand, since so many modern extremist views have been commonly publicized it’s muddled my feelings of identifying myself as one. So much so that I may have also been turned off to the idea of these women-focused workshops if it wasn’t for me personally knowing one of the founders of Gr8Ladies. Their intention is not to exclude men, and there is no extremism. Their goal is to make a welcoming and supportive atmosphere for women to learn development because let’s be honest, the playing field needs to be evened out a bit out there!

Of course men can be just as supportive as women, but the cold hard truth is that women are much more likely to be true beginners in the development industry. In this case that’s what makes a welcoming atmosphere, knowing that you are in the company of fellow beginners. I want to learn with a group of people that are at a similar level to myself (men or women). I want to feel like my questions might be worthwhile to others instead of a setback or a time-waster. I want to feel like we can all comfortably move at the same pace. I want to have a group of people to talk with about the trials and tribulations of breaking into a new career. That my friend is what feminism is really about. It’s being a positive support system for women. I am definitely on board with that.

Now that my hangup is out of the way, I’m happy to report that the Gr8Ladies workshop has fulfilled all my dreams. This class is truly meant for beginners. People who have no knowledge of what a database is and have no idea what classes or functions do. There was an advanced track offered as well, but I can’t speak to that one until next time.

The beginners room was filled with 12 eager students (9 women and 3 brave men), 3 teaching assistants and one very patient instructor. The slides were extremely well thought out with an overview of each section followed by a coding exercise. You could even download the code to play around with on your own time. I don’t think anybody felt intimidated as everyone was freely asking questions the whole way through whether those questions seemed rudimentary or not. Did I mention they had a delicious lunch catered in each day? They did. We even got to talk and network with everyone while we inhaled those lunches. Learning makes you hungry.

At the end of each 8 hour day (Saturday and Sunday) my brain felt like it had turned to mush. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing there’s a whole lot of new neurons exploding in there when you can’t even form coherent words anymore. As Allison (the instructor) jokingly said at the end of class: “If you can’t speak anymore that means I’m winning!” It’s akin to a personal trainer working you until you pass out… now that’s passion!