Posted at 18 Jun 2013 by Scott James
"It’s the knowledge you didn’t know you were looking for that really makes just talking with people so rewarding."
-- Matt Darby
Today we hear from Matt Darby, a Senior Rails Developer at GiveForward.com, based in Columbus, Ohio where he builds innovative mobile and web products.
His journey as a programmer started after seeing one too many tragic accidents on the job at a Cleveland metal fabrication shop. He talks with us about the value of talking and working with other programmers, solving problems while walking his dog, and why he's learned that just when you think you know it all, you're about to get schooled.
Who are you? Tell us about yourself.
Hi! I’m Matt Darby. I hail from Columbus, Ohio. I have a MSCS, lead the Columbus Ruby Brigade and have been working on the web for fifteen years. Husband, father; owner of a sweet goatee.
What kinds of projects are you working on now?
I’ve just recently started at GiveFoward.com where I am helping to build out a large Rails-based API that will drive every software offering in our pipeline. I run Matt Darby LLC and have a handful of recurring clients. I am also a Professor at Franklin University here in Columbus, teaching various web development courses.
Before that I worked at Neo in Columbus for the last two years. I worked for many companies from nationwide enterprises to startups. Due to NDAs I can’t really say much (seriously).
What were you doing before learning to code? Why did you decide to learn?
I’ve worked everywhere from fruit stands, to state prisons (13 different prisons to be exact), to metal fabrication, to enterprise insurance. I’ve seen a lot of things in my years.
The job that inspired me to program was at the metal fabrication shop in Cleveland. I was working full time, second shift, while going to high school and vocational school. I saw so many lost fingers that one day I had seen enough. After a particularly bad accident involving a coworker’s thumbs I signed up for college that night and was gone within two months.
How did you learn? What were the resources that were most valuable?
I learned to code the hard way -- by not really paying attention in school and then teaching myself everything.
I sat through many Computer Science classes during my undergrad degree but nothing really spoke to me. I got that C++ could create command line programs, but who wanted that? So, I looked to the web. Its instant feedback and (honestly) ease of use really attracted me.
The most valuable resources I’ve found so far have been working with others, whether you are pairing or just talking shop at a local meet up. It’s the knowledge you didn’t know you were looking for that really makes just talking with people so rewarding.
I can Google anything and find an answer, but those serendipitous moments where someone says something and a bell rings in your mind and you’ve found something that can help you later on down the road are worth their weight in gold.
Did you have any big lessons learned from mistakes you made or challenges you faced while learning?
The biggest mistake I made was not paying attention initially and relying on my confidence to bang out assignments the day they were due.
Programming isn’t a left-to-right-top-to-bottom endeavor. You are going to hit roadblocks and sometimes the only way around them is time. Sometimes you have to leave your desk and let your mind chew on the problem. Many times I solve most my problems while walking my dog.
What were some of the biggest obstacles you found outside the actual learning?
One of my biggest obstacles is always patience. I think I’ve grown too accustomed to the instant feedback of programming. The real world doesn’t always operate as quickly as you would like.
Decisions need to be made and parts have to fall into place before you can just “solve the problem” via code. In fact, I’ve learned time and time again that writing code is likely the last thing you want to do before requirements are set.
Has learning to code changed your worldview at all?
I’ve learned that just when you think you know it all, you’re about to get schooled.
You can learn something from everyone you meet. Be nice, be supportive and share yourself with your community.
Once you realize that you will never be perfect (and no one expects you to be), life opens up.
Does anything surprise you as you continue to learn?
In fact, yes. It’s the fact that the more you learn the more you fully understand that you will never know it all. There is comfort in that fact. The more you know the more you will want to know more.
Passionate curiosity, learning and doing changes the world.
What’s next for you?
Now that I’m working at GiveForward.com I hope to get to know the Chicago area Rails community and hopefully share my experiences by speaking at more national level conferences.
Any closing thoughts for those thinking about learning to program?
Through this Pathways to Programming interview series, we talk to formerly non-technical people about how they learned to program in a non-traditional way and what they’re doing now. If you’ve taken your own unconventional path to becoming a programmer, we’d love to hear about it. Send a short email to [email protected] and let’s talk.
Posted at 17 Jun 2013 by Staff
Over the last several months, we've published series called "Pathways to Programming" and "Boots on the Ground" that tell the story of where today's programmers came from and how they got there.
One of the most salient features of those pieces is a conversion story where a coder transitions from one area of passion - be it medicine, finance or something else - to programming. Often, the folks we've interviewed have reported an excitement that one day, they'd be able to return to bring together their skills in coding with that area of previous passion.
With that in mind, we're going to begin taking editorial looks at how coding and programming are reshaping other industries and creative areas. The truth of our modern world, and the reality at the heart of our need for ever more technical skills, is that software is remaking every space. Still, just how software technology is remaking industries can be somewhat opaque, and we hope this will begin to shed some light and get coders and potential coders thinking about how they combine their skills and passions.
We begin with music, an industry which has occasionally served as a poster child for how the internet disrupts old world economics. But the story of how coders are remaking music is not limited to the Napster story. Indeed, software is creating incredibly new opportunities in how music is made, distributed, experienced, and monetized.
Since innovators like Giorgio Moroder started putting synthesizers into pop songs in the 1970s, electronic sounds have been a part of contemporary music. Today, however, software like Ableton Live, FL Studio, and Logic Pro allow musicians to create an incredible range of sounds digitally. These tools have been at the heart of the explosion of electronic and dance music in the last few years, perhaps the most significant musical movement since the popularization of hip hop in the 1990s. What's more, the growth in app stores has created an entirely new venue for apps that make electronic music creation radically more available for the average person.
Distribution & Discovery
Most people understand how the rise of MP3s have changes the music industry - moving distribution of songs and albums away from physical products like CDs towards easily shared or streamed files. But that story is still evolving. Spotify, along with competitors like RDIO, are making general streaming more and more accessible and popular. But new companies like Songza, which organizes songs by mood rather than more traditional schemas like genre, are succeeding by experimenting with the way people discover and try new music.
Live music is a huge, huge business. Music festivals alone are a multi-billion dollar annual industry, along. And even in this physical world, software companies are changing the musical experience. On the one end, there are changes in the way people discover and pay for live shows. WillCall is a company that curates the most interesting concerts in San Francisco, New York, and soon LA, allows users to buy tickets, and automatically notifies their friends, creating new social awareness of live music habits. It's not just how people end up shows, however, but what they experience when they're there. Companies like BioBeats are experimenting with how software can change the live experience, in their case doing things like matching the tempo of the music to match the heartbeat of the audience.
As much as music is a creative pursuit, it is also an industry. Like most industries, it is being changed by software companies better organizing data and information about behavior and trends. Next Big Sound, for example, is a Billboard for the modern era, tracking an incredible array of data from plays on Spotify to downloads on iTunes to likes on Facebook to give a much more precise view of how an artist's popularity is changing.
The music industry is changing incredibly quickly, and much of the innovation and creativity is being driven by software developers combining their passion for music with technical skills. Given how much has changed in just a few years, it's inspiring and exciting to think about what comes next.
Posted at 13 Jun 2013 by Scott James
"I believe every situation is a learning opportunity, and every learning opportunity not taken advantage of is wasted."
-- Eric Dykstra
Dev Bootcamp students share a common love for coding, but how each individual student came to that love is always a unique story. In our Boots on the Ground series we invite the "boots" who are currently at Dev Bootcamp to share some of their personal story.
Today we hear from Eric Dykstra, a recent DBC grad who is making the transition to coding from marketing. He talks with us about how finance got him into programming, his love for Japanese variety TV, and the importance of taking control of your learning.
Most recent work: Wordpress development at a marketing agency
Tell us about you. How do you describe yourself?
I'm a learner.
I believe every situation is a learning opportunity, and every learning opportunity not taken advantage of is wasted.
When I'm motivated to learn a new skill, I strive to be great at it, because anything is attainable with focused practice and dedication.
Why are you switching careers and why did you choose Dev Bootcamp?
I feel like since graduating with a Finance degree two years ago, my life has been slowly nudged towards becoming a programmer. I graduated, realized I didn't want to work for a bank, and then found a job where I was pushing cells around spreadsheets all day. I thought "if I knew how to program, I could automate my whole job."
I started to teach myself Ruby to make my work more efficient, and that's when I knew I needed to make a total career switch. When I heard about these programming schools popping up, it was clear that was where my next step should be.
After a few days of research, I decided on Dev Bootcamp because it had Jesse Farmer, and the other ones didn't.
How is your transition going?
Awesome. Dev Bootcamp was, by far, the best learning experience I've ever had. It's a fast-paced environment that puts the focus on taking control of one's own learning, and pushing each person to their limits. I've come out as still a weak programmer relative to those with years of experience, but I have the confidence now to take on new things without worrying about failing.
Going to Dev Bootcamp was certainly the right step for beginning my career as a programmer, and I feel like I've quickened the process by at least a couple of years compared to any other attempt at transitioning I could have gone through.
Were you coding before you got here?
I spent 9 months working full time building Wordpress websites for a marketing agency. HTML and CSS is different from full stack web development, but I was familiar with code, and working in a text editor. I also tried to teach myself Ruby at various times, but never got as far as I got in two days at Dev Bootcamp.
What do you do when you’re not coding?
I love watching Japanese variety TV with my wife. I like competing at a fairly high level playing Starcraft 2. When I'm not injured, I play pickup soccer games around the city. I listen to audiobooks during my commute; splitting pretty evenly between fiction and non-fiction. And I check on Hacker News to keep up on what technologies are trending upward.
How is your experience at Dev Bootcamp going?
I just finished phase 4 (an additional, optional 3 weeks focused on learning more programming fundamentals like data structures), and it was, by far, the most productive 12 weeks I've ever had in terms of personal growth.
Any closing thoughts for someone considering applying?
Going to Dev Bootcamp isn't for everyone. If you're not sure you'd like programming for 8-10 hours per day for your career, or you want to go because of the paycheck at the end of the rainbow, it's not worth it.
Your goal coming in should be to learn as much as possible, to take control of your learning, and to use the resources available to push you farther than you could have gone otherwise.
If you're not willing to do that, it's going to be a waste of your time. If you are, there's a good chance you will look back on Dev Bootcamp as the best career decision you've ever made.