1st Hackathon — Great Success

This was an absolutely crazy weekend.  Not only did I participate in my first Spartan Race, but I also participated in my first hackathon – sponsored by The Iron Yard Academy and SolTech.

Now if you don’t know what a hackathon is, don’t worry, I’m only about a week ahead of you, for I didn’t know what it was either until it was announced.  Basically, the Atlanta based tech company, SolTech, had some of their movers and shakers come in and pitch 3 different application ideas to our cohort.  We split up the Iron Yard students into 6 different groups, 2 per project idea.  My group had the privilege of creating a sports management app for managing recreational sports leagues – we called it Genius Sports.

gs-logo

 

Genius Sports, the smartest way to manage your recreational sports team, was a blast to produce.  Our group, consisting of 2 front end developers, 3 back end developers, and 2 iOS developers were able to create a nice looking, basic functioning prototype in 36 hours.  We had great communication throughout the project and our back end server guys were particularly solid.  They had our endpoints and documentation produced in no time and were forging on, creating functionalities that we knew we weren’t going to be able to get to in the short time given, a nice problem to have.  It was a great project to be a part of and I made some great strides working with Angular.js.

Presentation Day:

In real world fashion, each of the projects were presented as if we were asking for funding from investors.  It felt like our very own Shark Tank.  This is where I really shine, giving presentations is in my DNA.  My mother is a 5th grade teacher, my father is a musician and long-time church choir member, and I’ve taught 2 years of CrossFit classes and attended 4 years of business school at Georgia Tech – giving a great presentation is my ace of spades and comes very naturally, plus I enjoy it.  So I volunteered to give our product presentation and am very glad I did.  We ended up winning the best presentation accolade and got noticed by some employers in the industry, pretty cool.  Even though we were a fictional company, I wanted to give the impression that we were the real thing and make it feel like we wanted the audience’s business.  That meant not getting too technical, not showing any code, and focusing on the consumer benefits and the why’s.  It was a fun exercise and a memorable experience overall.  All of the groups did an excellent job creating functional products in under 36 hours and major props to the Iron Yard faculty who organized it for us.

 

 

My Favorite Podcasts and Should I Start One?

I have found podcasts to be one of the single best resources for acquiring knowledge, entertainment, and news in industries I care about.  But Spencer, when do you find the time???  Quick life-hack moment – I listen to these during my morning commute and while I eat breakfast – but mostly in the car.  I’ve been able to consume hundreds of hours of content INSTEAD of listening to Katy Perry and Imagine Dragons on repeat on the radio.  Side note: I love Imagine Dragons stuff and I’ll admit I have a guilty pleasure for Katy Perry’s stuff.  But let’s face it, free public radio is the ancient past – podcasting is the present and the foreseeable future – and listening to bands on repeat isn’t getting me ahead in this world.

Ok, I’m not writing to convince you that podcasts rock, you can decide that for yourself.  I’m here to list out my favorite podcasts to date…

My Favorite Podcasts (in order):

  1. Entrepreneur on Fire by John Lee Dumas

    This podcast is my personal favorite because it is a key part of My Morning Routine.  Each day, nearly 900 episodes in a row, John Lee Dumas has put out quality, ~30min shows that focus on interviewing entrepreneurs – both big and small fish.  The format of the podcast is consistently the same, which I’ve grown to really enjoy, because I can analyze a wide range of answers across hundreds of different entrepreneur experiences.  He interviews real people and hones in on the journey of what it takes to grow your own business.  It’s not all rainbows and unicorns though, each episode there is a focus on the greatest obstacle that entrepreneur had to overcome, and the answers are always inspiring and eye-opening.  For someone like myself, who is aspiring to be in business for themselves, I’ve really grown to appreciate and value this content.

  2. The Tim Ferriss Show by Tim Ferriss

    During my senior year of undergraduate study at Georgia Tech, I read Tim’s The 4 Hour Workweek and was inspired at the possibility of owning and automating my own business so I could live the best version of life I could imagine.  Since then, Tim Ferriss has become a household name and published two other NY Times bestselling books.  His podcast interviews some of the most successful savants across all industries and has very in-depth, personal interviews with them.  The insights I’m gaining are tremendous and it’s incredibly interesting to learn about the lives of such high performers.  The episodes vary between short and long, depending on whether he does a long-form interview or an “in-between-isode.”

  3. Barbell Shrugged by the guys at Faction Strength and Conditioning

    I’ve actually had the pleasure of sitting in on the live recording of Episode 62 of their podcast – be warned – there was a good bit of drinking done because the filming was done at CrossFit Regionals 2013… That being said, these guys put out great content when it comes to lifting, endurance, mindset, and building strength.  It definitely fuels my inner-athlete and it’s worth a watch if you are into fitness, body building, or competing in athletic events.

  4. Adventures in Angular by the guys at DevChat.tv

    Since enrolling into The Iron Yard Academy‘s Front End Development program, the conversation of JavaScript and all things web application have been constantly on my mind.  Now being a novice programmer, I do my best at following along their conversations, but don’t always gather what it is their saying.  That being said, I figure the more I hear the words and the language being spoken, the quicker it can be learned.  Angular.JS is a JavaScript framework I’ve grown to enjoy working with and has some real power when it comes to building web applications.  Unlike some other programming podcasts out there, the guys on this show really do a good job of honing in on subjects, stay on topic, and do so in a way that is not super dry – that being said, it is programming talk.

  5. The Clark Howard Podcast by Clark Howard

Clark Howard is a bit of a hometown hero in Atlanta.  I grew up with my parents listening to him on AM750 WSB radio – in fact he might still be on their.  Clark has crossed over and made his content available in a digital format and continues to provide a ton of financial guidance and advice to the public.  As a young professional looking to get ahead, being careful with my money is always a consistent effort and I appreciate Clark’s conservative approaches to money management.


 

There you have it – my top 5 podcasts to date.  I imagine this will be a growing and ever-evolving list and will make sure to continue updating it as I find more and more value out there.  Additionally, I have this nagging gut feeling that I might be starting a podcast soon – I don’t know what topics it would cover – but the idea of creating and producing something is in my blood – I think I have what it takes, let me know if you agree and what you might want to hear!

Group Therapy – Takeaways from our 1st (multi-tier) Iron Yard Project

What is this sad Aura?

Monday morning everyone shows up by 9:00am, but there is a weird defeated feeling in the air.  Everyone is sharing how far they got on their recent Checkers group project and no one is excited to share about their accomplishments – we all failed to meet the minimum requirements and therefore we all felt like failures.

Then, instead of going directly into a new lecture, we all meet in the back to present our projects and what we were able to accomplish.  Great… this is going to be more painful than turning away kids on Halloween because you forgot to purchase candy… (maybe that’s a pain point, maybe it’s not…)

The Project Makeup

There were 4 groups total.  Each group was comprised of 3-4 Rails developers, 2 Front-end developers, and 3-4 iOS developers.  The goal was to create a game of checkers that was available to play on iOS, the web, and all the moves and game logic work and communicate back to the server.  But this post is not meant to be technical.  This post is about my 3 takeaways from working in this first, cross-platform, group type.

My 3 Takeaways:

  • Pair Programming: Pair programming is a great way to tackle and troubleshoot issues – my partner Mark and I would fill in each other’s gaps a lot of times and it made breaking through barriers a lot smoother.  Outside these walls, I will want to be part of an organization that supports pair programming between senior and junior developers – even if it’s a once a week practice.

  • Lay the Foundation Early:  Laying the foundation for our project and setting up the ground rules for communication is imperative early in the project process.  We did this by setting up our project Trello and a Slack channel, yet over the course of 5 days we became more virtual with our communication.  We would have done better with a daily, face-to face stand-up between the 3 groups (front end, back end, and iOS) to keep everyone in the loop of what pieces we were currently working on and where we were being blocked.

 

If only SCRUM was this black and white…

 

  • Butting Heads can be a Good Thing: Butting heads can be a very productive way to build great products, so long as the people butting heads maintain a high level of respect for each other and it doesn’t get too personal and venom isn’t being spat.  Our group did not butt heads, however we did witness one group that had 2 people butt heads consistently and they ended up turning in one of the best looking and functioning projects and it was all smiles by presentation day.  As someone who is normally anti-conflict, this can be hard for me to grasp, however I do see where being able to communicate exactly what your team needs to another team’s manager is crucial for a great final project.

There you have it, 3 takeaways from my first coding group project… it was surprisingly like many of the other projects I’ve been a part of in the past, except a lot more time in a text editor.  In the end, our instructors paid us many compliments, and even though we didn’t get as far along as we originally expected to, we had a lot of great takeaways in the process and felt much better after our early morning group therapy.

Everything is a Box. I Repeat. Everything is a Box!

Tonight was a first for me in my learn to code journey – which began a mere 2 months ago when I registered for my first HTML/CSS course on Codecademy.  Since then, I’ve completed their HTML/CSS, Javascript, and jQuery courses to completion.  Then, first week of January I enrolled into the Iron Yard Academy’s 12 week Front End Engineering bootcamp.  The knowledge gained has been incredible thus far.  So much so that I had another first tonight…

Tonight, my classmate Alex and I taught our 1st Iron Yard Kids class for HTML/CSS – 1 of 6 classes that this amazing course offers FOR FREE.  Our class is made up of twelve 13-18 year olds, and some of these kids are already WAY ahead of the curve – having already completed more Codecademy courses than I have… :/

I may be slightly biased, however I think the first class went incredibly smoothly and I think the kids are going to get a lot out of this course in a short period of time.  Here is how today’s lesson plan went:

  1. Alex and I introduced ourselves, gave a brief history of who we are, why we’re here, and what our hobbies were.  Yes Alex claimed with great pride that he enjoys smoking meats in his spare time – lol.
  2. Next, we laid 3 ground rules for the course: 1) Have Fun   2) Learn A Lot   3) Ask Tons of Questions
  3. Next, we went around the room, and every student had to state their name, grade, and their favorite website.  An interesting takeaway – 3/4 of the room said MineCraft and YouTube were their favorite sites.
  4. Then we had an unexpectedly short download party – everyone already had Chrome installed and the planned Sublime Text install came to an abrupt halt once we realized half the machines were Chromebooks and couldn’t install it – so we worked with Codepen instead.
  5. Then I took the stage and we entered into a general discussion about how building a house is ALOT like building a website.  I polled the room and they said in order to build a house you need a Plan, Foundation, Walls, Floors, Wiring, Paint, Furniture, etc.  This prompted my GRAND metaphor for how HTML is the Foundation, Walls, and Floors of a webpage and the Paint, Wallpaper, and Trim is the CSS.  I hope they got this metaphor – I certainly was proud of it.
  6. Next came the “BOX” mantra that certainly got in grained into every child and parent in the room.  Everything that lives on a page is a box.  The page is a box, and the images are boxes within that box, and all the text you see are also boxes inside that main page box, box, box, box, box this, box that, box salad, box and potatoes, box stew…. uh that’s about it, Forrest.

    box & potatoes, box soup, box gumbo, box & grits…
  7. We then started playing in Codepen and gave them a visual demonstration about how to setup basic header tags and how when you open a tag you ALSO have to close that tag.  And once we had some basic text on the page, we made that text different colors and changed the Left, Center, Right positioning on the page.
  8. Then we shifted gears, and showed them Chrome’s Inspect Element and how their favorite websites were just a TON of HTML boxes and CSS styles.  I witnessed some light bulbs turn on when this happened.
  9. Then one of the students recommended we check out Cookie Clicker and that was a bad idea because I lost control of the class for about 5 minutes and heard ~10,000 clicks in that period.  No more Cookie Clicker became Ground Rule #4.
  10. We wrapped up the class by giving a homework assignment of complete the first 2 modules in Codecademy’s HTML/CSS module AND to create a Codepen that included 5 of their favorite youTube video embeds (another thing we went over earlier in the class).

Overall I think the 1st class was a big success and every student walked away with learning at least one thing — that EVERYTHING IS A BOX!

but you already knew that by now…

{quick aside} – some of the students pulled us aside after class and asked for MORE work – so we told them to challenge themselves in Codepen and make a really awesome page that represents their 3 favorite hobbies.  I greatly look forward to what they come up with by next week’s class.

Preparing to Ignite

Yes my title is from my new favorite podcast, Entrepreneur On Fire.  I’ve always been a fan of listening to podcasts for gaining knowledge and have always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so when my close college buddy Evan turned me onto to EOF, I was sold instantly.  Evan also turned me onto his own personal blog and story – 1k Day Change.  Exactly 100 days ago, Evan asked himself, “I wonder how many days until I turn 30?”  When he googled it, he found that it was EXACTLY 1,000 days away – and it changed his entire world.  He immediately took a snapshot selfie in his bathroom mirror and set off on his 1k Day Change Adventure to becoming a brew master.  Over the last 100 days, he has quit his unfulfilling day job as an electrical engineer, microbrewed and bottled hundreds of holiday beers, sold those beers and donated the proceeds to charity, enrolled in a beer brewing academy in Chicago, and is currently taking a multi-month trip to China before he starts that academy.

This is not my friend Evan… but he will be the token white guy in China.

So I’m joining his 1 man army because his cause is inspiring.  I am making a small change to his 1,000 day change concept and making it my own.  On August 3, 2018 – I turn 30 years old – that is exactly 1,282 days away from today.

This is the actual Evan, on day 1 of 1,000!

Currently, I am in coding school learning Front End Engineering, web & app development, and JavaScript.  I have an undergraduate business management degree from Georgia Tech and have held 3 different positions since graduating in May 2010.   I’m totally on fire about becoming an entrepreneur and learning more about business, web development, creating functional applications that help people and businesses become successful.  That’s all for now, class is about to start.  Here is a snapshot of me on day 1 of 1,282 until I’m 30.

Day1-1282
and dis is ME!

 

1 (more) Reason I Love my Mother

Honestly, three months ago I wasn’t in a very good place.  That’s because three and a half months ago I was in an awesome place and it all came crashing down at once like a house of cards (pst… can’t wait for season 3!).  I had a dream job lined up with a new start-up company and they were going to move me out to California and we were all going to get rich doing what we loved.  Best part about it was my girlfriend Dani was going with me and join the adventure – essentially we were about to pioneer a brand new west coast life.  Sounds like the east coast technologist dream right?  Well, that company lost a principal investor going into an off season and POOF! laid off with no back up plan.  Now I’m 26 years old and desperately seeking to reinvent myself and not just settle for some job that I’ll end up loathing in 6 months, I want to actively seek a career, one that is challenging and rewarding, and one where I can bring my ideas to life.  I didn’t know what that looked like at the time, so I sought out the one woman who knew me best, Mom.

holy snap talk about a #tbt ! I mean look at that hair – goodness, there might be some woodland creatures taking shelter in there… also note the T.E.A.M. motivational poster – classic!

Yes, I’m a momma’s boy, and yes I’m her only son, but truthfully she one of the brightest most caring people on the planet.  She teaches 5th graders at a local elementary school and commonly refers to her teaching philosophy as planting seeds in young people’s minds so they may grow to be excellent members of society – talk about knowing one’s purpose in life!  She also has a thing for Dr. Seuss if you couldn’t tell.

Type momma bear into Google Images – it’s pretty entertaining.

So I’m having a heart to heart with mama bear in early December, and she sees me in this down state of “oh woe is me, what am I to do with my life, blah blah blah, wussy stuff that no grown man would share with anyone EXCEPT mom.  She smiles and says with a quiet, matter-of-fact, confidence, “Spencer, you’re so creative and good with technology, why don’t you just learn how to make phone apps?”  All of a sudden I could see my entire future – it was like that breakthrough moment in Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams says “Will, it’s not your fault. No, it’s not your fault, seriously DUDE it’s not your fault.” (Ok, maybe that wasn’t the exact quote but you get the gist)…  BREAKTHROUGH!

I begin scouring the web for learn-to-code tutorials and begin sharpening my pencil with a site called Codecademy.  The next day I’m talking with a college friend who works at the Atlanta Tech Village and I check out their website and Alakazam! The Iron Yard introduces itself to me and I’m checking it out like a previously home-schooled college freshman checks out the new liberal arts female undergrad students – needless to say I fell hard and now find myself in the Front End Engineering cohort learning to build websites and applications for the web.  And I owe it all to Mom – she did it again!

Becoming a Valuable Asset to the World

Here it is, 1:09pm on a Tuesday and I’m picking Jamaican curry lamb out of my teeth from the cafe next door.  Why?  Well for one, where else am I going to get delicious plantains in this city? More importantly though, I’m in downtown Atlanta at the new Iron Yard campus and it’s a great place to grab a quick bite.  Two weeks ago to the day I was accepted to their Front End Engineering program, a 12 week bootcamp to learn all things HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.  As far as software development and coding, I’m greener than a can of peas of St. Patrick’s Day and I’m here to blog about my journey from “zero to hero.”

Why am I even a part of this program? Call it a mid-20’s-life crisis, call it a career security blanket, the answer is: I’m not certain.  One thing I do know is I love the internet, what it represents for information exchange and making our world smaller, and I want to be a part of its continued future growth.  I also want to be able to bring my ideas to life!  There have been so many conversations with friends over ahem “coffee” that went something like this… “What would it be like if we made this?”  or “What if this app did less of this and more of this?”  or “Man I wish I could order a burrito easier…”  The point is, I’ve always surrounded my mind with thoughts of “what-if” yet have found that it rarely gets put into action.  It’s primarily because I feel like a child who can see the possibility of a K’NEX roller coaster – but doesn’t have the K’NEX roller coaster pieces to build it with! That’s where the Iron Yard experience comes in.

Look at how happy this child is! He had the tools to create his vision.

When the Campus Coordinator, Kyle Van Pelt, did the preliminary interviews he asked me point-blank – why do you want to be here?  And in that moment I told him the answer that I’m holding onto and will continue to hold onto.  I told Kyle, “I want to be a valuable asset to the world and bring my BIG ideas to life.”  And so far, we’ve been doing just that.  After only 6.5 days into the program we’ve built two webpages, pushed nearly 100 commits to GitHub, used the terminal more times than in the previous 26 years, constructed with HTML and CSS, and started a blog.  And we don’t even have those small initial heat bubbles showing at the bottom of this pot to boil.

This water is about to boil. It’s a metaphor for personal development, don’t you see?

I’m excited for my personal growth during this time, not just as a web/software engineer, but also as a man growing up into the person he’s always wanted to be.  Thanks for listening, tune in to see future posts.