A Pending Promise or Already Functional?

This post was written 2 months ago.
Sun, 03 Jun 2018

Turning a Meetup group into a platform for independent learning


"..and I don't really know what's going to happen with the institutions, but I do know that this wild learning is happening and that some people are becoming more expert at it." Howard Rheingold in the foreword to Peeragogy (https://peeragogy.github.io/)
 

If you have been a web developer for a while, the concept of independent learning is nothing new to you. You do it all the time. Quite a few developers started that way, too. They built a site for themselves in HTML, then got commisssions from friends and small businesses, and before they knew it they were working for big business and in teams. Their knowledge grew alongside the industry, they helped each other out, in real life and online.

This might be idealising a bit, but it did happen (and still does I suppose, but less). I witnessed the early years of the web, not as a developer, but longing to be one.

And a bit later I went on that journey too, for me it was a very longwinded one, a career in slow motion, full of doubts and setbacks. I was already in my 30s and had two kids. I created a website for a children's playgroup, then through a friend did work experience at a Uni department, building an unspeakably ugly website on their Plone system. Next I met two developers "off Twitter" who both helped me a lot, through teaching me some 'tricks of the trade' and passing on work to me.

I was not a natural developer, I did not take to it like a fish to water. At school things had come easy to me, this did not. Looking back I wonder how I managed to stick with it when it was so difficult, the anxiety running high, and the comparison with the 'accomplished' people who were bantering on Twitter reducing me to a fearful mess. It must have been the ongoing fascination with the web, the pleasure of eventually getting things to work, and the desire to belong to this world and the community around it.

I was working all on my own, managing my own clients, "learning on the job" but without senior colleagues at hand. This too seems crazy to me now. My debugging methods consisted of very crude trial-and-error. At one point I considered putting out a Tweet "Can somebody form a support group for web dev mums working from home?" I knew Gicela at that point, and a few years later we set up a group. It was not exclusively for mums, but in its first incarnation it was for people working from home. We were going to meet up so we could learn from each other.

The gist of the above is, I went a strange way, even in web dev terms where people come from all kinds of backgrounds. And I'm 'off' - old, female, foreign.. For a long time I found it difficult to know where I stand, and to a certain degree that's still true. There's no doubt anymore that I am a professional web developer. I know a lot and take my work seriously. But does that make me a good one? Volumewise I have done less compared to those working fulltime, and only in recent years have I worked on a team (and that did make a difference!)

So.. this was a bit of a long intro, and one I hadn't planned. But I guess it is useful to understand my growing interest in independent education.

I know it can be done, and I'd like to know how far it can be taken. As Kio Stark observes in her brilliant book "Don't go back to school", there's a few professions where you can't get round official credentials (healthcare, law, teaching at schools, architecture), some others seem "culturally closed", that is, difficult to get into without a degree, for example fine arts and sciences. But it is not impossible. It is just very hard.

With coding, there is a certain distinction between software development (backend, and at scale) and web development, where the former still recruits its workers from university graduates mainly — in engineering, computer science and so on —, while web development is more flexible. Funnily some software programmers think web development is harder (especially JavaScript!).

Setting up a peer learning group


When Gicela and I set up CodeHub we were inspired by the New York HackerSchool which has since been renamed to Recurse Center. Our group was very different (Recurse center do 3 months coding residencies!), but the idea that you could learn a lot with and from your peers was the same. A bit later I found out about OpenTechSchool that had a similar approach and we became a chapter.

The peer learning was there from the start, as well as the idea that it should all be free. We soon started to create little workshops for each other in our morning sessions, and organised longer ones with invited speakers in the evenings. We also ran a few JavaScript one-day events. You can find some information on all of them on our Github Pages.

The evening workshops were very irregular and although they were great and mostly well-attended, I never quite felt at ease organising them, and I kept stopping for long periods. For one thing, it felt strange asking people to create workshops for free. I know from many of the speakers though that they totally enjoyed it and one of them said "the person getting the most out of a workshop is the one giving it". I can fully subscribe to that. As I kept asking people for free workshops, I thought I should at least give one myself to offset that a bit. The workshop on Git ended up being a bit chaotic, but I learned so much from it! And I know others got something out of it too, despite its shortcomings.

From 2014 there's been fortnightly hack nights, and our first study group, JavaScript101, started in 2015. It has been morphed into WebDev101 this year. Since autumn last year, there's also a Haskell study group. (The Haskell group meets in the evenings, WebDev101 during the day)


The map is not the territory


It's five years since we set up CodeHub, and it's grown into something really nice. People are friendly and helpful, and there's expertise in lots of different areas. Members have learned new technologies through the group and found jobs, companies have found the right employees.

And yet for a long time I had this urge to do much more. I felt there was a potential that hadn't been realised. And that we promised too much in what we were saying about the group. Recently somebody was interested in teaching. All we can say at the moment is "come to the hack night or webdev101" (and see if somebody needs your help).

Mark has started a spreadsheet now, where potential mentors can enter their names and areas of expertise. We had a brief discussion on how to go from here, and I just had some more ideas. We'll work something out.

A lot is happening, just slowly. And that's okay. I think this has been a key challenge for me: Wanting too much in too short a time (and often this got stuck at the wanting). I am grateful to my co-organisers, first Gicela, and now Mark and Audrey, for conveying the same message again and again in different ways: It is already good the way it is. You don't need to force yourself to do stuff.

Still, I want to collect here some thoughts on what CodeHub is and can be, and who I believe it is for:

In a few words, it's:
1, a support group for the self-learner
2, a platform for developers to pass on their knowledge, including in person, and practicing mentoring and teaching
(A member can, but doesn't have to, fall into both categories; for me, the second one doesn't come easy I've noticed)

Much depends on the initiative of individual people, especially those wanting to learn. There is at the moment no traditional teaching. It is also worth noting that in many cases the informal learning (with this group and alone) will be in addition to a job or formal education (Uni or a coding bootcamp). We have links to Bristol and Bath coding boothcamps: DevelopMe are a sponsor, and teachers from both DevelopMe and Mayden Academy are happy to act as mentors to our members. This makes me glad.

How best to facilitate this type of learning then, is an ongoing question, and it's good just to experiment with different things. I've written something about the study groups below, and here is some ideas for other formats I've had:

  • Talks or workshops where a relative novice to the topic does most the work, but is guided by somebody experienced
  • Online collaboration: A study group could just exist online, collect some resources and discuss progress, questions etc. on a slack channel; or use an online classroom tool like piazza.com
  • Establishing a reading list for a topic, and members can share books
  • Working on projects together (perhaps for non-profits as Free Code Camp intended)

When you start something, you have to be prepared that it might fail. Because learning outside a traditional context is hard, and so is organising a group of people doing it together. But the potential rewards are high.

There is so much more that I could write (and I have written more! then consigned to the virtual dustbin), and you could go off in many directions.

To me, it has all been a great adventure, though not all plain sailing! I've been close to giving up more than once. In fact, I tried to hand the group off once, but nobody came forward! Recently, I have not been doing that much, and I seriously want to work towards being just a member. Not that I was that much of a leader, but I've been invested in the group more than anybody else. Also, nobody has benefited from it more than me!

In the end, what I've learned most about in the past five years is probably — people. Including myself. And I'll spare you the things I've learned. I might write about them some day. Some can be hard to accept (both with regards to others and yourself), but ultimately it's helpful to see more clearly.

I hope to write more about CodeHub and also independent learning in the future. For now, here are a few resources I found quite interesting:


Appendix: A few observations on study groups


A pattern I have observed in the study groups: There is a high drop-out rate soon after the start, and after a while the group converges on a few regulars. It is nice when that happens, you can rely on people being there, and in all likelihood they get something out of it. That can be advice from mentors, collaboration, or even just socialising with people that have common interests.

A nice thing about JS101 was that the group converged towards 50:50 female:male and stayed that way throughout the three years ot its existence - we dissolved it when many of the regulars found jobs or moved away, and we did not feel like starting again from scratch.

There would be much to say about the different study groups. I've loved being part of all three. But they don't come without their challenges. JS101 was hard to navigate once we stopped working through Eloquent JavaScript, due to the vastness of the topic. I mostly ran the group, and my lack of JS programming experience did not help. Luckily experienced people did turn up, and even co-ran the group for a while. We started working on projects together and giving little presentations. It was a really nice group with a good atmosphere. A lot was decided from session to session. Again, this could be a bit chaotic, and again, I learned loads. I'd not say my JS is great, but it's improved massively.

WebDev101 originally had the aim that we would each set out some goals and hold each other accountable in mini-standups. I soon noticed that I kept doing completely differen things from what my stated intentions had been. I suppose that in itself taught me something. In general, the original concept was hard to keep up. It could also be that the topics were just too diverse. But then, it did kick something off that was really good, as the group is now as described above: A place to ask for and share advice, meet and collaborate. A bit like a hack night during the day.

The Haskell group is modelled on this document on how to start a Haskell study group and is mainly about working through the Haskell book. There again, we've abandoned the original schedule, people are on different chapters now or working on own projects (it's just what happens). I'd never have started learning Haskell without this group. When Jack asked if I'd like to join, I thought I'd give it a try, and so far I've stuck with it. I also really like it though it is quite challenging. We will see what comes of it!

 

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Mini post about sudden frustrating realisation

This post was written 2 years ago.
Thu, 08 Dec 2016
Today things don't fit. And for once I am not talking about the world at large.

It had not hit me like this for a while, but now it's back. Hello feelings of inquadecy, pointlessness, and (relative) professional uselessness. (I do not doubt my value as a human, as wife and as a mother to my kids - in that I am actually a very fortunate person; I am not depressed at the moment)

So, there are these plans in my head, about CodeHub, and while I find myself forever in a weird 'active state of inactivity' where I am planning and thinking about things without actually taking much real-world action, my plans did get clearer over time. I have action points even, deliverables. But, as my friend araja put it, there is a "No". And I think this is what it's about: For the things I'd really like to achieve, I am not a good enough coder, and I don't have enough influence. Those two things go hand in hand.

This has nothing to do with impostor syndrome. You only have impostor syndrome if, through your job, or the respect shown to you by others, you are in a certain position that you feel you don't deserve to be in. I am exactly where I belong with my job, and I am happy there. I don't feel an impostor. Outside the job, as part of the tech community, I feel I don't count very much though. I do not have authority. I could still organise things, for sure. But it will not be as good as it could be. In short: I feel I am not the right person for it.

There is the possibility I could become what I envisage this magical organiser-mentor-person to be. But at the moment I don't see the way there.

I am also today extremely frustrated with the massive misogyny, both open and tacit, that has become apparent this year.

And that's where I'm at. I give myself till Tuesday, to get moving on my plans for next year. If I have not taken any proper steps by then, I hope I can just leave it. I might even step down as the organiser of the group.

Close but no cigar.

(Something in me riles against me saying all this. Come on rebellious me, find the weak spot in the lines above, and turn it all around!)

[edit 10 min later]
Ha, now I just remembered a thought I had recently (and I've had similar ones before): I am not an accomplished coder, but I am not a beginner either. I mean, not at all! I am in the murky middle, and things by its very nature get messy there. All I have to do is accept that. And this group is exactly about that stage. Still, today I just don't feel entitled to run it.

[Many hours later, at 1.24 am]
"Nobody else cares about my plans, the email I want to write to everybody, my ideas". And I know I am blowing things out of proportion. It is just such a shame, because I am sure it could be good if I only got started. Ha, but isn't that exactly the reason why you don't get started? As long as it is just in your imagination, you can say it would be good? No, no, I have seen it work before! It's just nobody cares. I feel so alone.

I just read this about Tim Ferriss and had tears streaming down my face. https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/12/08/tim-ferriss-tools-of-titans-depression/ The thwarted contribution. Always so powerful. Not fulfilling your potential hurts so fucking much, and can consume all your thoughts. Possibly more than bad things happening to you. You made something not happen. You are a failure. It's not that you failed, you are a failure, that is what your mind is telling you.

A tweet I saw today:
"Women are not going to forget or forgive this year." YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES. And not even the men I love most understand how much it hurts. I don't think they do. Not a single one. That's this year's big lesson for me.

Tags: coding / programming / codehub /
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Diary week c/ 5 Decemeber - Still too much politics on my mind

This post was written 2 years ago.
Mon, 05 Dec 2016
It is crazy, I follow so many Twitter links, and read or skim-read lots of (sometimes long) articles. And then there's also Medium. I am not sure how much sense it makes to do that, but then I do feel it gives me a better idea of things. There is currently a huge bias towards America I have to say. For obvious reasons, but I do think it is getting a bit out of hand. - Today I saw this article and whithout even having much knowlegde, you can just sense that this would be a totally sensible path to follow. Together with faithless electors there's absolutely a way to deny Drumpf the presidency, if only enough people want to go ahead with it. I have a bit of hope now, that if not removed this way, he will be impeached soon after having taken office.

Sometimes I also end up in curious places after following link after link. Today for example I learned about a commune in America in the 1800s that practised free love and had a shared income, then in the 20th century became a corporate producing silverware.

I did also read about Italian and Austrian elections though in Die Zeit - I recently remembered that I can actually read German ;) There was a time when I had Spiegel Online as my home web page, but for a while I did not read German papers much, I don't really know why.

Starting a little feminist vocabulary


I don't know when I started this, I think it might have been just after the US election. I coined this term : Wopups - Women Propping Up Patricarchy. I was so so annoyed with those white women who voted for Drumpf (voting with their husbands?). And now I've thought of another term: VW - standing for Visible Woman. I by now believe one of the most effective way women are kept out of the loop is the invisibility and silence. Being kept silent, and keeping quiet ourselves. This is so engrained. We deny ourselves to speak, and when we are made to speak, or pick up the courage to speak, we will - on the whole, and unless we are very privileged and specifically trained - be more insecure than men. All the more I adore those women who are very vocal and uncompromising in promoting a feminism that is about equal rights and being respectful and kind to everyone - not being anti-men. At the moment, that is the 'guilty feminists' Deborah Frances-White and Sofie Hagen, and then Jenn Schiffer in America. They are all wonderful. I'd like to become a visible woman like that, but I don't feel I have a very good standing. I feel like I'd unjustly assume such a position. This could be part of the whole predicament - that as women we are more prone to feeling incapable - but I fear in my case this feeling is justified. I often want too much too early.

Theresa May or, even worse, Louise Mensch, are of course the complete anithesis to what such a women should look like. They are actively demaging feminism, among many other things!

I have lots more ideas about feminism, and I will probably write about that subject many more times.

Ancora l'Italia


In an effort to not expose myself to British mainstream media very much at all (for a start it is so much focused on Britain and America; and it is quite biased), I have started to follow alternative news outlets (e.g. @truthout, @alternet, @theRealNews, @AJEnglish), and also as mentioned above, non-English ones. Following a tweet by Paul Mason about a programme in DeutschlandFunk, I started listening to that Radio station a bit, and today I looked for some Italian ones. Most of the ones I found just mainly played music though. I did listen to that for a bit too though and I found that I still like listening to Italian so much, and it reminded me of the time I spent there in the 90s. Recently I found out that a fellow (British) school mum shared this experience with me: On arriving in Italy and hearing people speaking in Italian (for me this was on a night train, having just passed the Brenner pass when waking up), I had this intense feeling of being at home.

But what about coding??


Oh yes, this bugs me a bit. I have been quite good on the weekend though. I quite intensely looked at a web content editor called Sir Trevor and learned quite a bit about Webpack. I did this in the hope to finally contribute to 24 pull requests. I don't know if I will manage in the end, but I feel I have at least got closer. This is different from previous times, where I gave up much sooner.

But I have all these other little project, and most important of all, CodeHub. There's two aspects to this, the coding - for JS101 especially. But also organising talks. I have at least some kind of 'road map' together, of things I want to do to move towards that goal. But it proves, for various reasons, quite difficult to actually get going. I know it is going to happen, though.

I have to stop, I did not want to write that much at all! It got much too late.

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JavaScript and other plans

This post was written 2 years ago.
Fri, 28 Oct 2016
It is very late now, but I suddenly feel this urge to write down those plans I have (carrying on from previous longwinded post which was all about just getting ready to make plans). I just want to make it very brief!

So basically, for let's say the next year, I have these two objectives:
1, Organise at least 5 events/workshops in the coming year, where the unifying principles are:
- The format: Probably 2.5 hours in the evening as a default, but could also be a whole Saturday 9 - 5 or something like that
- The topic: It should in some way help newcomers, and it could be something that you don't necessarily find in every tutorial; for example how to use the unix commandline, dev tools etc. It could also be 'soft' topics like how to organise yourself when you freelance, or how to keep physically and emotionally well; I actually have a list of topics in my head (have had that for a long time). Need to start asking people!

2, Improve full-stack web dev and in particular JavaScript as well as I can. I will measure this by hours, i.e. I will set myself a target of how many hours I'll learn. But I will measure the outcome by other objectives. There will be certain endpoints: a, Can I contribute to open source projects? b, Do I feel comfortable teaching others (formally or informally) and c, Can I build stuff without this being a massive and time-consuming pain? (Relatedly, do I manage to stick to a project and finish it off before I start a new one) I am aware that these goals don't look measurable, still to me they are hard endpoints, because I know how I feel when I've grasped something, and I know how it feels when you need just the right effort for something.
So either I will manage to achieve one or more of these endpoints, or I won't. It's an experiment. If I succeed that would be fab, because then I could really teach and could properly help people - and possibly build cool stuff! . But I am a bit skeptic whether that will be the case. The important thing is that I'll allow myself any possible outcome. As long as I stick to my plan of doing a certain number of hours a week, there will always be an outcome worth talking/writing about. And hopefully there will be some improvement. And I have to say that from when we starte our JS group a bit less than two years ago, my JavaScript has really got so much better!

If I only could always see it like that! Right, I just will from now on. - The 'full stack' aim is also interesting. I sometimes think I need to make a certain switch in my mind if I really want to succeed there. I guess the main thing is to actually believe that I can learn certain things. I took one significant step years ago, which was switching to Linux as my OS and running my own server to host things. I cannot say how glad I am that I did that. But when things become a bit more proper devopsy, that still feels like a bit of a barrier. It is difficult to say what makes sense there, should I not specialise on the front-end and PHP programming? But then, it does all interest me, and people used to do it all, and the way things are set up at work makes it possible to learn at least the basics of the different technologies you need to have a server up and running, keep it secure and sites performing well. I think I (and others) perceive it a bit as a 'guys' thing. I wonder if it's something of a cultural thing where as a woman you have been conditioned to be more careful with everything, not break things ladida. (My fear of breaking things has in the past years gone down quite a bit already though ;) )

Don't know. But as we are on this topic, here's another thing I am going to stop doing. Looking out for, or thinking too much about whether something someone said or ways in which they behaved is sexist (or agist, anti-foreigner? haha, how unusual can I get - and still, I am the urban 'cosmopolitan' middle-class and the people around me are, too, this is so far probably still the one decisive factor to make me compatible, but maybe shouldn't be?). It is such a fine line, and in the end, it is mostly history and people's habits that can lead to situations where you might feel treated differently as a woman. It is not directly anybody's fault. I do think it can become toxic, it depends very much on where you are. But it seems to me that currently, in my personal life, any subtle thing that might happen in this regard, is far outweighed by the opportunities I've been given, the super-flexible work contract, knowing so many great people in Bristol's tech community, being able to learn from others and so on. Besides that, in some regards, when it comes to the gender topic, there are things that have been problematic from my side. This has only gradually become clear to me, and it pains me somewhat, because I fear it has been a bit destructive. But that again, it is a historical thing why I behaved in certain ways, and there is no point in beating myself up about it. Main thing is, I am aware of it now.

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Crunch time diary 3

This post was written 3 years ago.
Tue, 02 Jun 2015
So, this might be last in series. I don't want to keep calling my posts crunch time ;). It is on one hand quite fitting, I have a "now or never" feeling, i.e. if I don't manage to deal with certain things now, if I don't make at least some, small changes somewhere, I never will, and I might better give up everything to do with web development; much more, wanting to teach / help people learn web development. On the other hand, I don't currently feel that stressed.

The thing is, maybe what I have been trying to do here, is to find a conclusion to some stuff that has to do with how my mind works. And the ways in which it works differently from the "accepted norm" (difficult to tell what that even is; it's not me, that much I have found out). That might not have been so apparent in what I was writing, but it is what is underlying a lot of my doubts, especially those about recent activities.

I'd really like to move on from that, and I've not given up hope that I might do that soon. Then eventually, these slightly strange posts whill sink down to the bottom of the pile, and nobody will know about them unless they search, and if they are interested enough I am happy for them to know. Even now, I don't know if anybody at all is going to read this :)

About six weeks ago, I realised something that had briefly been on my radar before, but I had then dismissed (partly because somebody I thought must be in the know, dismissed it). There's a pretty high chance that I have Asperger's syndrome, or at least something that goes in that direction. Something "on the spectrum". I hesitate writing this, as it is so much associated with the male form, which is quite different. Or, because the male version is the one that is generally known, I should rather say, the female expression is different from the male. It is much harder to recognise, because women are — or become? for cultural reasons? — much better at masking it.

The masking is actually a necessity, because as a female you can hardly survive if you don't somehow manage to fit in socially. I for one have spent an enormous amount of energy just on learning social cues and appropriate reactions etc. I think I have over time developed it so much that it feels natural now, "second nature"; I am mostly not acting now (I used to do that a lot). Still, there's always a fear of losing that ability again, and sometimes it temporarily happens. I liked how somebody said you have to become "bilingual". Yes, I feel that's what it is. And — much like I often think in English now — I can feel quite at home in social situations (not always, but most times) because I have been exposed to them so much now, although they still exhaust me. And there is value in being bilingual in that way. There is value in your brain working differently even. But it is hard, and I am not sure if I will ever feel I completely fit in. I fit in within my family, that is a good start. I also have quite a few really good friends who "get" me. (But the number of times I walked through the school gates, and kept having this same thought "I am from a different planet" — do many people think that, I wonder?)

[Edit 30/06/2015 I have been socialising a lot recently and enjoyed it so much, that it seems quite unlikely to me now that I might be autistic. So I can't uphold my diagnosis. - And yet there were times in my life, where I really did go in that direction, definitely as a child and in my teens.]
[Edit 03/07/2015 Last one, I think! Reading about how much autistic traits can vary, and how some things that are easy for neurotypical people often are just harder to learn - not impossible! - for people on the spectrum, another explanation could be this: I just have some autistic traits (enough to make my life a misery at times!), but did eventually learn to socialise and enjoy it, and have always been interested in other people. So would hesitate to call myself Asperger's, but do have quite a few autistic traits. And it makes a lot of difference having found this out, explains so many things, in case you wonder why I go on about it ;) Oh, and if you want to know more, this is a really valuable book - not just for parents of autistic children: Congratulations! Your Child is Strange Only slight criticism: it only uses the male gender, or neutral "the child" to describe autistic children, there is no indication they could be a girl, too]

Popular belief would probably have it that I should also be a good coder then. And for some aspects that is true I think, and there I might be more apt than average. But there are other aspects, where I struggle more than most developers I know. It is hard to describe what it is. And I don't know if I will ever overcome that enough, or manage to develop a stragety to cope with it, so that it won't be a problem anymore. I think it would not even have to be a problem. It is not good for developing confidence I guess, maybe that is the main effect.

Anyway, that's it for now, and now I will probably not write about it again. I will also call it 'wrong-planet-syndrome', because everything else is too much associated with a certain stereotype that gives a wrong idea.

Tags: codehub / mind_stuff /
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Crunch time diary 2

This post was written 3 years ago.
Wed, 27 May 2015
This is going to be short. Next in my series of sorting things by writing. A thought I've had a lot recently: The more burning question is often not "What have I got? Have I been treated well?", but "What can I give?", "What can I contribute?". That can be surprisingly difficult to answer. And those who can't answer it, those who want to make a difference, but whose attempts to do so turn out inadequate — or at least that's what it seems like to themselves — will most likely suffer from it. I am not quite sure whether to count myself in that category, but, well I guess sometimes I am.

I feel my approaches to things are subpar, especially when it comes to 'executive functioning', where I have to sort things out, organise etc. It can go well for a while, and then something, even quite little, goes a bit wrong, and I become insecure and find it difficult to handle it (or I just plainly don't know how to).

But then, it might not even be true. The one thing that is true is that I am somewhat unusual. And if you look at my role in the technical community (which is always what this reasoning is about), I clearly do not have the skills or experience of some. Same conclusion as last post, I am not that unequivocally part of the industry. I don't have the same access to businesses, to money etc. as other people who run technical meetups. And I feel this is coming more to the fore now than before, as people get to know me better.

But then I find one of the compelling reasons to stay is exactly the fact that I am different. Because that way I might help other people who are untypical too. And there's loads of them! I think some people feel more at ease with me than with other tech people, perhaps because I am a woman, or because I am not as secure or assertive as others.

What I feel trips me up at the moment is my technical expertise. All the inassertiveness and insecurity would be fine if I was a better coder, and generally knew what I was talking about. The thing is I do know a lot about a lot of topics, but I just have not got the experience to always judge things very well. And then it's not only technical expertise, it is soft skills as well. I could be a lot better at those!

I will have to see if I manage to just have enough of the things needed to keep this group going - I have so many ideas for it, too. But there is not much time left. I think I will have to change a few things. Soon.

Tags: codehub /
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Crunch time

This post was written 3 years ago.
Tue, 19 May 2015

Yesterday I had this idea to turn this blog into a diary, just for this week. Post something every day. As my husbands writes a blog over in Mexico, I'll write mine here. This is at a point where I am reflecting on a lot of things anyway, so it might help to write them down. A lot to do with my professional life, and with my voluntary activities for CodeHub, too. They are connected, in that I have always felt I just want to run CodeHub if I can call myself a bona fide developer. But what does that "bona fide" mean?

For one thing, that I should actually earn money as a developer. I guess I've always wanted CodeHub to be of real value to people who have been learning to code, or have been running their own projects, and wanted to take it one step further, and get a job at a web agency, or the IT department of a larger firm. And I feel I could do this better from the inside, actually being part of the industry, rather than myself being somebody who is still waiting to make a proper entry into that world. But it is not such a clear-cut thing. There are big businesses on one end of the spectrum, small agencies and one-person businesses on the other. Is there a distinct point, a certain size or turnover, where you can be considered "part of the industry"?

I have worked for direct clients, and I have worked for two agencies, although one of them just briefly. I have earned money with developing websites, therefore I can call myself a professional for sure. Perhaps what is nagging me, is that volume-wise I have done less than others who've been part of the web dev world as long as me. Then also, towards the end of last year, I gave up my regular freelance role to join somebody at a startup who was going to mentor me. This was going to be an unpaid work experience up to the moment I was producing some work of value to him. But that moment didn't come, the work relationship ended earlier than that. It's difficult to put into a few sentences what went wrong. Ultimately I was perhaps just not up to this kind of work yet, but I also was not quite aware what was demanded of me. This does not do the whole situation justice, but is the best way I can describe it at the moment, if I want to keep it brief.

At the time I was working towards giving a talk for Women Who Code. I saw this as an opportunity to teach myself some new stuff. I had just learned about ReactJS (at the startup), and as I quite liked it, I experimented with it, and with Node. - This reminds me how a year before, I had made a big effort to learn Python. I went as far as even doing a course on using Python for linear algebra (I just thought, I'd look into it, then really enjoyed it and continued with it). I also at the time wrote the underlying classes for placing Minecraft blocks in a LOGO turtle manner, in 3D! - Anyway, I prepared for that talk, and I started to organise various CodeHub events. After I'd given the talk, I just continued studying and organising, saying I'd start looking for a job again soon. But it was so easy not to!

Okay, so much for justification for not having properly looked for a job. The thing is, tomorrow I am starting one. That is, I am starting on a project. And once more this came through somebody else, they mentioned me as a potential fit for a role. Unsurprisingly, it's PHP. But not only. Front-end work, too. I see a real challenge in it: To not work extra hours that I don't charge for, and not work till deep into the night, or even till the next morning, as I have so often done before. Either I can do it in an adequate time (and the thing is I have to allow myself enough time! I keep thinking I am to slow; but what a trap to then squeeze the last energy out of you by working through the night; how silly), or - well, I will just have to give the whole thing up! I mean, coding, running CodeHub, everything to do with that. It just wouldn't make sense anymore.

The last few weeks were stressful somehow. It seems like my body at some point decided to turn itself into a little Cortisol factory. I could feel it so strongly. Especially in my lower arms, they start to tingle like mad. And it is only slowly subsiding now. How did it even come about? - One thing was, I had started to build a new website for myself. I wanted to have something like a CV that I could show people, and I wanted to include all my volontary activities in it. Also, I'd pose myself the challenge to do this website with very simple means. But I would use JavaScript on it. In fact, I wanted it to run as a single-page-app. But if people did not have JavaScript enabled, I wanted it to be a site with several pages. I'd use PHP and JavaScript to render the same templates that I wrote in Mustache, and the data would be in JSON files. This all worked great and in the beginning I made good progress. Until I tried to build this slidey thing. Or more precisely, until I added event listeners to do the slidey thing. No jQuery, all vanilla JavaScript. I somehow managed that, although not quite the way I wanted to. And then the content! I had made a list of what I wanted to include, but it took so long to then properly write it! Now I have become so exasperated that I feel reluctant to touch the whole thing. But then, not very much is missing now, so fingers crossed I will finish it next weekend.

Next pain point: Code Club (not CodeHub!). The afterschool club I ran for the past two years, and which I'd wanted to give up now (wasn't coding part of the curriculum now, anyway? My son's reply: "If I play tennis at school, that doesn't mean I couldn't also join a tennis club". What can I say? Well played..) I knew this was going to be the one thing too much. And still I gave in to my children begging. "You can't stop Code Club." I really had not been aware that they liked it so much. So in the end I scheduled 6 weeks. The first week went brilliantly! But the next week already went a bit wrong, the computers started playing up, there were networking problems. Most of them showed a blue screen once they'd started up (a process which itself took absolutely ages) We were doing 3D games programming in the browser. This is a fantastic book for teaching children to code, I think. Alas, each week there seemed to be something wrong. First, the same network problems. Than the week after the IT person had re-installed windows from an old image. The networking problems didn't happen anymore. But Chrome was missing now, and we needed that or Firefox to run the Code Editor. So we painfully had to first install Chrome everywhere (I am surprised the system allowed it all). The amazing thing was that each time, even if I'd spent ages sorting out problems while the children had started to do all kinds of nonsense, once we got a few computers running, they did actually get down to coding. They were still interested. They did want to do it.

In any case this grated on my nerves, and hard as I tried to see it as a partial success, it did not feel great.

I could go on now, but it is getting too late. I can't turn up too sleepy tomorrow!

Tbc..


Tags: codehub / code_club /
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Thoughts on CodeHub and Open Tech School in Bristol

This post was written 5 years ago.
Mon, 13 Jan 2014
This was really meant to be an email, but it got so long I am just posting it here. I set up CodeHub Bristol last year together with Gicela Morales. I mentioned it at Skillswap, and that got us a few - lovely - members, but we did not publicise it further so far. We felt quite comfortable in our little group. (This is a post about our first meeting) But we had really intended it to be a bigger platform. So these are some thoughts on how to expand it.

What

Really what I would like to do already exists elsewhere and isn't called CodeHub, but Open Tech School: http://opentechschool.org I think it would be great to have something like that in Bristol. So, basically, we would organise workshops. But still keep the current exisiting CodeHub as a 'learners group' associated with OTS.

As an initial focus, I would probably not so much want to organise workshops for beginners, but everything that helps people who already develop for the web become more professional, and better able to work in a team.

Workshops would probably be in the evenings (7pm to 10pm?) or Saturdays. CodeHub is during a work day; currently every second Tuesday of a month, from 10am to 2pm.

Where

We have been meeting at the Big Chill in Small Street. They have been brilliant there, we can have a big room upstairs with wifi, coffee and tea. It would in principle be possible to have the room in the evenings as well, don't know what time it gets loud though!

Intentions (dumped into Evernote one night)

  • There's social benefit to it, and learning/knowledge benefit
  • there's also the benefit of teaching something to advance own knowledge as well -> give people platform to try speaking to people
  • "safe" place where people don't need to fear they appear stupid
  • Provide space to exchange knowledge, best practices, opinions; also simply to network
  • Help a beginner become intermediate; a "home-alone-worker" a team worker

Some people said "just put it out there and see what happens" but I rather want to plan it carefully, and want to start with a distinct intention and concept; it might still develop into something different from what I envisioned, that's absolutely fine.

I like this from the OTS website:
"Encouraging people to coach, whatever their skill or experience level, lets them see how rewarding and valuable teaching others is."
 

Possible topics


Next steps

So the next steps would be:
  • Clarify questions about format of workshop
  • Contact people who might be willing to do a workshop
  • Talk to people at Big Chill to clarify possible times (will go there 21 Jan)
  • Put it out there (Blog, Twitter, Underscore!)
  • Set dates for workshops, find coaches/speakers, open for registration

Questions

I have been wondering most about

More on Format
Different options:
  • OTS style: Take one of their workshops or create one along those lines; look for coaches; then allow registration of 4 times as many attendants as coaches
  • Have one speaker; they provide workshop, possibly also to a bigger group; basically they can choose the way they want to present it
  • Could also have workshops where one builds on the other; have a certain sequence; but probably not very practical

So, I have been thinking about this a lot recently. There is a lot I haven't written down, some more 'philosophical' thoughts about learning and teaching in general. Also the way web development is done these days. I think it has got too complicated, and a lot of the complication is due to a) accomodate design decisions and b) provide maximum level of functionality/power to editors or website owners, that might often not be needed in the end. Just one example WYSIWIG editors. But, let's not go into all this :) And, how would I want to change that with a series of workshops?? I will be glad if this will get off the ground at all for the moment!
This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
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CodeHub Bristol

This post was written 5 years ago.
Wed, 03 Jul 2013

I cannot exactly remember when the idea to set up CodeHub was born, although it probably happened in several steps. It definitely came out of some conversations I had with my friend Gicela. We thought it would be great for people in a similar situation to us, working from home and just for themselves, to get together and learn from and with each other. When Gicela came across the Hackerschool website, that served as an inspiration, although it is very different from our project in terms of scale and scope. - And so, two days ago (on Tuesday 2 July 2013), a group of five independent web developers met up at The Big Chill in Bristol for a morning of coffee, tea and code. I think we all agreed that it worked very well. It was good to be in this small group to start with, and it was a good group. We almost felt we don't even want it to grow!

But that would of course go against the orginal idea of a place giving developers who work on their own the chance to learn and collaborate with others. In any case, I doubt that we will get a sudden influx of hundreds of people. If we slowly grow that will be good. I could also imagine having a core team and then occasionally setting up bigger events.

So, if you wonder what this is all about, here is a brief outline of ideas we've had:

The format:

  • 30 mins of somebody giving a talk, or discussion about a certain topic
  • The rest of the time (3 to 3.5 hours) spent working on a project involving that day's topic OR other project of own choice
  • We will look for a project or projects that we can collaborate on
  • We would like to invite mentors to give a talk and possibly stay on to give practical help

That's it really. And it is generally quite flexible. For our first meetup (as good web programmers, we also had a 0th meeting that took place at the Mildbunch office, who kindly let us invade their space for a few hours), we thought we'd all get set up with Git and GitHub. If we want to work together, we need to share our code after all. So Rob who had the most experience with Git in our group, talked everybody through the process. Some of us had a bit of experience and already had GitHub accounts, but we still learned new things. And there was clearly a sense of achievement when ssh keys had been generated and copied, and test repositories were pushed to GitHub.

Another topic we all agreed we want to learn more about is JavaScript. This ranges from being able to write own Javascript code to using an MVC framework. I had a look last night at various resources, and have come to the conclusion that I want to learn Javascript properly (finally!) and then using a framework. I am curious how well I will succeed. But one thing is clear, the prospect of being able to share what I am learning with others, has lifted my motivation quite substantially.

There seem to be quite a few initiatives around the world that aim to teach people coding or other technical skills, which is great. I particularly liked this about the Core Values of Open Tech School. They are pretty much what I hope CodeHub to be about.

So, I am glad CodeHub got off to a good start and it will be interesting to see how it develops. We meet up once a month, but plan to be in touch online between meet-ups. Let's see what we can build!

If you are interested in joining us, please get in touch. Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, 6th of August at 10 am, again at the Big Chill. As mentioned before, we will also be looking for mentors. If you would like to try giving a talk about a certain topic, this is the chance to do it in front of a small group, rather than for example, at the Bristol Skillswap. That, I can testify, can be very frightening!



This post was written 5 years ago, which in internet time is really, really old. This means that what is written above, and the links contained within, may now be obsolete, inaccurate or wildly out of context, so please bear that in mind :)
Tags: codehub / bristol / learning /
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