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Summer Check-In


August 06, 2014
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Aug 12

9PM EST

I forgot to go to the beach again.

I heard lots of beach stories, seen my share of #imonaboat pics, but for some reason, it didn’t occur to me to put down my own laptop and get some sun.

In fact, I went three days this week without even leaving my apartment!

... I’m gonna regret publicizing that.

I’m a hacker-in-residence, the official job title for a 7-month coding residency that makes me feel way cooler than I actually am. And last week, I wrapped up my official hacker duties, which was a great time to reflect on my summer of coding.

There were lots of life lessons -- forgive yourself, ask lots of questions, don’t punch the computer in the face.

And then there were actual code-lessons -- read the error message, read the documentation, don’t punch the computer in the face.

But the most important lesson I took away from my summer of coding was how crucial it is to get out of my own head and get some perspective.

When it’s just me and my code, my bubble fills up with all the things I wish I did better. It’s too easy to focus my time and energy on how long that last feature took to build (too long), how much more there is to learn (too much), and how I keep forgetting the things I thought I knew (wait, what was that again?).

But there have been a few key moments where I found myself outside of my bubble, and it was gloriously refreshing. These helped:

Blogging:

The truth is, I find tech blogging hard, mostly because I’m not sure who I’m talking to. One way I’ve found to get around this is to just talk to myself. At least, the version of myself who didn’t know about the concept I’m blogging about. What I love about this approach is that I get to reflect on how I learned that concept. It forces me to think about what I didn’t know before, what my assumptions were, how I tackled the problem, and what my solution is. I’m required to compare where I was then to where I am now, giving me much needed perspective on my progress. And I’m almost always pleasantly surprised by how much I learned.

Pairing:

I’ve had a few great, accidental pairing sessions this summer. We were talking code, they mentioned a feature they were stuck on, and before we knew it, we were in our text editor figuring it out. Sometimes we debugged successfully, and that was great. But the best part about pairing is that you get to peek at how other people approach things, organize things, and think about problems. I got to poke at stuff and say, “Whoa, what’s THAT?.” I saw tools I’d never seen before, and got to ask why they chose this method instead of that. Sometimes there was a good reason, and I learned how to do something a better way. Other times, it was because they just didn’t know my way, and they learned something new. Digging into some else’s codebase is a great way to ask questions and explore different answers, regardless of how simple or complex the codebase is. I’ve had a great conversation and learned a ton from just 50 lines of code.

Speaking:

I recently gave a talk on “Meaningful Making” to a non-technical audience, and that was about the best thing I could’ve done for my impostor syndrome. It was incredible to explain coding to a room full of people who knew as much about the topic as I did just over a year ago. Having to speak from their perspective was such a great way to appreciate how far I’d come in the last year. Regardless of how complex or simple your topic is, speaking forces you to start at your audience’s level and take them on journey to get to your point of view.

And it doesn’t have to be at a big conference! Based on where you’re location, there are lots of smaller meetup organizations and communities that are great places to start, and are supportive of first-time speakers. Getting out of your head AND sharing the knowledge? Talk about a win-win.

What did you get out of your summer coding? Let us know :)

- Saron

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Aug 12

9PM EST