Mary Dickson Diaz

Code, Life, Learning

Tag: self-study

to take notes or nahhhhh

Hey folks. House still standing! Foundation work remarkably uneventful, but I guess it’s good that it’s done. Would be nice if we got something more immediately gratifying with all that $$, like, I dunno, a maze tunnel underneath the house, but let’s file this under Just Another Day in Responsible Homeownership, Boring.

~/JADiRHB$ mkfile foundation_repairs


I’ve been plugging away at wedding to-dos, helping write a grant, and also working through a couple of Ruby tutorials in preparation for the class I’m taking end of June. Which seems, I know, so very far away (I will be MARRIED and also WORLD-TRAVELLED by then).

(mary.is_married? == true) if month > May

I am really digging Ruby, which is intuitive in many frightening ways — frightening because I know intellectually that if I hope to retain this knowledge at all, I need to take notes, but it *looks so easy* as I’m doing it that it’s easy to skip that step.

I’ve seen people in “ruby vs python” conversations compare ruby to poetry and python to prose.

It should not come as too much of a surprise then that working through these tutorials, I experienced that *ah-hah* moment when it comes to understanding Classes — both languages use them, and we studied them in my python class, but I never really understood them or the homework assignment given for practice. Now, though, I can sort of see how they work, and what the initialize method does.

Now to just hold on to that lightbulb moment across the next few months… ! (Take notes, Mary.) (I use Evernote.)

state of the code

this kid has A Plan

this kid has A Plan

(cross-posted with The Plan)

In January 2015, I made a tentative 4 month schedule for what my code learning would look like, and for the most part I executed on it. Anything optional got shelved. Almost all the MOOCs got shelved (I did stick with the MIT one about 3/4ths of the way through). I went to one meet-up group meeting, once, which is ridiculous given the wealth of resources in our community and openness to sharing, but hey, this journey is about learning and I’ve learned I’m not a meet-up person.

Not surprisingly, in-person class commitments were key to moving forward and keeping me accountable, and I’ve had overall positive results with Code Fellows so far.

If I had to plan it again, here’s my do-over itinerary:

  1. First, get you a Mac, or get ready for a world of pain.
  2. Unless you’re planning to do the full-time bootcamp (in which case do everything you can the month before), take a night class with Code Fellows ($500 for foundations I or $1,500 for foundations II if you already have some code experience and want to prep for an accelerator).
  3. If you have an opportunity to apply to Ada Academy, do it! Don’t let the required video and their unpredictable cohort schedule scare you away, unless the latter is a deal breaker. This cohort timing wouldn’t have worked for me, but that’s not why I didn’t apply — I didn’t apply because I was scared to make a stupid video. And that’s super lame. So, you know, just do it (and then turn them down if it doesn’t feel right).The act of applying will be a useful exercise for you. This year they had 265 applicants and selected 24 women, and, while I’m confident the number of applications will only grow, those odds are not terrible. You can do it!
  4. You’ll want to work all the way through the HTML/CSS web track andJavaScript tutorials on Code Academy. These are required for the Code Fellows foundations classes and a good intro/refresher for everyone else. Don’t let it be your only teaching source, but it’s not a bad piece of the bigger pie.
  5. Work through MITx 6.00.1x  Intro to Computer Science with John Guttag. I bought the textbook but never really used it, so skip that. Instead get the textbook for…
  6. Python the Hard Way: the book is offered for free entirely online, so a paper copy is optional (but nice, IMO, because you can keep going without an internet connection). If the hard way isn’t your style, try Elizabeth Wickes python for informatics instead.
  7. Get familiar with git (where you’ll keep track of your programs), unix/terminal line(where you’ll run/edit/etc your programs) and a text editor, I use Sublime 2. Like, really, learn them. This could maybe wait until month 2 or 3 but the sooner the better.
  8. Tackle a few side projects to start to grow your portfolio and have something to practice your new skills on: mine were this blog (powered via WordPress), a non-Wordpress pure html/css webpage, and twitter bots. Bot, bot, bot!
  9. Talk to programmers to learn about their jobs, and research code school options that might be a fit for you.
  10. Hopefully you made some friends in your class (or online) and have an ongoing study group in the works. Or, for Pete’s sake, go to some meet-ups. I hear they don’t bite.
  11. You should probably try a few languages/programing paths to see what’s a fit. At some point you’ll want to narrow down a programing language. Keep in mind that once you know one, it’s easy enough to pick up another, so you’ll also want to pay attention to who’s teaching what and where the opportunities are. I personally like Python and there are lots of jobs in JavaScript, but I had a great experience with an instructor who teaches the Ruby accelerator and that’s what I’m currently focusing on.
  12. Next steps for me: take another foundations II class in June (this one in Ruby), and apply for the Ruby accelerator in August. On this path, I’ll be “done” by the end of October and looking for jobs or internships before the start of 2016. We’ll have to take a good hard look at finances after the wedding and honeymoon this summer. I’ll be most comfortable if my period of unemployment lasts no longer than a year, but I’m mentally prepared for a career shift to last up to two years (same amount of time as full-time grad school for most programs). One year could be crazy wishful thinking.

And that’s it! I tried and failed to break this out month-by-month, but I hope this is helpful to someone even without that timeline. I’ll keep my first (aspirational) draft on The Plan page that has many repeat resources (and a lot more that I didn’t get to). Enjoy! –Mary

no matter how long the winter


People of the internet! I have rejoined your ranks! One of the joys of buying an old/remodeled home is discovering that, after a month of ISP escapades and multiple visits from CenturyLink, the house is not wired for DSL/phone. So, we now have a cord running from the DSL box, across the porch, under the front door and into the living room, where it is attached to a phone jack that is not (yet) attached to a wall.

The point is, it works.

Remarkably, I spent my first day with internet at home NOT watching all the Netflix (TV, I’ve missed you so so much), or scrambling to finish pre- and home-work for tonight’s python class, but rather I gave my partner a ride to work, I made soup, I cleaned my closet and started narrowing down a capsule wardrobe for spring (see Nicole’s take on this here). It’s been A Very Nice Day. I’m feeling Good.

At least three things are contributing to this Good Feeling:

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flipping out

First, a note about learning style:

It’s been brought to my attention that some of what I’ve been interpreting as, well, bad or (assuming good intent, which I do) disorganized teaching is actually something called “flipped classroom” which I’d heard about in my previous job. I think it’s a not uncommon style for college-level teaching. The gist is: students read the material beforehand and come prepared with questions and ready to teach it back. The professor is then more of a coach/mentor, and by having students teach the material you hit on some really high level learning objectives. There’s not a lot of teacher-driven demos/lecture during class time (which, inconveniently, is something I find really helpful for my own learning style and wrote about in learning and watching people code).

So, this helps me with perspective. And, again, it’s a shame that I’ve been without working internet at home for 3/4ths of the class (not planned), and have not had as much time as I’d like to really play in the material. These are things *solely on me*.

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show me state

question = raw_input(“Did everyone have a good weekend?”)

Team, you’ll be happy to know that I showed that headache and those bookshelves who’s boss (boss = “Mary”) and am feeling, well, not exactly *back in biz* but definitely *getting closer to being back in biz*. We’re scheduled to have working internet AND dishwasher this week and I am almost caught up on my class homework. Soon, perhaps, I will have working code to show you. Soon. If you want to see some non-functional code, I have that in droves.

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new foundations & false starts

First, a new house update: still getting settled, but happy. No internet yet at home, which is stressful for a few reasons, one being that my new class started and I haven’t been able to fully access the courseware. But, I’m in love with our new neighborhood and yesterday I discovered the Hillman City Collaboratory that has co-working space available (and so much other cool stuff that deserves a post of its own). I may head over there today and take advantage of their internet.


On to the class…

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MITx review

Hey readers,

Our move is this Friday, and my next Code Fellows class starts up the following Monday. So, I am calling last week and this week “spring break” for sanity’s sake. Back with more content next week if not sooner!

Meanwhile, I’m wrapping up “Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python,” a MOOC that comes to a close on Tuesday after nine weeks. Even with some serious slacking/re-prioritization the last few weeks, I’ll complete the class with at least a 57%, which is a passing “C” grade. With a bit of effort into the final exam, I’m hoping to hit 65% for a “B.” And a great thing is that you get to keep access to the course after it ends, so I’ll be able to catch up on what I missed eventually (after all, this is about the learning and not the grade).

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the state of the code

Greetings from my last day of work!

A few things have changed since I drafted The Plan, as I expected they might. First, I got a list of textbooks for the class I am taking in February, and it appears we’re learning Web Design with HTML, CSS, JavaScript and jQuery Set (front-end programming languages).

This is nice because I started the MIT online class which is intro to computer science and programming using Python, which is a (mostly?) back-end programming language. I have homework due on Monday. I was rolling right along and then in lesson 3 we hit a pretty steep learning curve, my first indication of, yikes, this might be hard.

In light of this, and the fact that I’ll be trying to juggle two similar but distinct programming languages, I may abandon the wizard book. (That, and a programmer friend was like: “The wizard book?? Dear God, woman. Abandon that immediately. Cool videos though!”)

Said programmer friend then dispensed three pieces of wisdom, which I will share here in condensed form:

1. Programming is really cool because you get to build things. It’s nice to make something, and then show someone, and say “I made that.”

2. The majority of time in programming is spent trying to correct errors, and find what’s wrong in a given code, and deal with agonizing syntax issues like a missing comma or misspelled function. If that sort of thing sounds like zero fun to you, you may want to do something else.

3. There was a third piece of wisdom, but I have forgotten it. So, I’ll replace it with this: find and talk to programmer people, get yourself some mentors (and maybe do a better job of taking notes when they are dispensing with the wisdom).

Off to turn in my key. Adventures ahead!

the plan, part 1

Happy new year, friends!

happy new year!

I hope your 2015 is off to a great start. I love the opportunity to reflect on a year well lived, and look down the long, blank slate of a new one. This year is especially dear to me because not only am I headed back to school this month (so to speak), I am also getting married in May, an occasion that will bring many of our friends and family together in a delightful, worlds-colliding event.

I’ve posted the first iteration of what I am calling The Plan, a ~40 hour / week program of self-study, MOOCs, and in-person classes wherein I will learn the foundation of coding and web development, and have the opportunity to work on solo and group projects to demonstrate mastery competence. I’ll talk more about how I chose each element when I blog about them in detail. There are SO MANY free and cheap resources for learning this stuff; I hope my experience can be a resource to someone else just starting out and needing direction.

I don’t expect to be employable as a software developer in four months, and possibly not even in a year, but I do expect that I’ll have a better sense of what type of career I want to pursue working in technology (if any), how that might blend with my passions and previous work experience, and clear steps for moving forward.

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