From Omaha Code School

Blog posts about my time in Omaha Code School

SPN: No more homework or projects, it’s time to find where we fit

The last two weeks have been a lot of work. I’m not talking about project work, which can actually be a lot of fun. I’m talking about mock interviews, resume writing, portfolio building and documentation writing work.

Omaha Code School has done a lot for us over the last 12 weeks. They’ve taught us, helped us overcome difficult problems and provided mentors for us to learn from. But at no point have they been more helpful than the last two weeks. Lately we have been working on getting all our work ready to show to potential employers.

OCS found mentor after mentor willing to come review our resumes, give mock interviews and give us their prospective about what makes candidates stick out. It’s an eye-opening experience that preps you for the microscope that is the hiring process.

Two weeks ago, we took a much needed break to give a presentation for 1 Million Cups, a local entrepreneurship meetup. They asked us to give a couple of quick presentations about our group projects.

At first it was extremely intimidating. Roughly 50 people we had not met before in a giant lecture hall on UNO’s campus. As we got up to speak, I just put all that behind me and started to go through what we had practiced.

We talked about our client, SMAC! (Sock Monkeys Against Cancer), and how they needed a system to find angels for those in need. Everyone seemed to like what we had put together and were impressed at how far we had come in the first eleven weeks of class. It was a welcome dose of encouragement that we are starting to know what we’re talking about and can contribute to this community.

This was all building toward graduation night. A ton of people showed up to congratulate us on all the work wehave put in and to see what we have been up to over the past twelve weeks. We had a short ceremony, with an inspiring commencement speech from Megan Hunt. We received our awesome wooden diplomas, and had some time to show off our projects to family and friends who came down to take a look. But this night was mainly a celebration. We ate, drank, took advantage of the photo booth, danced and ate some more. It was a great night that left me completely exhausted.

Now it’s been two days since we graduated from Omaha Code School. The pressure is off. No more homework. No more projects.

So now what? Where do we go from here? What is the next thing on this amazing journey we have all been on?

For most of us, the next step is a job fair Omaha Code School is putting together for us. They have attracted the attention from the who’s who in local development businesses. Graduates will be able to talk to each business and start to understand what makes them tick. Nothing is guaranteed, but we will see firsthand what companies are looking for and how we might fit into that void.

Lastly, I have enjoyed recapping my code school adventure for Silicon Prairie News over the last three months. I cannot thank Jordan Pascale and the team enough for giving me this opportunity to get the word out about what we are doing. It seems like every event I attend has someone coming up to me who has read a post or two and it has peaked their curiosity. I don’t think we would have garnered the attention we have if it was not for SPN and their willingness to cover this school. I can never truly express my thanks for all they have done. Thank you.

New Website and Graduation Details just launched! It’s a new portfolio website where I can show off some of the projects I have worked on, and get the word out about some of the skills we have learned over the past 12 weeks. I will also continue to blog there after Omaha Code School is over. I would love to get a little feedback about what I have put together.

Friday is graduation day. I can hardly believe it’s already here. We have transitioned from our intense learning style to a more relaxed week working on getting our resume put together. We had a full week of guest speakers come in and walk us through the interview process and give mock interviews. It’s been a while since I’ve gone through this, so I really appreciate the practice.

Everyone is invited to our graduation party! This Friday, May 16th, at 6pm we will be having a graduation celebration at Omaha Code School. Everyone is invited. There will be plenty of food and drink to go around. We will also be having a short presentation. While your mingling, ask us if you can see our other projects, we will be happy to give you a quick look.

SPN: A Client can be a Wonderful Thing

Having a client is a powerful thing. We started on a group project last week for SMAC! Sock Monkeys Against Cancer, a local organization that makes sock monkeys for cancer patients. Their founder, Jen Windrum, went through a devastating lung cancer case with her mother, who sadly passed away last year. Her mother lived 2,000 miles away, and she wanted to give her mother something she could keep with her during appointments and procedures when she couldn’t attend.

Jen often gets requests from a patients who would like a SMAC! monkey, but can’t afford it due to their ongoing treatments. When these cases come up, Jen relies on her existing social media channels to find someone willing to cover the cost. She calls them “Angels.”

This process works, but is very manual and time intensive. Many patients don’t realize they can request a SMAC! monkey. Once they do find a match, Jen must communicate directly with both sides to make sure the right information gets exchanged. Even though these are some of the more rewarding situations she deals with, it is a lot of work for her.

Seven of us were tasked with taking some of the friction out of the process. We needed to create a new website for the SMAC! Monkey Angel Program. The site needed to allow people to request a SMAC! monkey, and display their request to people who might be willing to cover the cost for them. We divided ourselves up into specific roles for this project. Johnathon, Todd, Matt and Lochlan were our back-end developers. Britt and Yofred were front-end specialists. I was the technical lead. This was the first time we had a specific focus and this many people working on a single project.

Luckily, we had a great client to work with in Jen. She was very excited to see what we came up with and gave us quite a bit of flexibility with how the site would look. I think we came up with a clean, informative site that really does take the friction out of the equation. With the new site (right), a person can request a SMAC! monkey for either themselves or on behalf of someone they know. People who see their request can share the need using the Facebook or Twitter share buttons right on the page.

If you want to get the first look at what we’ve built, I would like to invite you to come to 1 Million Cups this Wednesday at 9 a.m. 1MC meets in Mammel Hall on UNO’s campus and they have allowed Omaha Code School students to present our projects this week. Our team will be demoing our SMAC! Angels site. Another group of students will be showing off their recent redesign of the website. I think both turned out pretty well, so come take a look and give us your feedback.

We are less then two weeks away from graduation. It has been a whirlwind experience. Going back and looking at the first couple of sites we created, it’s clear we have learned a lot and come a long way.

Here are a couple of events open to the public next week:

Allies Workshop

Monday, May 12, 6–8 p.m.

The Allies Workshop was designed by the Ada Initiative “to support women in their workplaces and communities.” Andrew and Zedeka will be conducting their own variation of the workshop. They will discuss allyship as it relates to gender, but also explore race, class, color, ability, identity and orientation. There is a cost to this course, so check out the Facebook page for more information.

Graduation Open House / Demo Night

Friday, May 16, 4:30–7:30 p.m.

This event will take place immediately after we graduate from Omaha Code School. Students will be on hand to show off some of their group or individual projects they have worked on in class. This will be the best opportunity to see how far we have come in 12 weeks.

SPN: Creating something useful for a real-life setting

We’ve had a hectic two weeks at Code School as we approach the end of class on May 16. We completed our first individual projects, and I have had a hard time keeping up.

The project requirements were pretty open ended. Instructor Sumeet Jain gave us some basic requirements to make sure we use the skills we were learning. Other than that, we could work on anything we wanted.

There were social networks, photography galleries, video games and automated bar tenders. Everyone’s personalities started to come through, and you could tell everyone was putting in a little extra effort to get their ideas off the ground.

I came into the class with a project I really wanted to do, and luckily it fit the project requirements. My wife helps coordinate the children’s program at the Acts2 Church in Gretna, Neb, and they needed a system to help check in kids for events. I wanted to help out and see if I could create something for them.

Since I had an actual client, I was able to practice gathering requirements by sitting down with them and getting a list a features. I also was able to lay out some of my ideas about what information would be be tracked, and how everything would interact. Once we understood the scope of the project, I got to work.

One of their key requirements was a way to email families during the week. They wanted to recap the lesson the kids heard on Sunday and offer activities to do to reinforce what they learned. The whole idea is that church is not about Sunday mornings. We need to support each other during the week too. Fortunately, we had just learned how to use SendGrid to send emails from Heroku. So after a little configuration, I got everything up and running. I’m excited to see what this allows them to do.

Eventually, our projects started to look like real web applications. We had layouts with thought out color palettes, images and flow started appearing on our computer screens. At this point we really started to get excited about what we were seeing other people create.

By the end of the week, we were trying get everything working so we could present to the rest of the class. We spent a couple hours watching demos, and I was really impressed by the diversity of ideas we got to see. After we finished, we went out for drinks to celebrate what was a very long week.

When we got back to class, we concentrated on refactoring our code. That’s when you go back and make sure everything is as efficient as possible and looked as good as it can. We were given a long list of things to look for. Everything from using CSS Sprites, to making sure we documented all of our custom methods. As we kept improving our projects, you could see it was making a difference. AJAX calls saved unnecessary page loads, database queries were kept to a minimum. My site started to feel snappy and responsive.

Everyday was a trial of perseverance. I kept running into issue after issue. I couldn’t get my Javascript to load, then I had a very complex database query I wanted to run in a single command, but it just wouldn’t work. Luckily Omaha Code School is setup to help. Sumeet is always available for questions. Abby, our teaching assistant, always has an idea or two to try, and we always try to help out our classmates. You can’t turn around without running into someone willing to help.

Next week is project week again. Who knows what we’ll be doing this time. Sumeet said he has some ideas he thinks we’ll like. Hopefully we keep learning and putting that new knowledge to work. I’m sure it will give me something to talk about next time.

Omaha Code School Wiki

A week ago we wrapped up our first group project. My team decided to create a Omaha Code School Wiki. It’s a wiki about anything related to Omaha Code School. Anyone can read the articles we put together so far. You have to sign up for an account in order to add or modify the articles, but anyone can do it. Make sure you provide a legitimate email, because we figured out how to send email to confirm before we activate your account. We’re pretty proud of that.

Here is the link for your enjoyment. Let me know what you think. It’s on a free hosting service, so I apologize in advance if it’s a little slow to respond.