Week 05

160404 – 160410 — Total classroom hours: 17.75

Rails. Hours and hours and of rails. I don’t know why, but for some reason I thought that there would be a ‘break’ from the rails portion of the Bloccit project and I would have time to review it. That’s definitely not the case, I mean it’s all Rails until the end of the foundations block. But, what Bloc is doing with its curriculum is pretty helpful in that the rhythm is to work on a new section of Rails, then as the assignment you repeat those steps you had just worked on to implement another feature. I appreciate the teaching strategy, it allows me to do as much as I can from memory, and then when I get stuck I can review the checkpoint material. During the checkpoint material there are definitely moments where it feels like I’m not doing much more than transcribing into my text editor (I use Sublime with a bunch of add-ons that my good friend Corey helped me set up) what is in the Bloc browser. But, I’ve found that even doing something as simple as changing the letter used as the variable forces me to be conscious of what I’m typing and what the code is doing.

One thing I have had a little trouble with this week is the Codewar-based ‘Programming Reinforcement Checkpoint’. I spend 4 hours on only one challenge on Saturday and I still have some work to do on it before it’s even close to being done. After that I still have the other two challenges to complete. I don’t have a problem challenging myself, and I know that even the process of finding the resolution is making me a better programmer, but at some point there is a concern about how much time I am spending on each problem. I mean, 4 hours, that’s nearly one quarter of the entire time I have for the week, spent on one third of one checkpoint. Thats a lot of fractions in one sentence, but basically I feel like it’s taking me too much of my time.

Because the actual coursework is focussing on Rails, these three (Level 6) katas are the first time I’ve worked with Ruby since the last (level 7) katas a few weeks ago. I guess I have a hard time understanding the thought process as to how solving three katas at level 7 qualifies me for anything at level 6? Whatever reasoning Bloc has, its not working for me. The way I see it, there are several ways to approach a problem like this. I could just punt through the level 6 katas, probably having to run every step of the process by my mentor. I could just complain about it, how it’s not fair, too hard of a challenge, etcetera. Or, I could grab the problem by the horns and figure out how to resolve it. I’ll be doing the later. I plan on taking the next few weeks and working on more level 8 & 7 katas, on my own time, outside of class, until I have worked up the knowledge of Ruby to more efficiently solve the level 6 katas that Bloc has assigned.

No educational structure works perfectly for every student. I feel that curriculum is an outline of what needs to happen in order to accomplish a larger goal. Its up to the student to make that curriculum work within their own style of learning. So far I am very happy with what Bloc has had me do, and I will happily work a few extra hours a week on my own to fill some gaps. At the end of the day the goal is to get a job as a programmer, any and all experience I can obtain along the way will only help me achieve that goal.

Week 04

160328 – 160403 — Total classroom hours: 18.25

I was excited to start this week’s work with rails. I feel like I have a relatively good handle on Ruby (emphasis on ‘relatively’) and Im curious to see what this infamous Rails beast is all about. It started out, as most lessons into new territory do, with a few checkpoints of setup. What I find most interesting in this new endeavor is how even the most simple tasks can throw me for a loop. One aspect of the workspace was to set up an account and push the project to Heroku. It probably took me an hour to get a successful push to Heroku. When it was all said and done, and after abandoning the initial setup to start from scratch, I realized that I had not properly setup the git process (I added only the single README.md file, instead of add all) and that was preventing it from pushing properly to Heroku. So much of this whole programming ecosystem is about precision. Miss a comma, add an accidental spacebar stroke, give the monitor a weird look, and you’ll get an error. But what I love about it is that in almost all errors lies the solution to the error, you just have to know where to look.

Ok, so now everything is pushing to Github and Heroku properly, time to get rolling. Theres a lot of infrastructure to setup: controllers, routing, models, proper paths. To be completely honest, Im not confident that its all sinking in as much as Id like. There were definitely some points where I was typing what I saw in the browser into iTerm and crossing my fingers when it came to testing. About half the time the tests would fail when they were supposed to pass. But, as Ive come to learn, a failed test is a learning experience. When a test fails it forces me to ‘wake up’ from the copy/paste trance that I was in and find/resolve the problem. As Im digging through the last 5 minutes worth of code Im revisiting the exercise -usually multiple times- and its sinking in that much deeper.

I had some trouble with models (which are new to me) and git (which is not) this week, which was probably the biggest hurdle I overcame. The assignment for Checkpoint 28 was to take what I had learned in the lesson and create two new models that would reference each other. Sounds simple enough, after all, I had literally just spent the last hour and a half doing exactly that. I had some trouble, I tried to edit an existing table, I tried to remove a table, I tried to go back in git and start from scratch, but every attempt was failing. I was not surprised to be struggling with the models, but I really thought I had a handle on git and it was not responding the way I thought it would. The problem with the models was merely a matter of knowing how they can be manipulated, particularly the order of events that has to occur for edits to take place. And what I learned about git was that if you leave the changes you have made in the current branch uncommitted they will follow you around no matter how far back you go in the git history. Both resolutions came from my mentor

Don’t let the previous text fool you. As many problems as I have solved this last week I feel like my handle on Rails up to this point is weak at best. Once I complete the Rails checkpoints I plan on going back and reviewing the entire section again.

Week 03

160314 – 160320 — Total classroom hours: 14.75

This week the focus was on finishing the terminal-based address book app, address-bloc. Relatively speaking, it was a simple app, but it was a great example of the relationships between the specs, models and controllers. Having to make those elements and connect them to one another by hand (something Rails does automatically) helped drive home how each component worked contributed to the larger whole. This week’s checkpoints also dealt a lot with git and github, as every checkpoint and assignment needed its own respective branch. Its building good habits and muscle memory, constantly committing changes, pushing them up to github, and merging branches to master.

As much as the focus was on address-bloc, I spent nearly half the classroom hours on the Programming Reinforcement checkpoint, almost seven hours this last Saturday. Its pretty wild to think that it takes nearly seven hours to complete three challenges. When merely breaking down the numbers it’s a little crazy, but the time goes so fast when I’m actually working on the problems. Once again, the Programming Reinforcements are selected katas from the website Codewars, I see a pattern here and don’t expect that to chance any time soon. I appreciate the challenge, the first was titled Tube Strike with a math concentration and then a pretty standard if/then statement. The other two were Character Counter and Most Frequent Item Array, which definitely had me spending a lot of time on Google. After the Tube Strike kata, I believe I solved the frequency challenge first and was then able to apply a lot of that code to the character counting challenge. If anyone is interested, here are my solutions:

Character Counter: http://goo.gl/tLlsvP

Most Frequent Item Array: http://goo.gl/PCiphT

Tube Strike: http://goo.gl/f5JyBC

Since starting the program Bloc has changed the purpose of the Programming Challenges from purely extra credit to -what I gathered from the notification- mandatory, if I want to take advantage of their career placement assistance at the end of the program. Initially the change made me a bit nervous, but what it’s done is forced me to take the challenges seriously and push through any thought of giving up and moving on. Even as it is, it’s a little tough to spend hours on random challenges when theres curriculum to still be attempted as far down as the page will scroll. But I know that working through the Codewars challenges is actually more like the actual working scenario of a programmer than the classwork, so that keeps my drive up and the Google searches flowing.

Week 02

160314 – 160320 — Total classroom hours: 18.25

The first thing I did last week was physically write down my goals for the upcoming week. And when I say physically I mean clipboard, paper, and a sharpie. It wasn’t elaborate, only two items:

  • Complete Bloc up to Checkpoint 16
  • Upload blog post by Sunday PM

By Wednesday the list had been updated to:

  • Complete Bloc up to Checkpoint 16 17 20
  • Upload blog post by Sunday PM

The clipboard is on my desk, leaned against the wall, just above and to the left my eyeline to my laptop. Its always there, keeping me in check. I can’t remember the last time I’ve made and actual checklist for something, but I think it’s important for this program. I’m steadily keeping ahead of the course-designated timeline, so its good to have some kind of set parameters, otherwise it could seem like I’m just wandering around a dark cave of hashes and arrays with no flashlight.

I updated the goals as I progressed through the week because I realized that a majority of them were dealing with setting up a workspace, which I already had, so I knew I would cruise through them pretty quickly. At this point (Sunday AM) I’m just beginning Checkpoint 20, but I confident I will be able to complete it before end of day.

There were some solid programming challenges this week. I actually spent a fair amount of time on the ‘Extra Credit’ Checkpoint, which as of this week has been changed to Programming Reinforcement Checkpoint. In these checkpoints Bloc utilizes the website Codewars to reassess programming principles they covered in the previous checkpoints. They were relatively simple challenges, in that the ‘answers’ weren’t much more than 3-4 lines, but they kicked my ass a bit.

After spending 2 unsuccessful hours on one particular challenge I enlisted the help of the husband and wife super programmer team Corey and Emily Davis. Together we found a working solution and then I worked backwards to see where my attempts had failed. At some point -especially early on in the learning process- I feel that it is more efficient to be given the answer and then work through it to see where my attempts went wrong. Both Corey and Emily are great teachers who thoroughly explain every step of their thought process while helping me find the solution, they are an incredible resource to have.

I am starting to dive into the first project-based checkpoints where we build an address book. The foundation lessons are really coming into play, and writing the tests before the code to make the tests pass (TDD) forces me to fully consider what I want each block of code to do. I have done similar projects with another ruby education program, but it was a lot of just trying to mimic what they were doing into my own text editor and get the tests to pass. What I was actually having the code do was not sinking in. Both the pace of the Bloc curriculum, and having done something similar before, are big factors as to why I feel more confident in the application that I am building now.

I haven’t dug too hard into what will be happening next week, but by just looking at the roadmap it looks like I should be finishing up the address book app and complete another Programming Reinforcement Checkpoint. As the curriculum gets more difficult I doubt I’ll be able to keep my current pacing, but I’ve definitely given myself a solid start so I’m not too concerned about it.

Why the blog, why Bloc?

This blog is meant to serve two purposes, first and foremost this is a way for me to digest everything I have learned and experienced in the previous week. The second purpose is to shed some light on a learning process that is relatively new. Before I get into the meat of the post, a little disclaimer that this is initially going to be a bare-bones blog site, and I will be slowly improving upon as I go.

Code bootcamps aren’t necessarily new, people have been landing successful careers out of boot camps for years. Online bootcamps are also not a new concept, but an online curriculum with a dedicated mentor to accompany you from beginning to end is a relatively new business model, and let’s be honest, bootcamps are businesses. To be completely honest, I didn’t think a mentor-based online program would work for me, primarily because of the costs. I was convinced that I would be taking the hard road and teaching myself. It wasn’t until my girlfriend emailed me a page of links and syllabi from multiple programs after a morning of digging around the internet that I realized it may be a feasible option.

I had a lot of options, but after researching more extensively, three really stood out: CareerFoundry, Thinkful, and Bloc. CareerFoundry has a price that can’t be beat, but after looking at their program it seemed unrealistic that I would be a full-fledged Web Developer after 6 months of 15 hours a week. Thinkful looked to have a solid curriculum, but the pricing structure didn’t seem optimal for my situation. They have a monthly payment plan, basically pay until you finish, which at their rate and my timing structure, would end up being a pricey venture. So, as I’m sure you can surmise, that left me with Bloc. I liked Bloc’s curriculum, they had an appropriate pacing schedule for me (I’m still working a 40+ hours/week job while taking the course), and they give you access to the curriculum for life. It seemed -and still seems- like a good fit.

Coursereport is by far the best one stop resource for everything bootcamp research related. The one caveat with the reviews, particularly with programs that have an ‘accept everyone’ policy like most online programs do, is that the reviews can be all over the board. You really have to look beyond the star ratings and read the comments to see what the reviewer is commenting about. That brings me back to the second reason I’m writing about my experiences weekly. I had a hard time finding any detailed, relatable experience regarding any of the online mentor-based programs. Even after all the research I did, I still feel like I’m ‘winging it’ pretty hard.

And, finally, in case anyone is wondering, I am not being compensated in any way -by any company or institution- for writing these posts. These are my thoughts and my thoughts alone. This could ultimately be a series of posts describing my successful push into the programming realm, or a documented downward spiral into the abyss of an unsuccessful online learning experience. Only time will tell.