Hello, World

I know, I know, a web developer looking to write about his adventure into self-directed programming education shouldn’t be relying on WordPress to create his first site, he should be hard coding this sucker. But, to my credit, this technically isn’t my first site. It’s not even my second. I’m 13 courses into a 16 course bachelor’s degree program in software development at the University of Maryland-UC and set to graduate in mid-2018. I chose not to hard code this site because I wanted something to be up and running fast where I could store my personal musings into my coding education without taking too much time just getting the site up.

For anyone who’s ever tried, programming a CMS for a blog is actually quite challenging. Not impossible, even for a beginner like me, just challenging and, more importantly, time consuming. I’d rather dive into the blog writing and progress reporting than spend time building this site that I could otherwise dedicate to the little challenges I have in mind. I do have plans to hard code this site down the road, but for now I needed a place to store my little chronicle. Here is the result. Yay!

So why am I doing this now?

My dilemma: the next course in the sequence for my bachelor’s degree doesn’t start until mid-October 2017 and it’s only June. I have several months before my program picks back up and I don’t want my skills to deteriorate. So I’m using this blog to document things I’m currently learning, things I’ve already learned in my program and elsewhere, problems I’m facing, and various other challenges I’m exploring. To this last point in particular, I’m planning on soon starting the 100DaysOfCode challenge recommended by freeCodeCamp. Here is where I’ll document some of my interesting learnings.

A little about me

My name is Greg Holden. I live in the greater Washington, DC, area and by that I mean I live way the hell out in Germantown, MD; a distant suburb. I’m not from here, though. I’m originally from (a common sentence starter uttered by almost everyone I’ve ever met in the DC area) a small town in Missouri called Warrensburg. But I didn’t come to DC from Warrensburg. I actually came here from Tel Aviv, Israel, where I finished my Master’s degree at Tel Aviv University in Middle East History. Confused yet?

warrensburg missouri
Believe it or not, Warrensburg is home to the true story behind Old Yeller… look it up

Let’s rewind a bit. I grew up in small town Missouri, went to college at a big state school in Missouri and decided to pursue international relations and political science with ambitions to serve in the military and then attempt to enter the US intelligence community (this was all largely motivated by the fact that my first semester of college was in September 2001). I even moved to Israel to study the region while learning Arabic and Hebrew. My MA program was for 2 years. Two years to build relationships, make friends, travel, study, write papers, and generally get to know life in a country boasting some of the most beautiful beaches… and women.

I met a girl. We fell in love. We faced the tough decision of whether we really wanted to stay together (which required marriage because I couldn’t get a visa to stay otherwise) or break up. We chose the former and with that decision I threw my plans to serve in the military and work in US intelligence out the window. Seven years of liberal arts education, completing a BS in political science and an MA in Middle East History, and the only practical skills I had were researching and writing academic papers and being able to speak very shitty Hebrew and translate very basic Arabic with the use of a dictionary.

I took a job as a writer at a trading brokerage in Israel. My native English and quality writing skills led to some rapid promotions to eventually become the managing editor of the company in a very short time, overseeing the editorial calendar of 8 staff writers. When we moved to the DC area I took a job as a business writer at a nonprofit association and continued this career path.

I love writing. Love it! But I hate writing for other people. I especially hate writing marketing fluff, which I have been doing for almost 10 years now.

Where I’m trying to go now

I realized I needed a change about 5 years ago, but at the time I didn’t have the resources to divert to anything serious. As a result, I worked through the Codecademy tutorials a few times, learning the basics of HTML/CSS and some jQuery, though admittedly I didn’t really understand programming well enough to make sense of the JavaScript stuff. I also explored a few other sites like Coursera, Udemy, Udacity, and Khan Academy. I believed I could teach myself programming without spending money. I worked through at least a dozen courses and several dozen tutorials across these sites and after a good chunk of time realized I just didn’t get it. I needed context. I needed guidance. But, being very new to this field, I was afraid of looking stupid and so I never reached out to anyone or tried to join any communities.

This was a mistake.

Since I was “alone” in my quest to learn programming and knew I would never learn anything properly without guidance, I investigated formal education options. The best I found was the University of Maryland’s online school. Affordable, accredited, and highly recognized in the DC area, and maintaining partnerships with local businesses; it was an ideal fit. It has proven to be a tremendous resource and I’m thankful for having pursued it. But I’m approaching the end of my program and I still don’t feel “job ready.” I doubt my last 3 courses will help with this, either, seeing as how one of them is simply the capstone course and the other two are all about security (“Mitigating Software Vulnerabilities” and “Software Penetration Testing”). All of my programming, web development, cloud, database, and software design courses are behind me and I’m still feeling inadequate in all of these areas despite acing every course.

So I’ve circled back to those online resources, particularly Udemy and Udacity, and I’ve recently stumbled across freeCodeCamp which I think is fantastic. I’m more than halfway through freeCodeCamp’s front end developer sequence and I thought it might be a good idea to try joining one of the challenges mentioned somewhere on their site (I forget now where I saw it): the #100DaysofCode challenge. I’m using this blog as a place to post my updates regarding the status of what I’m doing each day during this challenge and beyond. I am not yet officially starting this challenge, but I plan to in the next week or two.

My next few posts, therefore, will not be part of my documentation for this challenge. Instead, they will be me attempting to put my coding education and skills into context. I’ll talk about some of the stuff I learned in my college program, a few things I’ve learned beyond that, and in general just talk about my comfort level with different technologies.

I am currently attempting to build a website for my father-in-law using a workflow that consists of Node/NPM, Gulp, Webpack/Babel, PostCSS, Git/Github, and a few other libraries and plugins. It’s not going super well, and for that reason I’m looking forward to using this site as a place to stage a few challenges I’ve faced and maybe get some feedback.

With introductions out of the way, let’s get into it.

 

A few portfolio links for those interested:

My CodePen account

My GitHub account

My Cloud9 account

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