Growing Our Own Developers

We’ve (Jake, Charisse and I) been talking about running a Developer Boot Camp this fall here in Savannah to try to “grow” some more local development talent. The more I walk around the idea, the more work is involved in actually coming up with the curriculum, getting instructors/mentors lined up, etc. I’m happy to do the work, but I think it’s probably a good idea to gauge the interest of the community before we actually go through all this effort.

The idea is to do this a little backwards from a typical classroom experience. There would be homework every week consisting of screencasts, blog posts and other resources. You’d be expected to go through the homework during the week, and then the weekend classroom time would be spent answering questions, troubleshooting, mentoring and working on actually building stuff. We’re planning on running two tracks – frontend and backend (the backend track most likely being Rails) – and running it in September and maybe doing something crazy awesome for graduation.

So, if you would be so kind as to participate in my highly scientific poll and send it around to folks in the area you think might be interested (students, designers, career switchers, etc), I’d appreciate it. Please post comments with questions or suggestions and let’s see if we can pull this off!

(if you’re reading this in the email, you’ll probably need to come to the site to participate in the poll)

October’s Refresh: Hackathon 101

Geekend is coming up in November, and this year, they’ve added the Hackathon! Having participated in my fair share of these things before, I thought it would be fun to do a Hackathon Bootcamp in October to give the locals a leg up on the competition. We’ll cover all the fun stuff about coding competitions; I’ll try to share all the tips I can remember and I might even share some code (I’m hoping to have an open source skeleton you can use to start your projects with, but we’ll see how much time I have). By the end of Refresh, you should be all set and ready to go hack on some stuff.

As part of it, I’m hoping to actually build something – so I need your help! What kind of mashup should we build? Flickr? Tumblr? Twitter? Facebook? Something else? Whatever it is, it needs to have an API we can play with and it signing up for a developer key should be a turnkey process (meaning I shouldn’t have to wait to be able to play with it).

Refresh is always the 3rd Tuesday of the month at 6PM over at ThincSavannah. For October, that means it’s on 10/18. I hope to see you there!

Update – This is mostly for me, but I’m going to be adding links to this post of APIs that I find that folks might find interesting/fun/useful (and which may make it into the demo – I still need suggestions because I’m not sure what I’m going to build). Here they are:

And the slides from tonight’s presentation are already up on Speakerdeck.

What others should I add? Which ones are you interested in seeing mashed up?

Let’s Get Learning!

It’s already clear that most jobs now require some computer skills and that employers are already having a hard time filling those positions, and in the future they’ll probably require at least basic programming skills (even if that means being able to write a formula in Excel). If you’ve got access to the web, you’ve got tons of free resources out there to learn everything from the very basics to how to build complex web applications.

Today, I just want to cover things to help you get started. If you’ve never programmed anything more complex than a microwave, this list is for you. I tried most of these out on my oldest, so they’re kid-approved (which means they should work OK for curious adults too).

Web Tools and Tutorials

  • Codecademy – A free website packed with lessons and exercises from the very basic to the very complex. It’s all online and looks pretty awesome (this is one I haven’t used but was recommended by a friend).
  • Don’t Fear the Internet – A series of video tutorials from well-respected web designers and developers that should teach you the basics of building web pages.
  • Computer Science 1 – Programming Methodology – From Stanford University, this is a series of lectures that make up their introductory computer science course. I’d start with Codecademy and if you really like it and want to learn more about “serious” development, check out the videos.
  • Rails for Zombies: Ruby on Rails is a great framework for building web apps, and even better, a skillset that’s in great demand right now. This is a fun way to jump in and learn it without all the formality of a book (one without zombies at least).

Downloadable Apps

  • Hackety Hack – You’ll need to download this app to use it, but it’s a great little tool and has tons of lessons that will teach you the basics of programming.
  • Scratch – Another downloaded one. There’s no code at all in Scratch, just drag and drop. This is the tool my son has stuck with the longest (almost five years now) and has built everything from interactive fiction to a complex first-person shooter video game with it. It’s a fun way to introduce control structures, but if you’re a grownup, I’d start with Hackety Hack or Codecademy.
  • Blue Griffon – Not really a way to teach you to program, but it’s a free web page editor that feels more like a word processor than a scary text editor.

Books

  • Learn to Program – This is the book I gave my son when he wanted to learn what I do all day. It’s a fantastic introduction to programming. If you’re better with a book, this is the one to get.

I hope this is helpful. If you’ve got other resources, please share!

How Do We Get There?

You might not notice it if you live in a tech center like the Bay, NYC or DC, but: we live in the future. Compared to most of the people who live around us and the vast majority of the world, we’re so far ahead it’s almost not fair (in a lot of cases, it’s extremely unfair).

Like Clarence Darrow said (well, the fictional Darrow in Inherit the Wind), “All motion is relative. Perhaps it is you who have moved away – by standing still.” We’re leaving people in the dust, either because they don’t have the interest or worse, the means, to keep up. I don’t care about the apathetic, but the digital divide is real and widening.

What do we owe to those we’re leaving behind? I’m happy to leave the apathetic behind. But, I feel like there’s this huge group of people who want to move forward but have no idea where to start, who to talk to, or think it’s impossible to join us.

From an economic point of view, here’s how it breaks down. The unemployment rate in the US has been hovering around 9% for a while now. That looks bad. It looks worse when you break down the numbers. The unemployment rate for people with a college degree is around 4% (5% is considered “full” employment). If you have a graduate degree, it’s at a historic 2%. If you only have a high school diploma, it’s around 15%. Compounding the problem is that college is getting more expensive and kids are leaving school with a lifetime worth of debt, if they can afford to go at all.

I can’t help but feel extremely lucky to be where I am. Yes, I worked my ass off to be here, but I can’t take the credit for coming along when I did, or for the opportunities I was given. I didn’t earn that luck. I was gifted it.

I can’t help but think that if we could find a way to provide that luck to others (and there are a lot of them – 33% of people in Chatham county live below the poverty line and most well below), we could help change things for the better. It’s why I started Free Advice Friday (OK, why I e-mailed Jake and let him run with it) and partly why I do Refresh.

So, where does that leave us? Can we help? If so, how?

Tuesday night’s Refresh with Christian from the library system brought it all home to me. I started Refresh here in Savannah to share knowledge. When I got here all I saw were networking events and happy hours. I wanted a place to meet other smart web people and learn stuff from each other. And over the last 2+ years, we’ve done just that.

I think it’s time to add another dimension to Refresh, and Tuesday night’s meeting is a blueprint. We’re still going to do the development, design and entrepreneurial stuff. But, three or four times a year, I’m going to try to bring in groups who need our help (you know… geek help) to pick our brains. Maybe some of us will volunteer to help out beyond that first couple of hours. Maybe we won’t. But, I think we owe it to our neighbors to help out, even if that’s by offering some free advice from time to time.

Next month, we’ve got the folks from Unmatched Style coming down from Columbia to give us three development and design-related talks. October will be a Geekend Hackfest Primer (also known as Mashup 101). We don’t have anything for November yet, so if you know of a local group that could use some geeky advice, please send them my way and we’ll see what we can do. And don’t forget that the next Free Advice Friday is 9/2 from 12-2 at the Creative Coast office on York Street!

If you made it this far, thank you. If you’ve got ideas for other ways the local tech community can get more involved, please share them!