Monday, September 28, 2015

Node.js and MEAN stack tutorial reviewed

Staying on top of tech trends is part of our jobs.  The days of just knowing say... COBOL and that is all you know are long gone.  If you are not expanding your skill set through regular if not daily learning you a falling behind.  Everyone has there own method of learning and you should find what works best for you.  If it is reading books then check out If it is taking online classes there are sites like  Do what works for you but always be learning because not only it is cool learn new stuff but your career as a programmer requires it.

...Rant about continuous education over...

First off I am not a Node.js rock star, but I know the power of Node.js and the rising popularity of it.  Being able to say I was a master of the JavaScript and Node.js universe would would be amazing.  Which is why I learn about it even though my day job doesn't have anything to do with node.  Although I do like to throw in some Node.js from time to time for utility applications.

When you see charts like this on there is no denying that there is demand for people who learn Node.js:

So along comes this Node.js Tutorial which I of course have to read and follow:

The author, Moshfegh, clearly knows he stuff and is passionate about helping people join him in the Node.js ecosystem.  He doesn't just write about Node.js but also covers the entire MEAN stack. (MongoDB Express.js Angular.js Node.js)  Before Node.js JavaScript only executed in browsers but then in 2009 that barrier was shattered.  With JavaScript on the back-end and the front-end engineers can become experts in one language and create quality code that follows the same standards on both tiers.  While I am tempted to go more into the wonders of Node.js and the MEAN stack I must defer to the tutorial because he is better at it then I am.  Hopefully with his tutorial and a little practice I will be able to teach others.  The blog post is just the beginning.  The author is creating his own course on to expand upon the material he was able to cover in a blog post.  So if you enjoyed the post like I did you will be able to learn more with a course of the same level of quality.

Happy Learning.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Programmer turned Home DIY Enthusiast

Programmers are smart, educated, and logical so hammering a couple nails should be no problem for us.  That was part of my mindset when I took on a massive home renovation this summer.  We were running out of space for our growing family so we needed to expand.  The plan was to gut the second floor and reclaim some storage space and in the process add a third bedroom on that floor.  I know I didn't have time to it all myself so there would be subcontractors hired but I was convinced I wouldn't need a general contractor because I could take care of that myself.  After all I was smart guy and had done a few projects around the house... I could do it.

Being your own general contractor is like starting a new job as a project manager in a field you just have a vague idea about. The project you are assigned to is also one of the most important in the history of the company so there is little room for error.  That is what it is like being your own general contractor on the side.  Oh did I mention that being your own general contractor also means you have to get your hands dirty doing the parts of the project you don't have "staff" to fill?

So what is a savvy coder to do when faced with such a challenge?  As a programmer what do you do when you have a vague idea what to do but are not sure of the details? Google. 

What I hired people to do:
  • demo existing space
  • frame the dormer
  • put the roof on
  • put siding on
  • electrical
  • plumbing for heat
  • carpet
What I did:
  • insulation
  • drywall
  • sub floor
  • paint
  • trim
  • baseboards
  • window casings
  • hang doors
  • and many more odds and ends

The biggest lesson learned was to find a mentor and don't be afraid to ask questions.  There is a lot of know and frankly a lot of the techniques and tips are unwritten and you either learn the hard way by doing it wrong or you ask questions.   Just like in programming google can only get you so far.  You need to have a mentor, a proper teacher, or a quality book on the subject to understand how to do it without a lot of growing pains.

Inspections!! There are a lot of inspections, permits, and plans required with this type of a project.  The regulations and red tape can grind everything to a halt if you don't stay on time of it.   This is just like in the coding world.  Your project can be crushed if you do not know how to operate within your companies policies and know who to go to get sign off on things and overcome road blocks.

Coordination was critical to getting this project done.  Every step has several preconditions that need to be fulfilled.  So for example to hang drywall you need the drywall delivered, rent a drywall jack, insulation inspection complete, rough electrical done, rough plumbing done, and stuff like that.  Just like in the software project management world if one precondition isn't fulfilled things grind to a halt.

I cannot express enough how great of a learning experience this was not just as a homeowner but as a project manager.  The struggles were real and stressful but in those struggles there was personal growth.  Next time I don't know if I would rather hire someone to do it but this time I was glad I did it.  So if you are looking to grow your skill set for your career look around you and maybe you can find something outside your field to help you like volunteering, joining a club, or side projects even including home improvements. 

Read More about Soft Skills:

Friday, September 11, 2015

If I only knew Javascript...

If I only knew JavaScript what a wonderful world it would be.

Created by Daniele Rossi

Now do not get me wrong I have written tens of thousands of lines of JavaScript code in my career but do I really know  Javascript? No. Have I ever been taught how to do JavaScript ? No, like the comic indicates like most people I learned from finding snippets that solved a need I had and modified it.  Do I think it would be incredibly valuable to be good at core Javascript? Heck Yeah!

We have seen processing move from mainframes with client terminals, to fat clients, to thin clients with the bulk of the work happening on servers, and now things are moving back to the clients.  JavaScript framework flavor of the months a dime a dozen but a lot of exciting development is going on in the JavaScript world.  Making a career focusing on JavaScript is becoming more common.

JavaScript was originally created in just 10 days.  Brendan Eich while working at Netscape was told to go create a language to do things in the browser. Obviously 10 days isn't much time so some of the syntax was borrowed from Java and several other places and originally called Mocha.  Then it was called LiveScript, then ECMAScript when it was standardized, but it eventually became called JavaScript mostly as a marketing ploy. JavaScript and Java share almost nothing in common besides a name.  However this little language hacked together in just over a week has become one of the most popular and wide reaching languages in the world. With Node.js it has even moved off of the browser and has started running server side applications for itself. 

JavaScript has a spec! BOOKMARK IT ASAP  It was just updated in June so it constantly evolving to fit our development needs.

There are many quirks in JavaScript so while it is an pretty easy language to get started in it is difficult to master. Coercion for example is something I have often struggled with and the JavaScript concept of 'falsey'.  Fundamentally coercion is like Java autoboxing when variables of different types are often not so gently coerced into an type the is equivalent enough to be compared.  It is this type flexibility that is at the same time both an asset of JavaScript's and a point of mystifying behavior.

Examples of Coercion madness:

(true == 1) => true
(true === 1) => false


if ('true') {
    'true' == true  // returns false
    'true' == false // returns false

Popular JavaScript frameworks:

Learning resources:
Code School - Fun quick online classes without a lot of depth but a great overview
You don't know JS books - Free high quality books by Kyle Simpson

Links to JavaScript posts:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

24 hour challenge

I just read this great post by John Sonmez about a 24 hour $100 challenge entrepreneurial challenge.  This is a fairly old post but the content on has rarely failed to be valuable.  It is a three part post that I was hooked on after the first couple paragraphs.

It is inspirational.  Go read it and come back to this post. I will wait.


... read it



... no faking

Okay so now you have read it or are just a cheating yourself but I like the idea of a challenge like this.  Do you want to try something like this? It doesn't have to be the same thing but it could be or it could be something like generate as many hits as possible in one day to an entirely new blog or hack together a side coding project.  If you are interesting is something like that comment on this post or send me an email.

Please think about it.  I can do it myself against only myself but that cuts back on the pressure that makes you sharper.

Recipe - How to start a new job poorly

So you passed the interview, negotiated a salary you are happy with, and are leaving your current position for greener pastures.  It is time to coast for the next six months or so when people stop thinking of you as the newbie.

New Job Cookbook:

Dress as comfortably as you can get away with

Dressing purely for comfort and not caring what people think of you is not professional.  Unless it would be totally out of place I recommend dressing at least as nice as the best dressed person you encountered while interviewing.  Some people may have been walking around the office in shorts and flip flops but unless that is how everyone is dressing that is not a good tone to set.  If you are not sure then error on the side of dressing up rather than down.  No one will take note if you start dressing more casually later but if randomly you start coming in a dress shirt and tie people prepare for the half joking questions asking if you have an interview later.

Find a way to prove yourself to the team and so them that is was good their good fortune to have hired you.

They offered you the job and wanted you to join the team.  You have nothing to prove. You have already proved it. Looking for a way to make a mark day one will just add stress and get in the way of learning your new work ecosystem.  Relax.  Build relationships and get a lay of the land.  Only then can you carve out our niche and add value.

Do not ask for help.  That will make it seem like it was a mistake to hire you.

You are new and just keeping the lay of the land you should be asking questions to speed up the process.  People also enjoy feeling useful and helpful.  A question can be a good icebreaker and an opportunity to set the tone for the relationship with your new colleague.  Be open and honest about what you don't know and you will be surprised how willing people are to help.

Stay in your cubicle and wait for people to see you out

To be productive at a new company you cannot be an island on to yourself.  Even if it is against your nature you need to get out there and meet people.  Do not have lunch at your desk.  Seek out opportunities to meet people.  A good way to do this is sitting in on other teams stand ups.  Being a fly on the wall for stand ups is a great way to meet people outside of your immediate team and increase the bredth of your knowledge about the company.  To be an effective member of the team people need to know you and you need to make an effort to know them.  For the first couple weeks I like to keep a text files with short bios about people to help me keep track of things and not get overwhelmed. 

There are always a few key people to know that might hold no real power or authority but are the keys to the social network of the company.  For example always be nice to the receptionist, office administrator, and cleaning staff. Just because a person has a less glamorous job than you doesn't mean their position isn't vital to the day to day activities of the company.  You would be surprised how many hurdles can be overcome just by being nice to the unsung heroes.  

Criticize how things are done and offer better ways of doing things

Before you start offering unsolicited advice and criticism learn the details as to why things are that way.  Decisions are not made a whims and likely at one time there was a reason behind the decision that someone felt was a good one.  Even if you don't agree and everything seems totally wrong hold your tongue until you learn how they got to be this way.  Once when I started a new company everything seemed to be anti-pattern and opposite of the way the industry was headed but it would have done me no good to point that out.  The people maintaining the code base built it years ago and were very proud of it.  You would not criticize someone else's child and likewise you should not criticize their code.  Learn how things are and slowly make suggestions and advise who to course correct but only after you understand how things got to this point.  Starting off criticizing the way things are done and showing people a "better" way of doing things will just make you seem arrogant. 

Never talk to your new boss unless spoken to

People are busy and more than likely your boss has more one her plate than just your onboarding.  Make a point of touching base regularly.  John Sonmez from recommends sending a weekly status report.  The status report does not have to be detailed and can just be a bulleted list of what you have done.  These weekly status reports can be a nice way to stay on your bosses radar and provide documentation for future discussions around reviews and why you might deserve a promotion.  Starting this habit week one will show your new boss that you are not a typical employee and you will make their lives better by having you on the team.

You know the technology so you don't need to understand the business to be effective

The technology you are working on is often the easy part.  There are books, blog posts, conferences, and webinars to help you acquire what ever technology you need to learn but there is rarely a book out there about your company.  If you work for an insurance company you should learn about insurance. If you work for an financial services company then you certainly need to learn about investing.  In the vast majority of cases technology is a means to an end not the product itself so you need to learn business domain you are a part of so that the technological decisions you make are in tune with the bigger picture.

Assume your org chart is an accurate reflection of reality

The org chart may tell you the reporting structure according to HR but that rarely defines how things actually are.  Take note of the people who are either friendly with those in charge and the people who teammates fear crossing.  A persons may not have a fancy title but that doesn't mean that they are not a trusted adviser.  Not all people seek to climb the corporate ladder so it is quite possible the rock stars who drive company do so happily from the shadows because they enjoy where they are at.  Most importantly know who you do not want to be mad at you.  There are often a few people around who are in everyone else's business and can make your life difficult if you cross them.  I know it isn't how it should be but there often people you just have keep a wide berth of and try to being friendly with because they will make your life miserable if you don't.

Wrap up:

Clearly this was a recipe for what not to do.  Your first week at your new company will set the tone for your tenure there. The impressions that people make of you will be difficult to change later.  Sure nothing is set in stone and you can turn things around later but a little effort can help help you start off on the right foot.  Determine how you want to be perceived and take action to present that to your colleagues.

Don't coast through your first few weeks at a company. Use that time to build a foundation for your future there.