EOY 2014

Whew. I thought 2013 was fast. 2014 was bananas. I think I’m a bit rusty from not writing as much as I ought to, so let’s just jump right in!

Grad School?

In February, I received a letter of acceptance from my absolute dream graduate school to teach high school mathematics. In what has become a theme, it was something I’d worked incredibly hard for over a long period of time to achieve, and I actually made it. I knew what I would do before I even got the letter, but that didn’t actually make it any easier – I turned them down, not only because it would have increased my debt by 130% from what is already a serious amount of money, and not only because I never would have made anywhere near enough to have repaid this ~$100k of loans, but for a host of other reasons as well. With a heavy heart, I emailed my amazing advisor and advocate at the school, a nearly two year relationship, to let her know I wouldn’t be enrolling.

So I threw myself into computer science study. With PyLadies, and my last quarter of school to complete my French degree and Math minor, I busted the proverbial it to get a job, which I did, literally the day I was done with my final FINAL exams, hopefully ever : )

Interne-towne

The job started as an internship with lots of hands-on pair coding with my boss, “how would you solve this problem,” “let’s refactor together,” along with some “hey would you reach out to this person to sponsor (x),” which was great! I got to use a way nicer computer (macbook O2) than I had (a lovely old giant brick of a PC laptop on which I installed Ubuntu 12.04), and I finally started using git at the command line. It became pretty quickly evident that we worked together fabulously, and we started to think about what kinds of projects we could do together, so we started working on new ideas, largely centered on education. It was, actually, an incredible collaboration.

We thought topics and people for Security in Python, Data Science in Python, Twisted, Django From the Actual Beginning, and a few more that I’m sure I’m missing – it was rather a fire-hose of ideas! My boss was the kind of person who had six good ideas before breakfast, and it was a fast-paced, sometimes stressful, REALLY productive space for six months.

While there, I learned git to a granular degree and now lead a monthly workshop on it and plan to lead/teach the PyLadies annual course on it as well, and while I didn’t improve my Python chops much, I learned a lot about how computers are really working, under the hood – well, under a relative hood, I got into no hardware, lol, not at all. The os and sys modules, jeez! I’ve been saying lately that it’s those two modules that turn Python from an expensive calculator into something really powerful.

Codecademy played a little role, too, as you can see if you search the javascript tag on here – while I don’t code in JS, it’s a fairly ubiquitous language & I’m glad to have some familiarity with how it handles different kinds of problems.

I also, god-willing, learned a bit of project & people management the hard way. I don’t ever want to do that again, hooray! It’s good to know, especially considering that women are often directed from engineering career paths to soft-skill positions – now I know what to push back against.

Tutorial Creation

We settled into a Python tutorial with a local $TOPIC_IN_PYTHON expert, and worked really hard on outlining, scoping, creation, refinement, refactoring, presentation, program executability, git monsters, project jupyter/pip/virtualenv & dependency concerns, and so many other logistical issues.

After we flew to the place to film it, the company we’d signed the contract offered a counter-contract, letting us off the hook, and decided not to publish it after all. While honestly heartbreaking, there was a serious amount that we all learned.

UNEMPLOYMENT OH NOES

While scrambling to find a new gig after my internship ended, I stumbled on a number of really awesome opportunities, and though I only was offered one – obviously I stopped looking once I got an offer – I met and now keep in touch with many of the folks I interviewed with, because while it didn’t work out, these are all really neat people at really cool companies, so that has been really validating.

I was strictly unemployed for all of two weeks before I got an offer from Puppet, where I’ve been since mid October, and totally in love with my job. 2014! WOW.

2015?

This year, I will be learning the ins and outs of system administration, I’ll become Puppet certified, I’ll learn Ruby, and I’ll be dipping my toe into web app development as well, all while being part of the neatest leadership team of ladies ever with PyLadies PDX. I think I’d like to get Red Hat certified, or close to it, as I’ve come into Puppet without any sys admin background, and that’s something I’d really, really like to be good at at the new spot. I continue to be amazed by how well I am treated in my new career and how much I can do for people, even while clawing at so much more – frustration at the not-knowing-enough is a constant underlying anxiety for me at the new job, and I suspect that will continue for some time, and which in fact is a good thing. Studying math, and trying to stay aware of what’s Going On in tech, is a pretty good primer for the huge amounts of Not Knowing involved in working in tech, for probably at least the first few years.

WHOO! Onward and upward, or as they say, “Up and to the right!”

Employment and Education

Hello friends! TIME HAS PASSED. But here you are again! This day finds me employed, after a long struggle. Really, I’ve been job-seeking since January, though well in advance of when I needed to, as my graduation date was March of this year. Believe me, I am still fuzzily post-graduation, extremely happy to have no far less homework than while earning my degree (en français, bien sûr !).

Understanding that confirmation bias makes fools of us all, about two months ago I changed my resume (do I write résumé? seems soooo new yorker snobbish, though it is correct) in what may have been a crucial way. My tech recruiter friend gave me some terrific and honest (read: intense) feedback on my R/CL and told me to cut out the “References available upon request” line, because duh, everybody knows that and it just takes up space. For a few weeks, I had it removed entirely. Then, I did something rather bold, and added the following snake-oil-style pitch toward the bottom of my cover letter:

“But don’t take my word for it! Just ask person_1, the leader of the free world, or person_2, the founder of Mars, or even person_3, the inventor of Post-Its! Every one of these folks is happy to -brag about- be a reference for me, so please, contact them!”

And I got a call, from an awesome company that I have always been too afraid of applying to, thinking that the folks that work there are a special kind of brilliant & that I wouldn’t have a chance in hell at actually working there. One of the reasons, other than my qualifications, that they said they called, was because of one of those people who I’d listed in that section.

Typically, references are a very late game process in the hiring world. Why bother calling references, a time-consuming and very personal (and personalizing!) process, if your candidate hasn’t even made it through a phone screen and an interview or two? In other words – why call references unless everybody is serious? But the fact that I put a few folks on there who wanted to vouch for me made a huge difference. And Portland is really so small and the scene is so focused that the names are fairly well-known. That wasn’t an accident, but I met these great people naturally, by getting out, participating quite heavily (and earnestly!) in PyLadies, and making friends with the people around me.

After two phone interviews, a task, an all-day interview, and a few (totally transparent!) hiccups, I was offered the job at Puppet Labs as a support engineer, and I feel so lucky, I have to keep from gushing about it. I left my stable, lifer career nearly four years ago to do ambiguously Better, and yes, Virginia, this is Better.

SO! Now I am LEARNING, learning learning learning! I’m still having a hard time reading the tickets that come in, but what I am able to do is parse Puppet code, and explain what it is and does, and how it’s an enormous, Neil Armstrong-style leap over previous (and still very widely used!) server management technologies. I’m pretty sure I’m in the right industry, guys, as this is really cool to me. Puppet is a company I am extremely excited to work for, for many reasons, not the least of which is getting to know the complex, technical, and awesome product. I keep a notebook on what I’m learning, and I fill several pages a day. Future blog posts will probably just focus on Puppet stuff, unless I get a chance to work on some recreational stuff. Woo-hoo!

And one last thing: if you know me, you know my absolute most highly recommended piece of advice to those looking for jobs: start a blog. Start a blog, start a blog, start a blog. Don’t wait til you code every bit by hand, don’t wait til everything is Perfect, just go to wordpress or blogspot or whatever, and start a blog. Nearly everyone I’ve interviewed with has mentioned it. Fear not about seeming stupid, because you’re brilliant.

Ok – going to cut this off before I get weepy/proselytizey/we-are-the-world-y. GOOD THING.

Meal Planning

Ok, while deciding what recipes I would shop for now that I’m unemployed (because obviously when you’re unemployed it is time to COOK ALL THE TIME), I decided to make a lil Python program that will let me enter recipes, and at a point in the future, probably after I learn regex, make it fully searchable. I’m already separating things out for ease of searching – like lists both with and without quantity indications.

Problems I’ve solved: a) making a new file name out of whatever the user enters, and b) setting a var for the long combination of dir, name & .txt that I’ll use in a few different places throughout the program

global new_filename
new_filename = "recipes/" + new_recipe + ".txt"
open(new_filename, 'a') # 'a' for append

Iterating through a list which adds to another list with some clever while looping

def ingredient_input():
    ingredient = 0  # is it ok to set this var to a dummy value?  it gets redefined with each loop.
    while ingredient != 'DONE':
        print "what is the ingredient?  no measurements yet, please.  type DONE"
        print "in all-caps if no more."
        ingredient = raw_input("> ")
        if ingredient == 'DONE':
            ingred_check()
        else:
            ingredients.append(ingredient)

And there are plenty of problems I haven’t solved yet. Will write more soon! Unemployed coding is fun, ha ha! “Hmm, let me chew on this juuuust a bit more… oh my god how did 3pm get here” etc etc : )

Aspirations toward Gittry

Over the last month, we’ve been working hard to finish up the coding and environment for, and finally the filming of, a series of tutorial videos. It’s something we’ve been working on at my job since, solidly, May, and but for a few release-based loose ends (“will our requirements.txt file really work with pip? why isn’t it working over … THERE?” etc etc), the project is over, and my contract is coming to a close. So I have a few projects I’d like to work on, AND NATURALLY, document for you!

First, let me point you to my website, which I have hugely upgraded. I’ve got a style sheet which I first applied just to the main page, then I applied it to the resume which I also updated, a bit, though it’s difficult since each position I apply for has a subtly different set of information.
therachelkelly.com
Regardless, I’m proud of the small, attractive changes I’ve made. Next up is to get a handle on some bootstrap and cherry-pick pieces of it, like the nav bar and a few other nice ideas.

Next, I’d like to run through another codecademy class, maybe the advanced web design one, but what’s more likely is the API-manipulation course. At some point soon I’d like to begin a project where I get a couple of the open APIs out there to talk to each other. My intention is not to re-invent the wheel, but to get a look at its inner workings myself!

I’m also about 60 pages through Jon Loeliger and Matthew McCullough’s Version Control with Git, 2nd ed, which is only about a year old, so quite up to date. As I’ve said, I want to be a Git wizard, and to earn that pointy, star-covered hat, it’s time to take a deep dive. It’s extremely exciting to me that I can read this book – when he (it seems like it’s mostly Loeliger’s game) says “The first number, 100644, represents the file attributes of the object… [and] should be familiar to anyone who has used the Unix chmod command.” which I am! I am familiar with chmod, Unix, and so much more relating to this topic! Wow! This is not to say that chmod is a particularly difficult concept, but that it is NOT a terribly entry-level topic either – I am rather beyond entry-level knowledge for many topics, and that is enormously gratifying.

brief aside: chmod refers to the the command which determines the level of permissions of a given file or directory. go here for more information. want to write more on this in the future, because I still haven’t found a super terse explanation.

So this Git book is great. They’ve already referenced someone that I KNOW, so that’s charming and a bit surreal. I suppose living in (the extremely small town of) Portland and being as active in the communit(y/ies) as I am, it’s bound to happen that I’ll meet or already know some People. But on to it – the book practically begins with SHA1 numbers, the hash number that Git assigns to a unique commit. Did you know that if your file is named yourfile and it says the same thing that my file, also called yourfile, says, then the SHA1 will be identical? WILD. Mind = blown. Apparently there is (very infrequently) a concern of “collision,” or two different kinds of commits yielding the same hash, but as the SHA1 has approximately 2^160 permutations (pretty sure I can’t use that word here?), that’s pretty unlikely.

So for now, the plan is to write about whatever I’m learning in the Git book, because the Git book is awesome. SEE YOU NEXT TIME!

Objects in Javascript

In Javascript, there are many ways, it seems, to create, instantiate, and edit objects. As part of my ongoing (noble) quest to make clear these curious structures, I want to create a resource for myself (and friends!) for how to manipulate objects in Javascript. Then I want to go back and compare how Python handles objects & what you can and can’t do with either language. MASTERY!

Ways to Make Objects

1

var rachelsObjectLiteral {
    objectColor: "red",
    objectSize: "friggin' huge",
    rachelsMethod: function (parameterToCall) {
        console.log("this is a 'hidden' function or method of the object
        rachelsObjectLiteral, calling " + parameterToCall + ".  the way to 
        call this Method is only via the object name, so 
        'rachelsObjectLiteral.rachelsMethod(argumentToCall)");
    },
    var rachelsOtherMethodMadePlain = function () {
        console.log("and this one you can just call outside the object
        without needing to reference rachelsObjectLiteral.  sounds like
        python's global.");
    }
};

rachelsObjectLiteral["objectHappiness"] = "really happy"

So as the object name announces, this is the Object Literal way to object creation. All of these things can be accessed via rachelsObjectLiteral.attribute, for example rachelsObjectLiteral.objectColor would refer to “red.” And a method is a function inside of an object. It’s hidden because you can’t call rachelsMethod without the object name. Also note that in an object literal construction, it’s COMMAS that go after each attribute (but not the final one), not semicolons.

And also note that I can add an attribute super easily here, e.g. "objecthappiness".

2

function objectConstructor (objectAttribute1, objectAttribute2) {
    this.objectAttribute1 = objectAttribute1;  # as someone helped me with this is comparable
    this.objectAttribute2 = objectAttribute2;  # to python's self.attributeName = attributeName
    this.objectMethod = function(parameter) {
        return parameter;
    };
}

var constructee = new objectConstructor (27, "floppy");

I really like this method of object creation. Name the superstructure, give it the attributes its constructed objects will eventually have, and then make a var as a new version of that superstructure. It’s just so easy to construct objects once you’ve created the structure!

Next we’ve got what seems to be a sort of pared down version of the second method, an object which at first has no attributes and whose attributes are assigned with keys, one by one. This second type of Constructor-style reminds me a lot of Pythonic dicts:

3

var newThing = new Object();
newThing["attribute1"] = "happy go shiny";
newThing["attribute2"] = "here's the second one!";

A really small version of the method three is var objectName = {}; and attributes can be assigned in the same way, or with dot notation, à la objectName.attribute3 = "hooray!";.

Finally, we’ve got the prototype of objects. Once an object’s been created, if you want to add more attributes you can do as we did in example 1, AND you can use prototype like so!

function Task (taskName) {
    this.taskName = taskName;
};

var coding = new Task("writing Python");

Task.prototype.checkOver = function() {
    return "you did it right, right?";
};

coding.checkOver();

var cleaning = new Task("tidying");

cleaning.checkOver();

Prototyping is probably the most challenging piece of this language for me, and along with that, it’s likely one of the most powerful. Ok! I will be coming back to this post probably constantly, hopefully you find it useful too!

Bananalogies in Javascryptography

Have you all read Douglas Hofstadter’s beautiful Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid? You should go get your copy. If you don’t have one yet, you can take one home for your very self here. I’ll wait. The internet always waits.

Ok! Remember the terrific inter-chapter dialogues between the Tortoise and Achilles? Remember the one about pushing and popping, meta-Genies, and the Majotaur, “Little Harmonic Labyrinth”? Page 103 in the 20th Anniversary edition. Hofstadter was something of a computer scientist (while being rather disinterested in programming itself), so it’s no surprise that the mathematics of this dialogue (and indeed of the entirety of the delightfully dense GEB) read like a computational theory problem wrapped up in a Lewis Carroll witticism (whom Hofstadter adores and references frequently in the book).

I’m getting lost in the book, as I so often do : ) but my point here, other than urging you to GO! GO! READ THIS BOOK! IT’S HARD AND THAT’S OK! is that javascript’s class inheritance reminds me just a bit of this airy idea of pushing and popping from world to world. Each class is its own world, and pushing from that class is another class that can only come from the initial one.

function Feline = (name, type) {
    this.name = name;
    this.type = type;
};

Now let’s add a method to this class:

Feline.prototype.infoPrint = function() {
    for (var i in Feline) {
        console.log(Feline.i);
    }
};

And now, let’s make a new thing altogether. Notice the third attribute:

function DSH = (name, type) {
    this.name = name;
    this.type = type;
    this.color = color;

And now! Since we know that Domestic Short Haired cats are a kind of Feline, let’s make it so officially, and actually CREATE an animal out of this!!

DSH.prototype = new Feline();

var morris = new DSH("Morris", "ornery", "buff and white");

Also notice that only objects created from constructor DSH will have the attribute color, but the regular Feline class will not. DSH is a push down from Feline, and divining objects from the constructor DSH will only give us specific DSHs, which have all the characteristics of Feline as well (though I believe those are specially mutable even after you’ve defined them, but more on that later, when I understand better too [which I am pretty sure can be strung into the metaphor of popping, perhaps?!] : ))!

So, go ye, and read of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and tell me what beautiful mathematic or programmatic relation he makes you think of, and, likely, consider in a whole new way!

Last thing: once, on the train (a multi-day, cross-country trip), I had that book in my hand, waiting to get a morning coffee so I could sit and read it (I’ve still only read up to page ~130), and a gal came up to me and said “I read that book thirty years ago, and I’ve been reading it ever since.” Still the finest commendation for a book that I’ve ever heard.