Maia McCormick

Programmer, writer, nerd

Checking in With the Hacker School Experience

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Oh hai there, blag! It’s been a while. Too long. The days here blur together occasionally—hours of staring a screen working on multiple only-slightly-different problems will do that to you, and it’s really easy to lose track of what you’ve been working on, accomplishing, learning, and thinking about. Especially when those accomplishments seem really tiny and mundane. (“Yay, I got my database search page to work! Yay, I got my database search page to work for two things in sequence! Wait, it’s 7:00?”)

Had a one-on-one with Allison this afternoon about the State of the Hack so far—how HS is treating me, what I might want to do differently, what I might want to be different about the environment. Here are some thoughts prompted by that conversation.

  • I want to get better at asking for help, surmounting impostor syndrome, etc. I’m pretty good at this, all things considered, but I still need to do lots more work on this front. Sometimes asking a question on a Zulip thread isn’t what I need—it happens to not get responded to, or (more often) I would benefit much more from discussing it in person.
  • An interesting thing about the HS environment is how it’s way more normal to Zulip someone from across the room than go over and tap them on the shoulder. Generally, I get way more out of an in-person conversation than an online one, so I’d like to be better about just finding people in person to ask them questions. (Of course, the benefit of Zulip-ing is that you know who can/can’t be interrupted. Tricky balance here. But I should feel more able to approach facilitators, at least.)
  • A suggested rule of thumb: spend no more than 15 minutes figuring out some problem. Doing the research, reading the docs, trawling StackOverflow, etc. are all really good skills, but if the person next to you could answer in a minute what takes you half an hour to figure out online, that’s a waste of time (plus needless suffering).
  • Asking people questions is one thing, but I feel far more intimidated about asking people to teach me things, which is a shame, because it’s really the way I learn best: talking to someone, being able to ask questions and go down tangents and figure out why various things work, rather than following tutorials online. I suspect I learn far more efficiently from people than from tutorials, so the next thing I want to learn (a la Django, etc.), I want to try asking someone to teach me for half an hour rather than self-teaching, and see how it works. (But alas, this makes me feel vary high-maintenance and un-self-sufficient. Is this a valid learning style or does it mean that I need to get better at self-teaching? Because I can self-teach, I just find learning from a person far more efficient.)
  • Monday talks often go way over my head, because of my general lack of theoretical background. I would get way more out of them if I did reading in advance. I suspect other people are in this boat too. I want to start asking speakers for background reading recommendations. Maybe start a Monday study group?
  • More pairing! More code review! (Even—nay, especially—before code is finished!) And blog more!
  • Projects going forward: continue working on contradance database, sudoku solver. Make a Zulip pun bot. Small challenges, maybe a 99-problems type thing in Python. Maybe dipping into js and making some games.
  • Also, sometime, somehow, someday, I want to contribute to an open-source project! New goal for the end of Hacker School!