web dev

Evolution of a Portfolio?

I don’t know if I will ever be truly happy with my portfolio. I tend to look at a lot of other people’s portfolios for inspiration or to see best practices, and it creates this cycle of feeling like anything I put together isn’t good enough.

I ended GA by building a basic portfolio using Skeleton CSS and HTML and CSS. It’s very basic, but for having thrown it together in about a week using a very limited framework, I was pretty happy with it. You can still see it here: http://stephrinehart.com/classic

screenshot of stephrinehart.com/classic

When my program was over, I was determined to know more about ReactJS. The easiest way for me to figure out how components interact with each other was to build a static portfolio site. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t learn a lot during this process. And not just about components… I had a hard time deploying it to my website, thanks to the white screen of doom.

But I didn’t love either of those. The first wasn’t exactly what I was looking for and the other was too complex to build and too simple in appearance. Updating a static React portfolio wasn’t going to be fun, especially with the layout I went with – a sticky bottom navbar.

screenshot of stephrinehart.com/react

So I went looking for another option, something fast that can be easily access a content API so I can quickly, easily, and without much fuss, add to the portfolio content.

I settled on using GatsbyJS, and to use a headless CMS, DatoCMS, for my content. This affords me the ability to create a layout in React and feed in content from a CMS. The DatoCMS website has a short run down of the JAMstack:

JAM stands for JavaScript, APIs and Markup. This is just a funny acronym to explain a simple concept: your website is composed only of static HTML pages with JavaScript on top that interacts with external APIs.

One of the problems I have with just accepting my portfolio is that I won’t break it out in stages. I always want it to be perfect the first time and don’t plan for additional improvements – which is just silly. I wanted to give myself a project timeline to meet.

I wanted to hit MVP and then set stretch goals.

With all that in mind, let’s move on to where I went next: Defining my MVP (minimal viable product).

My new portfolio must:

  • use DatoCMS to read in content using graphQL (even if it’s just static and not dynamic at the time of push),
  • Include the following: Social links, about section, resume, projects, skills,
  • Have consistent branding and styling,
  • Be all on one page,
  • Have web accessible fonts, alt tags for images, and other accessibility requirements.

What are my stretch goals?

  • SEO via react-helmet,
  • Accessibility updates,
  • Use next-gen images instead of .png,
  • Improve mobile responsiveness,
  • Is it possible to read in dynamic content without a full build and upload, incremental builds? Webhooks?,
  • Include styling updates that utilize JavaScript,
  • Add resume in-line with layout instead of as attached doc,
  • Improve overall styling,
  • Add more details to project section,
  • Fix your dang portfolio projects.

So there you have it – An MVP and some stretch goals for myself! And I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I actually hit MVP last night:

screenshot of my main website design

http://stephrinehart.com

Post Notes:

  • I want to credit my fellow bootcamp grad, Doug Leinen, for bringing the JAMstack to my attention, which got me looking into Gatsby in the first place. Doug is truly the MVP (most valuable player in this instance) of our cohort. He’s always willing to help someone figure something out, and he’s super talented! Go hit him up!
FAQ school web dev

FAQ: Coding Bootcamp

As a person who isn’t shy about posting her life on the internet, I get asked a lot about my experience in a software coding bootcamp. I specifically get asked about my experience at General Assembly. I’ve found myself answering a lot of the same questions. I wanted to go ahead and put all the answers in one place.

So here we go!


How did you pay for it?

Wow, ok. Just hitting the ground running, aren’t we?!

I mean, that’s private and between me and my financial goddesses. If you’re asking because you’re wondering how you are going to pay for a software coding bootcamp, I recommend talking to your admissions person about financing options or scholarships.

Did you have any experience coding before signing up?

The short and very loud answer is YES. I spent most of my teenage years in my parents basement coding personal websites and being vague on Livejournal. Front-end design has come a long way since then, and I didn’t have any experience with JavaScript before my bootcamp.

I also have a Certificate of Advanced Study in Data Science, so I had a little experience with Python and SQL, even if it was 2 years ago and I hadn’t touched it since.

Lastly, when I knew I was committing 3 months of my life to a software engineering immersion, I started working on small projects again to get myself ready.

Why did you go to a coding bootcamp?

The very short story is that I lost my job for COVID related reasons. It afforded me a lot of time to really think through what I wanted to be when I grow up – and it wasn’t what I was doing.

At first I thought I was going to take a year and a half and earn an associate’s degree, but the more I thought about it, the less appealing that idea was in the long term. I’m a person who gets very anxious about money and bills and needed to do something that had a theoretically quick ROI.

After discussing it with a few friends who had been to bootcamps, I decided it might be the best thing for me.

So… What was it like?

Exhausting. Frustrating. Exciting. Rewarding. Terrible. Wonderful.

It was everything a learning experience is and should be. At times it was uncomfortable, but once the lessons started coming together, it was really great. At GA, they talk a lot about the necessity of a growth mindset, and it is vitally important to getting through a very intense 3-month program.

What did an average day look like?

Oh lordy. Buy a seat pad or a standing desk. Your tailbone is gonna be so mad at you.

I did the full time Software Engineering Immersion, which required sitting at a computer from 10AM to 6PM, Monday to Friday, for 12 weeks. And that was just class time.

I regularly spent 2 hours before class working on homework or labs, sat “in class” for 8 hours (we were remote due to COVID), and then spent time after class working on labs by myself or with friends I made in the cohort.

After the first project, I started to re-evaluate the way I handled class. I started getting up during lessons and walking around my office. I took breaks when I needed them before or after class. But I was still there, every day, watching and learning.

So… it’s been a few months.. Do you have a job?

Yes, but not in software engineering. Mid-way through the program I accepted a part time job that turned in to a full time job recently. It’s in the field I was in before my bootcamp, and it was a necessity for me to be able to pay bills and contribute to my household.

This is definitely something you have to be prepared to consider.

I’m also not applying as heavily as some of the other people in my cohort. I like my job and my coworkers, so I’m not as pressed to find a job in software engineering. Does that mean I’m not working on projects and I’ve abandoned everything I learned? No. I’m still working on projects and keeping my eyes open for the next thing for myself… But everyone should do that, regardless of where they are.

Would you recommend it?

This is tough for me. Do I think it was worth it for me? Yes. I learned so much and I think it just makes me even more employable. Web development is something I genuinely love to learn about and play with. I’m also so grateful every day for the friends I made.

Do I think it’s worth it for everyone? No.

I did a lot of reading before I signed up, and even after I had committed to the bootcamp. I asked people about their experiences, and even then knew it would be hard. I effectively put my entire life on pause for 3 months… which wasn’t hard given that we’re in a global pandemic and shouldn’t be leaving our houses anyway.

There are a few things that I definitely wish were a little different. Like I wish there was more time spent on the basics and fundamentals of programming and Javascript. Technical interviews rely on a knowledge base that I don’t feel I have, so I’m having to work extra hard to teach all of that to myself.

There are some other things to keep in mind if you’re considering the Software Engineering Immersion, or any bootcamp really:

  • My bootcamp is labeled a Software Engineering program, but it is specifically a Web Development program. You make web apps. You do not do traditional object oriented programming.
  • What is your support system? I have a great partner who picked up a lot of the slack around the house and understood how time consuming this program would be.
  • This is the most important: YOU ARE NOT GUARANTEED A JOB. Job placement rates from bootcamps, especially right now during COVID, cannot be your sole deciding factor. Also, no one will just give you a job because you completed a bootcamp. You have to work hard, network harder, and earn your spot.
  • There is no one-size fits all solution. Self teaching? Bootcamp? 4-year CS degree? Everyone has to make that decision for themselves. Don’t listen to the gatekeepers OR the people who are selling you snake oil. Any choice you make will have positives and negatives. Make yourself a pro and con list.
  • Coding bootcamps are a lot of work! They call it a bootcamp for a reason. There are days it will feel impossible, and that’s okay. Everyone in your program will feel like that.
  • You get to make some really cool shirt, and then when you’re done your program you get to make it even better.

Why are you so wordy?

I have the gift of gab.

FAQ school web dev , , , ,

just like riding a bike… but it’s software bootcamp

 

At the end of May, like one of millions of other people who had been stuck inside for 3 months, I bought a bike. I am the kind of consumer who has to do countless hours of research before deciding on what I want to buy.

I’ve been considering buying a bike since I lived in Oklahoma (so at least since 2012!). I could just never convince myself to actually buy a bike.

As an anxious person, I had to ask several questions:

  • Where would I even ride a bike??
  • What if I spend all this money and never ride the dumb thing??
  • Is it worth it??
  • Do I even remember how to ride a bike??
  • What if I fall over and die??????
  • I can’t ride a bike because I’m so out of shape, right?

Outside of those questions, the time just never seemed right. I either couldn’t figure out where to even ride a bike — mountain biking never interested me — and I was worried that, as a fat person, people would just make fun of me.

But I figured, hey, the time is right! I’m stuck at home! New Hampshire is full of paved rail trails! I live 13 minutes from a rail trail!

So I bought a bike.

Though my heart was set on a Cannondale, I realized quickly that bikes were hard to come by at the end of May. So I went with what was in stock, and in my price range: a beautiful Jamis Commuter 3.

picture of a bike on a trail

On my first ride out, I fell in love with her.

It had been, at least, 20 years since I had been on a bike for any serious amount of time.

It had been, at least, 5 years since I’d committed to doing any kind of high or mid-impact exercise regularly (see old post about my dumb artery).

But here we are, about 3 months later, and I’ve racked up ~80 miles on my bike. It has not been without difficulties or lessons.

Which brings me to the point of this whole post:

What has getting back on a bike prepared me for my software coding bootcamp?

By teaching me to persist.

Getting back on a bike, after years of not exercising at all (see again: dumb artery), was hard. Really hard! My first ride was only 2 miles. I’m still only really averaging 4 miles on a ride, but sometimes work my way to 8 or 10 miles when I feel extra full of energy.

(it doesn’t help that I wasn’t properly inflating my tires for a solid month, which made riding super difficult and not at all fun).

The ride out is always tough. I can’t really explain it, but it’s like the friction is worse when I first start riding, but as soon as I decide to turn around and head back to the car, all obstacles and resistance are gone. It’s easy riding!

The lesson I learned was that, even if it’s difficult to get started, the ride back will be easy and relaxing.

Which, I realized recently on a bike ride, is exactly what my first few weeks at General Assembly were like.

The first few weeks were so brutal. I won’t lie, I cried. I felt like I was a bucket full of water that was full, and they were just pouring more water into the bucket, and pretty soon I was going to lose so much of my original water that I’d forget how to tie my shoes or something.

(It makes sense if you really think about it…).

But when we had labs, I could look at a problem and think, “Oh, I think I know what we need to do.”

And project week came, and I roughly knew where I needed to start, even if I didn’t fully know how the game worked (endless thanks to Jonathan for sticking with me and I didn’t understand the rules of Black Jack), or what functions I needed to write, or any of the specifics. I had a vague idea.

picture of bike handlebars at the start of a trailIt was like watching my progress when I was riding my bike.

  • One day I would go 2 miles.
  • The next time I’d get up to 3 miles.
  • And so on until I was at 10 miles in one ride.

The first time I was given a JS function, I felt lost.

  • But then I learned the syntax.
  • And then I learned array iterator methods.
  • And then I wrote a Black Jack game that isn’t perfect, but it WORKS.

So even if it’s hard, and there’s some resistance, I know the ride back will be relaxing and worth everything I put in to getting there.

In the grand scheme of things, in basic terms, being on a bike taught me to have a growth mindset. I didn’t stop riding the bike because it got hard, I just inflated the tires properly and went back out.

And honestly, there’s no better lesson to have gotten before starting a software bootcamp.

Persist.

You’ll know more and more every week.

Oh, and keep riding your bike. That exercise helps you think.

 

(also endless thanks to Anne and Caroline, my software bootcamp gurus who are helping me realize my panic is normal).