Author Archives: jen

Women in Tech Series at NYCDA

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I was recently invited to speak at the NYCDA’s “Women in Tech Series”. Previously, all the presenters had been CEOs and I’d be the first engineer. It was an exciting opportunity so I agreed!

The week following up to the event, I was feeling incredibly nervous. The format would be 45 minutes of speaking and 15 minutes for Q&A. My longest presentation at the time was for my graduate thesis and that was only 30 minutes. It was a bit of a challenge. If you’re ever giving a long talk, I have a few recommendations.

First, make a rough outline. I started with pen and paper but I quickly started running out of space on my notepad. I quickly switched over to outlining in my editor. (yes, I use Coda even when not working – it’s already open most of the time!). Include relevant links, quotes, lyrics, images, etc. Keep it visually interesting and try to not make it too serious. You can have a professional presentation while making your audience laugh!

Second, go through the outline a few times (organize it and reorganize it) until you’re ready to start making slides. Using Reveal.js to create the presentation slides was very quick and painless – I highly recommend it. As a developer, it’s incredibly easy to customize if you’re familiar with CSS.

Third, practice. Then practice some more. I can’t stress how important it is to go through your entire presentation several times. I went over it by myself, with my boyfriend, and the final run through with coworkers. Even though I thought I’d come up with several points to speak about, I had glossed over some details that I just took for granted. The feedback was essential in polishing the presentation to what it came to be. Saying all the words out loud is good practice for not stumbling upon your words the day of the actual presentation – it also helps with eliminating “um”s and “like”s. You’ll have refined your wording and feel a whole lot more confident when presenting.

One thing I learned is that people don’t want to see screenshots of your work. They want to see it do the thing. Live demos can be tricky and you may forget what to type while being up there so I highly recommend creating screen captures with QuickTime. This how-to from Apple shows you the steps on Recording Your Screen.

Lastly, despite the preparation, I was nervous before the event. Originally, the expected attendance was 30-50 people. A day before the event, all 300 tickets had sold out! Luckily, about a third of that showed up. Still, this was a bigger audience than I was prepared for. A small tip for dealing with sudden panic? Half a glass of wine or beer. It does wonders for taking off the edge. Liquid courage is a very real thing 🙂

Despite the “Women in Tech” theme, my talk focused on how to get started in tech and becoming a better engineer. I touched upon the topic of being a woman and a minority in tech. More importantly, I wanted the attendees to walk away feeling inspired to tackle new projects. Considering that Q&A had to be cut off due to time limitations, it seemed pretty successful! Several people came up to me after the official presentation was over with so many great questions. It was so lovely to see so many excited future engineers 🙂 Later that week, I saw a couple of Twitter messages about feeling inspired and wanting to tackle side projects that weekend. That made me feel like I made a difference. This was such a good experience and I’m so happy with it.

You can view my slides here.

There was an excellent writeup on the NYCDA blog here.

Recs: Twitter

Many people ask, “Why should I use Twitter?”. Quick answer? It’s great for breaking news.

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The basic functionality of Twitter is that you can “Follow” accounts which is like “friending” someone on another social network. The difference is that you can follow people and not have them follow you back – you don’t have to request friendships or anything like that. Your Twitter “feed” – the main page you see when you visit Twitter.com when logged in – is made up of posts of those you’ve followed.

What I love about the service is having a selective feed from sources I care about. As a developer, it’s a handy networking tool to keep in touch with the many developers you meet at conferences, meetups, and work. This is true for any industry you’re in – just replace “developer” with your career title. As a citizen, you can get the latest weather updates, read about important city news, and breaking political stories.

Over time, I’ve curated several Twitter lists. Lists are mini-feeds you can create to narrow down your regular feed. If you only want to read what your friends are up to, create a “Friends” list and add them there. If you want to only read about the news, create a “News Source” list, and so on. These lists come in handy when you’re short on time and just want a specific type of news to read.

The beauty of lists is that you don’t have to follow people in order to have them on a list. Your regular Twitter feed, where it’s made of people you explicitly follow, is for those you regularly want to see and lists can be those you only want to see at specific times. I love an eclectic mix so I follow about 99% of those on my lists anyway 🙂

My Twitter alias is @mellowbeing and you can find all my lists here. You can follow anyone’s public lists so if you don’t feel like creating your own, follow one of mine! You can create your own at http://twitter.com/yourusername/lists.

Some favorites are “Tech & Devs” – tech news sources & developers. I use Twitter mostly to keep up with industry standards and the occasional tech drama so it’s no surprise it’s my largest list (more than 50% of those I follow!)

I love to see what funny people are up to so I have a “Comedians list” and an “Internet Celebs of Sorts” list. For important news, I have a “News” list which has the NYTimes, Barack Obama, NYCGov and others. It covers all the major bases.

I hope this little intro to Twitter helps and please leave a comment with any questions!

March Madness: WomenWhoCode NYC Presentation

On March 3rd, I spoke at the WomenWhoCode NYC meetup. The event was set up as 10 lightning talks that spanned topics such as robotics, SASS, and general advice.

I spoke about “Building a Fun Side Project”. My focus was to create something that you’d like to see made. Ideally, you’d work with one or two technologies you’ve been meaning to use. It should be a small enough project that you can accomplish it without being too frustrated but big enough that it is challenging for you as a developer.

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You can see the slides here.

This was my first WomenWhoCode NYC meetup event I’d attended. I hadn’t known what to expect and I was really delighted by the experience. It was a very welcoming and supportive group. A+ – will attend again!

March Madness: Google’s WomenTechMakers

In February, I received an email about Google’s upcoming WomenTechMaker‘s event. It was intriguing since you had to apply to attend and I luckily got a ticket! It was a worldwide event to celebrate Women’s Month and of course, women in tech. The NYC event was especially timely since it was on March 7th, a day before International Women’s Day.

The morning started off with breakfast and some mingling before the keynote talk.

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The second presenter was Aparna Appu who is an Engineering Director at Google. She was very honest and humble about her experiences and her current role. In regards to balancing work and family, she brought up a great point that men aren’t normally asked this question but it does help to have a supportive spouse. She also gave some solid advice:

Later there was a panel with 4 Google employees – engineers and product managers – who spoke about their current roles and what had brought them there. This part was recruitment heavy which didn’t feel as sincere and true to the event.

After lunch, we had the option to either do a code or UX lab. Since I’m on the engineering side day to day, I figured I’d try out the UX exercise and see things from the other side of the process. Oh, right before this, we were given some really excellent swag 😀

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We were broken up into small teams at random and given a user profile to work with. Ours was Craig – an Olympic medal winning triathlete living in Hawaii (kind of the perfect life!) The end goal was to design a watch app to service the user best. The process was mainly toggling between individual and group tasks. This was a great approach since you could brainstorm your ideas and get immediate feedback. I especially liked the concept of jotting one idea down per sticky note – a tangible stack of ideas! Then we placed them on a graph based on usefulness vs. difficulty. Ideally you can pick a helpful idea that’s simple to execute. After a few iterations, we had the beginnings of an app that helps a user track and maintain his hydration levels using a skin sensor and Google Maps to locate nearby water sources.

My favorite part of the day was the final panel with Jessica Lawrence, from NY Tech Meetup, and Kristen Titus, formerly at Girls Who Code. They spoke about the challenges of being a woman in technology and trying to find the root of the problem. At Girls Who Code, one large obstacle were the girls’ very own families. How can a girl feel confident to go into tech when her family thinks it’s not a female friendly and/or appropriate field? On the upside, there’s an increasing number of girls applying to the program since it started.

Jessica talked about how few women present at NY Tech Meetup since not many apply even when they’re directly invited to. Women tend to shy away with up to one female presenter at a given meetup despite there being so many female founded companies. They did make a surprising discovery – when they held a women-only meetup, talk submissions increased substantially and it brought up a lot of questions. One theory has been that men are more likely to present a half finished product whereas women feel the need to make it absolutely perfect before showcasing it. But is that really the case? Or is it that presenting alongside men, women feel like they have to represent ALL women and if they fail, then ALL women fail at presenting? Or is it something else? This was incredibly insightful and I’m hoping that anyone should feel comfortable presenting at any tech conference!

Overall, it was a great day filled with intriguing conversations, helpful advice, and yea, the swag. :p Looking forward to next year’s WTM event!

Github: Why and how?

So you’ve heard about Github and are curious what it’s all about. Why should you use it? What is it good for? (hint: not absolutely nothing!)

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If you’re a developer, you’ll come across the Github name over and over. You may be signing up for a new social media account and you’ll be asked for your Github username. Or you’ll start a new job and your team lead will ask you for your Github credentials so you can be added to the team’s page. But what if you don’t even have an account? Or better yet, not familiar with what it is used for?

So, here’s the short summary: Github is awesome because you can share your code with developers around the world. For free. Yep, you can create a repository (just another name for project/codebase) and add your code there for the world to see. If you don’t feel like showing your work off just yet, you can create a private repo (short for repository. All the cool kids use that instead.)

So when would you use this infamous Github account of yours? You can link people to your projects, share code snippets, get contributors for a project you’ve been working on and need some help with, and code versioning – it comes in so handy. In case you’re wondering what versioning is all about, Github (and any revision control system) will create different versions of your file with each change that you make to it. This prevents situations where you end up with files called “test_final.html” and “test_final2021.html” and “test_final_FINAL2.html”. As you can see, this is very useful when working on a project and you want to remember which changes you made last week compared to this week’s. This is also incredibly helpful when working in a large team with several developers.

One of my favorite things about Github is the Explore page. This section is incredibly helpful in learning about and exploring(!) other people’s projects so you can see how they work. You can be inspired to create your own work based off of theirs, add to their repo, or just see how other developers write and structure their code.

Okay, are you sold on Github yet? I hope so. Now to setup your very own Github account! Since there’s plenty of documentation already available on these next steps, I’ll just link to them here.

  1. Create a new account here.
  2. Create a new repo here.
  3. Connect to repo on your computer here.
  4. …And finally push up some sample code here!

Happy coding 🙂

March Madness: Tech Edition

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March Madness is usually related to sports and yet, it can be about so much more. March means warmer weather which means people wanting to finally leave their homes which means – a LOT of awesome and fun tech events happening around NYC. I’ve already participated in 3 events and have RSVP’d for another 4. Yep, Madness. Will be posting recaps about the time when I gave a presentation (!), listened to some inspiring lady devs, and yea, the swag. Stay tuned!

Recs: Podcasts

Hey there,

I love listening to podcasts and would like to share my recommendations with you. My podcast list is always evolving so it may change at a future date!

podcasts

  1. Dear Book Nerd // A bookish podcast covering all sorts of book related topics. Discovered this one not long ago and really enjoying it.

  2. Woolful // A show about yarn and their makers. It’s got a very mellow vibe which makes it great to knit along to!

  3. Back to Work // Hosted by Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann. One of my favorite shows about life, productivity, learning about yourself, and random tidbits of popular culture, San Francisco, and sometimes comics.

  4. Shop Talk // ALL the frontend development topics. Lots of great and insightful guests and good questions from the audience.

  5. New Tech City // The show is about tech on a high level – how technology affects our everyday lives in a myriad of ways.

  6. Turing Incomplete // A podcast about programming and a lot of geeking out over latest projects, programming and tech books, and other geeky things.

  7. Judge John Hodgman // A show where John Hodgman acts as the judge between two people trying to settle a silly dispute – hilarity ensues.

  8. Roderick on the Line // John Roderick & Merlin Mann discuss history, life, in a random, winding manner. Such a fun listen early in the morning when you’re trying to wake up for work.

  9. Coffee Break French // If you’re like me and are trying to fit in a few minutes here and there to learn some French, Coffee Break French is a great pick. The episodes are about 20 minutes long. There’s a short “letter” someone has written in French and the 2 hosts parse and translate it.

Which podcasts are you listening to? Any of these that have piqued your interest?

What did you learn yesterday/this week?

I’ve been reading up on Paper JS and D3.js.  It’s for research purposes to work on an interactive tool to design your own granny square blanket (I’m a crafter at heart).   Currently working through tutorials to see which one is right for this project, if they are.  Otherwise, I may write something from scratch or use Ember JS to handle the interactivity.

What’re you working on?

Learning by Teaching

The best way to keep learning is by teaching, right?  I’ll be trying out a little experiment on this blog for the next few weeks.  I will pick a topic relating to the frontend, the backend or general CS concepts.  Instead of regurgitating what is already in reference books/articles, I will give the formal definition as well as my own take on it.  Not sure what that is quite yet but that’s what this space is for!  Stay tuned 🙂

Integrating WordPress Into An Existing Design

(photo from Wallflower Wonderland)

So, you have an existing website and decided to add a blog section.  You’ve installed WordPress and now there’s a default themed blog at yoursite.com/blog.  How to go about integrating your blog into the existing site’s template?

Despite all the Youtube videos and long winded posts, it’s surprisingly easy and quick to start customizing it. 

All you need to know is that you cannot edit existing themes directly.  You’re creating a duplicate theme that inherits and then overrides the settings as you see fit.  This is due to the fact that you’ll update the parent theme eventually and all changes will be overwritten.

In /wp-content/themes, create a new folder with the name of your preferred theme and append “-child” to it (I used the “twentytwelve” theme as my base so my child theme is “twentytwelve-child”).  All you need to create a child theme is to create this folder and add a style.css file.  That’s it!  The rest of the customization is primarily in the header and footer – found in header.php and footer.php, respectively.  Duplicate these files in the child folder from the parent theme and edit them to include your site’s markup.  The same goes for just about all other template files – index.php (homepage), page.php (individual post), etc.  For more details, read the Child Themes section in the WordPress docs.

To override CSS styles, include the following in your style.css file:

/*
Theme Name: TwentyTwelve Child Theme
Template: twentytwelve
Version: 0.1.0
*/

@import url(“../twentytwelve/style.css”);
@import url(“/css/yoursite.css”);

Hope this helps 🙂