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Mentoring: The sometimes silent partnership

Mentor word cloud

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Having someone to guide the way can be truly beneficial…

But what do you do if you do not have anyone to mentor you?  I stumbled upon this issue when changing careers, I found myself knee-deep in a new world without much guidance as to what I should do next.  In my previous career, I had a vast network of people to call upon if I needed help, or even just an ear that was willing to listen.  However, as I migrated into the programming world, I quickly discovered that my existing network lacked those that could help me in my new endeavors.

Having a mentor can be a very rewarding experience for both parties.  I know in my experience, I’ve benefited from mentoring others and from having a mentor.  Naturally, I felt a bit of panic having my network vanish beneath my feet.

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Posted by on June 6, 2015 in Self Improvement, STEM

 

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Would YOU have followed the white rabbit?

white rabbit

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Opportunities and my new found ability to second-guess myself.

Recently, I have found myself in a situation where I have been second guessing my talents and skills.  I’m not exactly sure why this has started.  I still am doing well in school, and I still have the unruly desire to learn any and every thing there is to know about programming.  But as I get closer and closer to finishing my studies, I have found that I have talked myself out of opportunities.  On a few occasions, I have decided not to follow the white rabbit.  This is opposite of my normal behavior and tendency to seize every opportunity and make something of them.  So, what gives?

The well-known enemies of Opportunity…

Although there could be many reasons as to why someone fails to grab hold of an opportunity, I personally believe that there are a few core reasons for this behavior:

  1. Self doubts – When an opportunity arises, we get into our heads sometimes.  The more unanswered questions we have, the more we may be likely to shy away from an opportunity.
  2. Lack of Confidence – For me, I am pursuing an entirely different career path than what I spent the majority of my adult life pursuing.  So, naturally, there is a confidence deficit that, if left unchecked, can become a bigger issue.
  3. Fear – This is an obvious one.  Fear of the unknown. What if the other people going after this opportunity are better?  What if I fail?  What if I’m not the candidate they are looking for?  Fear manifests itself an many ways and it’s important be able to identify fear when it occurs.
  4. Anxiety – very close to fear, but is really an underlying general apprehension towards situations in general, although there may not be a specific threat.  Varying levels of anxiety can keep a person from going after an opportunity.

Micro vs. Macro thinking…

Another issue that I’ve personally experienced, as well as, identified in my peers is the scope thoughts.  There is an assumption of there not being enough.  Therefore, by assuming there aren’t enough opportunities, people give up before even trying.  For me, I’ve had to reevaluate my personal views on the value that I add to a situation.  For years, I had a certain skill set that I knew that I could bring to the table.  However, after changing careers, I never reevaluated the value that I can bring to a team.  So, my self-perceived value went to 0 because my skill set (in my twisted way of thinking) was no longer applicable.  Finally, I believe that people sometimes fail to see the big picture.  Sometimes, we do not spend enough time day dreaming and thinking big.  Not enough time is spent on researching the end goal and breaking the big goal into small, digestible parts.  The big leap from now to the future that we seek can seem daunting if we don’t break it down into achievable pieces.

Ways to overcome our negative inner voices…

Ok, so Trinity tells you to follow the white rabbit… The next thing you know, there’s a knock at the door and BAM, there’s a white rabbit staring you in the eye. What do you do? Talk yourself out of the next adventure in your life?  Convince yourself that you were seeing things and no one really warned you to follow that adorable white rabbit? Or, do you grab your jacket and follow the white rabbit?  This answer isn’t as easy as making a decision, often times it takes a bit of preparation for our next big opportunity.  Some tips that I personally practice are:

  1. Surround yourself with positive people — I can not stress this enough.  Positive, like-minded people are always a great catalyst for being successful.  There’s also the benefit of possibly having someone nudge you in the right direction.  A friendly invitation to engage in a beneficial activity can go a long way.  If you don’t have someone physically around you to be that positive influence, find a digital source.  Maybe a group on social networking could be helpful, or contributing to a newsgroup, or contributing to an online project.  Regardless of the method, it’s important to get out of our comfort zones and expanding our network.
  2. Celebrate your victories! — No matter how small the victory, sometimes we are our worst critics.  We don’t take the time to congratulate ourselves on a job well done.  Sometimes with the demand of work, we finish something then rush on to the next project.  Take time to breathe, give yourself a high five for finishing a project on time, or for learning a new programming language.  It all adds up, and the more positive thoughts you can create, the more self-confidence you will generate as well.
  3. Help someone else! — I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been reenergized about a personal project after helping someone else with a project that they were working on.  There’s something about taking the time to help someone else that keeps us focused and gives us a small confidence boost.  Also, there’s the added benefit of paying it forward, you never know when you will need help in the future.
  4. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes — Sometimes our negative inner voices scream our fear of making mistakes.  But guess what, we aren’t perfect.  Often times the best way to learn is to mess up first and learn from our mistakes.  Also, don’t be afraid to learn from other’s mistakes.  If you fear making mistakes, research others that have made the mistakes and learn from that!

Don’t let the next opportunity pass without tossing your name in the bucket!

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2015 in Self Improvement

 

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College: When things get tough – Complain

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This kitten is totally unrelated to this post, it just cheers me up… who doesn’t like an adorable kitten?

I’m going to say in advance that I am a tad frustrated while writing this post.  One of my professors just sent out an email to the class acknowledging that some students went to the Computer Science Administration for our school and complained about his assignments.  This professor actually gave us his own crafted assignments that were both challenging and took effort to complete.

It took some substantial planning, on my part, to complete the assignment and I was thrilled to receive 100% — because I truly put in effort.  I say assignment (singular), because the aforementioned students went to the administration only one week into the class.  I enjoyed being able to use the techniques I’ve learned throughout my other classes — I even “whiteboarded” the assignment with sticky notes representing the different elements of my program.  From planning to implementation, I enjoyed the process greatly.  Why?  Because it forced me to think, and to analyze.  I had to come up with ways to implement the requirements of the program while still considering all of the different programming elements I’ve learned so far since beginning this Computer Science degree.

Each of the complicated assignments that I looked forward to, were removed and replaced with the approved curriculum.  So, instead of creating an iterative mock banking system as assignment number one, these students will now be able to: Write a program that inputs 5 numbers and output the average of the 5 numbers and their product.  I almost gave labor to a unicorn when I saw what the original program was replaced with.  Part of me feels as though these complainers robbed me of a challenging experience with this class and I feel really irritated by the fact the school didn’t stand behind the professor.

For me, I asked my professor for copies of his original assignment so that I can work on them in my leisure.  I’m going to secretly judge my classmates for the rest of the semester.

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2014 in STEM

 

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Peanut Butter, Jelly and Algorithms: A mini update!

Algorithms

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What do these three things have in common? Well, it’s what I’m having for breakfast!

It has been about a year…

As time progresses towards to the one year anniversary of me changing everything in my life in order to return to school, all that I can do is count my blessings.  I post about this subject quite a bit, mainly because life changing events tend to have that effect on most people and I am no exception.  One thing that I can say is although my life has not slowed down one bit, it is a different kind of chaos that I live in now.  One that I have complete say in and complete control over.  Which is completely different from the chaos I lived in last year.

What’s happening?…

Well, Fall Semester started almost 7 weeks ago and I am getting into the Graphic Design portion of my classes, but I also am taking an Algorithms class.  One thing that I have learned is that Algorithms have completely mesmerized me and have taken over my brain cells.  So much so, that I wonder why I am just learning Algorithms when I’ve taken quite a bit of programming classes so far.  I believe that this class would have helped me with each programming class that I’ve taken so far since I’ve returned to school.  Some of the concepts have been interesting with me attempting to wrap my mind around them, but for the most part they all make since.  Although I’m taking 3 other classes, my life has slowly began to evolve around Algorithms and getting a sound understanding of them.

PB&J and Algorithms… 

As I stated earlier, my breakfast this morning was interesting, mainly because I woke up thinking about a basic Algorithm that we learned during the first week of class.  Being pretty early in the course, we were discussing Union Finds and the difference between the different methods.  I was interested in the relationship between the different methods.  While reading the material, I remember having difficulty with simply identifying the results of certain unions.  I wasn’t able to answer the questions until I mapped them out for myself on a piece a paper and using a highlighter.  At the time, I felt silly, but thinking back, it was a visual way of helping me understand the concept.  What had me up early this morning thinking about Algorithms was the different ways to analyze situations in order to develop an algorithm to suit the situation.  Really, as simple as this concept is, it really opened my eyes to how I’ve thought in the past.  I have ALWAYS been a person that hate doing repetitive things.  I usually try to find a way to make a process easier and automated if possible.  I was the person creating spreadsheets with formulas because I could see the time saved once the work was done.

The last revelation I’ve had of this magnitude was during my Probably and Analysis class during my very first semester.  We had to write a list of everything we did each day, the more detailed the better.  For example, instead of listing “I woke up”, we listed “I took a breath, I opened my eyes, I lifted my arm”… etc.  You can see how tedious a list like this could be.  Well, this was my professor’s way of explaining the different programming paradigms and the differences between languages that are closer to machine language and the ones that are more high level.  All explanations of different languages have led me back to that visual assignment and have helped me to digest concepts better.

Since this is an update… 

I’m excited to announce that I am still on the Dean’s list and I still have a 4.0!  I was afraid that once I had gotten into more difficult topics that it would be tougher to maintain my grades.  I still have a bit to go but I am getting more comfortable and learning more and more each day.  One thing I do have to say is that I learn a lot on my own.  I read so much and practice much more than is required.  This is for my own benefit, I don’t want to get to the point that I am not constantly learning something new.  I also want to learn in tandem with what my classes are teaching me.  I still use YouTube as a great scholarly resource 🙂

I am still taking supplemental MOOC‘s to make sure that my learning is well-rounded.  These have been tremendously beneficial and the options available have also grown.

As always, I am excited about what the future will bring, and I am happy of my new addiction: Algorithms… 🙂

 

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2014 in Programming

 

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Math and Game Design

lovemath

 

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My epic quest to encounter more math…

Math, really?  Yes! I have come to the point in my studies that I feel the need to brush up on my math skills.  I have been reading many resources and on multiple occasions I have discovered that a pitfall some may succumb to is not taking enough math when pursuing a degree in Computer Science.  Apart from this research, many of the books I’ve been reading mention that although an extensive background in math is not necessarily a requirement, it helps.  Some of these resources even add that the better programmers have backgrounds in Mathematics as well.

Well, that’s fine and dandy but what now?

I am in the situation where I have fulfilled the Math requirement for my degree, but I took these classes over 10 years ago (oh boy I feel old).  In addition to this, my double major is already getting a bit pricey so I do not want to take any additional credits that won’t go directly to my degree requirement.  My solution? MIT Open Courseware…

What is MIT Open Courseware exactly? 

A few posts ago, I wrote about MOOCS, massive online open courses.  MIT makes a huge chunk of their courses available, and many of them have assessments, audio/video lectures, and final exams so that you can test yourself on concepts and retention.  Although you do not receive credit for taking the courses, who can put a price on gaining knowledge? For me, it is not about receiving credit, it is about brushing up on concepts and developing a mental muscle that will ultimately make me a better programmer in the long run.

What classes will you take?

Here’s the thing… lol.  I have this thing where I am a learning junky.  I am that girl that can not sleep because she has to read one more chapter of that coding book (like last night).  I am saying this because once I started researching which classes I want to take, my list grew from about 3 or 4 courses and now it’s at 23 lol.  Just to put that into perspective, the number of classes required to get a full 4 year MIT degree is about 35-36 courses.

Once I started browsing, I said to myself, “Self, why not learn a bit more while you are at it?”.  Why limit myself to just learning some Math, why not see what all of the hype is about?  What started as supplementing my learning with Math, turned into supplementing my learning in general.  The mentality behind my decisions were to choose courses that I:

1) know I will need some extra practice with.  In these situations, I am already taking the equivalent at my University, but I want to take the MIT OCW version to solidify my learning.

2) fit the requirements of MIT students.  I took a look at the Math requirements for a Software Engineering degree at MIT and found most of the equivalent classes. I also added a few courses that interest me in general and have nothing to do with any particular structure.

Yeah, but the courses?

Here are the courses that I came up with.  Remember this was catered to me specifically based on my interests, the classes that I’m taking at University, and the requirements of a MIT Software Engineering degree.

Ok here they are (in no particular order):

  • Intro to Computer Science and Programming
  • Computation Structures
  • Elements of Software Construction
  • Introduction to Algorithms
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Computer Language Engineering
  • Probabilistic Systems Analysis
  • Mathematics for Computer Science
  • Design and Analysis of Algorithms
  • Practical Programming in C
  • Intro to C Memory Management & C++ OOP
  • Effective Programming in C and C++
  • Physics I
  • Physics II
  • Calculus I
  • Calculus II
  • Differential Equations
  • Linear Algebra
  • Computational Methods of Scientific Programming
  • Logic I
  • Modal Logic
  • Decisions, Games and Rational Choice

Um… that’s a lot…

Welp, it is, especially in addition to work, a full time school schedule, and a game dev internship.  From now until I get my masters, I have quite a few years, so I will use these resources to supplement my learning on a more structured bases.  Right now, I already use MOOCs to supplement my learning, but now I will approach it from a different angle.  Instead of looking for materials to help me with the classes I’m taking, I will use MOOCs to help me learn tangential topics that will help me in the long run.  I believe it’s a win-win in my opinion.

Mmmmm Yummy Math… 

All in all, I’m extremely excited about this new adventure.  I have always believed that knowledge is power and MIT OCW is just another tool to gain knowledge with a bit of a challenge added to it!

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2014 in Programming

 

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Learning Relational Databases – Summer Fun =^.^=

Programmer Problems

 

Ooops, I dropped a course… 

In January, I was having serious issues with a class, Relational Databases.  I felt completely lost in the class, not necessarily because of the content, but because of the learning environment.  Reading about databases just was not cutting it and although I resorted to YouTube videos for supplemental learning, my professor’s requirements were unique.  I could understand the supplemental information that I found, but I could not correlate it to my professor’s teaching style.  When I asked for additional help, the language barrier left me even more confused.  So, reluctantly I decided to drop the class.  I’m saying all of this to say… I can run but I can’t hide.

Welcome to the summer session of Relational Databases… 

The first two weeks of this class has shown me two things 1) I wasn’t going crazy in January when I took RD the first time 2) I’ll learn all about relational databases after all.  The one thing that really stood out to me was the different ways to notate data models, which can seem confusing but was actually great for I could choose the style that I felt most comfortable with.  Although I would rather be doing more summery things, I am actually enjoying learning about relational databases — does that make me a nerd?

Just in case I’m not the only one in this boat… 

I have found a few supplemental educational tools to help me with understanding Relational databases, so I will share them here!

1) A friend and fellow blogger suggested the Manga Guide to Databases.  This resource has been a great tool in understanding the concepts of databases, while enjoying a really awesome story with subtle-but-funny references to database history.  This guide has helped me to stop STRESSING over learning and enjoy a story in the process.  I’d suggest this reference to any manga lover that also has to learn about databases lol.

2) YouTube!  Yes, YouTube is a distance learner’s best friend.  Reading is great, but having a visual aid helps in learning.  There’s also the added benefit of learning through different perspectives which helps tremendously.  I’ve found one channel of a professor that has all of his lectures for his Relational Databases course available in one handy playlist.  His teaching style is really laid back, however he explains the concepts in a way that’s truly understandable.

3) I stumbled upon a site that has practice examples for the different concepts of databases such as entity relationships and normalization.  The tutorials are straightforward, but the most beneficial is the practice problems.

I’m learning, and it’s awesome… 

I never thought that learning about databases would be interesting, but once I understood all of the areas that databases impact – I realized the importance of knowing all I can about them.  I shall continue to learn!

 

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2014 in Programming

 

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MOOCs – What’s the hype all about?!?

MOOCs, info, coderbug, education, college

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What is a MOOC? 

Simple, it’s a massive open online course, where major universities make lectures and learning materials available to the public.  Ivy league universities such as Harvard and Yale have offered their courses to the public.  There are programs such as Coursera and Udacity that facilitate courses, allowing the general public to take college level courses, for free in most cases.

What is the MOOC environment like?

Well, I signed up for a course with Coursera at the beginning of this semester.  I was in a “class” with 120k students.  Yes, you read properly, 120k students.  We were learning about programming an Android application.  The structure was similar to any other online course.  There were weekly lectures, reading materials, assessments and projects.  The professor was extremely personable and often posted helpful tidbits that I found personally valuable.  There was a forum for students to discuss different concepts amongst one another.  The response times were almost instant, mostly due to the number of students in the class, as well as the different time zones.  The professor informed us that there were students represented from many different countries and at different levels of experience.  Because of this, the student forum area was extremely helpful because there appeared to be experts that signed up for the class solely to help out others — this concept alone was both amazing and helpful.

MOOOORE on MOOOOCs

There’s buzz around the water cooler that MOOCs are the future of education.  I read an interesting article about MOOCs, which speaks to how MOOCs will change the future because they will allow people who did not have access to education to now have access. The author of the article, Thomas Friedman’s assumption is that people do not go to college because of financial reasons.  He also believes that MOOCs will push educational decision makers to make changes in the archaic educational standards.   He’s been known to speak to the mentality shift in major organizations from hiring people with degrees, to hiring people with a specific skill set.  Companies such as Google and Microsoft have been known to state that many educational institutions aren’t teaching students the skill sets that they need to operate their businesses.  MOOCs can help fill the gap.  Friedman believes that the challenge will be figuring out a system to award credit and/or certification to students that have successfully completed a MOOC.  I agree.

What do I think?

Well, there are both pros and cons to MOOCs, I’ll list what I’ve discovered from my personal experiences with them:

Pros

Free: Let’s face it, we all love to save money, and a free education seems almost too good to be true.

Supplemental Education: Going back to school has led to me scratching my head a few times around concepts that I just simply could not grasp. However, MOOCs have been a great way to supplement my education.  For instance, Yale University’s Modern Poetry MOOC has been instrumental to my learning process this semester.  Coupling what my professor teaches, with the lectures from the Yale University professors has been wildly beneficial.

Working at your own pace: Some MOOCs simply provide the materials for online students to learn at their own pace.  There’s no real follow up, the information is just available for us to consume when we need it. This is very useful for people that aren’t seeking a structured learning experience. Even better for people that are updating a skill set, or using the information for a work project, or even just for the knowledge alone.

Ala Carte Education: Want to learn how to build an app?  Or how to design a website?  Great!  Instead of there being classes that only teach a certain paradigm, there’s complete courses with a “how to” feel.  See it as being “How to setup Quickbooks for your business” as opposed to “Accounting 101”.

Cons

No Credit: When completing a MOOC, students do not receive college credit, so it’s still difficult to use what you’ve learned to gain employment.  Some MOOC programs offer certificates (for a fee) to validate that a course has been complete.  However, with MOOCs being relatively new, not many organizations will recognize the validity in these certifications.  However, the cost of the certificates are very minimal compared to the cost of a full out education, so having these certifications on a resume can only help, not hurt.

Student-to-Teacher Ratio:  For students that enjoy the classroom-like environment, a MOOC can be a difficult transition.  It is impossible for teachers to give individual feedback in a MOOC environment.  A student can quickly feel lost if and when he/she doesn’t fully understand a concept.  Personally, I feel as though this is the cause for the less than 10% success rates that MOOCs have thus far.

Time Management/Self-Motivation:  Just as any online class, the student has to be self motivated or success becomes difficult.  However, this is escalated within the MOOC environment because there’s even less structure than what’s provided in a traditional learning environment.  Simply put, for people to succeed, they need to be already technically savvy and be more than willing to put in the personal time in order to be successful.

“Information is NOT knowledge”: I believe that some MOOC programs (not all), struggle between teaching and simply providing information.  Information help people obtain knowledge, but it’s not knowledge.  Simply making information available cannot replace the teaching process and what teachers bring to the table.  Information is just facts, teachers infuse these facts with experience and give students access to their minds.  Some MOOCs have found the balance between teaching and manufacturing information, some haven’t.

The bare bones… 

Bottom line, MOOCs are a powerful tool that give a glimpse into the future of education.  My school has already started to incorporate MOOCs into the curriculum and I am grateful for my school’s leaders understanding the benefits to these programs.  However, I don’t believe that MOOCs are developed enough to withstand as an only means of education.  MOOCs are great for people who want to hone and develop their skill set.  They are great for students who need another means of learning what they are learning in school.  They are great for a person that want to learn one concept on their own. Finally, I believe they are a great gap closer between what companies need students to learn in order to have the skill set the companies need and what schools have been teaching.

 

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Programming, Self Improvement

 

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