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Video Games & Math: A Survival Guide!

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It has been awhile!

Yes, I have to say that it has been a few months since I have posted.  I can truly say that it’s not due to inactivity.  A few injuries in my family caused my time to be completely redirected, but now that everything seems to be getting back on track, I am attempting to get back on schedule with my blog posts.

But first, an update!

So, math? lol.  In a previous post, Math and Game Design, I talked about my fears around not getting enough Math in my curriculum in school.  I found out the deficit was due to how my major was coded and if I wanted to get more Math, I would have to change my major.  I did so without hesitation.  My major originally was a double major in Computer Science and Graphic Design.  I thought this was a good route to follow considering my desired future in making video games.  But then I learned that my school cut out a lot of the math options in order to accommodate the double major status.  Now that I have that situated, Calculus I and II, Discrete Math, Linear Algebra, and Differential Equations are all part of my near future! Well, I actually completed Calculus I already and that was a challenge, but I did well!

Somehow, Math made me a cave dwelling loner…

The last Math class I took prior to Calculus I was Trig in 2001.  Yes, I’m old.  I’ve always excelled in Math without effort.  I took AP Calculus in high school and although I placed in Calculus II on my placement test, I still decided to only take Trig because it was the minimum requirement for my major at the time (I was a tad lazy back then).  I got a B in the class, even though I only came to class for quizzes and exams.  To further demonstrate my laziness, I had a friend sign me in for attendance and turn in my home assignments.  I mean, 8am classes are just evil.  Anyway, the true point is that not only had I not taken a Math class in 14 years (damn), I also did not put much effort into the class that I did take.  To say that I was a bit intimidated to take Calculus after such a gap in time, is a monumental understatement.  I spent HOURS reading, watching YouTube, doing practice problems, pulling my hair out, and having mini heart attacks while waiting for grades to be posted.  But in the end, I feel as though it was all worth it.  I mean, who cares if I growled at people who came within 10 feet of me, or that I locked myself in my room while I solved problems that took up both sides of the paper?  The point was that I was figuring it all out…

League of Legends… My saving grace…

I found that breaking up my studies with a wholesome (lol) game of LoL was really beneficial to me.  I could virtually shoot things, yell at my monitor, giggle when I killed things and then get back to my studies.  I also played my favorite streamers in the background while I studied and often the ambient noises of game play or hearing a funny joke would make me giggle and I would relax significantly.  On too many occasions to count, when I returned to my math problems, the answers that I couldn’t figure out were so obvious to me, all I needed was to step away for a bit.  What better way to step away than video games 🙂

What’s next?

This session, I’m taking Discrete Math, Computer Graphics, and Calculus II.  Three classes that are drenched in Math and I’m actually looking forward to it.  After taking Calculus I, I rediscovered what I had loved so much about Math so long before.  The primary concept being how many applications of Mathematics there are in the world.  Math is everywhere, and the more I study and appreciate it, the more I see it in my every day life.  Although my course load this session is likely to keep me a cave-dwelling loner, I promise to leave my cave to share more of my story!

TL;DR

Math is yummy.  If you’re into programming, don’t be afraid to take those extra math classes, so far I have seen just how every single math concept I’ve learned can be applied to Computer Science!  Also, play video games.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2015 in Programming

 

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“I want to be a computer nerd, just like you!”

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Sometimes I’m just oblivious…

I have to admit that I often go through life completely oblivious of the impressions and impact that I make on other people.  As I am pursuing a greater education, I am realizing that I am developing a following of younger females in my family.

It all began with my niece getting into graphic art.  Now this may fall into both the art and technology arena, but more than her artistic abilities, I recognized her ability to grasp concepts really quickly.  She has been teaching herself how to use Photoshop, Flash and Illustrator — she began this at 12.  My sister, in full support of her, purchased her a Wacom pen tablet for her 13th birthday which occurred a few weeks ago.  Although I support her goal of wanting to be a cartoonist, I really see her passions developing into areas such as animation or even game development.  She currently loves to make cartoons and small animations of the characters she develops.

She is in the process of applying for a high school that specializes in Game Development and Interactive Media.

Our relationship has grown and developed through random FaceTime conversations where I’ve walked her through a concept that she needed a little more clarification if she couldn’t find the answer online.  I am flattered that she looks to me for help in these areas and through this connection we find ourselves enthralled in our own geeky conversations only to look around and find other family members staring dumbfounded.

But wait! There’s more!

Recently, my goddaughter/great niece confidently informed me that she wants to be a programmer like I am.  Her mom sent me a text saying that my goddaughter has been talking about our programming conversation ever since that day and that she told her that she wants to be a computer nerd just like me.  She has always had an inquisitive mind and her mom informed me that she has the tendency of doing extensive research into things that interest her – such as a full research paper on owls – she’s 10.  She’s recently switched her razor focus from owls to programming.  I recognize the spark in her eyes when she speaks about programming.  I remember having the same experience at the age of 12 when I coded my first web site by hand – html tag by html tag.  Somehow this deep passion went unnoticed and it has taken 10 years for me to get back to that place where I started.  Hopefully, if it’s what she really wants, my goddaughter, instead, will spend the next 10 years developing her talent and deepening her passion for programming.

Engagement begins with an invitation

I never once considered that the young women in my family would be interested in programming.  I feel a new responsibility to help them explore the possibility – at the very least.  As fickle as a child can be, I think that it’s important for me to help explore Computer Science as an option.  There are programs that exist today that help with getting young women interested in STEM fields.  I feel like I can now bridge the gap between their initial interest and tangible resources and programs that will further spark that interest.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2014 in Programming, STEM

 

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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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My Attempt to Redefine Productivity =^.^=

My Attempt to Redefine Productivity =^.^=

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I’m not in Kansas anymore…

As time goes on within my studies, I’m realizing that my typical way of learning is getting me frustrated. In the past, I’ve been able to learn new things quickly and get to the point where I can teach others. In my management days, I’ve been in situations where I was thrown in the deep end to see if I would sink or swim. I’ve always worked best under pressure and in uncomfortable environments.

Recently, learning in the way that I’m accustomed to learning has led me to rabbit holes of possibly useful but mostly irrelevant learning. I know that I want to learn above and beyond my school’s curriculum but often times my learning translates to a wasted afternoon of vision-less research. I’ll start my day out with a plan on what I’ll learn and practice, but then there’s some topic I didn’t consider. Sometimes there’s a bug with the OS I’m using. Or there’s a concept that will help make the topic I’m learning much more clear.

Is that time really wasted?…

Probably not. But sometimes it does feel as though I’m spinning my wheels. Ultimately I know much more than I did last year. I also understand that I learn more every single day. Most days however, I think I need to play catch up because I think I’m so far behind. Behind what? Who? I’m not sure entirely. Here’s where my learning style can be problematic lol. There’s SO much information. I turn into a kid in a candy store. Utterly fascinated by the smallest bits of information and shamelessly celebrating “Ah Ha” (or “Duh”) moments. I can spend an entire day practicing writing code. Or I can spend it reading about different programming paradigms. I can get lost for hours digging through open source code or daydreaming of a program I’d like to write just for my personal use.

What’s bothering me is my inability to quantify the time I’m spending. Days can go by and I don’t have a tangible idea of what I’ve learned. I’m also not 100% sure that I want to measure my time spent. But I do want to have something to show for my endless hours of pondering.

An unexpected kick in the teeth…

A completely unrelated situation lead to a revelation of how my thought process works.  Someone offended me pretty badly recently and I realized that I let it get to me. I’m convinced that the person was mostly clueless that their words had an effect on me. Because of this fact, I had no where to direct my anger. Do I think they are a bad person? No. The result of this conversation led to me second guessing myself. So much so that I began to question my every move and my time spent.

I know that there will always be people in life to challenge our resolve. It’s how life is. What I am taking away from this situation is that other people’s opinion of me cannot add nor subtract from my value.  If they are too closed minded to recognize my value, then that is their loss and of no concern of mine.  All I can do in life is be authentic and strive to be the best me, each and every day.

A conclusion?  I think so…

Each of these experiences have all concentrated into one single point of understanding that “Excellence is a habit”.  Who cares if I spend random hours of pondering different topics if while at the same time I’m maintaining the 4.0 that I sought after?  Who cares what some small minded person thinks about me when I am the one who knows exactly what she wants in life and is not afraid to pursue it?  Excellence is relative to our current situations, are we being the best that we can be?  Excellent!

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2014 in Programming, Uncategorized

 

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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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Women in Programming – The Great Debate

programmers

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Recently, a friend of mine in the technology field asked me a very interesting question.  She wanted to know why in the heck did I choose to go into the software development field.  She knows of my history with being a female in management and was curious as to why I decided to go into an even greater male-dominated field.  The only response I could think of was to tell her that I hit like a girl.

Huh?  You hit like a girl?

Well, recently I saw an ad by “Always” that asked adults to demonstrate how to run and throw “like a girl”.  The adults (women included) ran dramatically and flimsily, basically demeaning themselves and every female they ever met.  When they asked young girls to run and throw “like a girl”, they ran with all of their might, and threw as hard as they could.  Why? Because they ran like themselves, strong young women.  Their minds had not be hindered to think that doing anything “like a girl” was demeaning.

I have been blessed to have a strong mother as a role model, and I’ve always believed that I can do anything that my male counterparts could do.  I don’t think of this consciously, it’s engrained within me.  Actually, my thought process is if someone else can do it, then so can I — male or female.  So, when I told my friend that I hit like a girl, I meant that I made the decision based on my passions, not based on current industry standards.

But her question forced me to think harder…

I remember the feeling of always being the only female amongst my peers, and in many situations the only African American.  I come from a family where race didn’t matter, but it was hard not to notice in situations where there was a room full of white males, and then there was me.  I remember feeling excluded even if it was only because they edited their usual conversations in hope of not offending me.  There were situations where I would find out about outings where they would bond, but I was never included.  Yes, this was not the main point of running a business, but regardless, the feeling did sting.  I learned to be strong and self motivated.  I learned to do everything harder… study… sell… learn… train…

I honestly have never worked in any other environment.  I want to be a game developer because I am passionate about games and creating things.  I feel epic amounts of joy when I figure out new ways to code and push myself to learn as much as I can.  I feel amazing when I learn a new programming paradigm and language.  I understand what I’m getting myself into, but that never stopped me in the past, it will not stop me now.

Does the absence of females in programming mean that we are bad programmers?

Absolutely NOT!  From birth, we were encouraged to be domesticated.  We were given dolls when men were given fire trucks.  Marketing and advertisements have portrayed us holding babies while men are portrayed behind computers and wearing suits.  This trend is shifting as of late, but much of the change has happened in recent years — not enough time to offset the affects.  There is an epidemic around the world that still casts women in the mere shadows of men.  It will take time to change this epidemic, but in the meantime, women have to shed their fear and follow their dreams regardless of the terrain ahead.  Long story short, our absence does not make us bad programmers, we just need to open our eyes and our horizons to the possibilities.

Toxicity and the Good Ol’ Boys Club…

Both professionally and personally, I have been in contact with the painful outcomes of male-dominated environments.  Professionally this club manifested itself in me being passed up for well deserved promotions and me making far less than my peers for many years and in several different positions.  Personally, I’ve experienced the gaming community where girls were treated like inferior beings that deserved to spend their time in the kitchen.  Yet, I carved my way in both environments.  I let my work ethic speak for itself and in gaming I was accepted through playing well and being consistent.

Is what we face as women fair? 

Not even slightly, but neither is life.  I can say one thing, I am a stronger person because of my experiences.  I have so much perseverance and I believe in my capabilities.  I also know that I can push myself past my limits to achieve things that I didn’t even think were remotely possible.  The best I can do each day is try to dispel the notions that doing anything “like a girl” is a negative thing.  The best I can do is work hard to learn enough to be a valuable asset within any company that I choose to work.  Last, but certainly not least, I can bring myself to work every day.  I don’t want to be “one of the boys” — I want to be a girl, that just so happens to be a programmer.

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2014 in STEM

 

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