Tag Archive: app

The Startup Weekend Roller Coaster

One thing I promised myself when my journeys began was to do things that scared me.

This weekend I did something that scared me. I jumped into Startup Weekend Social Impact Edition with no plan and no idea what to expect, and emerged amid a solid team working well together around a good idea.

Friday night, I pitched an idea that I came up with on the spot. I wasn’t planning to pitch anything at all, but thought it would be a good experience to try it. My idea wasn’t selected, so I joined a team and prepared to work all weekend toward our goal and have a great time.

By Saturday afternoon, our project was in disarray. Disarray. Our initial market research — the part where we actually left the building and talked to people — indicated our product might not resonate with people. We knew we should pivot. But we didn’t agree on which direction.

I felt myself curling up inside and imagined spending all weekend just arguing about the product, without actually making a product. I didn’t know which direction we should go, I just wanted to spend the weekend making something. So I put my head down and kept coding. At worst, I figured, I’d make an app prototype that we could tweak when we settled on an idea.

Two of our team members left. I felt bleak. It was late afternoon, and we didn’t have much to show for it. And then suddenly (I’m not really sure what happened here), it turned around. We decided on an idea, which was close to our team lead’s original idea, and just went with it. No one seemed initially overjoyed, but from that moment we were okay and things started clicking.

We spoke with mentors. We iterated. We shared ideas and split up tasks and generally worked productively and well together. It was fun. I’m not sure what changed. It’s like the pit of despair opened up and there was a path and we decided to get up and walk down it to somewhere.

We worked productively until 11 p.m. Saturday and then disbanded for sleep or social life, reconvening on Sunday. We created and refined our pitch deck and finished web and app prototypes. Finally, we presented our pitch and demo to a panel. Our service seemed to strike some right notes, and we received constructive and thoughtful feedback.

On the whole, I think our presentation was a success and our proposal was viable — nearly unthinkable on Saturday afternoon. I’m not sure what will come next. But this was a valuable experience, and I’d do it again.

Here is our web prototype and our app prototype code.

Key takeaways: It is so vitally important to seek customer and market validation early. Negative market feedback is a great opportunity to adapt and learn. Sticking with a team instead of an idea is a great idea.

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Hacker School, Day 3: Xcode Plugins and C

Kicked off this morning by writing an Xcode plug-in that loads correctly and sets a custom menu item. The next step is to make it function, and I fully realize the hard work lies ahead. I like that the goal of the plug-in is increased accessibility.

I also made slight progress in understanding C, which may be helpful since the iOS stack of Swift, Objective-C and C likely will coexist for a while.

I came home and researched Xcode plug-ins, Sublime Text, and iOS note-taking apps for hours. I know where I want to go, and I’ve specced out functionality, so it’s a matter of figuring out implementation details. I’m enthused and have a plan for tomorrow and Friday.

And I really do intend to learn C somewhere along the way.

I’m not tired at all, but it’s time for sleep anyway.

My Big Nerd Ranch Diary

I took vacation to attend the Big Nerd Ranch iOS Bootcamp last year. It was my favorite vacation ever. That’s when I knew I was on to something.

Today, I start Hacker School. I’m taking this moment to look back and share my Big Nerd Ranch diary. Every night in rural Georgia, I came back to my cabin in the woods and wrote my impressions of the day. Here’s what happened during that week:

Friday

I’m in my cabin after Arrival Day at Big Nerd Ranch — I’ve been anticipating this trip for about a year but wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m impressed so far.

First, the staff at Historic Banning Mills are heroic. Although I grew up camping as a Girl Scout and once could survive on Mountain Dew and Skittles, I am a city girl at this point in my life and had a health crisis that scared the Skittles right out of me. The thought of spending a week in the woods eating hush puppies from the lodge kitchen didn’t thrill me.

When I asked about food, Big Nerd Ranch staff said they would ask the kitchen at Banning Mills what they could do. The kitchen said if I could ship food direct from a provider to them, they would cook it for me. That scored about 1,000 points right there. I used Boxed Greens, which ships organic food nationwide overnight. The food arrived a few hours before I did.

THEN the kitchen staff kind of got into the idea. They said they wanted to buy more food to complement the contents of the box. They’ve considered offering an organic option for students, so I think they viewed this as an experiment. In return for their awesomeness, I gave them carte blanche to create whatever seemed interesting to them. My first meal, this evening, was delicious: a kale/peach/cucumber salad, followed by salmon over lentils with kale, tricolor peppers, and onions. (The regular food also looked tasty — salad and then herbed chicken over mashed potatoes with asparagus.)

Now I’m in the cabin, relaxing. Speaking of the cabin, it is huge and gorgeous.  More good things about today — the wonderful shuttle driver at the airport who did not leave anyone behind, and my fellow classmates, who are friendly. I’m looking forward to spending a week getting to know them better while my brain gets a workout in the class. It’s a challenging (grueling?) schedule, but I’m ready and plan to make the most of this opportunity.

Which means I’m going to sleep soon. More tomorrow.

Saturday

Class today was surprisingly easy and doable — but I am so glad I worked my way through the BNR Guide to Objective-C Programming last year! Struggling with this book over four months helped me rush through half of it today. We cover the other half tomorrow. If I’d walked into this class with no programming experience at all, I’d be in trouble on Monday, when we dive into iOS apps.

I still may be in trouble on Monday. The reviews I’ve read say the pace picks up fast then, so the fact that I’m finishing challenges quickly puts me somewhat at ease, since I may be able to keep my head above water on Monday and Tuesday. After that it’s anyone’s guess, because at some point we will start covering material beyond the point I’ve reached in my BNR iOS Programming Guide self-study. Then I’ll be learning entirely new stuff. And that takes longer, but we’ll still be flying through the material. I’m hoping that by getting the basics down well in this weekend intro, I’ll be able to survive through the week with some understanding and real ability to get the most from the class.

Also, I learned that there is an advanced book for the advanced class! It is, sadly, not available on Amazon or in any bookstores. Another reason to possibly take the advanced class later this year or next. I’m hoping that between now and then, I can dive in and create some real apps for free on the app store, just to test the waters and see what happens.

Anyway, more tomorrow. I was surprised not to find myself tired or burned out by 9:30pm, when I came back to my cabin. Maybe it’s a good sign, but I’ll wait and see how tomorrow goes. Food was delicious, as it was yesterday, but I am afraid my statement that, “I eat fish,” was received as, “I eat fish at every lunch and dinner.” In truth, I eat fish a couple of times a week. If fish continues to appear at every meal, I may have to say something — but what can I really say, anyway? They are preparing custom organic meals for me! Today some little potatoes and wax beans appeared — I think they are shopping for me, to supplement the stuff I sent in the box. Amazing kitchen, amazing place so far.

More tomorrow.

Sunday

My brain is starting to get tired. We rushed through many topics today, and while I understood most things, they are starting to jumble together in my mind. I’m hoping my mind can sort it out by the end of the week, and that I don’t end up dreaming all night about coding, because that would be about 20 hours of coding per day, which is a lot more than 12, which is what we are essentially already doing.

Today we finished the Objective-C book and I reviewed the documentation for NSArray, NSMutableArray, and NSDictionary. Tomorrow we dive into iOS Cocoa Touch programming.

I am loving the class, despite my brain-whir, and found myself wishing I could attend for two weeks or a month and really delve into more and more advanced topics. We’ll see how I feel on Thursday and Friday; if I still feel the same, this may be amazing for me.

The classroom is light, bright, and free of awful bugs. There were some small winged creatures on my desk this morning, but I let them be and they flew away (or my neighbor squashed them while I was in the bathroom).

More good conversations with other people who are here to learn; I love being in a room full of people who are mostly there by choice, since the attitude is amazingly good and therefore so is the experience overall.

Organic food from the kitchen continues to be good, although also salty; today I learned that this is not limited to my dishes. All of the food is very salty/spiced. I keep drinking water; can’t bring myself to complain about it. Lunch was shrimp escabeche — over red cabbage with a tomatillo sauce (I’m not sure what was in the tomatillo sauce, but it was awesome). Some delicious cauliflower with dinner, and nicely cooked yams, plus more fish. I don’t know if I will eat fish for a while after I get back.

It rained today so there was no nature walk. I did see zip-liners breezing past through the pouring rain.

More tomorrow.

Monday

Day 4 of my adventure, Day 3 of class. This is where the blogs I’ve read have dropped off, and now I see why. We covered a prodigious amount of stuff — nearly 200 pages of the iOS Programming Guide. I am getting a better understanding of some things that confused me the first time around, but I still wish I had an extra day to put it all together — the basics, the new techniques — but we just keep steamrolling forward. I don’t have time to do all of the Challenges in the book, and I really wish I did, because I’m learning a lot and I’d learn even more then!

I think I’m keeping pace reasonably well. A few people are behind me, some people are ahead of me who have a lot of coding experience, and some are about on pace with me. I think this is a marathon and not a sprint so I’m okay with it.

I do feel gratified doing something for my own self-improvement that is also productive and useful, potentially, for others who might use my apps someday. I hope I can build a lot of productive and useful apps upon returning home. I certainly feel like I’ll have a running start.

This is a good environment for learning. I have almost no time to myself, which is weird, but I’m getting a lot done and reminding myself that this is temporary and necessary. What I am getting is time to concentrate, even among others, which almost never happens. I forgot how much I enjoy super-focused days.

The food remains delicious — and today it was not salty, since when they asked me what I wanted to eat, I said I would eat anything they made for me but please to go light on the salt. It was a great food day.

It was a great learning day. I wasn’t tired at 10:15 and only left because I knew I had to get some sleep to keep up the pace for the remaining days here. I found a centipede in my bed when I came back, so I called to ask the front desk if it was poisonous. They said no and also sent a nice staff guy to pick it up and remove it from the cabin. It was a nice little creature, I guess, if I were used to creatures.

More tomorrow. Bedtime if I want to get a full 7 hours of sleep. (First night: 9. Second night: 8.5. Third night: 8. I see the pattern. It stops now.)

Tuesday

Unbelievable amount of learning happening today. I’m starting to connect the dots, and know why I need to make a change. Even when I make a mistake I understand what the mistake was after it’s pointed out to me. I still make mistakes nearly all the time; but I also do some really cool things, like find a method the instructor didn’t know about, and try to figure out how to make it work; or set up new functionality to make things more efficient — and it works!

I’m a little bit on overdrive and finding it hard to sleep, but it’s good — it reminds me that it’s still possible for me to feel alive when contemplating work tasks, and to concentrate hard on something for several days at a time. I spend most of my regular workdays so interrupted by multiple tasks that I feel like I never get anything done. This is a refreshing change. At 10pm tonight when I still wasn’t physically or mentally tired, I realized that this is something that’s been missing from my life for a while.

I’m going to sleep now so that I can function tomorrow morning. I want to hit the ground running — again.

I am in nerd heaven. I think I may have tapped into something really important for me — other nerds.

Wednesday

Today was the first day I felt tired, and I struggled to keep up. We were on a rushed pace to try to make up some time, since we’d fallen behind by about one lecture. By day’s end, we were caught up — but that meant about an extra 2 hours of time. Lectures ended at 8:15 and I wasn’t caught up until 10:30. Lots of other people were there too, and we were kicked out of the learning room around 10:40 (after a few well-deserved games of Typeracer).

There was one point in the afternoon when we were implementing an involved piece of code that only worked on a single image thumbnail and only on the iPad, and I just realized that if I spent time to understand what I was doing I would never get to the *really* cool stuff — Core Data and touch gestures — so I just started typing. Type type type. I implemented the thing, realized I might need to look back at this someday, and moved on.

At points during the day I could hear the instructor talking but couldn’t focus. Maybe it was just an off day for me; but I think my head is so chock full of new iPhone programming knowledge that it needed a bit of time to process it all.

I’m going to bed now to give myself the best chance of recovering and hitting the ground strong tomorrow. I’m still keeping up with the class, but I don’t feel the sense of mastery that I felt yesterday (and yes, I realize that mastery is a good way away — but I was putting all the pieces together yesterday).

Thursday

Back on track today. We went at a slower pace, I absorbed nearly everything we covered, and I was able to implement some pretty cool apps, especially one that allows drawing. I now have the skeleton of something I actually want to implement when I get home. Exciting!

Class was fun but I can feel the pace winding down. I’ll miss my fellow classmates but have enjoyed the opportunity to spend a week with other nerds doing one of my favorite things on Earth — learning.

I’d love to be back for the advanced course in November, but we’ll see how the year goes. Will I use these skills in the next six months to build apps? Will I push through the frustration when I can’t make something work, and figure out how to persevere, work through the syntax and search the documentation (and Stack Overflow) to find solutions?

We’ll see. More tomorrow — and the next day, I hope.

I’m ready to go home but also not ready. I did better in this class than I expected when I walked in the door. I want to put my new skills to good use and produce apps that are productive for users and for me.

I’m a Big Nerd.

Friday

Back home. We had class until 12:30, then lunch and then quickly piled into the shuttle back to the airport. I spent a few hours waiting for my flight there and then got home around 9:30.

I expected to feel mentally drained and tired, but I feel mentally turned on instead. This is awesome. It says to me that I did the right thing, and I love feeling this way. I’m going to keep working on the programming at home, and see what I can struggle through and make in terms of apps. I feel like the BNR class gave me the tools I need to keep learning on my own, and to work out problems when I run into them, because I’m starting to understand the underlying patterns and logic of programming.

Starting to understand. That’s key. There’s a lot more work to do — but I think I’ve got a running start. Now I just need to keep going.

Day 38: Onward and Sort of Upward

I passed the NASM test. It was a comfortable pass, which gives me some confidence in the study method I used. From the flashcard app perspective, my initial user acceptance test of one succeeded.

I added about 250 questions to the flashcard app database — slightly fewer than my goal of 320 but enough to make the app robust and functional. I’ll add more later but wanted to leave some space and time between the exam and that task. Exams change, and my goal is for my app to help people master the material regardless of exam questions — internalize key concepts, understand the overarching principles and connections between concepts, learn this stuff inside and out, upside down and sideways.

I also fixed the app formatting and added a search function, which worked pretty well. Then I broke it. Sigh. I’ll re-implement it this week and try to figure out what went wrong.

That’s the process. Move forward. Achieve. Break. Sigh. Fix. Try again.

Major goals for this week:

  1. Fix search functionality in my flashcard app.
  2. Implement swipe-up functionality.
  3. Swift book (again). 100 pages.

I’ll be on the train for a full day, so all of this should be doable.

One thing I won’t be lugging around is the NASM textbook. I’m leaving all 5 pounds of it at home. Travel light.

Day 30: Check-In

It’s been a month.

I gave notice and then left work on May 23 and it’s been a month.

I went almost immediately to AltConf in San Francisco, a free developer conference, to indulge my hobby of developing iPhone applications. Not only did I have a great time, I drew a clear line of separation between Before and After.

I did it on purpose, to get a clean, clear jump into all the new things I want to try, without wallowing and feeling useless for a couple of weeks.

I spent some quality family time with my dad for Father’s Day, a few more days back in New York socializing with friends and then relaxing at a meditation event.

Amid all of this, I got a lot of work done.

I finished the NASM book last week. I populated the back-end question database for my flashcard app with 80 questions (a good start, but I want to add at least 320 more this week). I read some of the Swift Programming Guide (not 200 pages, but 50).

I had a balanced week. I made progress without obsessing over how much progress. I stayed in the West Village, a neighborhood I always wanted to live in when I lived in New York full-time. I took time for myself, time for friends, and time for work.

I had some great ideas and some not-so-great ones. I wrote blog posts for future dates. I bounced ideas off of people I know to zero in on which ones might be worthwhile. Three get a very consistent positive response, which is heartening.

I know not every week can be like this. But it was a much-needed, pleasant interlude as I prepare to go all-out in the next few months — traveling, learning, improving and finding the right path.

Major goals for this week:

  1. Add 320 more questions to the flashcard app database.
  2. Fix the formatting and add a search function to the flashcard app.
  3. Pass the NASM test.

It’s been a month. But it feels like an epoch.

Day 22: Concentration and Its Discontents

I take work less seriously when staying with family.

This is an inconvenient truth, because I love spending time with my family and intend to do so again.

But this week, given all the time I needed, I accomplished fewer goals. I appeared to be working intensely for 12 hours a day, since I toted my computer around the house, hoping to be productive.

In reality? I worked for about 4 or 5 hours each day.

Here are the major goals I accomplished:

  • I read 275 (not 200) pages of the NASM textbook.
  • I worked on my flashcard app, making useful additions and cleaning up the user interface.

Here are the major goals I did not accomplish:

  • I did not do any work to build out my flashcard app’s back-end question database.
  • I did not read any of the Swift programming guide.

I made myself feel better about this by procrastinating productively:

I realized, somewhere between surfing Hacker News and watching House of Cards, that when I pay rent like I did last week, stakes are higher and my productivity is correspondingly higher. When I’m with relatives, not paying rent, stakes are lower and my productivity drops.

Like I said, I’ll keep spending time with family because I love them. But I need a plan to establish momentum for future visits. So here it is:

1.) Wake up. Open Xcode. Every day. (Virtual guarantee of a productive day.)
2.) Work in the office room, not on the couch.

It’s not a complicated plan. I start tomorrow.

Major goals for this coming week are:

1.) Build out my flashcard app’s back-end question database and finish the user interface.
2.) Finish last 75 pages of the NASM textbook.
3.) Read 200 pages of the Swift programming guide.

* I activated my Facebook account in March. I came late to social media and am trying to figure it out as I go.