Tag Archives: student

Graduation (Yester)Day

Last night I received a neat little email from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I’ll leave out the verbose output from legal and finance and get to the fun bits that in short read:

Dear Harry

On behalf of the University Registrar’s Office, it is my pleasure to inform you that we have completed the final processing of your academic record.

Congratulations, all degree requirements have been met as of the posted graduation date, December 10th, 2015.

What a thrill it is to know that I have finally completed that damned degree. It was about a year ago that I decided to not return to school in January for the lone remaining class I required, Biology 101 (why is it always a gen. ed. class?). Instead I rode off to the great, mountainous North that is Charlottesville, Virginia.

Living in what will possibly be my favorite apartment ever, I worked as a web application developer for a small non-profit that I had previously interned with — CoS (the Center for Open Science). To them and in particular Dr. Jeffrey Spies and Dr. Joshua Carp I will be forever grateful. The slightly less than a year that I spent in that cozy, gorgeous city was one of great professional and personal development. But all states in life, aside from death I suppose, are transitionary and in October I moved back down to the warm and humid North Carolina to what has been one of my favorite cities of all time — Raleigh.

Too me Raleigh is bikes, beer, coding, music, and friends. More than that, Raleigh is the perfect blending of them in an active city that is neither too large nor too small. It is, at least for now, a good base of operations and one which I want to leave better off than I found it. I don’t know how long I’ll be here. I don’t know how long I’ll be at Red hat. But, I do know that I’m happy to have completed my undergraduate degree, be actively contributing to the open source community professionally,  and living in a city that feels like home.

I suppose I should change the blog description now.

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DevTalks: Bridging the gap between student and developer

As my fifth semester cruises along at what feels like mach speed, I find myself neck-deep in finite state machines, language grammars, parse trees, and wave optics. Despite putting in more hours than any previous semester (I started tracking out-of-class work hours with Klok2), I feel more prepared to handle it than would have thought possible. But, why do I feel so ready to tackle mountains of homework with countless hours spent at the whiteboard? I think the primary reason is that over the past couple summers I’ve had two amazing internships that allowed me, pushed me even, to use the concepts I learned at school in the real world. This has given me a much deeper understanding and appreciation for school. I can recall the first two semesters and how pointless what I was learning felt at times. Without my practical experience from internships and personal projects would I still feel that way? Probably.

This brings me to a problem I have noticed among my peers; they have a severe lack of motivation. More often than not, I watch people with glazed over eyes in my classes who at worst just do the minimum to pass and at best do the minimum to earn an A. What are they missing? They don’t have the drive they need. But, I’m trying an experiment this semester to see if I, with the help of some very smart people, can change this.

Introducing Developer Talks (DevTalks for short). From the DevTalks frontpage:

Would you like to learn something new, meet like-minded individuals, or give back to the developer community? If so, you’re in the right spot. DevTalks is a developer driven community whose goals are to promote the sharing of knowledge and encourage collaboration among developers regardless of their background or level of expertise.

My plan is to round up some of the more motivated students and local developers in the area and throughout the semester, shake out a couple engaging 1-2 hour talks that can be followed by 1-2 hour small breakout sessions where attendees will work together to improve upon or re-implement what they’ve learned together. I believe that once students see their peers leading talks and working with local developers they will become more inclined to participate.

There are two primary benefits I see coming from this. First, students have a lot to gain from learning from and working with developers. Many questions that simply can’t be answered in the class room can be resolved on the spot. And, let’s not forget, there is just no replacement for real experience. Second, local developers and managers can use these meetings to spot potential interns and employees, locally. Anyone can submit a resume. However, leading one of these talks can demonstrate a much deeper level of understanding and leadership potential than can ever be conveyed on a sheet of paper.

So far, I have received very positive feedback from my peers as well as local developers. Several people wanting to give talks have already reached out and a local coworker space, Studioboro, has offered to host our first talk on October 1st.

If you would like more information please visit the landing page. If you would like to attend a talk, give a talk, donate (if you feed them they will come), or just share your insights please feel free to email me!

“Be the change you wish to see.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi


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Hold on — I need to check my phone

While preparing for the final debate in my Computer Science ethics class today, I was unnerved by a personal revelation. But, let me start from the beginning.

It was case study #24, or ‘Brain’ as dubbed by my professor. In the synopsis there was an odd set of instructions. He gave  the link to a New York Times article,  directions to write down each time and by what I was distracted, and wrote a little blurb about how he had his teenage daughter conduct the same experiment.

To my surprise, it was the most interesting case study I had read in the class. It discussed the decreasing ability of students to focus because of the mass of electronics and information at their fingertips. As instructed I kept a brief journal of each time I was distracted. I noticed something intriguing while reading the article. Like clockwork, I had glanced at my phone every five minutes to see if I had received a text or an email. Similar to how we train ourselves to wake up at a given time each morning this seemed more automated than anything. And what’s worse? I’m still doing it while writing this review even though I’m now aware of it.

On numerous occasions, I have heard it takes 21 times to make an action habitual. I wonder how many times I told myself to glance at my phone for updates before I stopped realizing I was doing it. I also wonder how I ‘glance’ at various things to check for something. More importantly, I wonder how much time I have lost as a result of losing my focus throughout each day. Oh, and remember my professor’s daughter? She sent 337 texts while ‘reading’ the article.

Time to turn off the phone.


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Internships, Interviews, and Mentors

Internships — Lots of people seem to have opinions about internships but very few people I have spoken with have had one. Last summer I had an internship with a local software company, ideacode. Yes, it starts with a lowercase ‘i’. While, I only worked part time (20-ish hours/week), as I was also taking courses over the summer, I was exposed to new software, development environments, programming languages,  and most importantly real software engineers coding real world applications.

But, it could have just easily not happened.  I actually met my mentor, Bishop, by happenstance. I was pulling some hiking gear out of storage for a trip when I saw a mass of programming books on a bookshelf. I could have walked by but I didn’t. Instead, I struck up a conversation. After giving my elevator speech and shaking hands I had a business card and a chance. The first thing I did upon returning from my trip was email him my resume and shortly thereafter I had an interview lined up. What is the moral of this story? Never skip an opportunity.

Interviews — There is a lot of thought about how to prepare for and act in an interview. However, after numerous military boards my interview was a nice treat in comparison. I should take a moment to emphasize that by ‘treat’ I meant enjoyable, not easy. I met Bishop and John, a coding guru, at a local Barnes & Noble. The setting was informal and we were seated at a square table surrounded by a dozen or so other customers who were reading or chatting amongst each other. Perhaps one of them was in an interview as well.

I was well dressed and I thought well prepared. However, the opening salvo of questions Bishop shot my way was not what I expected. He wasn’t trying to determine how well I knew my data structures or programming languages (at least not yet) he was trying to get a feel for who I was. He wanted to know if I would ‘fit’ well with the company. I answered to the best of my ability and tried not to sweat.

He continued with a series of situational questions, asked my thoughts on business organization and best practices, and finished by having me slap together some basic data structures on the table with sticky pads. After all of that they thanked me for my time, we shook hands, and went our separate ways.

A week later I received my first contract offer in the software development field. It felt great. If I could lend any advice from my limited experience it would be this, relax. Start by doing some research on the company you are applying for, review relevant material you think you might be asked about and above all be friendly and honest. Anyone can lie their way into a position but in the end all they will have accomplished is wasting their and their eventual ex-employers time and resources.

Mentors – Bishop was a great one. Clarifying what I mean by ‘great’ is easy when someone gives you many instances to draw from. First off, Bishop had a way of always asking questions that rode that fine line between what I know and what is too far beyond my ability to learn quickly. By asking these questions, the right questions, my knowledge in several expanded rapidly. Within a month of work I was zooming around a Linux server remotely, writing test cases in PHP, and creating advanced bash scripts to manipulate hundreds of source files simultaneously.

For the most part, I worked remotely and foresaw communication being a potential issue. But, Bishop quickly put my mind at ease. He continually responded to my emails/IMs quickly and always giving me just enough information to nudge me in the right direction without explicitly giving me an answer. This is exactly what I needed and exactly why I grew so much in such a short amount of time.

But there are two main things I will take away from my work with Bishop and ideacode. First, programming is an art as well as a science and problems should be taken on with compassion as well as deep thought. And finally, it gave me an appreciation for how beautiful complex code repositories can be. Just as whorls of tree trunks tell stories not just about the age of a tree but also climate, forest fires, and floods; peeling back the layers of code tell a story of their own.

Thank you, Bishop.

“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson


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