As a learning experience, Coders of the West was thoroughly project-oriented in approach, though we did rely to some extent on Codecademy and other tutorial materials, and rare “classroom moments.” In dividing project tasks, individual interests were taken into account, and talents nurtured.
“This internship has taught me that there are a lot of ways I could put [writing] into a lot of different careers,” says Caden Masters, whom we tapped to draft the initial WDECE About copy, the GitHub ReadMe for BusRoutes, two blog posts, and several issue reports and other small bits of copywriting. Caden, who plans to study Computer Science at Sheridan College next year, also has an interest in website design in conjunction with copywriting, “knowing I will make [clients’] websites look less archaic while also sharpening my writing skills.”
Sara Keeney is a manga artist who plans to attend the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. She is interested in game design. For WDECE, Sara designed around a dozen color palettes, which our team voted on, ending up with four skins that Sara coded into CSS. She also implemented the dropdown picker for these skins.
“I definitely learned a lot more about the kinds of code that are out there, how a job like this would be, and what I could expect from the industry I’m going into,” Sara says. Concerning project-oriented learning, she added, “An artist learns by imitating. That’s how I made the tabs on my [portfolio] page. Maybe that’s just being an artist.”
Sara felt that our mentorship was “just guided enough that we knew what we were doing, but not like we were getting our hand held the whole time. We had to build communication skills and problem solving skills to get things done.”
Tyler Osborn seconds that, saying that skills he got out of the experience include “learning how to read and search for help for my code, and learning how to process the code and see how it functions and why it functions that way.”
We included code reading exercises, using live production code from the Career Explorer in order to nurture understanding of code, to familiarize the interns with developer practices, and to practice criticism and the identification of potential bugs. The interns felt this was a particularly useful learning exercise.
Osborn contributed a lot of effort toward data-harvesting and management, ripping data from websites and pdfs into spreadsheets for both the bus routes project and the Career Explorer. While Osborn found it interesting “learning how to use and interact with live data and put it into a list that, basically, the computer can read in like 0.1 seconds,” the tedious data work was his least favorite part of the experience. In particular, it was painful when, while mining lat/long coordinates, “one [set] was not accurate enough, so we did it again.”
Osborn will attend Sheridan College in the fall for Computer Science. He says he’s interested in a career in software development and tells me he’s been using MIT App Inventor 2 to work on his own mobile apps on his own time.
Sidney Jensen’s least favorite parts of this experience were: 1) trying to find a line of code in the 10,678 lines of main.css, 2) the horribly squeaky chairs in the conference room, and 3) getting a detached head.
Don’t worry–it got better. Okay, while she wasn’t zombie-ing about the office with her severed head under her arm, the “detached head” refers to something almost as painful and gory and abominable. All the interns got working experience with Git-based source code control. While they quickly learned Git’s utility, they also quickly learned not to cross it. When the Git-ing gets hard, the gotten must suffer. “Detached head” is the name for a less-than-desirable state one’s local Git repository can get into. Sidney and Anne battled for about 20 minutes to get the Git user interface we were using, Source Tree, to right this situation, eventually falling back into the trenches of the command line. Sewing somebody’s head back on might have actually been easier.
Sidney reports that even though it was work, “I actually really liked it.” Her favorite element of the program was “hanging out with you guys and learning coding.” Despite the beheading and all else, she seems to have enjoyed the experience and enjoys joking about the difficulties that arise during software development. She plans to carry the skills she learned to the University of Wyoming next year, where she plans to prepare for a “computer science or engineering career in programming.”
Tyler “da Fighta” Defeyter’s final impression of Coders of the West is similar to Sidney’s: “I think my favorite part was probably just coming in and getting to work with everyone and learn from each other.” From each of the interns, I got the sense that the social aspect was important. I can certainly agree that we had a great team that made working together on a project all the better. While several of the participants reported that meeting together as a team was one of their favorite parts of the program, several others said to me that the social experience was the one thing they wanted more of. Either way, the in-person teamwork ranked highly for importance across the board.
Defeyter is currently studying computer science at Sheridan College. “I got a lot of really good experience in the career field I hope to go in to,” he says. We tapped Defeyter’s existing experience in programming to solve some very specific, niche problems for the Career Explorer. “I probably struggled the most with trying to research obscure code bits that were really specific to our projects,” he says. Rather than just flexing his strengths, he worked with technologies new to him, such as loading GeoJSON into Google Maps or making use of a semi-arcane Vue framework plugin called VueTables2. While Tyler happened to be answering the question “What was your least favorite part of this experience?” when he brought these matters up, we hope (and believe) that challenging him has contributed to his growth as a programmer.
Team Sheridan closed up shop May 15 with the end of the Sheridan College school year. Our thanks again to the Wyoming Department of Education, Gannett Peak Technical Services, Sheridan High School, and Sheridan College for bringing this opportunity to Sheridan.