Coding 101 43 (Transcript)
Father Robert Ballecer: On this wildcard episode of Coding 101 we’ve got Gregg Pollack, founder of Code School. It’s time to get geeky.
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Fr. Robert: Welcome to Coding 101. It’s the TWiT show where we let you into the wonderful world of the code monkey. I’m father Robert Ballecer, the digital Jesuit here with Gregg Pollack, the founder of Code School. Greg, thanks for coming onto the show.
Gregg Pollack: Thank you for inviting me, it’s great to be here.
Fr. Robert: Now we do these episodes as it’s a nice little change from what we get on our regular weeks on Coding 101, which is we do some hard hardcore coding. But every once in a while we like to stop and listen to the people behind the code. The people who either teach it, who do it in the real world, or who actually write the software, tools and sweets that we use to create the code that runs the world. You’re here specifically because a little bit of a creative enterprise that has been encouraging people to get into the world of coding. But we’ll talk about that in a bit. What I want to talk about first is about you. Can you tell the folks at home, who are you? Who is Gregg Pollack, where do you come from and why do you find yourself at the head of a code teaching empire?
Gregg: Well sure. You and me went to Santa Claire University, so I have a computer engineering background. But I wanted to go into video games. That didn’t turn out totally. But I learned about this hot new language named Java. And I learned some Java. Got a Java job for a while. Got a Perl job for a while. I ended up moving to Orlando, doing some consulting work. Along those ways I had two startups I tried to do. They both failed and then I started doing consulting here and I started building applications. Learned about this hot new technology called Ruby on Rails, really got into that with the consulting work. And then also realized around that same time that I really enjoyed creating ways to teach programmers. Whether it’s doing podcasts, doing videos, doing blog posts, I really enjoyed and got a lot of positive feedback from educating developers. And a few years later into the consulting, I started this thing called Code School, which allows people to learn different coding techniques online. That’s my story in a nutshell.
Fr. Robert: Lets crack open that nutshell a little bit. Because there’s actually a lot in there. Let’s go back even before you got to Santa Claire University. Both of us were there in the computer science department. Like you, I loved programming. I kind of wanted to take it in a slightly different direction. I also started thinking I wanted to design games. But eventually I was weaned off of that. When you think about the time before the university, do you remember what got you into computers in the first place?
Gregg: That’d be my dad. Fred Pollack, he was a computer engineer at Intel for 25 years. Worked his way up as an engineer, eventually becoming a fellow, and I believe he was the head of the RND department there for a little while. So I was surrounded by computers growing up. I was always fascinated by them. Eventually got one in my own room and hacked around a lot on the old says. Doing BBSs and that sort of stuff. So I was always really into it. Got in to web pages. But it was just something I was always gravitated towards.
Fr. Robert: You’re the second straight guest who has talked about BBSs. And there’s a whole new generation now that has never had to do a BBS. Has never had to dial up actually. And it’s interesting, what might be your experience of that BBS webpage crossover. Because I remember the first time I was able to write a web page when I was at Santa Clara, and they were trying to explain it to me. They said oh, well it’s like a BBS but this can be accessed by people all over the world. And it was a subtle shift there. It was like, okay, so it’s the same idea, but suddenly I’ve got this common scripting language and I can use it anywhere. Do you remember the first time you wrote a webpage?
Gregg: Oh certainly. BBSs were the social networks of the 80s weren’t they? It’s how you connected with other people on your computer. Minus email. But it was more of a social thing. But with the webpages, I started doing webpages back in maybe my senior year of high school, and then into college. Created a home page back then and not like I’ve heard other people that work for me where they’ve managed to get a job. I don’t have any really good stories about that. But started hacking up HTML and CSS as soon as we were able to get an ISP that provided you a free opportunity to have a webpage.
Fr. Robert: I’ve got to ask this. Did you have a CompuServe account?
Gregg: CompuServe... yeah. CompuServe Prodigy.
Fr. Robert: Yes. CompuServe Prodigy and AOL. I think those were sort of the professional bulletin board systems. We had BBSs that might be local. And I remember the first time I found a local BBS in my city that I could call without a long distance charge. I was over the moon. And the first time I created a BBS, I would sit there and just wait for the activity lights on my modem to flicker. Because I wanted someone connected. And then you got AOL, you got Prodigy, you got CompuServe. And you realized I could be connected to a lot more people than I can just over dial up. I think it really defined a transition within a generation of this computer science stuff isn’t just a hobby. It’s not just something I do for fun, it’s something I can do a career in.
Gregg: Yeah definitely. I remember back then I was always trying to find the BBSs with all the information on the hacker stuff and I remember hacking phone voicemail systems with friends of mine and just wreaking havoc. It was crazy.
Fr. Robert: Actually I think the number one thing that was downloaded from my BBS was the Anarchy cook book. Remember that? And that had everything from how to do the 2600 code to how to hack telephone systems to how to make bombs. That was where I learned how to make thermite. It was a weird time. It was like all the worst of the internet, but without the internet.
Gregg: Yeah, it is really interesting to think back to that sort of stuff and how similar things are now. Even back then you had kind of things that resembled massively multiplayer online games. Even back then with the BBSs they would plug these games into the BBSs and you’d go on there and every day you’d get a new set of ships that you could set up defending your planet and attacking other people’s planets. Very much like you can today.
Fr. Robert: Wait, did you play Trade Wars on a BBS?
Gregg: I was trying to figure out what that name was. Yeah, that’s it. Trade Wars, yes, I was hooked.
Fr. Robert: And I was one of these kids who I was on a board that actually allowed for multiple moves per day. So if you didn’t keep calling back in you would miss your moves and people would kill you. Again, that’s the second straight week we’ve had someone on who has talked about BBSs and Trade Wars, that’s fantastic. So take me through this. Obviously you grew up with computers, because your father was heavily involved with them. When did you notice that transition from a computer was nice to have and it was interesting and the geeks used it and the nerds used it to everyone has this now. Everyone needs to use a computer otherwise you can get left behind.
Gregg: Yeah, when did I notice that there was a point where everyone needs a computer? I don’t know if I was that globally plugged into the mentality of the world. But definitely going into college, by the time I got to college everybody had their own computers.
Fr. Robert: That was a thing. For me I think it was actually after I had already entered the priesthood. So like near 1994-5 was when- universities of course had access to the internet, but then you started having access to the internet from companies other than AOL and Prodigy. Because they gave you “kind of the internet” but now you had local companies that were setting up where you could dial in and you were just on the internet. And you could go anywhere on the internet. I remember the first time I found gopher. Did you ever use gopher to download “legal” Material?
Gregg: Definitely not.
Fr. Robert: OF course not. Course not. Alright, let’s pull out a tiny bit. Now you’re at Santa Clara University, you’re studying computer science because you’re thinking about going into game development. You talked about, maybe you didn’t want to do that. What turned you away from the world of game development?
Gregg: Bottom line is I never had a good mentor. Like so many other developers I’ve talked to I had an unfortunate series of bosses and never had anyone that helped me harness my talent and my passion for computer science and programming. So I went to the game company, tried to do that, but I just got shoe horned because nobody really took me under their wing and showed me how to do things. So my passion went elsewhere. At the time I was really into online gaming with games Quake and Doom and all that sort of stuff. And so much so that I had a clan and we’d play in online tournaments. And I saw those online tournaments, it’s like oh that’s really interesting. They’re using the same kind of online web application technology that I just learned how to program. Let me see if I can do that. And that was actually the first start up that I tried to create, was called Gaming Leagues. And it allowed- it was sort of a freemium business where anyone could create their own online tournament leagues for any games. And it was a great piece of software but the unfortunate part of the story is I didn’t know crap about sales and marketing. Nor is that in my blood to really enjoy doing stuff like that. So that business didn’t work out.
Fr. Robert: I’m here with Gregg Pollack the founder of Code School, we’ll be right back but first I wanted to take some time to talk about the first sponsor of this episode of Coding 101. We’ve had them on the show a lot. You know them, you love them, its Lynda.com. What is Lynda.com? Lynda.com is a one stop shop. A repository for knowledge on the internet. And it’s one of the tools that we suggest to the people who watch Coding 101 or any of the shows on the TWIT TV network. And that’s because whether you’re a beginner, advanced, intermediate, whatever your skill level might be, there’s something on Lynda.com for you. Even if you already know the subject, it’s a great way to go back and find those little bits and pieces that maybe need a refresher. Lynda.com is an easy and affordable way to help you learn. You can instantly stream thousands of courses created by experts on software, web development, graphic design and more. It works directly with industry experts and software companies to provide timely training, often the same day that new versions or releases hit the market so you’re always up to speed. All courses on Lynda.com are created at the highest quality. This is important. You don’t want to start watching a series on a subject that you desperately need if the audio or camera or lights are horrible. That’s all superficial, but if it gets in the way of the learning, it’s important. That’s why Lynda.com is always produced professionally. They also include tools like searchable transcripts and playlists and certificates of course completion, which you can publish to your LinkedIn profile. All these things help you to find what you need to know when you need to know it. Whether you’re a beginner, advanced, intermediate, Lynda.com has sources for all experience levels. You can learn on the go with the Lynda.com app for iOS and Android and one low monthly price of $25 gives you unlimited access to over 100,000 video tutorials. Premium plan members can also download project files and practice along with the instructor and premium members with an annual plan can download courses to watch offline. Which makes Lynda.com the ultimate resource for knowledge. Lynda.com has a series of tutorials on the foundations of programming including courses on fundamentals, databases, object oriented design and more. There’s also the code clinic series, where Lynda.com offers monthly challenges using different programming languages. Including Python, Java, PhP, C++ and Ruby. Whether you’re completely new to coding, want to learn a new programming language or just sharpen your skills, Lynda.com has got you covered. For any software you rely on, Lynda.com can help you stay current with all software updates and learn the ins and outs to be more efficient and productive. And we’ve got a special offer just for you to access all the courses free for 10 days. Visit Lynda.com/c101 to try Lynda.com free for 10 days. And we thank Lynda for their support of Coding 101. I’m back with Gregg Pollack, the founder of Code School. Gregg, you talked a little bit about this new language that came up when you were at Santa Clara. This Java. And actually, I was kind of gone by the time that started becoming popular. When I was there I was learning C+. What was it like? Because I remember the promise of Java. The whole idea was oh, you’re going to write it once and it’ll work on everything forever all of the time. What was the promise made to you that sucked you into Java?
Gregg: Well, at the time it was the new hotness when it came to programming languages. I did learn C++ in college. And then I took maybe one or two courses where it went into Java. But you’re exactly right, that’s what it was touted as. That here was this language that you could run across all these different operating systems and run the same code. And that was the new hotness.
Fr. Robert: Yeah. Java gets a really bad rap for being insecure and being crash and being a resource hog. Go down the line and every programmer who has ever worked with Java is going to have some gripe about the language. But –
Gregg: Don’t they say that about all the languages?
Fr. Robert: Exactly. Do you think that Java gets unfairly booted over what is essentially people just using it wrong?
Gregg: I think you can say that about every language. There’s negatives and positives about all the languages and you can use them all poorly. And the biggest argument is with the new interpreted languages, that’s the biggest thing you can point out and go yeah, well, Ruby and Python are not as fast as these complied languages, like C and Java, but when it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter for 99% of the time.
Fr. Robert: Yeah. And I think you’ve got that dead on which is, you can pick out the worst attribute of any language and make that the reason why you hate the language. But then that misses off on the things that that language does exceptionally well. And if it’s going to become a popular language, there’s got to be some reason why it’s become popular. Something that it does well, something that it does quickly, efficiently. What would you say is Java’s strength?
Gregg: I don’t think I’m the right person to ask about that. But the bottom line is, when it comes to being a software craftsman, it’s your job to make sure that you use the right tool for the job. Whether that’s Java, Ruby, Python, and there’s plenty of reasons to use any of them. It could have something to do with a library that one of them has or support or graphing library. It could be all sorts of reasons. You just have to make sure you use the best tool for the job and try not to be too biased by your natural tendencies to pick the familiar.
Fr. Robert: Right, right. Let’s skip forward a tiny bit. We’ve talked about your college years, we’ve talked about your choices in languages, but now let’s talk a little bit about Code School. Let’s talk about Envy Labs. You founded Envy Labs and then you founded Code School. What are those organizations about? Envy Labs is an interesting place because it seems to be a collection of creative who have very widely desperate disciplines.
Gregg: Kind of. So Envy Labs was just the rebranding of Consultancies. When I first moved to Orlando I created a consultancy called Pas Software and then I created another one called Rail Envy. And then Envy Labs was the evolution from there. And basically Envy Labs- I kind of started it out with 2 purposes. The first was to create the best environment for software developers. Pay them well, have fun while we’re doing it. Trust them to do good work. And the second reason that we sort of was the reason we did good work there was to figure out the most honest and transparent way to do consulting work. Because as developers, people who like building stuff were not always the best communicators. So I tried to figure out what are the processes I can put in place to maintain a high level of transparency between what we’re doing and what our clients are doing. And we sort of innovated on that. And I was lucky enough that when I started blogging and podcasting and going and speaking at conferences, that led to finding more work. People would come our way and Rails was also- Ruby on Rails was also new technology, that’s one way you can drum up good business is pick a new technology, a niece technology that not so many people know yet and advertise that you can help with that. So that’s what we did and we were lucky enough to get some good clients, we started with just four guys in an office and then we grew to about I think maybe between 16 and 20 before we launched our first product, Code School. And we were lucky enough that since we were making enough money from the consultancy, that we could afford to try to create a product and it was funded by the consultancy. So Envy Labs is now a separate entity. They have about 13 people there that still work there and do consulting work. And Code School has about 35 people who work separately. And they both work next to each other as two different organizations. And we’ve never had to take any funding. It was all bootstrapped. We’re pretty lucky in that respect.
Fr. Robert: Let’s talk about Code School. Because it’s actually been very popular to create coding boot camps. I’ve seen so many pop up over just the last five years. Code school, like your curriculum. I like the way that you handle it. I like your menu of options for people who are interested. Can you describe what you think makes Code School different than what else you might find?
Gregg: Sure. What I’m most passionate about is really figuring out the best way to teach new technologies. That’s what I’ve always done. When I was doing blogging I would go speak at conferences and I realized that- I put out videos. Every few months I’d put out more free videos, sometimes I’d get them sponsored by other companies. Put all these educational videos out there, have fun with green screens. And then a couple- we also started looking at Tri Ruby. It was one of these in browser coding things that was around long before Code Academy was out there. And so at one point we were like, what would happen if we put together the videos that I enjoy producing, the green screen videos, with that coding in the browser? And what if we game-ified it? And what would it look like if it was game-ified? So we came up with Code School where, what we do every time we go to approach a new topic, is we create a whole new theme. Because we want you to feel like you’re walking into a game spot and you’re picking a game off the shelf and it has an entirely new theme and then when we go to teach it, we ask ourselves, okay how can we teach this in the most effective way? Not just showing somebody a talking head, not just showing someone a string and they walk you through it. But how can we really explain some of these hard to understand technical topics in a very engaging and entertaining way? And so what we do, each course on Code School might take you about 4 hours to complete, but you’ll first watch a 5-10 minute video and then you’ll immediately have to go into the browser to do some coding challenges right there in the browser in order to get to the next level. So we make you prove that you really understood what we’re talking about. And what’s interesting is that between courses, you’ll notice that the interface for playing the course and the interface for solving the challenges in coding, it changes. Because even amongst programming languages and even frameworks in those programming languages, the optimal way to learn and code in those in a learning tool, changes. So what’s innovative really about Code School is how we put together so many different disciplines to create one final product. One final course. And I suspect we spend more than anybody does out there for a single course. Because we need to make sure that we’ve got instructional design, good development, good design, good branding, and good videography. We even bring in a jingle writer so we have somebody do a jingle for it. We have to have good badges that people want to earn. And it has to be game-ified. So we add that gamification to make a learning experience which is hopefully most effective. So the next time a developer thinks hey, I want to pick up that new technology, should I look and see if there’s a book? Well, maybe first I’ll see if there’s a Code School first because I think that’ll probably be the most entertaining way and most effective use of my time to pick up that subject. But we don’t have drones. Not like Lynda.
Fr. Robert: What I like about that, I like this gamification of the learning process. One of the things that we get in feedback, not just here but in some of my other jobs where I’m actually teaching people how to program, is I get criticism from some of the older school teachers who are saying well no, if you’re going to teach someone programming, you give them all the theory and give them this and this and this layer and this layer. And I look at the curriculum and we might be going 18 months in before someone writes something that’s actually useable in the outside world. And it sounds to me as if Code School is going in a different direction. Where you want to give someone a goal at the beginning of a path. You want to say look, I’m going to show you how to design something for iOS, and you’re going to pick up these markers as you go along, to prove that you have the knowledge that you’re accumulating from the classes that we’re giving you. And at the end you will have something palatable that you can hold up and say I created this. It’s a different way of learning.
Gregg: The idea that your job is to sit in the classroom and a teacher is going to lecture at you for an hour and you need to be able to absorb all that information so you can go do something with it, that’s horrible. I slept through most of my college classes because of that. And really if they would have taught more like what we do at Code School I probably would have been more engaged. You know, teach me a single subject and then let’s use it. Let’s do it together. And we work a lot at Code School with the coding boot camps. A lot of these new coding boot camps have popped up because they use our content as a text book. They use it to reverse the classroom. So before they even show up, they’ll say go take this Code School course and we’ll see you tomorrow. And people show up and they might go over the syntax that were taught in that course, but then they get to spend more time doing what is best- the time in the classroom is best spent not being lectured at, but actually building stuff with other people which is where time should be spent in the classroom. Which is the best use of time. What do you think?
Fr. Robert: Yeah. I’m absolutely down with that. And ultimately what you want is you want to have many different ways for people to learn. Something that I’ve picked up during years of being an educator is if you’re expecting every student to learn the same way you’re going to be sorely disappointed. So if you don’t give people different ways to learn the same information differently, you’re always going to lose someone. Someone is just not going to get it. Someone will not be able to understand the lesson.
Gregg: Yeah. You know, there was actually some research that came out recently, I can’t cite it offhand, that showed that that assumption that some people learn in different ways is a little bit faulty. It doesn’t really stand up when you get down to it. There’s certain common ways that you can really engage the majority of people. And we’re still figuring that out. And I think that’s where it is a lot of innovation is left to be had when it comes to learning online. You see all of the universities try to go online but they’re just bringing the lectures online, it’s nothing engaging. They’re not taking the extra time to fully utilize multimedia and interactivity. It’s getting closer but it’s still not there and there’s more that you can do. And that’s why if you haven’t checked out, not to do shameless self-promotion, but we’ve got a lot of free content over on Code School. If you want to check out Rails, we’ve got Rails for Zombies, if you want to check out Ruby, we’ve got Try Ruby. We’ve got tons of free content and most of our content has the first free level if it’s not all free. So go over there and check it out. And also angular. Angular is really hot right now as well. We were going to talk about that at some point. But we worked with Google to put together an Angular course that’s completely free to get you up to speed.
Fr. Robert: Gregg, I want you to step into the shoes of a perspective student. And let’s make this person a complete noob. This person, obviously a millennial, understands computers, or at least knows how to use a computer. But he or she has never programmed, he/she has never thought about programming until he/she wandered onto Code School. What do you want to be their experience? As they’re scrolling through the courses that are available, what are you hoping that they’ll experience that will say oh, okay this is what I want to do? I want to develop an iOS app. or I want to create a web page. Or I want to be able to do something in Swift. What’s your gateway for this?
Gregg: Well there’s two different questions that you are maybe- and let me know which one you want me to answer. The first question is what do I recommend people who are people who are thinking about learning program do? And then the second one is what do I want people to get out of Code School and why do I think they’ll be more successful there?
Fr. Robert: Let’s take them one after the other.
Gregg: Sure. If you want to become a programmer, the first step is to figure out something that you want to build. Figure out a problem that you want to solve. This could be creating a website for your uncle’s store. Or creating a home page for your cat. Or a cat washing business. So figure out something that you want to build. Could be an iPhone app. Then you’ve got to look into what technologies do you need to learn to do that. Obviously if you want to create an iPhone app you need to go into iOS, objective C. if you want to do a webpage then you need to learn HTML and CSS. So you’ve got to figure out what you need to learn in order to accomplish what you want to accomplish. Then once you figure that out you can dive into a subject. Maybe we’ll have it on Code School, maybe it’ll get you started. But what’s important is that you stick with that and you try to build that project as you go. The most successful learners have that vision of something they want to build. And so they have that passion because they have purpose. So find a purpose. The third thing I would say to people learning how to code is find where you can go and surround yourself with other programmers. You might have a friend that’s a programmer, but if you live in a big city, odds are you have some great users groups. So these are meet up groups where other craftsmen hang out. So see if you can go and hang out with other developers so that way you have a support network. The other thing you might want to do if you’re pretty serious about it, it depends on how much money you want to spend. Is figure out how much money you can spend. To learn. And how much of a sacrifice you can make in your time. So if money is no object and you want to learn how to code, the best way to do it is to find a boot camp. Look for ones like you’ve got general assembly, you’ve got flat iron school, you’ve got a bunch of these- boot camp, Dev boot camp, you’ve got iron yard. Some really great developer boot camps have been popping up over the last year. And you know, you’ll be spending between 10-15 grand but it’ll be a great education. It’ll take you 3 or 4 months of time, you’ll come out the other end a hirable beginner junior programmer. Or at least an intern. So I’ve you’ve got a lot of money you can do that. If you’ve got a little less money, maybe you can do like $500 a month, you want to look at these two websites, there’s only 2 right now that really do this really well. And that is Thankful or BlockIO. And for these guys you’re going to spend a couple hundred dollars a month, it’s going to be all online, not in person, but they’re going to give you a great curriculum and pair you up with a mentor. A mentor that you get to talk with quite often. So you get to talk with your mentor, they lead you through the curriculum. And that’s really good if you can afford to spend a couple hundred dollars a month if you’re that serious. And if you’re the kind of person that needs somebody to assign you to do work who is making sure that you get it done and is checking in with you then that might be a good alternative. If you don’t want to spend that much, maybe it’s only, let’s say $29 a month, maybe check out Code School. Maybe also check out Lynda.com. Maybe also check out Plural site. Maybe also check out Treehouse.com. All of these are relatively inexpensive ways to learn online. And if you want to learn a discipline, like if I wanted to learn how to trade in the stock market, do you think I could just read one stock market book and I would know everything that I would need to know? Probably not. You’re going to need to learn from multiple resources. And that’s why you might want to get a subscription to say, Lynda and Code School and Plural site and Treehouse. Because you’re not going to really get everything the first time and we all have our strengths. And so you might spend $100 a month instead of a couple hundred dollars a month, but have access to all these great tutorials because they’re all pretty awesome. Yeah. So I guess that kind of- that was a lot of answers to questions you didn’t ask.
Fr. Robert: No, that’s fantastic. I love that plurality of information. I mean, that’s one of the strengths of this internet generation, which is you can pull in information from so many different sources and one of they will match the way that you learn and that’s great. But if you don’t mind, when we come back from the break, I want to talk about this concept that you’ve brought up twice now in this episode, it’s the idea of mentorship. Because I think that element is not considered enough by people who want to get into programming. And that’s why I see a lot of fall off. People who say they want to get into programming and then they lose interest. And I think you’re dead on in that a mentor can make all the difference. Can we talk about that after the break?
Gregg: Sounds good, and I also have a few confessions to make Father.
Fr. Robert: Okay, we’ll have that at the end of the show. Before we go there though, let’s just take a short break to thank the second sponsor of this episode of Coding 101. And it’s Mandrill. I know a lot of attention these days is being paid to the latest in social. The latest collaboration tool, the latest suite for communication. But if you consider what happens in business, what happens in the enterprise. What really happens when work needs to occur, it always comes back to email. And Mandrill is a scalable, reliable and secure email infrastructure service that is trusted by more than 300,000 customers. Mandrill is easy to set up and integrate with your existing apps and it’s fast. It allows you to integrate, deliver, track and analyze. It gives you detailed delivery reports, advanced analytics and a friendly interface that means that your entire team from developers to marketers can easily monitor and evaluate email performance. With service all over the world Mandrill can deliver your email in milliseconds. It started as an idea back in 2010 but now it’s growing fast and innovating faster. Mandrill is now the largest email as a service platform on the market. You can use Mandrill to send automated one to one emails like password resets and welcome messages, as well as marketing emails and customized newsletters. They made it for developers, and developers love documentation, integration, high delivery rates, web hooks and analytics and that’s all built into the package. It comes with a beautiful interface, flexible template options, custom tagging and advanced tracking and reports. Mandrill is the only email infrastructure service with a mobile app that lets you monitor delivery and troubleshoot from wherever you are. If you are even remotely interested in having your email service being taken up to the next level, we want you to try Mandrill. It’s powerful, scalable and affordable, but you don’t have to take our word for it. Right now Mandrill is offering the TWIT audience a special deal. Sign up at Mandrill.com, promo code TWIT and you’ll receive 50,000 free email sends per month for your first 6 months of service. That’s Mandrill.com, promo code TWIT. And we thank Mandrill for their support of Coding 101. We’re back with Gregg Pollack, the founder of Code School, we’re going to talk a little bit about mentorship. Gregg, at the beginning of this episode you talked about drifting away from video game programming because you didn’t have a mentor who really challenged you. And then when I asked you about how people can learn, one of the things you mentioned was to have a mentor. Someone who would do more than just collect homework, but actually ask the difficult questions. What do you think those difficult questions are? What’s the job of a mentor? To sit down with someone who may be brand new at programming and to push him or her, question him/her, challenge him/her? What do they do?
Gregg: I was going to say, I don’t think it’s so much about being challenged, as much as having someone to ask questions to. One of the reasons why I think we try to make Code School a place to get started is because when you first pick up a new technology, if you’re going to fail it’s going to happen in the first 30 minutes. Because you can’t install it, you can’t configure it right and you’re missing a semicolon. So you’re going to get stuck, especially when you first start out, you’re going to have a lot of stumbling blocks because the tools aren’t always simple. Having that person you can go to when you run into problems is the most valuable thing you could possibly have. So I think that’s really the role of a mentor, is having someone you can go to when you get stuck. Because you’re going to get stuck several times and you need to have the right person to deal with that. You’ve got to be able to enjoy solving really complex problems. And I think that’s the biggest thing. As far as having someone who points you in the right direction, it’s always good if you have someone who has already learned something so they can paint you down the right path and tell you what to learn.
Fr. Robert: I think along with that, the best mentors that I’ve seen have been able to really force their mentees to ask of themselves why you are doing this. Because as you mentioned, you wanted to get into programming to solve a problem. You want to start programming because you wanted to do something. Sometimes people will come into this thinking, I want a career. That’s not enough. Unless you actually understand that you want to use your knowledge, that you’re acquiring, to do something, it’s not going to sustain you. And I think that’s something that I’ve seen good mentors do. if you have someone who is brand new into coding and you’ve already given them the advice about finding the right service, maybe having a mentor, shopping around to look at the different online resources so that they can figure out if this is something they want to do, something they’re capable of doing, something they have the aptitude to do, what’s next? Lest say someone goes through a path and completes it, chose proficiency, what’s the next step?
Gregg: Build stuff. That’s it. It goes back to, what is it, Malcom Gladwell, The Tipping Point? You’ve got to practice. The best musicians aren’t there because they were born with it, they put in thousands of hours of practice. So really, when it comes down to it, you need to build stuff. That’s how you teach yourself on your own, that’s how people get hired without a college degree. Is because in their spare time, they built things with what they learned, so much so that they could show potential employers, look what I built.
Fr. Robert: Fantastic. Gregg Pollack, founder of Code School with some sage advice. If you want to code, go build stuff.
Gregg: I have a few things to confess. I didn’t write any tests for my code, I might have broken the build. I might have used some software that wasn’t really open source. I accidently checked in all of the passwords into our source control system which I might have stored in plain text. And lastly I wrote it all in this new programming language that I invented so I kind of might be the only person that can do it.
Fr. Robert: You’re missing one big one. I didn’t document anything. I didn’t copy anything. That’s the big one for me. Anytime I see beautiful code that has no comments, I just want to cry. That’s actually a pretty good list. Tell folks where they can find you, find Code School, your work, on the internet.
Fr. Robert: Gregg Pollack, thank you very much. Make sure that you head over to Code School and see the wonderful empire of code that he’s put together. I want to thank you for spending some time with Coding 101, we’d love to invite you back at some point, or a representative of Code School, to guide us through a project or two. Do you think that’s something you might be interested in doing?
Gregg: Oh, certainly. That would be amazing. I was looking at your previous episode, I saw some C Sharp and Perl flying around. I’d be happy to do it. If you’re looking for some Ruby and Rails it would be fun to lead you guys through a Rails project.
Fr. Robert: We haven’t had anyone on for Ruby, for Rails yet, so that’s definitely something that’s on our checklist. Thank you very much.
Gregg: Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.
Fr. Robert: Now folks, don’t forget that we do this show live every Thursday at 1:30 pacific time at live.twit.tv. Watch the pre-show, post-show and bloopers. Also, as long as you’re watching live, jump into our chatroom at live.twit.tv. It’s a good way to chat with us as we’re going through the show. Next week we’re going to be getting back into programming and a little programming project and we defiantly want to take your questions as we go, so that we know where you need us to focus our attention. Don’t forget that you can drop by our show page at twit.tv/code. You’ll be able to find all of our episodes, the show notes which include links to the assets files and the GitHub repository, and drop down menus to subscribe to download into your device of choice. Don’t forget we’ve to a Google+ group at plus.google.com/twitcoding101. If you drop in and join the community you can ask questions, answer questions, and participate in the conversation that makes Coding 101 not just a show, but a community of folks who are interested in how code works. Don’t forget, you can find me on twitter at twitter.com/padresj. If you follow me there you can find out what we’re doing for every episode of Coding 101 and other shows on the TWIT TV network, including This Week in Enterprise Tech on Mondays, Tuesdays for Padre’s Corner, and Thursdays a double dose of DIY with Know How and Coding 101. I want to thank everyone who made this show possible, Lisa, Leo, and of course to my super technical director. Mister Brian CrankyHippo Burnett. Brian, tell the folks a little about yourself and where they can find you on the TWIT TV network?
Bryan Burnett: Yeah, they can find me on Know How, doing DIY stuff with you and if you saw that Lynda ad earlier with drones, that’s what we’re playing with. Tune in for that.
Fr. Robert: Thank you Cranky Hippo. Next week we’re going to be getting back into coding, we’ll be on the other side of the studio taking you through a project. These wild card episodes are fun but we’ve got to get back to our roots. Until then, I’m Robert Ballecer, end of line!