Mentoring at the Chciago #HourOfCode 2014

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I was blessed to learn to code at a very young age. My first computer was a Tandy TRS-80 which I used to make very rudimentary programs on their basic cartridges starting at 7 years old.

In Jr. High, while shopping at the local computer store, I discovered Borland C++.  Unfortunately, the compiler and accompanying manuals were almost $200, far beyond my price range.

Fortunately, our home computer was soon upgraded to Windows 3.1, which I grew incredibly excited about. I discovered QBasic and found books at the library to learn rudimentary programming.

I was fortunate enough to have parents who provided the necessary equipment, which was very expensive at the time, and the foresight to let me satisfy my curiosity through countless trips to the library and annoying questions about things they understood little about.

Learning to code at a young age, with my parents support, has proven to be the single most important career decision in my entire life.

Thankfully, learning to code is now much easier.  Through the Internet, countless free resources are available to make it much easier to learn this crucial skill then ever before.

This is why I was so excited when a friend of mine, Will Little, invited me to participate in the “Hour of Code” program at Wells Community High School, I jumped at the chance.  Teaching others to code is a passion and I try to jump at any opportunity to help others learn.

At the event, there was a tremendous showing from the local Chicago community of computer professionals.  We went through a brief orientation where the sponsoring teacher, Ms. Daniels, explained the history of the school and a bit about the computer science courses that they offer.

All of the volunteers were then led down the halls to the school entrance chanting, “Hour of Code” to drum up excitement.  We then split into our pre-assigned classrooms where we welcomed students.

After brief introductions, we helped students walk through the tutorials offered by Code.org.  In these tutorials, students are walked through basic lessons to perform various actions on the screen.  You can take a look at several of them at http://code.org/learn.

I particularly enjoyed meeting the students.  Afterwards, I had several students say that they would continue learning to code on their own time, which was particularly encouraging.

Overall, the event was incredibly enjoyable and appears to have made a small impact on the lives of the students.

Do you know how to code? What’s holding you back? If you do, when did you learn?

What captures the depth of your imagination?

presents

Christmas morning was a special experience for me as a young child.

Three hundred and sixty five days of anticipation build into one night. I’d struggle to fight off sleep, yearning for the sound of sleigh bells on the roof. My efforts would prove futile as I drifted off, only to awake in the blink of an eye.  I’d shake off the last remnants of sleep and spend the next two minutes in an enlightened state of being as I raced to discover what awaited that morning.

I was fully captured by the possibilities, the anticipation, the excitement. My imagination was fully engaged.

I now have the privilege of watching this drama play out through the eyes of my three young daughters on Christmas morning.  The expressions on their faces are my favorite part. Their rosy cheeks, still warm from sleep, can’t fully hide their excitement as they race to discover what awaits them.

These are magical moments, moments that we dismiss as rare and special far too easily.  As adults, we are content to leave these moments to children, telling ourselves that we have transcended the need to entertain such simplistic tendencies.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent enough time with “adults” and they can keep their unimaginative maturity.

What strikes me further about imagination and an experience like Christmas morning is the depth of it.  A child on Christmas morning is fully engaged in the imagination of the moment.  They aren’t participating half-heartedly, they are locked in a dance with awe and wonder at a level that adults seem to slowly lose the ability appreciate.

The question I ask myself is, “What has the ability to capture my imagination produce an experience at that level?”.  Our world is so completely filled with fascinating sights and experiences that we’ve become numb to the works of imagination around us. We’ve scalded our imagination to famous architecture, insightful art or even a beautiful landscape for the hum drum monotony of life.

Einstein famously said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination”.  We observe this in children, yet struggle to reconnect with it as adults. This says to me that our struggle for imagination is not an effort of learning something new, but reclaiming what the process of maturity has seemingly stolen.  Seeing adults go through this process of rediscovering their imagination captures mine and gives me tremendous hope.

What captures your imagination so completely that time seems to stand still?

The Office Door Effect

This post originally appeared on appendTo’s blog on September 11th, 2014.  I’ve cross-posted it here for posterity.

Here at appendTo, we are a fully distributed company. We all work from home offices across the country and world, rarely connecting with one another in a physical space during the normal course of our work day.

The key to making this a success has been our perspective of translating the normal human interactions we are accustomed to in a physical office into the virtual environment.

One of the simplest habits we train every employee on is the Office Door Effect. When you work in a physical office, depending on the layout, humans observe when others enter or exit the building.

We replicate this by asking everyone to drop a message into a chat room when they arrive for work, when they leave, or when they briefly step away.  We’ve tried accomplishing this through chat status notifications, but it is never quite the same.

This creates a chat room with many small comments of, “Good Morning” or “Stepping away for a moment” which may seem like noise, but has had an incredibly positive impact on our culture.

It brings everyone together because it demonstrates commitment to our jobs by indicating whether we are focused on work at any given time or doing something else in front of our computers. It provides an easy and asynchronous way to discover where people are when they don’t immediately respond to a chat message.

The other important thing dropping a message into a room conveys is the duration of absence.  If you say, “Out for a few hours”, we know when to expect your return. If someone needs to connect with you, they can then decide whether to wait or proceed with other tasks until you return. If a client contacts us and needs access to a particular developer, it can also help us mitigate their need by giving them a specific availability time frame, or offering the services of a developer who’s immediately available.

We have a special “heads down” status that typically means someone is online for “emergency” purposes, but otherwise should not be disturbed because they are concentrating on a particular task or problem.

We use Slack as our platform to communicate all of the above, and love using it as our chat system. However, Slack is currently set up so that we have to manually type status messages into the chats. Adding an automated feature that would do this for us would make communicating on Slack a more seamless process. That said, we’ve recently submitted a feature request to Slack, to which they’ve been responsive and all around awesome.

How do you indicate presence in your organization?