This is a straight line. It is fucking boring.

My life hasn’t been “normal” by any means.

I didn’t have a childhood – had to grow up fast.

My family were refugees of the Persian Gulf War.

I started working at a young age of nine, helping my family run a 24-hour convenience store.

I didn’t have the typical college experience – I worked two jobs to put myself through school.

I started a company a couple of years later that was later acquired in 2011.

All while I had limited opportunities as it took me 22 years of living in the U.S. to become a citizen.

Comparing my path against my friends since the sale has been the most ordinary my life has been. I have a 9 to 5 job with health insurance, a stable paycheck, and co-workers who have become like a second family. Despite running Girl Develop It Philly and everything else I’m involved in, I have more free time than ever – something that had been unattainable to me for decades. I’ve had time to think about going the predictable route – settling down, getting married, having kids, etc. and it’s something I’ve come to think is a possibility. At 31-years-old, things generally seem good.

However, I haven’t been able to become accustomed to the rut I fell into. I go to work, come home, eat dinner, go to sleep, get up and do it all over again. I’ve had this persistant gnawing feeling at the back of my mind that something wasn’t right but I was unable figure it out. A recent vacation to Costa Rica brought it to the forefront.

All I’ve known my whole life is hard work. I’ve struggled to attain everything I’ve achieved. And you know what? I’m damn tired. Burned out. Exhausted.

I used to quote the mantra “work hard now, play hard later” to justify my work ethic in college, at the first consulting company I was involved in, and later at 123LinkIt. My family and friends were in a constant battle for my attention and that chant would pull me through tough times. My perception of it now? Fuck that motto right in la culata. I want to go back in time and slap myself silly every time I contemplated that sentence.  While I was away, I was mesmerized by the climate, mountains, jungles, animals and most of all, the people in Costa Rica. They work to live, coveting relationships with loved ones over the daily grind. I realized that wanderlust and more meaningful relationships are what I want during this stage of my life. To put my career on the back burner for a change and discover who I am without my laptop.

It leads to the reason I’m traveling. I don’t do anything half-way, which is why it’s for a prolonged duration. I will be flying into Quito, Ecuador on May 30th where I’ll stay with a host family while immersing myself in the Spanish language and culture for the first 6 weeks. I move on to Colombia, maybe Venezuela, head down to Brazil, then Argentina and loop back around to Chile and Peru, where I’ll return right before Thanksgiving. I have an idea of where I want to go and what I want to do, but I haven’t made specific plans besides booking a trek on the Inca trail. It’s a solo trip, I don’t know a single person, and I’m hoping family and friends will visit along the way.

My life’s path has been restrictive due to circumstances beyond my control and for the first time in my life, I have the freedom to steer away and do what I CHOOSE rather than the limited scope I have been given. I’m looking forward to traveling towards undefined destinations and letting things happen as they may.

When I come back, I plan to tackle the Middle East and then who knows what else. All I do know is that it won’t be following the status quo.

T-10 days.

P.S. Recommended reading: “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” – A nurse outlines profound, common themes she witnesses among her ailing patients. The first two ring truest for me.

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Many companies offer tuition reimbursement but employees rarely take advantage of it, either because they don’t know it’s available or they’re not sure of how to approach it. Becoming a valuable asset by strengthening or building new skills is a win-win for employees and employers alike. In this post, I’ll share tips and strategies to start the conversation and close the deal.

I approached my boss about taking a design class at University of the Arts during our site redesign last year. I made it clear aesthetics wasn’t my strong suit and it would help me do a better job with the project and others coming up.  Coupled with the steps I outline below, my request was granted and I was able to take the $545 eight-week class for free.

I’ve brought up the concept to a few Girl Develop It members. Our classes are $10 to $14 an hour and it should be an easy win to ask for compensation. So far, every member that has tried has been successful. For those that are a little apprehensive, the process is similar to a negotiation. It requires pre-planning to prepare and negate any issues that may appear.

Step 1: Have a plan

  • Align it with a project and lead with the interests of the company. Your chance of success will increase if your proposal is framed in terms of benefits to your coworkers or your company.
  • Demonstrate how your new skills will increase productivity and revenue. In my case, I mentioned our project pipeline and how improving my design skills will help us when we create new tools, redo our mailings, revamp other elements and so on.
  • Show studies of how it will impact the company in a positive way. These two links from NBER and eHow explain how tuition reimbursement attracts new talent, increases loyalty, reduces turnover, creates advancement opportunities, and improves productivity.  No one can argue with stats!

Step 2: Anticipate problems that may arise

  • Reassure her or him you will not leave right afterwards. It’s a valid concern and you can offer to sign a contract if necessary (and if you’re comfortable with the idea).
  • Let them know it won’t impact your time at work. The last thing an employer wants to do is sign off on something that will take you away from your responsibilities, regardless of the long-time benefits. Look for options that allow you to attend night or weekend classes.
  • Guarantee a good grade. My company’s policy required I pay for the class upfront and my level of reimbursement directly correlated with my grade. A “B” or higher provided me with the full compensation while a “C” would give me half. A lower grade would mean I would NOT be reimbursed. It’s a fair policy as it ensures employees are taking the course seriously despite not paying out of pocket.
  • Offer to train other employees. As an added side-benefit, you can also suggest teaching other employees your newfound abilities to save money & to help them boost their talent.

When the answer is “No”

  • Offer to split the cost. When it’s clear the answer is no and you really want to attend a class, suggest dividing the bill before you pull out your check or credit card.
  • Don’t give up.  If the answer is still no, try again in a few months when the right opportunity arises. You’ve already won because you’ve showed initiative and your boss will file this away mentally for your next performance.

It doesn’t have to be a long or nerve-wracking conversation. Bring it up during a status meeting or when the right moment presents itself. The more you focus on the benefits and advantages it’ll provide to your employer, the more successful you’ll likely be. What do you really have to lose?

This post was co-written by Corinne Warnshuis & Yasmine Mustafa
ladyhacks-hackathon

A picture from the first Philly women’s hackathon, LadyHacks.

The main goal of most of the tech-related groups in Philadelphia is leave a measurable impact on their members. Whether it’s to educate, network, build/create or grow, they revolve around strengthening the community.

Are you part of one of these groups? If not, take a look at the plethora of choices listed on Technically Philly. Running one of organizations takes time, dedication, passion and love from volunteers. In this post, we’ll provide specific ideas you can utilize to assist your favorite technology group as an individual, company, and even as another tech group.

As an individual, here are some ways you can help:

  1. Volunteer: Every meetup requires setup of some kind – whether it’s setting up the space, picking up refreshments, or coordinating with the space host – the list goes on. On top of planning the event itself, the organizers are usually tasked with these logistical tasks. Get involved by sending group organizers an email or a tweet offering your help. It may mean showing up a few minutes early or staying a few minutes late, but it’ll make a big difference. At Girl Develop It for example, we’re always looking for teacher assistants (TA’s) to answer questions and reinforce what our students are learning. A well-organized event is usually a result of the volunteers, and it’s a job that makes for a great experience.
  2. Lead a session: Sign up to lead a talk about a topic you’ve just learned or something you’re passionate about. You don’t have to be an expert. We’ve found the best teachers are those who have practical experience in the industry, have a specific skillset, and can impart real world experiences and industry best practices to the students. If you’re not comfortable with public speaking, look out for “lightning talks” – five-minute talks – to begin. Getting up in front of a crowd of people is the best way to become a better presenter. What is in your repertoire that you can share?
  3. Host a project or hack night: We all need to make time to learn something new or dedicate time to a project we may be procrastinating on. At GDI, we hold project nights for our students to practice the new skills they’ve just learned. Typically, they’re at a cafe with free WiFi like Chapterhouse or Good Karma. You can help by taking the initiative to suggest a Meetup to your group (a lot of groups on meetup.com let you do that directly), garner interest, and meet to go through something that interests you, study with a group of people, or develop something. It’s also a great way to make new friends. Company sponsorships provide more incentives to groups by allowing them to subsidize their costs, streamline signups and of course, host affordable events.

As a company, here are some ways you can help:

  1. Volunteer your space: We’ve had a lot of great spaces for our workshops, such as Indyhall and WHYY, but we are always looking for more to increase our options for hosting classes. Do you have a conference room you don’t use weeknights? A training room set up with a projector? Let the tech community know by leaving a comment or contacting those that are relevant to your interests.
  2. Sponsor food: This is an easy one. Pick up the tab for pizza and drinks or send a check for a specific amount. Many groups allow 5 to 10 minutes for the sponsor to speak about their company or a position they want to fill. It’s the best way to grab the attention of a bunch of developers in one room.
  3. Make a donation to a group or event: Send the group organizer an email letting them you would be interested in sponsoring their next event. We usually have to track down companies to do this – anything you can do to make it easier would be vastly appreciated. Speaking of, we have to plug GDI’s brand new Scholarship Fund that helps unemployed women attend our programming classes.

Finally, tech groups can help other tech groups!

  1. Promote each other’s events: Notice another event that your members may be interested in? Tweet it, share it on Facebook or even better – email your group about it. We’re not competing against each other; let’s spread the love.
  2. Collaborate on sessions: Throw a joint-event or happy hour (something we want to do more of). Think of some ways you can work together to reach a bigger audience and host better events. After all, two groups can be better than one…or something like that!
And hey, even if you can’t help in any of these ways, you can always spread the word about local tech events to your network and mention any of these options to your employer, acquaintances, or friends.
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  • January 3, 2013

 

My idea book

I still use this notebook, first mentioned in “Notepad of Startup Ideas” 

For the last two years, I’ve been following Chris Guillebeau’s Annual Review outline to reflect on the past year. I make a list of what went well and what could have been better, then I compare it with my notes from the previous year. Without hesitation, 2012 has been the absolute best year of my life. I’ve grown tremendously, achieved consequential milestones, and accomplished some really neat things if I do say so myself. I didn’t realize just how much until I wrote it all down. When I’m an old, wrinkly grandma, I imagine it’ll fun to reminisce and tell my grandkids about what a geek I used to be. Hopefully they’ll think I’m the cooler than I really am. While I’ll keep the full review to myself, I’ll share some of the fabulous things that made this year so exceptional:

  • I moved into my very own apartment for the first time. Twenty-eight years after living at home (As embarrassing as it is, it was a great decision as it made it easier to put myself through school and start a business with lower costs), a one-month stint at an ex’s and eight hellish months with a roommate, I made a home in a cozy studio in Center City, Philadelphia.
  • I turned 30. Related, I’m really an adult! I don’t know why but sometimes I still have to remind myself of that.
  • I mentored and spoke at many events including Lean Philly, WordPress Philly, IgnitePhilly, Startup Weekend, Temple University, and other tech meetups.
  • I helped organize the first Women in Tech Summit in Philadelphia to great success.
  • I finally became a U.S. citizen after 22 years! The link will say much more than I can in this short summary.
  • I became a foodie. If you talk to old friends or family, they will tell you I had a particularly selective palate. Once I started making money, that went out the window. I now loooove sushi, I’ve had caviar, quail’s egg, beef tongue, bone marrow and other things I can’t think of at the moment that I never would have tried. I think my brain chose this interim picky mentality to lessen the blow of how destitute I was. At least that’s what I’m telling myself!
  • I ran the Broad Street run. From the encouragement of my coworkers (4 out of 6 of us did this), I shocked myself by agreeing to do this. While I could have trained better and I hurt my knee during the last two miles (I kept going because I didn’t want to stop which was a bad idea), I’m glad I pushed myself. Will I do it again this year? HELL. NO. Forget about it.
  • I made some really good close friends. I’ve always preferred a few intimate friends to a large number of acquaintances and it’s difficult for me to let someone in. A special shout-out to Lisa Burgess who I absolutely adore.
  • I went to more concerts – Blue October, Fun., M83, Foster & the People, Florence and the Machine to name those I remember at the moment.
  • I got my motorcycle permit! The obvious goal for this year – get a bike! Also, learn how to ride one. Probably in the reverse order.
  • I learned to code enough to call myself a front-end developer and created my first site. Thanks Girl Develop It (GDI)! :-)
  • I worked my first full year at NetLine. I couldn’t ask for better coworkers. And yay to health insurance and stable pay checks. Who knew how glorious the two would be? I went to a REAL dentist the other day, not the Temple Dentistry Clinic where incompetent students work on your teeth for five times as long for a reduced rate. (Do you sense a little bitterness there, because I totally meant it that way. I hate that place!).
  • Thanks to my new citizenship status, I voted in my first election and even better, the candidate I selected was the victor.
  • Again, because of my citizenship status, I was able to get my U.S. passport and travel on my first International trip to Costa Rica.
  • …where I bungee-jumped! This deserves its own bullet. It was windy, foggy and raining, the ideal setting for someone who doesn’t normally participate in thrill-seeking activities (/end sarcasm  and the tram was swaying side to side as we descended into the middle of the rain forest. I looked at my guide like he had two heads, “we’re really going through with this in THIS weather?” He had to count down to 5 three times, peel my fingers from the railing and push me over (Okay, not really). In short while I’m glad I had the experience, I’ll never, and I mean NEVER EVER EVER, do this again.
  • I got Lasik surgery. After 15 years of being legally blind (maybe I’m exaggerating a little but it sure felt like it), I still wake up from time to time, pause, and marvel at the wonders of science.
  • I donated to more charities than all my adult years combined. My go-to one at the moment: Prajwala India which helps stop sex trafficking in India. The recent horrific gang rape of the 23-year-old student who died a week ago opened my eyes to the horrors women experience there. I’m hoping the woman who runs the organization will get back to me about letting GDI Philly redo their site (fingers crossed). If you’re inclined to help, the donation page can be hard to find so I’m linking to it here.
  • Girl Develop It Philly hit some great milestones. Note: there are two links there.
  • I assisted TechGirlz in raising money to help spread awareness of the fun of technology to middle-school girls. One day, I may write a blog post about how I was able to raise $2k in an hour from Twitter by capitalizing on a hot news item.
  • I supplemented my income in various ways. From blogging, AirBnb, GDI and my full-time job, I was busy working all the angles.
  • Girl Develop It and 123LinkIt received a lot of press mentions, including TechnicallyPhilly, Flying Kite, WHYY, NPR & the front page of the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer (woot, woot!).

I can’t wait to have enough of a collection of these reviews that I’ll be able to look back and reminisce about how far I’ve come. Five years ago, I had outrageous dreams about hitting it big while working at my first partnership where I was earning just under $20,000 a year. Ten years prior, I was slaving away at two under-the-table jobs to put myself through school. It’s humbling to reflect at how things have progressed. I can’t wait to move forward even more this year.

Before I end this post, I have to take a moment and say thank you to all the wonderful people who have had an impact on my life – I extend my gracious gratitude and wish you all a happy 2013!

  • images
  • January 2, 2013

Top-5I started this blog in April of 2011 and made it a point to post regularly, no matter how busy I got. Somehow that changed last year. Publishing new posts became sporadic and I only updated my blog for 5 months of the year. This is something I’ll be refocusing in the new year. Even with the low volume, a couple of posts really took off on Hacker News and BlogHer, with the first three receiving the bulk of the traffic. The top five blog posts of 2012 are:

  1. Marketing 101 for Developers – I spent about 8 hours in this post outlining a step-by-step approach on how to approach marketing a product or business. While I geared it towards technical people more, it can apply to anyone who wants a methodology to follow.
  2. Living the American Dream – I love this post as it came from the heart and was easiest I’ve ever written. I took some time to recount the road my family has taken since we migrated to Pennsylvania, including immigration obstacles that caused a 22-year-old wait for me to gain my citizenship.
  3. Alternatives to Codecademy – I researched free sites that focus on learning how to code interactively and compiled a list for HTML/CSS, JavaScript, Python, Ruby/Rails, Java, Git and iOS. I also added useful books, support links & resources.
  4. Finding Interns in Philadelphia – A repeat of last year, this gathered a list of internship opportunities for local universities including who to contact.
  5. 10 Years Ago - This is also a repeat of last year and I’m surprised to see it here. It’s a story of my life and how I got to where I am today.

I enjoy reading blogs much more than writing them and you can view which ones I follow on the sidebar to the right. Enjoy browsing!

P.S. You can take a look at last year’s list here.

We’ve officially been around since September 2011, or 15 months in total. In all, we’re one of eleven Girl Develop It chapters worldwide.  It’s exciting to see the organization grow, especially from the inside. We recently held a GDI retreat in NYC to discuss plans to standardize our material and process as well as grow to 40 (Yes, that’s FORTY) chapters by mid-2013.

Our Philly chapter specifically has held 35 Meetups including 18 classes (16 of them in 2012), 8 study groups, 2 happy hours (I didn’t realize the number was that low – must change that ASAP!), 5 party organizer meet-ups and one smashing party to celebrate our one-year anniversary (slideshow below).

Our member signup rate has been steadily growing as evidenced by the graph below. The blue line represents the number of members (we’re at 689 with the writing of this post) and the red line is the number of active members, that is, those who have visited the Meetup page or RSVP’d to an event. In the last year, we’ve grown by almost 225%!

GDI-members-growth

Besides the number of returning students, perhaps the most meaningful metric are the stories I hear from members of how our classes have benefit their personal and professional lives. Either how empowered they felt coding something on their own, tackling new responsibilities at work, completely switching positions, getting a new job or raise and so on. These keep the wheels turning and with that, I’m pumped to announce what we have coming up in 2013.

In short, we’ve grown to three organizers in total, we’re starting a Girl Develop It Scholarship Fund of which $900 (which will pay for 10 classes) has already been committed thanks to Bear and &Yet (a software development shop), we’re launching a Mentoring Program, a front-end developer track, programming track, and a mobile track. We’re also offering more advanced classes, introducing soft skill workshops, and collaborating with other tech groups.

Before I go more in-depth in each of those areas, I’d like to introduce two co-organizers who are helping make all of this happen. Corinne Warnshuis has been assisting since late Summer and Lisa Burgess just came on this month. I met both of them through our classes at Girl Develop It. Corinne is the newest Event Coordinator at Technically Philly and Lisa is the Marketing Manager at Uhuru Furniture in Center City. They’re great ladies who are passionate about our goal of increasing technical literacy among women – get to know them!

  • Scholarship Fund. Unemployed or can’t afford our already low-cost classes? Members can now apply to win a scholarship sponsored by a local company. And of course, if you’re part of a company that wants to extend their brand and provide opportunities for members to enrich their skill-set at the same time, you can also sponsor them easily using this form.
  • Mentoring Program. The biggest hurdles in learning how to code are not practicing enough and not having someone around when you’re stuck. That’s where the mentoring program comes in. Newbies will be matched with experienced developers and they will work together on a project for a non-profit that they can then add to their portfolio to show work experience. Sounds like a win-win situation, right?  We’re getting this geared up with the help of Chariot Solutions and the Scholar Program they currently have in the works. Stayed tuned for more information in January.
  • Front-end Developer Track. Want to improve your front-end skills, planning a career change or want to become a freelancer building sites? Starting in January, we’ll be offering eleven classes through May on everything you need to learn to do just that. Visit our Meetup for the classes we’re starting with. Included in the lineup so far are Intro to HTML, Intermediate HTML, Typography, SEO, Advanced CSS, JavaScript, UX, JQuery, API, Advanced JavaScript, Negotiation, and Photoshop/Illustrator.
  • Soft-skill Classes. As you probably noticed from the above bullet, we’re also expanding to offer soft-skill classes that will help you become a stronger developer. E.g. learning how to structure your site for SEO purposes, how to design better, how to create visually appearing graphics, and even how to negotiate (who doesn’t wants a raise?!).
  • Programming Track. Starting with a workshop on the basics of programming with Alice, we’ll move on to a Java course and then Android to segue into the mobile track below.
  • Mobile Track. Fueled by an idea from Corey Latislaw, this is also something we’re going to offer in March/April. We’ll be starting with Android and iOS. More information to come on that once we have our planning meeting in a few weeks.
  • Advanced Classes. We’re also going to offer courses for back-end developers such as PHP and Ruby. Look for those late Quarter 1/early Quarter 2.
  • More Collaboration. We partnered with GirlGeekDinners in one of our study groups and we want to do more of that in 2013. There are so many great tech groups in Philly, it only seems appropriate to work together. Look for more project nights, happy hours and maybe even hackathons.

It’s nice to look back and see how much we’ve accomplished and all the new things we’re about to embark on. We couldn’t have done it without the support of the Philly tech community, volunteers, teachers, members and media. Thank you for everything. Let’s rock it in 2013.

Questions? Leave a comment or contact us at philly@girldevelopit.com.

This post was written on November 18th.

Costa Rica sunset

I’m on my first leg of my flight to Costa Rica, what I’ve determined to be my first vacation in 10 years (and first international trip since I became a U.S. citizen). I’m thinking about how it’s been a long time since I didn’t have a startup to run. I can unplug and enjoy myself without a never ending todo list running through my head. I actually set an out of office message on my work and personal email, something I’ve never imagined doing.

Coincidentally, it’s been a year since the acquisition paperwork for 123LinkIt was signed. The anniversary of my first full-time job is approaching (less than 2 weeks). I have undergone many changes, both personally and professionally. As I’m reflecting, I marvel at the roller-coaster ride that’s transpired – from the initial excitement at having a dream come true to the gut-wrenching feelings as I let the company go to the postpartum depression of coming to face with the realization its path is now determined by others.

Acquisitions appear to be rosy looking in from the outside. We read the stories, congratulate the entrepreneurs, and envy them from a distance. I know because I was one of those people.

What you don’t hear about is what occurs next, the loss of identity and control, the broken promises you make yourself believe, and the surprising and varying levels of sadness.

My Company and I were one person. I’m not a mother but sometimes I imagine the acquisition is equivalent to selling a first born. Letting go has not been easy. I went through an identity crisis, trying to determine who I was now that I was no longer consumed by my Company. It’s as if I checked myself into a prison, got released, then walked out to be blinded by the bright sun.

I learned about the processes at NetLine and RevResponse, took on my role as Product Marketing Manager, and tackled some challenging projects within the Company. I no longer work or make decisions on my own. My responsibilities for 123LinkIt dwindled. I fell into a routine that was closer to a 9 to 5 schedule. I found myself with free time, a social life even. I started making new friends and dating more. As time went on, I spent less and less of it on 123LinkIt where I would miss even the most mundane tasks.

As always, time helps, allowing you to let things go. And I’m getting there. It helps that I have coworkers I love, a fun office environment and a boss that puts up with my never-ending flow of ideas and wild antics.

What can you take away from this post? All entrepreneurs become obsessive with their startups. I definitely overdid it. If I can go back in time, I would try to make more of a distinction between my personal & professional life.

EatSleepCodeRunning my software company from 2009 to 2011 without a development background was challenging to say the least. It is how I became involved with GirlDevelopIt (an organization offers programming classes for women) and why I started LearnRuby101. With this post, my goal is to share the free interactive learn-how-to-code sites I’ve come across that can help you get started. I’ve also gathered the top recommended books on each language from Hacker News.

For non-programmers, I would recommend reading this post by Liz Abinante titled “So, you think you want to be a web developer?”. If you decide it’s the path for you, recruit a friend or find an online community to get assistance. The point is – reach out when you need help. It’ll get you through the initial dip.

For programmers that know one or more languages already, this is a useful list if you want to quickly dive into something new without using a compiler.

Finally, for aspiring women coders Pam Selle (one of our GirlDevelopIt teachers), compiled a useful list of organizations solely focused on providing hands-on programming classes that’s worth a look.

(Thanks to Owen Winkler for providing suggestions on this post).

Learning HTML/CSS

Learning JavaScript

Learning Python

Learning Ruby/Rails

Learning Java

Learning Git

Learning iPhone Development


Learning HTML/CSS

When I was getting into coding, I asked the developers I know where I should start. Almost everyone answered “HTML/CSS.” While it’s not a programming language, it will be needed when learning certain languages and skills in HTML and CSS always come in handy.

HTML5Rocks.com – From blog posts, tutorials, case studies, demos and samples, this site allows you to choose exactly how you want to learn HTML5. A pre-working knowledge of HTML and CSS is assumed. Select an article about transitions, rounded corners, the canvas tag, box shadows and more, then view the code, make changes and look at the output in one screen.

HTML5Rocks screenshot

 

CodePupil.com – Founded at StartupWeekend Philly by Ryan Spahn, CodePupil uses interactive exercises and games to teach HTML/CSS.

CodePupil screenshot

Codecademy.com – Codecademy is one of the most talked about new coding sites in the world.  It only focused on JavaScript when it launched and it has since expanded to HTML, JQuery, Python and more. Most credit the Company for starting the trend for web-based, interactive programming tutorials.

CodeAcademy HTML screenshot

Recommended HTML/CSS books:


Learning JavaScript

JavaScript is considered a good successor after HTML and like HTML/CSS, is a front-end language. Protip: If you’re going to be building sites continuously, expand your JavaScript knowledge.

CodeAvengers.com – Their online tutorial focuses on learning JavaScript through a series of exercises, much like CodeAcademy.

CodeAvengers screenshot

LearnStreet - It’s similar to Codecademy in how it’s structured but I liked it better when I started playing with it. It engages you immediately by sharing well-known sites and what they’re built on and the interface is simple and easy to use. You can revisit exercises, even get tips or ask questions when you’re stuck and the site invites you to tweet the teacher directly on Twitter. I also like how comprehensive the descriptions are. They currently offer JavaScript, Python and Ruby tutorials.

LearnStreet JS screenshot

As mentioned above, Codecademy.com is another alternative.

Recommended JavaScript books:


Learning Python

I don’t have much experience with Python. Some developers say it’s a good language to start with for newbies and others say it’s not. Talk to a developer (preferably one you will be working with) about what you want to build and have him/her point you the right direction.

CodingBat – Instead of step-by-step tutorials, a series of exercises are featured on this site to challenge and reinforce what you’re learning. It’s a great compliment to learning to program on your own or with a book.

Screenshot of CodingBat -Python page

LearnPython – Another free interactive tutorial. This one doesn’t hold your hand as much and includes more instructions to help you understand what you’re learning.

LearnPython screenshot

PySchools – Instead of getting right into the code as other sites do, you first have to authenticate your account through a Gmail password. Also, this site assumes you’re already learning Python on your own. Once you’re in, you’ll be able to view exercises and compete with other coders on challenges.

Screenshot of PySchools

Codecademy just launched a course for Python as well and LearnStreet  also has a Python tutorial.

Recommended Python books:


Ruby

I started learning Ruby because my developer chose the language to build our 123LinkIt site.

TryRuby.org – Created by Eric Allam and Nick Walsh, this was the first tutorial I finished and I absolutely loved the UI and how easy it was to follow along with the commands. It promises to go through the basics in 15 minutes and although it took me a little longer, I highly recommend it.

Screen Shot of tryruby.org

Hackety Hack – This download-only software has been compared to TryRuby and is recommended for absolute beginners in Ruby.

Screen Shot of hackety.com program

Rails for Zombies – Offered through CodeSchool, Rails for Zombies is a fun way to “get your feet wet without having to worry about configuration” as the site states. It will take you through five videos, each followed by exercises where you’ll be programming Rails in your browser.

Rails for Zombies screenshot

Mentioned above, also check out Codecademy and LearnStreet for Ruby lessons.

Recommended Ruby/Rails books:


Learning Git

I wish I could search my past tweets because I remember stumbling upon an eBook on Git that I found really helpful. I was able to go through it and understand Git in under an hour. Regardless, learn the basics and setup a free Github trial.

Git - Modeled after TryRuby.org, this interactive courses is associated with Github and promises to help beginners grasp the basics of Git.

Try Git screenshot from CodeSchool

Recommended Git books:


Learning Java

Often confused with JavaScript by beginners, they’re entirely different. Remember this – Java runs on the server side and JavaScript on the client-side.

CodingBat – Instead of step-by-step tutorials, a series of exercises are featured on this site to challenge and reinforce what you’re learning. It’s a great compliment to learning to program on your own or with a book.

Screen Shot CodingBat Java

Programr - The site allows you to learn Java through coding challenges and either rewards points based on your answer or displays the bugs in your code. You can select your difficulty level instead of starting from the beginning which I really like. A leaderboard is displayed on the right that shows the top students.  They are planning on expanding to PHP, C++, Android and iOS as well.

Programr java screenshot

Recommended Java Books:


Learning iPhone Development

I don’t currently have an interest in learning mobile development. A couple of things to know: 1) iOS is Apple’s operating system and 2) you’ll also want to learn Objective-C.

Team Treehouse - Founded by Ryan Carson, the site recently announced it has passed 12,000 active students on the site. It provides nicely designed video tutorials with practice quizes and and code challenges after each section.

TeamTreehouse screenshot

You may also want to check out Stanford University’s iPhone Application Development course in iTunes University.

Recommended iOS books:


Resources that deserve honorable mentions:

Coursera.org - Coursera is my favorite online education portal. Founded by two Stanford computer science professors, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, the site offers university classes online from top-tier schools like Stanford, Princeton and others. Their mission is to education millions of people globally for free. So far I’ve taken their Intro to Computer Science Science class and I’m in the middle of “Human Computer Interaction.” The courses play out like you’re taking an online class with an instructor. There’s a forum, activities, even weekly homework. Do yourself a favor and sign up for a class today, even if it’s not available. You will learn the latest technologies from teachers at Ivy League schools without the hundreds of thousands in tuition and maybe best of all, while sitting at your desk.

Khan Academy – A non-profit founded by Salman Khan, the Company’s mission is also to provide ” a high quality education to anyone, anywhere.” The website supplies a free online collection of more than 3,300 lectures through YouTube videos teaching a range of subjects with Computer science amongst them.

Udacity – Another free online courses site that uses videos and quizzes to teach STEM-related courses such as software development, math, physics and even a startup course with Steve Blank.

Mozilla Developer Network – Featuring comprehensive tutorials on HTML, CSS and JavaScript, Mozilla provides introductory, intermediate and advanced lessons as well as examples to view.

Google Code University - Offering free resources on web programming, security, algorithms, APIs and even Android, the site features tutorials with examples and even exercises.

The Code Player – This site blew me away when I started going through it. It provides video style walkthroughs of really cool effects like learning how to use Canvas in HTML5, how to make a Google Doodle animation using CSS3 and more using JQuery and JavaScript. You can either view the code or watch someone as they code (hence the name) which is also great for beginners who want to learn on their own pace and do it visually.

Go To And Learn - Created by Adobe’s Lee Brimelow, the sites covers a range of programming languages included above plus those we haven’t covered yet such as Flash, Android, PHP and more.

Flatiron School Pre-work – A school in NYC that runs an intensive 12-week development program open-sourced the material it requires their students to do before they start (hence the pre-work). In all, it’s 4 weeks (80 to 100 hours in total) of reading and assignments that takes you through the web, command line, databases, HTML/CSS, Git, JS, Ruby, Rails, testing and best practices by using Treehouse & Codeschool.

Take advantage of the generous Stack Overflow community to post questions and finally, a highly recommended book that must be included in the mix for those that want to learn more than one language is Seven Languages in Seven Weeks.

Inspirational Stories:

I couldn’t write this post without including inspirational stores of non-developers who talked about how they learned to code, whether it was for love (see first link below) or to their startup. These are great motivators when you’re in a coding slump or stuck on something.

  1. Instagram’s founder had no programming training. He’s a marketer who learned to code by night
  2. Instagram Founder’s Girlfriend Learns How To Code For V-Day, Builds Lovestagram
  3. Non-Techie Cofounder Learns Code, Builds New Site Feature in 6 Days
  4. How I Failed, Failed, and Finally Succeeded at Learning How to Code
  5. How I Taught Myself to Code, Created a Startup with a FT Job, New Baby & Living in an African Desert

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  • April 23, 2012

me with an American flag cake

Photo Credit: Colin Lenton, Philly photographer

After 22 looooong years of living in Pennsylvania, I finally became a U.S. Citizen on April 19, 2012. This post is dedicated to my American friends to give them a glimpse of what it’s like to grow up a non-citizen and have to earn it.

I was born in Kuwait City, Kuwait.  My family was seeking refuge in a bomb shelter during the Persian Gulf War in 1990 when two U.S. Ambassadors walked in to escort us out of the Country. My little brother is American and we were to be transported to the U.S. to keep the family safe. We had an hour to pack two suitcases. We left everything else behind and were driven to the airport where we boarded a plane to Philadelphia. Years later, I discovered my parents were given a choice in where to live, with San Francisco and Orlando among them. My Dad settled on Philadelphia to be close to his younger brother who resided in New Jersey.

For the first nine months, we lived in South Philly on 22nd and Jackson. None of us knew how to speak English except for my father. I was eight at that time and I remember my 4th grade teachers would have me sit in the back of the room coloring during my classes. I’m not sure how I passed. My parents purchased a 7-11 franchise in the suburbs and that’s where we ended up settling roots. The store became a family business. It was open 24 hours and my parents alternated shifts. My siblings and I were put to work right away. We kept the store clean and we helped stock the inventory. Eventually, we worked the register as well.

It wasn’t until my older sister and I started applying for colleges that our immigration status began to present problems. We asked my parents for the information the applications needed and they could not supply us with the answers. They contacted an immigration lawyer and we found out that we had a year from the day we arrived in Philly to apply for citizenship under a refugee status. My parents had not done so and that meant we had to restart the process. By the time the appropriate paperwork was discovered and submitted, it was March of 2001 (or 11 years after we first moved to the U.S.).  First, we had to apply to become U.S. legal residents which is when we would receive our green cards. We are then required to wait five years before applying to become U.S. citizens. The expected turnaround was supposed to be 7 years in all. However, 9/11 happened and all applications were slowed and subsequently halted. It was an unfortunate time, particularly defending ourselves from being called “terrorists” and hearing things such as “go back to your country.”

Nevertheless, we didn’t have social security numbers and had to figure out how we were going to support ourselves. Especially when my Father sold the store in 2001 and eventually left us, taking all the family’s savings with him. We all took under-the-table jobs – my sisters and I became hostesses and waitresses and my Mom worked at a deli. As hostesses, we made five dollars an hour and we collected tips as waitresses. Some days we made more than my Mom who earned seven dollars an hour.

Working under-the-table blue collar jobs gives you immense motivation to be your own boss. Being treated fairly is out the question. These type of business owners knows they have bargaining power. I jumped from place to place when it became too much or when warding off sexual advances from employers led to unaccommodating schedules or preferential treatment that wasn’t the fortunate kind. I did a few projects on the side like redesigning menus and conceived ways I would escape from my trapped position.

Going to school was a no-brainer and to save money, I attended Montgomery County Community College to get my Associates Degree. Life was a balancing act of work and school and it was all I knew for the next seven and half years that it took me to graduate college. Unfortunately, not being a citizen meant not being eligible for many of the scholarships available despite my 3.8 GPA. I paid for my tuition with my meager earnings the first five years and eventually took out loans to help supplement my income.

It wasn’t until March 2003, two years after applying for my residency, that I received a notification about my application and only then it was to notify me that it was being forwarded to another department. Three more years would go by before I got another letter from the Immigration Office congratulating me on becoming a U.S. Permanent Resident with my Green Card enclosed. Sixteen years after being in this Country and five years after starting the process, I had five more years to go before I was allowed to submit my Naturalization application.

It was during that time that I found myself at the Entrepreneurship Program at Temple University. I met experienced, successful business owners and I desperately wanted to be one of them. I had the privilege of being mentored by Chris Pavlides, the Program Director at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute at that time, who unfortunately left us too soon. It was where I learned to share my ideas, develop a business plan and test the viability of an idea. I entered numerous Idea and Business Plan competitions to win the cash prizes. After a few failed attempts, I had the honor of walking away with three Idea Competition Wins, one Finalist Business Plan placement and in 2010, the great achievement of winning First Place for 123LinkIt, which became my first Company.

Some of my favorite experiences at Temple were interning at various businesses. First, I interned for my friend Gunter Pfau, of Stuzo, an online marketplace for textbooks at the time. Then, for a woman who was running a financial literacy program for kids. Lastly, my friend and I took on an additional internship on the side without credit because another friend raved about the company. It was for Team and a Dream and it helped early-stage entrepreneurs find funding, write business plans and assisted them in going to market.

It was there that I fell in love with the tech industry. I expanded my network and cultivated my business and marketing skills. Eventually, I made Partner and we shifted course a few times. I got the idea for 123LinkIt while blogging for the Company. I left to start working on it on April 1, 2009. In a previous post titled “10 Years Ago”, I recounted the ten years from when my Father left to when I sold my Company (Looking back, it’s a great pre-sequel to this entry). A small, relevant excerpt:

“That wasn’t an easy road either. I had a lot going against me. For one, I was a non-techie trying to build a tech Company. I started without a CTO. I found one halfway around the world. I bootstrapped the Company with money I’d put away from the consulting business. I lived at my Mom’s house to save money. My CTO departed in December and I contemplated throwing in the towel right around my birthday. My advisers and I thought long and hard about it and decided the opportunity was too big. I had trouble recruiting another CTO candidate because of the state of the software so I raised a small friends & family round and hired contractors to fix it. I eventually brought someone on board. I hired a team of four interns during the summer to help me recruit bloggers to our platform. The new CTO didn’t work out and it was getting really hard to keep pushing. Thanks to some smart preparation, my advisers at PhilaDev and I were able to turn a potential partnership into an acquisition.”

signing my citizenship certificateDuring the ten days I took off before starting my new position at NetLine in November, I submitted my naturalization application. I took my Citizenship test this past month and I swore in last Thursday and became an American at exactly 10:39am (Yes, I looked!).  My favorite part of the ceremony was when the judge read off the names of all the different countries the attendees represented. She asked them to stand up when their country was called. I wish I would have taken a video of that moment. It was truly awe-inspiring. I looked around the room at everyone’s smiling faces. Some were teary-eyed. The feeling of affinity I felt was overpowering. We knew this was a tremendous occasion. If you have an opportunity to witness one first-hand, make sure to attend. It will impact you in a meaningful way. Overall, 88 people from 44 countries became citizens that day.

HAVE lived the American Dream and it’s astonishing when I think about it. I came here as an immigrant, learned to speak English, worked hard to get a good education, started a company and reached a certain level of success by selling it.  It doesn’t get more clear than that.

What I really mull over is how different my life would be if I never stepped foot on American soil and instead grew up in Kuwait. My mom and all her siblings had arranged marriages. Odds are, I would have as well (how crazy is that?!). She didn’t go to school and neither did most of her sisters. Maybe I would not have either. She had her first child at nineteen and cranked all six of us out by the time she was thirty (which is my current age!).

These “what-if” daydreams usually run through my mind on the 4th of July, when my family celebrates the holiday and think about where we would be if we had not come here.  We’re grateful we’re not directly in the midst of the unrest in the Middle East. When my sisters and I look at how women are treated in middle-eastern countries, we know how lucky we are to be here and we’re thankful with every fiber of our being.

We don’t get to choose what country we’re born in or what socio-economic status… being fortunate enough to be born a U.S. citizen provides more opportunities than any other nation in the world. While we decide how to react to the hand we’re dealt, that one stroke of luck makes a tremendous difference on our lives. I wish less people took it for granted.

A few friends asked me what this event truly meant for me and what I would get out of it now. It’s true that the status would have benefited me more when I was younger. Mostly, I’ve felt like an American for years but I couldn’t call myself one so I didn’t really feel like I belonged. Now it’s official. I can vote and I have a voice in our political system. I can forgo further immigrations woes. I can leave the U.S. without being afraid I won’t be able to return. I can worship who or what I want without repercussions. I can speak out against the government, if need be, without fear of being prosecuted, imprisoned, or killed. I can continue to dream big and I’m presented with many more opportunities to make them a reality. I can eventually buy a home, settle down and feel safe knowing I live in the wealthiest Country in the world.

As always, having to earn something makes you appreciate it that much more. I hope this blog post reminds those who didn’t have to achieve their citizenship what a gift it is and how lucky we are to be in the U.S.A.

Update: Sept 21, 2015 marked our 25th annivesary of coming to America. Admist the refugee crisis, I wrote about it here: myasmine.com/25-years.

Edit: Other comments and related stories can be found in this Hacker News thread. Thanks for getting it to #2!

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  • April 1, 2012

My favorite Holiday is tomorrow. April Fools Day may seem like a frivolous day to most people but it holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons. Mostly because you can prank people and have a legitimate excuse for it. The others reasons are sentimental – I left my previous Company and started full-time at 123LinkIt on April 1st of 2009. We launched the first version of 123LinkIt on April 1st of 2010 (it was a pure coincidence). This past April Fools, I joked about getting acquired by GSI Commerce and it actually happened a few months later (be it to another Company).

I DO have a point to this…realizing April Fools is coming up forced me to stop and question where the first quarter had gone. Time seems to be flying by because I’m involved in a lot of things. And I mean A LOT of things. Here’s a breakdown of some of the events coming up. This doesn’t include TechGirlz or GirlDevelopIt events either. Friends, family and my inbox – I’m sorry I’ve neglected you. My life will resume in May and I’ll make it up to you!

Thursday, March 29th – Temple University Young Alumni: Moving Forward Series – Entrepreneurship: The Alternative Career Path. A panel of alumni fielded questions about the audience in how we started our businesses.

Friday, March 30th to April 1st – Philadelphia Lean Startup Machine – I’m mentoring Philly startups to help them build a product or service customers want. This educational weekend is to validate assumptions and determine MVP.

Friday, April 20th – Philadelphia Startup Weekend – I’m also acting as a mentor at this event to leverage my experience from being an attendee three times (Past StartupWeekend posts: Recap of Startup Weekend Baltimore event with tips for future participants and Startup Weekend Philly 2011; Hangplan takes 2nd place.

Saturday, April 21st – Philly Women in Tech Summit – I’m proud to be part of bringing the 1st Women in Tech Summit to and it includes panels, speakers, hands-on learning workshops and a networking tea. Philadelphia. The theme of this women-only event is “Getting In, Surviving, Thriving and Giving Back”

Sunday, May 6th – Broad Street Run – I honestly do not know what I was thinking when I signed up for this. My training has been minimal and my competitive nature is not happy about it. In fact, I’m thinking of intentionally coming in last so I can be the best at being the worst. Maybe I’ll kill two birds with one stone get a lapstrap and attempt to reach the ever elusive inbox zero at the same time (I may just have convinced myself to do this, especially with how attractive that picture is).