It is hard to say what possessed me to take a plane twice a week for 11 weeks to attend a school 500 miles away from my home, on mostly a whim. For someone that commutes to and from Chicago each week, the upside needed to be really drastic to support such a decision.
Why did I choose to attend the Starter League, even though I unequivocally thought[at the time] I would never be able to be a “code monkey” or possess any real programming skills? Granted, I have a background in technology, but mostly hardware. I had always hired other people to do coding for me.
Lately, when I tell someone what I have been doing the past 10 weeks, they treat me as if I am mentally deranged. Granted, I might be, but that is beside the point here.
The Starter League, located in Chicago, IL was co-founded by Neal Sales-Griffin and Mike McGee just last year. This particular hacker school, as they are commonly called, embodies exactly what I was looking for, but also precisely what I needed. Their formula: get a great group of people together and empower them to solve their own problems or the problems of those that they love.
Let me be clear, after 10 weeks in Chicago I think I know what they are doing, what their end game is. Everyone at the Starter League is not just interested in teaching people HOW to code. It’s true that there are plenty of places in the US or abroad that teach people HOW to code, even quite a few that will basically guarantee you a job after finishing classes with them. Some of them even have employers subsidize the cost of classes by paying a headhunter fee for new employees[and they teach the students what they employers ask for].
The Starter League is different. You need a project to propel your learning. Learning is easier when we are able to engage our hearts and our minds within the same project. That way, you don’t feel like you are selling your soul to make a living creating stuff for other people, unless that’s your type of thing.
In a talk with a small group of students today, Neal told us:
"Start something, it’s easier to learn programming when you are working on solving a problem that is close to you or someone you love."
It’s the idea of partnering what you are learning in the classroom with a personal project that means something, in order for people to learn out of their own motivation. When it gets tough, it will be easier to stay engaged and not give up. It will get tough, but the students that come through these doors have what it takes, and also mentors and peers to support and give wisdom.
From one of your students, I just want to say “Thank you” for creating a place where people are allowed to be successful and shoot for the moon. Together we can solve big problems.
Have you ever had an idea, but weren’t really sure what to do with it? You might have started reading online or finding books on Amazon.com or your local library. I have done all of those things. I think it’s a great way to gain the collective wisdom of successful individuals before you know any. However, at some point you need to make a leap, both in your head and in reality. For some it is easier than others, but it is always hard. You weigh the pros and cons and realize just like everything in life, there is no GOOD time to make the leap.
I am that person, thinking about business, running some small stuff on the side, but never taking the full leap. Let me tell you, it is a lot easier to take the leap when you leaping with another person.
Coming to the Starter League in Chicago has been a game changer for me. I never thought that I could be a ‘hacker’, that is someone that programs and ‘hacks’ on code for a living. Not only have I developed an important skill set that I will continue to hone and develop, but I have been able to gain a higher vision for my business while I have been out here. Things seems much more attainable now. Especially those businesses that required technical programming skills.
Is Ruby on Rails the perfect solution for everything? Not at all, but it is a great choice for database backed applications which happens to be a lot of them. More importantly I am learning a skill set that will allow me to in turn learn other languages. Oh yeah, I have also met some really great people up here too.
Bottom line, check it out. It can’t hurt to try. You never know, it might just be the push you have needed to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone.
Here I am, 3rd week at the TSL and things are CRAZY. Here super simple recap of the first 5 classes:
Class 1 - Hello. Welcome. This is Ruby.
Class 2 - Learn the basics of the Ruby programming language.
Class 3 - You better practice, because 3 1/2 short classes are all you are going to get about Ruby.
Class 4 - Here we go! Deploy rails.
Class 5 - Holy crap. We can make web apps.
Mind you, things are still on a very basic level in regards to Ruby and Rails, but the basic functions are there. I CAN MAKE WEB APPS!
As an example, over this past weekend, we were supposed to create a yearbook style app by pulling API data from TSL that included every students picture and name. Mash that together with a little pre-formed CSS and you get a basic app that has 4 pages. A home page that lists each class, and one page for each of the 3 rails development classes that contains everyones name and photo.
Did I understand all of it? NOT AT ALL. I tried to do it on my own, but ended up breaking something every 2 minutes. After a few hours of struggling through it, I referred back to the git repo that was set up. I still hand typed it out, trying to utilize muscle memory to remember the commands.
What about Chicago? Well, Chicago is awesome right now. I don’t think there could be a better time to have a class up here than the fall. October is beautiful in the midwest.
I am writing this from the 15th floor of some strangers apartment. That’s right, I still don’t have a place to live. Not to worry, it seems to be working out just fine between Airbnb.com and classmates putting me up.
What should you expect from here? Well, weekly updates for one. Second, a basic app each week when I finally get Git and Heroku to cooperate with me. Oh, and random pictures from @instagram