A brief reflection on 2013: the year my life changed entirely.

Well, folks, it’s Christmas. It’s been almost 5 months since I’ve written anything proper in this space, but with 2014 just around the corner, now seems to be as good of a time as any for me to jot down a few notes and reflect on the past year. Let’s step into the Wayback Machine, shall we?

Goals

Each year, I put together a list of goals for myself. Individually, I deem them all to be reasonable and attainable, but often, the list itself is so cumbersome and unwieldy that there’s just no way I’ll accomplish it all. Here’s my checklist for 2013:

  • Finish my Associate of Applied Science degree at SPC
    • Do my best to finish with a 4.0 (It seemed uncertain at times, but I managed to pull this off!)
  • Land a sweet web development job (I’m so proud to work for Room 34, and I can’t wait to see the assortment of problems we get to help solve in 2014)
  • Participate in two professional conferences (I went to one – MidwestPHP in March)
  • Read 35 books (I’m at 39 as of this writing – hoping to check off #40 before next Tuesday)
  • Go to the gym 12 times in all 12 months
  • Redesign my personal website (There’s still more to be done on that front, but hey, it does look different than last December!)
  • Develop and build a message board application
  • Redesign and build the bowling league administration application I started in college
  • Design and launch a collaborative creative writing website
  • Write a short story
  • Do at least one set of stand up comedy
  • Start a new band (No shows yet [and no name, to boot], but it’s been a blast getting together to play with this set of awesome dudes)

  • Learn six songs on guitar
  • Make three pieces of art (illustrations) (Many thanks to my pal Matt and his recommendation for the excellent iPad app, Procreate. I’m planning on making this part of my regular routine in the coming year)
  • Learn to use PhotoShop and Illustrator (Illustrator, you’re next!)
  • Finish motorcycle repairs and ride!
  • Ride my bicycle once a week
  • Take a vacation! (I had the pleasure of spending three fun-filled days in NYC with the lovely Abby in November, our first real trip together)

Clearly, I set out to accomplish more than I actually achieved, but I feel pretty good about the progress I’ve made in the last year! There’s still work to be done, and that’s the fun with goals.

Many things happened that weren’t on the list: I’ve had the privilege of tutoring my friend Phil in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and we’ve been getting together frequently since March. I’ve begun taking lessons in Spanish (via the very fun and excellent Duolingo.com), and am hoping to become proficient in 2014. I’ve learned how to build websites in WordPress and Shopify. I’ve taught myself to use SCSS, Git, and the Linux command line, and took a real-life crash course in learning Responsive Web Design techniques. I’ve continued to study Object-Oriented Programming, and hope to improve upon my existing skill set in the next year. I’ve begun getting together with a mentor to assist with improving those skills.

There is much I want to accomplish in the next year, and some of the goals I set for this past year will likely roll over. I still want to get back on my motorcycle, and I want to begin writing more regularly again. It’ll be great to revisit my list next year – it’s certain that I’ll have learned much by then, and I’m looking forward to seeing just how far I’ve come in another 12 months time.

Projects

Through my work at Room 34, I got to build a ton of great websites this year. Here’s a small sampling of projects I had the pleasure of working on:

Room 34 develops responsive websites for all of our clients by default, so every one of these is set up to work well on mobile devices as well as tablets and desktop/laptop environments. It’s been an absolute joy working on client sites this year, and I’m very much looking forward to building on the experiences I’ve had this year in my future client work.

In addition to my full-time work, in 2014, I’m planning to spend more time working on a few personal projects, some of which were outlined as unaccomplished goals for 2013. I’ve been tinkering around on CodePen a bit lately, and it’s a great tool to work on small front-end projects and quickly lay down some ideas to refer to later. In addition, I’m planning on putting up code for my personal projects on GitHub in the coming year so that I can make better use of that collaborative resource.

It’s really been an amazing year, and looking back to reflect on all this helps me better understand just how far I’ve come. I’m looking forward to learning even more in 2014.

A Web Development Update

I’m hoping that the few of you who are subscribers to this blog will see this entry. I’m in the process making additional visual tweaks, moving things around, and slowly incorporating some of the old content I have back into the site (for instance, my lackluster poetry is back online. Hooray!). If I just broke all of the RSS links, I’m very sorry – I promise I’ll get it figured out.

The last couple of months have been great. I finally launched my first couple of sites at work. Nothing has been easy yet, but I’ve learned a lot from each one, with one still-unfinished site provided the bulk of food for thought. I’ve been mentally compiling a list of issues I’ve had to tackle for the first time. Here are a few: creating a drop-down menu populated with featured images from top-level sections, building a custom navigation menu for phone layouts, developing mechanisms for interacting with slideshows in different ways, modifying the WordPress Walker class, creating custom social media buttons to share content, making “back to home” links in different header files within the same site redirect to the correct pages, developing custom contact forms, handling browser inconsistencies – particularly within Internet Explorer (obviously important, but not something I’d done a lot of in the past)…the list quite frankly goes on and on.

It’s been a lot of fun figuring out how to tackle these various problems, and I admit it’s made it challenging to find the motivation to do more of it when I get home on the evenings and weekends (hence, the slow process on getting stuff up on this here site). Still, in my free time I’ve been doing a lot of research and reading up on various web development topics of interest. I started both Git and Sass earlier this year and am getting better and better at using them every day. I’ve been reading The Linux Command Line by William Shotts to build on what I learned in my college networking class. I’m just about done reading Professional WordPress: Design and Development by Brad Williams, and I’ve learned several useful things that should help my future projects at work go more smoothly. I want to learn how to write some client-side applications using AngularJS, and I’m looking to get back into working on my message board and bowling league administration projects, as I want to refactor their codebases to make them object-oriented (and to make them great applications that people would want to use!).

This is just a long way of saying that I’ve been very busy and I’m loving every minute of it. I wish there was more time in the day, or that I had more energy during the week, or both, because there’s so much that I want to know NOW that is just going to take time to learn. Heck, at this point, I haven’t even put anything up on GitHub or helped anyone out with the things I do know on StackOverflow or Reddit, and that’s something that needs to get done, too. I can’t wait to look back on this time in a couple of years just to see how far I’ve come, because it’s been a wonderful journey thus far.

School’s out, let’s read books.

At some point, I’m just going to have to accept that blogging is not my forte. Or, that it’s an infrequently-done activity ’round these parts. For now, though, I’m reveling in this fact: I have fulfilled the requirements for my Associate of Applied Science in Computer Programming degree and have graduated this week from St. Paul College. Next week, I become a full-time web developer over at Room 34.

Life is good, and I’m reading a lot of books. In fact, I’d been working on another blog entry about that which never came to fruition, so I’ll just mention it here. Last year, I participated in the Goodreads reading challenge and surpassed my goal of reading 24 books in 12 months (I read 28). This year, I upped the ante a little bit and am aiming to read 35 books. With 7 1/2 months still left to go in the year, I’ve finished 19 books, and I’ll likely be at 21 or 22 by the end of the month. Some have told me it’s time to up my goal, but I say what’s the point of setting reasonable goals if you can’t complete shatter them? I’m not threatening to double my book count, but hey, who knows how the rest of this year will go now that part of my free time doesn’t have to be dedicated to higher education?

If you’re curious what I’ve been reading (or what’s slated to be read), you can head on over to http://www.goodreads.com/jmichaelward. So far this year it’s been a pretty mixed bag of programming and web design books crossed with some fiction novels and an occasional memoir or non-fiction work. At some point, I’m planning on digging into the Goodreads API to hopefully integrate my reading list onto this site. There are other things I need to take care of first, though, such as updating the home page (since hey! I’m not a student any more!) and fleshing out the rest of the content to better reflect what I’ve been up to.

Tomorrow, however, I’ll be digging my bike out of the basement, because it hasn’t seen daylight since two summers ago.

Here’s to new beginnings.

Five Things

I’ve been wanting to write, but the words just haven’t been coming to me each time I’ve sat down to do it.

Here is a list of things I’m excited about:

1. Graduation Day

It’s only six weeks away! As I mentioned in my last entry, I’m building a message board application for my Client Side Programming 2 class, and I’m learning some of the ins and outs of the Debian distribution of Linux in my Networking class. Both of these items have been entertaining, and although I’m greatly enjoying myself, I’m ready to move on from the obligations of collegiate life and back into full-time employment. There’s so much I still want and need to learn, and I’m finding my remaining time at school to be more of a distraction from my longer-term goals at this point. That said, I will be very happy to have a degree and to be able to build off of the things I’ve from my time in college.

2. Baseball

Yesterday, I attended the Minnesota Twins vs. Detroit Tigers opening day game at Target Field, and you’ve probably heard enough by now about how cold it was (apparently, it was the second-coldest home opener in Twins history). The Twins put up a good fight against Justin Verlander and the Tigers, but ultimately came up short of clutch hits that would have given them the win. Honestly, though, I thought they looked pretty good. I’m still expecting them to stink this year, but that gives them an opportunity to exceed my (and others’) expectations, and in the meantime, I get to sit outside and soak in my favorite game. I’ll be back at Target Field on Thursday.

3. Hangouts

Last September, I deleted my Facebook account. In essence, I felt that the quality of my social interactions had greatly diminished over the years, and the world’s largest social network seemed like an easy scapegoat. Since then, I’ve talked to so many people who have expressed interest in doing the same thing, but the lure of being able to keep in touch with seldom-seen friends and family is too great to follow through with their desires. Maybe it’s my own overall climate of “chasing my dreams” that is letting me view this time of my life through rose-colored lenses, but getting away from shackles of Facebook has been one of the best things I’ve done. I’ve been getting together with friends and former colleagues left and right, and I’ve been loving every minute of it. Because I don’t know the minutiae of their everyday lives, we have things to talk about! We’re glad to see each other! We learn that we like one another, and that we should do this again soon! What’s not to love?

4. Hockey

Okay, okay, another sport. This time, though, it’s not about the Minnesota Wild (though it would have reason to be – has anyone looked at the standings lately? Minnesota might actually be a presence in men’s professional sports playoffs again [qualifier added with all due respect to the WNBA Champion Minnesota Lynx]). I grew up in Minnesota, and though I haven’t always been the biggest hockey fan, I’ve enjoyed an occasional game of the floor or street variety, and I like to lace up some skates and go out on the rink every couple of years. Now that I’ve got my career interests sorted out, I can start pursuing some other interests in my free time. A few of my high school friends have been playing some rec league hockey for a little while, and I attended one of their events two winters ago. It looked like a lot of fun, so this fall I’m planning on getting some gear and getting involved as well. They recommended that I join JMS Hockey, and it’s what I intend to do.

5. Dave Attell

Because a list with 5 items seems more real than a list of fewer items, I’ll just add that Dave Attell is coming to Acme on May 31st and June 1st, and I snagged a pair of tickets for the latter show. I was an occasional viewer of “Insomniac” back in the day, and I’ve never seen him live, so it seemed like a fun thing to do. I can’t wait!

And there you have it – a random list! And now I have freed some writer’s block so I can go think about something else…

Spring is Almost Here

Historically, March is the second snowiest month in Minneapolis behind only January. I thought last winter was far more bleak and depressing, because we got fewer than two feet of snow, when the Twin Cities traditionally gets around 50 inches. I’m grateful for the snowfall this month, but naturally understand that most everyone else is ready for spring. I’m antsy for spring to arrive, too, but my impatience comes from a source more closely tied to calendar dates.

Graduation Day at St. Paul College is on Thursday, May 16th, which coincides exactly with my last day of class and the completion of my AAS degree in Computer Programming. Spring Break just wrapped up yesterday, which means there’s only eight weeks between now and the achievement of a goal that’s been put off for far too long. I can’t wait to be finished with classes (for now?) and to step full-time into my new career. That said, I am still pretty excited about two remaining topics this semester:

  • Getting an introduction to Linux networking
  • Using everything I’ve learned over the past few years to build an online message board application

On the day of this writing, I consider myself to have few brand loyalties when it comes to computers and operating systems. Although I’m writing this particular post on a three-year old Apple iMac running OSX Mountain Lion, the system has a dual-boot setup with Windows 8 installed, along with a virtual machine that can run pretty much anything else of interest to me at the time (currently, I can boot up Linux Ubuntu, but have also tried out Linux Mint and the Chrome OS in the past). I also have a budget Acer Aspire One laptop that I purchased at Target two summers ago for $230. It came with a full version of Windows 7, 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive, which I’ve since upgraded to Windows 8, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD drive, respectively. I don’t really store anything on the machine, and thus could just as easily purchase a Chromebook or other comparable device, if I wanted (though, actually, I do have a desire for more processing power along with the portability, so I’ll be keeping my eyes open for a refresh on Ultrabooks this summer…). As long as we’re going down this path, I may as well mention that I’m also a user of Android mobile devices, but have used a litany of other brands and models on every single network in the past – iPhones, Blackberries, RAZRs, Sidekicks, Nokias on AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon – the whole nine yards.

That’s a long way to say that I don’t know much about Linux right now, so I’m looking forward to classes starting up again tomorrow and being able to give it a proper go.

As for the message board, it’s something I’ve been wanting to build for awhile, but haven’t set aside the time to do (and until now, didn’t necessarily feel confident that I could figure out how to do it). This weekend, I put the primary structure in place – one can sign up for an account, look at existing topics, create new topic threads, and reply to existing threads. It’s enjoyable to see it take shape, and it will be a rewarding process to build out the feature set I want to have as well as meet the requirements of the assignment (which to be honest, are pretty vague, so I’m doing this out of my own interest as I want to have fun with it). I have so much to learn about the application design process, and I know there is much to be done to protect the system from invalid data, scripting attacks, form spoofing, and someday in the future, trolling users and other unwanted results. This project is a baby step in the larger journey.

All that said, the next couple of months are going to fly by, and before long we’ll all have forgotten about the snow and we’ll instead be booked with outdoor plans, get togethers, and trips to exotic destinations. For me, I’m eager about newfound employment in my chosen career field and a plethora of exciting projects to work on to help make me a better programmer.