Serendipity and Coding

One of the things that I’m most excited about with ACLTC is that among the many things I am learning, much of it is completely new to me, but there are also some areas that I am familiar with, to varying degrees.

Our week covering HTML and CSS, for example, was mostly a week of review for me since I’ve been teaching myself for a few years. That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything new, I did. SASS! SASS is one of those acronyms that I’ve seen around the web but never looked into. Now I know it’s a CSS extension language and even have some inkling about how to use it.

A few years ago, while working part-time for a charter school, I was tasked with running periodic reports on applicants. Where did they live? What schools did they attend? And a few more reports that were more complicated in nature. All the applicant data was stored in Filemaker. I knew how to input the data but the report part wasn’t really part of my job description. So I asked our IT guy how I was supposed to get this kind of info. He ran through some MySQL basics with me and showed my how to export the data to Excel. Then I could generate all the reports my supervisor wanted. Everyone was happy.

Now that we have started to explore MySQL in class, I have a vague memory of the limited MySQL syntax that I learned before. I also have the memory of successfully using MySQL. It’s not much, but it’s a positive reference point.

Much more recently, I used Twitter Bootstrap in building the largest website I’ve ever made. I had noticed a few other sites that use it, so I looked it up and saw it was fairly straightforward to work with. I already had an idea in mind of what I wanted to build – something about basketball and data – making the connection with Bootstrap was the last step. During this past summer and fall, the Black Mamba Myth site was born.

When we covered Bootstrap in class, I was already familiar with much of what was being discussed. It’s encouraging when there are those pockets of familiarity that get sprinkled in with the brand new. There’s a sense of relief almost, because I’m not starting completely from scratch and have some points of reference – even if they’re vague, like with MySQL. But even in those instances where my points of reference are very specific, recent and numerous, like with Bootstrap, there is still so much to learn!

The points of reference also serve as great reminders when I feel stuck or frustrated. I didn’t know anything about MySQL, HTML, or CSS before I learned the first thing about any of them. That may sound obvious, but it’s a neat measurement to keep in mind. I learned one thing about HTML and then another and then another, step by step. Just like I didn’t know anything about Ruby before this class, I’m learning step by step. I didn’t learn HTML all in one day. I’ll get the hang of Ruby and APIs and all the new stuff, just like I got the hang of HTML.

This class is, for me, just the right proportion of the familiar with the brand new. I couldn’t have planned it any better if I tried. It just so happens that the topics and timing of the class align with my experiences and with what I want to learn.