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Podcast Episode 15 – Is College Worth It?

The Ohio State University CampusIn this week’s episode, I tackle the tough question of whether a college degree is worth the expense. My focus is for programmers, but you can easily apply my logic to your course of study.

If you listen to the podcast, I can understand if you might think that I have a confirmation bias because I ultimately recommend the course that I’ve taken. I have honestly been aware of that and tried to take it into account as I formed my opinion to share on this podcast. I not only looked at my life, but at others who took many different paths and compared the outcomes. Over and over again, I saw a pattern emerge and that pattern is what led to what has now become episode 15 of the podcast.

As I mention on the episode, if you disagree with me, I’d love to hear your side. I hope that you also will try to look past only your own experience, but I’m interested in everyone’s opinion. You can just comment here on this blog post or make your own blog or podcast rebuttal and just let me know here or on my Twitter.

You can listen to the episode here.

You can also subscribe to the podcast at any of these places:
iTunes Link RSS Feed Listen on Stitcher

In addition, my podcast is available on DoubleTwist, Swell, and the Windows Marketplace.

Thanks to all the people who listen, and a special thanks to those who have rated me. I really appreciate it.

Best Nine Dollars a Month You’ll Ever Spend

I’ve been getting more and more into iOS programming recently. It is something that I’ve been doing more and more as a hobby, as well as landing a few paying consulting roles creating native iOS applications. I’ve kind of been “marinating” in iOS for some time, but about a year ago I started really getting serious and attempting to have an actual goal with regards to Objective-C and iOS.

One good FREE resource is the Introduction to iPhone series on TekPub with Ben Schierman. It was done a few years ago, and Rob Conery has now given it to the community. It is a little out of date, but you can’t beat the price and it will help you learn a few things.

I have a TekPub subscription, so from there I moved on to Show Me Objective-C, another Ben Schierman TekPub series. I really liked the way that Ben explained things, so I started doing a little cyber-stalking digging about him and I discovered his site over at NSScreencast.

Ben has some free videos there, as well. I downloaded and watched them all and learned a TON. His video about AFNetworking alone was worth the time. I noticed that he had a subscription package initially, but didn’t check back into it until I had watched all of the free videos. I’m glad I did. He offers full access to his videos (new ones weekly) for only $9.00 a month.

This is a BARGAIN!

I feel like – thanks to Ben – that I am an honest-to-goodness-real-life iPhone Developer now. I’m not scared of Xcode, I’m not mystified by Objective-C, nothing. With the videos he has to date, you can spend a weekend and gain an insane amount of confidence on the platform. I highly recommend it.

Rails for Zombies

Rails for ZombiesOn Thursday of this past week, Chris and I did a brown bag “lunch and learn” at work. Our original plans fell through, so we decided to hit up Rails for Zombies and see what it is about.

I really like the format of the tutorial and the way that the labs are constructed. If you follow the process exactly, you create an account so that they can track your progress so you can return at any time and pick up right where you left off. Then you watch several 5-10 minute videos and then complete an interactive session in your browser after each one.

Here is a screenshot of the first video’s title screen. It definitely helps you get a feel for how *in* to this the good folks at Envy Labs are.

Lab One Video

The goal of the project is that we are building a “Twitter for Zombies” so that they can be all social and stuff. All of the code that is written is around that goal. Here’s what it looks like when you get into the lab.

Lab One Exercise

You can see that after I write my code and submit it, I get instant actual IRB-like feedback. If I were to have made a syntax error, I’d get that back, as well. It seems to be doing true evaluation, as Chris entered some alternative, more advanced ways of performing the labs and it was all evaluated correctly, too.

Lab One Exercise Solved

There is definitely a benefit to not having to set up Ruby and Rails on your machine before you get some exposure to Rails. Just like if I was trying to pick this up by pairing with someone, you don’t start at the beginning with this project. There is no project creation, scaffold generation, database setup, etc. You start in on a project that is kind of already underway.

Several things you do are never really explained and some things you do are explained at the very end (like generating links in the view based on named routes). I supposed I could have suspended belief a little until I got to lab five to learn it, but I ended up asking Chris a lot of questions as we went along.

As I said, I really like this format for teaching and conveying new programming topics to people. I’m really impressed at the work that Envy Labs put in. At the same time, you could complete this entire lab and not know how to even begin your own Rails project. However, if you couple this training with all of the existing Rails tutorials that try to get you up and running in 10 minutes and I think that you could have the knowledge you need to get pretty far into making your own Rails app from your own concepts.

Extracurricular Learning

Being a lifelong learner, I believe that what I call “Extracurricular Learning” is very important. I define that as any learning that you do outside of your job or school either for fun or to better yourself due to your own drive or passion. Maybe you like to use books, or screencasts, or conferences, but you actively make learning your own responsibility.

Some developers that I know or have run across are really into JIT (just-in-time) learning. They fly by the seat of their pants and, as Jeff Atwood puts it, “page fault” in knowledge. I am by no means against learning things as you go along. If you don’t do that, you are probably a pretty terrible developer. However, I think that if you don’t do some preparation in advance, you won’t be as good at “page faulting” your knowledge as you could be.

Let’s imagine that I’m working in Ruby for the first time. I may google ruby loop or something to figure the syntax of how to do a loop. Or, let’s say I need to do some task X. What I’m likely to do as a .Net programmer is to think of how I’d do it in C# and then google for the way to do X-C#-Thing in Ruby.

What would be better is if I had immersed myself in this technology ahead of time. I don’t mean become an expert before you begin, I am talking about doing due diligence before getting involved. If I have read Why’s Poignant Guide to Ruby and watched a few TekPub videos about Ruby and attended a few Columbus Ruby Brigade meetings, then I would have a very broad overview of how to “do” Ruby. And while I wouldn’t be an expert, it would make my google-fu so much better because my searches could be targeted toward getting me the *right* information.

As I’m getting more and more into Asp.Net MVC 2 for a project at work, I find the “leg work” that I did watching the TekPub videos and reading blogs to be invaluable. If I hadn’t done the Extracurricular Learning, I probably would have attempted a lot of WebForms inspired nonsense instead of finding out about how much “magic” is available to me via the built-in framework. Much like Rails, I can get Asp.Net MVC to do a lot of work for me (especially when combined with jQuery) if I just know how to rely on the scaffolding/convention over configuration inherent in the product.

I’m not wrong on this. If you want to be a great developer, you need to be involved in Extracurricular Learning. If you aren’t, you will stagnate and be guilty of “writing FORTRAN in any language”.


Almost two years ago, in a rant titled Y Kant Developers Read?, I lamented the fact that I’m finding that less and less of my peers are reading books to gain knowledge. In the last two years, that has gotten even worse. Several programmer’s magazines/journal publishers have gone bankrupt and the book publishing industry is in the crapper. Programmers are either getting information from blogs, user groups, or conferences. Unfortunately, I fear that for the majority of programmers none of that is true. Interviewing programmers, I’ve found that most of them truly can’t code FizzBuzz or a singleton or any other fairly simple problem that I put in front of them.

Entering into the programmer learning void recently have been screencasts. I’ve long been a fan of DimeCasts as a way to get introduced to a lot of different topics. I learned about (read: finally understood) Dependency Injection / Inversion of Control from DimeCasts and I think they are good people. Additionally, one way that a lot of people learned about ASP.Net MVC was from Rob Conery’s screencasts building the MVC storefront on ASP.Net (apparently – according to Rob – they’ve since been moved).

TekPub Logo
Enter TekPub. Rob Conery and James Avery started a company to produce high quality screencasts to teach programmers about topics like NHibernate with Ayende, Git, jQuery, ASP.Net MVC, Ruby on Rails, Linux, LINQ, and more. I talked my boss into buying me a year’s subscription and I am EXTREMELY pleased with how he spent the money 😉 They offer streaming video as well as downloads in standard and iPhone format. I’ve watched probably at least 15 screencasts so far and I have learned a LOT. I keep several videos on my phone and whenever I have spare time, I watch a few minutes.

Steve Sanderson’s MVC 2 screencasts are exceptionally money. I wish I had the words to explain the kinds of lights of understanding that went off in my head after watching these videos. They alone are worth the price of admission. But, they aren’t alone… I got a lot out of Justin Etheredge’s LINQ series as well as Rob’s “Build Your Own Blog” stuff. If your employer has any kind of training budget, you should get them to drop the $200.00 yearly subscription fee for you. Neither of you will regret it. In fact, even if they don’t, you should truly consider investing the $200.00 in your own future.