The Number #1 Skill You Need To Be Great At Coding

Reading time: 5 mins

sherlock-vision

This man knows how to do this well…

Houston… We Have A Problem

Since starting to learn to code over a year ago and now 6 months into my Techdegree, I am in a very weird place in my journey. On one hand, when it comes to Javascript, I can just about get my head around the concepts and ace all the little code exercises that are part of the learning program.

But when it comes to creating a new project from scratch or when I am given a more complex challenge, I become stuck. I have reached what Eric Trautman said in his brilliant blogpost “Why Learning To Code Is So Damn Hard” the ‘Desert of Despair’. After a couple of months of scratching my head, I slowly realised that I was missing a key tool to help me survive this desert, Indiana Jones style…

Problem Solving

This I discovered was the million-euro answer. It’s problem solving. The Oxford Dictionary describes ‘problem-solving’ as the “process of finding solutions of difficult or complex issues”. Although good coders can write decent code and through some programs together, great coders use their code to solve problems. Like giving dogs and cats typewriters and expecting them to produce Shakespeare, was like my method of writing loads of code and hoping that answer would reveal itself – there had to be a better way.

4 Steps To Solve Problems

In my search for the answer, one book to my rescue. “How To Think Like A Programmer: Problem Solving For The Bewildered” by Paul Vickers was written for people like me: folks who just wanted to learn not just how to code but when to use it and build stuff. Vickers felt that a lot of coding books and online resources would teach you ‘how’ to code but would not tell you ‘why’ you would use a method and ‘when’ you would need to apply it. Vickers felt that the actual language i.e JavaScript or Ruby shouldn’t be the main focus but the problem that you are trying to fix.

Vicker’s book is extraordinary (book review coming soon) and he devised a 4 step framework that you could use to help you tackle most coding problems!

1) Understand The Problem

apollo-13

You know the catchphrase… I said it already!

Vickers believes that most of the coding problems that we have is simply because we do not have a enough of a grasp of it to solve it. Humans are good at ‘abstraction’ which means that we can look at something i.e a thing, an idea and a person and understand what it is without going to very specific details. For example, if I asked you to ‘think of a dog’, in general you would think of a small animal with four legs, fur and a tail without having to think about whether it was a poodle or a rottweiler.

But in coding, the issue is that these ‘abstractions’ lead to assumptions that can actual hinder us in solving the problem. A great personal example of this was once when I was teaching a school class, I had a video clip that I wanted to show them but it was showing without any sound. After 10 minutes of unhooking the speakers, checking the software drivers were up to date and turning the machine on and off, I realised that the actual volume in the Media Player was turned off! It’s only when I went through it step-by-step, did I realise the error in my thinking.

If you are confronted with a large, complex problem, break it down it smaller, simpler chunks and solve those instead. Another tip I gained from the book is that if you become stuck, explain the problem to yourself as you would a small child: this will force you not to think less abstractively and take it step-by-step and this really works!

2) Devise The Steps

ironman-rocketboot

As they say the Iron Man suit wasn’t built in one day…

Once you think that you have understood the problem and broke it down to it’s core components, not you can start planning the steps that will give you the solution. This is not a static process: while planning the steps, you may find that there still maybe flaws in your thinking and you may have to go back to Step 1. Don’t worry, as the planning helps strengthen your understanding of the problem and lead you to new possibilities that you just would not of known in the planning stage.

Vickers suggests that you should display plans in more than one way i.e flowcharts and pictures so that it forces you to look at your plan from at least more than angle and this can help you get a different perspective on how it can be done.

3) Execute The Solution

wright-brothers

The Wright Brothers had the right idea…

Once you have done Steps 1 and 2, its now time to put the plan into action. So does that mean that as soon as you click ‘launch’, your job is done and you can sip your Tetley tea? Not on your life. To quote that great philosopher Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. Remember as much as you plan, it’s not possible that you will perceive every possible outcome. Your code will have to go through a ‘testing phase’ where you will have to remove bugs and rearrange your code until everything runs smoothly.

At this point, it very easy to get discouraged when your program doesn’t work properly but remember this is normal when you ‘ship’ your solution. Good programmers understand this and don’t let the bugs and the failures hinder them and they keep on truckin’.

4) Reflect Upon The Solution/What Did You Learn?

obama-thinking

This fella will have a lot of time to reflect now…

So you executed, everything works smoothly and you are ready to jump on your horse and ride into the sunset. Not so fast Clint. The best programmers will often look at their solutions and evaluate them to see what they could learn. Great programmers ask themselves questions like:

  • What could I have done better that would make the program faster/more responsive/less bug prone?
  • What did I do well?
  • If I had time, what could I add/take away that will make the program better for the client/user?

Good coders don’t work in isolation. They allow peers and other users to critique their work and make suggestions on how they can improve. Throughout this phase, Vickers believes that good coders write documentation not just for other users but themselves which helps consolidate everything that they have learnt.

Conclusion

Although this framework is incredibly simple (as it should be), it has been a real eye-opener for me as it gave me a plan of attack in which to help create better solutions.

Another aspect I liked about this framework was that made me feel that it was OK not to have the right answer straight away and we have to sometimes have to fail many times before we get the ideal solution. Of late, while learning to build more complex programs, I felt frustrated much of the time and dare I say it, part of me was questioning whether I really had ‘the chops’ to learn coding and was feeling a little lost. This framework has given me confidence that ‘failure is not final’ and in fact is the true path to successful and happy coding!

Thank you for reading! What did you think? As always, leave your comments below or tweet at me @karlwebdev.

See You next Thursday

Karlwebdev

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Is Mark Carney Right?

Reading time: 7 mins

carney-portrait

Introduction

The Governor of The Bank of England, Mark Carney claimed that up to 15 million jobs in the UK (which is just under half the UK workforce at the time of writing) will be replaced by machines in the coming decades. And it’s not just the menial, low skilled jobs either. Carney warned that “safe”, well paying jobs like accountants, auditors, copywriters and salespeople could all go as well.

Although some believed that his views were ‘alarmist’ and ‘extreme’, I wrote a blog post a while ago saying that the 40-40 plan (40 hours a week, for 40 years) had vanished and was not coming back.

The major anti-establishment backlash that we saw in the Brexit vote and the shock 2016 US Election victory of Donald Trump were as research shown were made caused by disenfranchised workers, who made have lost livelihoods to machines and companies taking their jobs overseas.

But this is not something that any leader or politician can fix nor turn back the clock. As Mark Carney said… we are living through technologically and economically a massive time in human history and our old way of thinking just won’t cut it. The genie’s out of the bottle Aladdin and it won’t go back in.

I have discussed these themes before but with this blog post I wanted to make it more personal. I have personally seen what technology can do to a whole industry… Let’s talk about music…

CDs

A month ago, my wife and I went to watch the fantastic Jazz Saxophonist Soweto Kinch at the Roundhouse for his new album launch – seriously guys check him out!

As were waiting in line, this young, very eager guy approached us telling us to buy his new album on special offer for only £5. He spoke about the production, his dreams, the artwork and everything in between without catching a breath. When he finally stopped, I told him that I loved every word he said & I would have bought his album but there was major problem:

I don’t have a CD player.

In fact I haven’t bought a physical CD in 5 years. I mainly stream music or watch it on YouTube. But what made me sad was his reaction to what I said – rather than understand my point, he took it as an excuse and personal insult from me not buying his music. This guy did not realise that the music industry has moved on and he didn’t want to go with it.

When I got into the music industry in the mid 90s (I know I’m old right?!?), cassette tapes and CDs were still the rage and if people wanted to know what the hottest tunes were, they would listen to DJs like John Peel and Trevor Nelson and watch programs like Top of The Pops and CD:UK. To buy an albums, you had to physically go to the shops, listen to the album of your choice and then pay anything from £10 – £30 (especially if the album was an import!) To listen to our CD, we would use a portable CD player called a ‘Discman’ which was huge! When you clipped it on your jeans it was like having a small dinner plate stuck to your hip – but it was cool!

eminem-discman

Even Eminem can’t make discman’s look cool!

Record labels because they relied mainly on physical sales, had a lot more money to throw around and could afford to take more risks on up coming talent and give them “development deals” – where they would help them develop their artistry. It wasn’t perfect but it was easily understood…

But as the Internet Age came so did file sharing services like Napster and LimeWire, then platforms like iTunes and YouTube – and when Steve Jobs created the iPod and said those legendary words “it’s like having 1000 songs in your pocket”, it was last grenade that blew the Music Industry Business Model wide open and it has never fully recovered ever since.

Internet Killed The Radio Star

A good friend of mine works in a publishing agency, which as a company that collects the ‘royalties’ on behalf of record labels and artists and when we sat down to chat, he told me that “most of these artists that you see on TV don’t actually make a lot of money off their music anymore.” Seeing my puzzled face he said “mate, I am responsible for signing these guys royalty checks off – unless you are Beyoncé or U2 you’re not making big money. The days of living off one album for the rest of your life is dead”.

Whoa. I wasn’t ready to hear that – I spent at the time, the best part of my life preparing to enter the industry, but as the years rolled on, I realised that my friend was right. Labels merged or went under, studios closed and people that were making good livings making and performing music started to lose their jobs. The Titanic sunk. With luck on my side, I got a teaching position in a wonderful music college which I cherish dearly.

But as time went on, something started to worry me. Time and time again, I taught these wonderful young people who with their music, wanted to change the world. Their tunes were brilliant – but they were completely ignorant to how the music industry works and the gigantic changes that were happening. The still believed in “burning their CDs and getting it to the right A&R guy”, totally unaware that social media and YouTube has made the traditional A&R redundant and labels will be more interested in your Twitter following than what instruments you used in your 4 minute masterpiece. Technology has changed the whole game & they didn’t get the memo.

So Was Mark Carney Right?

Is this the end as we know it? No, it won’t hit us like a meteorite – but that’s the point.

In the music industry, these innovations didn’t happen all at once but they rolled at gradually over the years and decades. Likewise we talk about the future like it’s some far away place but it’s here. We have self driving cars and planes, cashless banks, 3D printers, cashier-less shops and Artificial Intelligence becoming more and central to our daily lives. Humans no matter how we measure things, have a very poor relationship with time – we are always on the look at for the for the sudden, explosive changes but more often than not it’s the gradual and slow changes that hurt us the most.

Mark Carney’s words were frank and grave but I feel that they were right. Although technology is a major part of the puzzle, I feel that we have to rethink ALL parts of our culture to face the massive challenges that humans face in the 21st Century.

Thank you for reading! What do you think? Do you think Mark Carney was right or wrong? Leave your comments below or tweet me @karlwebdev.

Thank you for reading and see you next Thursday!

Karlwebdev

 

Techdegree Journal 5: How JavaScript Functions Are Like the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Reading Time: 5 mins

mcu2

Functions… Assemble!

 

What has the snark of Tony Stark, rage of Bruce banner and the mystery of Black Widow got to do with an object orientated language like JavaScript? A lot more than you think…

As part of studying my FrontEnd Techdegree with Teamtreehouse, I’ve been looking at JavaScript (JS) functions over the last couple of weeks…

Now a ‘function’ is a set of statements (instructions which the browser will follow), which is designed to perform a particular task.

simple-function

The beauty of a function is that once we have written it once, then all we have to do is ‘call’ the function, (activate it by using the function name) and it will do everything that you have to ask it to do without writing it all again which saves tons of time and avoids you repeating yourself loads and loads of time.

simple-call-function

By just typing “sayHello()”, the whole function can executed without typing any additional code…

The best analogy that I can give is sending my nephew to buy groceries: Imagine that my 17 year-old nephew is staying with me over the Summer holidays and before I go to work, I tell him that he will need to buy eggs, bacon and milk from the local supermarket when I text him later in the day. I tell him the directions and how much each item will cost. My nephew memorises the instructions and waits for my text. Later in the day, all I would have to do is send a text saying “buy groceries” and my nephew grudgingly will get up, to the store and get the items that I requested. I wouldn’t have to ring him and repeat all the instructions again and we can enjoy a lovely english breakfast tomorrow morning!

Sweet. All was going well until my Techdegree threw me for a loop with this challenge…

172-lilah-george-lilah

Now this section of code will hen executed, will make the browser pop up either the name ‘Lilah’ or ‘George’ The 1st part of the code is a function that has a variable (which is a container) for the name ‘Lilah’. The next line creates an alert box which will display whatever is in that container (which is ‘Lilah’).

But outside that function we also have a variable called ‘person’ but this one contains the name ‘George’. So pop quiz hotshot, when the code runs, what names will appear and in what order?

You guessed it?

It would be Lilah, George and Lilah and here’s why:

1) “greeting();” jumps into the ‘function greeting’ and looks for the variable inside that function and creates a pop-up bar with the name ‘Lilah’.

2) On the next line, “alert(person)” can’t access that function (I’ll explain later) so it looks elsewhere for “var person” and finds one that contains “George”

3) Repeats Step 1.

It may seem easy now but when I first encountered this problem it was driving me crazy as I couldn’t figure it out. Shouldn’t it be all ‘Lilah’ or all ‘George?’

But Treehouse didn’t leave me hanging as they explained a little thing called ‘JavaScript Scopes’.

JavaScript Scopes

In JavaScript, a scope defines what a variables that you have access to and this has massive effect on how your programs run. They come in 2 basic flavours: The ‘Lilah’ variable is an example of a ‘Local Scope’ and ‘George’ variable is an example of a ‘Global’ scope.

Local Scopes

173-local-function

Variables that created within a JS function, become ‘local’ to that function. What that means is that local scopes can only be accessed within that function – basically a local function lives in it’s own universe as it may. You can only change anything in that function when you jump into that ‘universe’. Because it lives in its own ‘universe’, you can use variables with the same names in different functions.

Global Scopes

174-global-function

A variable declared outside of a function becomes global. That means that all the scripts and functions on a web page can access it. This is a much wider ‘universe’ and many more factors can affect it.

Now there’s a very special condition to this: If within a function, the ‘var’ keyword has not been added to the variable, it automatically becomes ‘global’.

i.e if our function was written like this:

function greeting() {

person = ‘Lilah’;

alert(person);

}

it would no longer be a ‘local’ function and this will completely change the result of our programs.

Anyway back to our example.

It was really tough to get my head around this until I had the genius idea to relate it to movie universes… Now we all know that Spiderman belongs to Marvel Comics which is also the home of The Avengers, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and Guardians of The Galaxy. But why was it only in 2015, did we see Spiderman join the The Avengers in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War?”

This was because SONY studios owned the Spidey’s movie rights from 2001 to 2016 when they did a co-licensing deal with Marvel. SONY’s spiderman movies are an example of a ‘local scope’ and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is an example of a ‘global scope’.

Local Spiderman

spider-man-trilogy-the-amazing-spider-man-original-imadg7dwcjwhgzgc

Although Spidey operated in New York like The Avengers, he could never rub shoudlers with any of them because they could never step into his ‘world’. Any of Spidey’s city destroying battles did not have an effect on any of the comics nor the MCU films.

Like a local variable, Spiderman could only deal with the characters related directly to him and thus did not have the chance to crossover.

Global Avengers

mcu-time

Whereas like a global variable, the MCU holds most of the film rights to it’s most iconic characters which means they exist in a bigger ‘universe’. The MCU not only ties into the movies, but the TV shows, comics and games meaning that what happens in one medium has a direct effect in what happens in another.

A great example is after The Avengers defeated Loki and his alien army in the first Avengers film in New York, TV shows like ‘Agents of Shield’, ‘Daredevil’ and ‘Luke Cage’ showed the aftermath of the battle and how city was permanently changed.

And to take it even deeper, when Spiderman crossed over into the MCU universe is an example of how when the ‘var’ keyword is not declared in a local function, it can become ‘global’ and be accessed by all. In “Captain America: Civil War”, Spidey was a pivotal player in the battle and was a firm fan favourite!

This is all a bit of fun but it really helped me get my head around scopes and I hope that it helps you too!

What do you think? Can you you think of any better examples? As always, leave your comments below or tweet me @karlwebdev!

See you next Thursday!

 

It’s Good To Dream…

Reading time: 4 minutes

mlk-dream

When I was just 8 years old in Primary School, I remember feeling like the world was such a wonderful place. Everything seemed so fresh and so new and every person was so warm & friendly.

I grew up in the outskirts of East London. The late 80’s saw a massive wave of immigration in the area with people from all around the world. I was friends with kids from all around the globe: From Nigeria to France – but we were innocent, never judging someone on the race or skin colour but their football skills and who had the coolest sneakers.

One day while I was playing football in the playground with my white friend Paul, Danny the school bully, who was also white, decided to ‘join in’. Danny pushed Paul to the ground, cutting open his shin. Seeing my friend hurt, I charged at Danny and with fists balled up, screamed at Danny, “C’mon then if you think you’re hard!”. The next words that came out of his mouth have been tattooed on my mind ever since.

“Shut up you nigger! Paul shouldn’t be playing with you anyway.”

Whoa. Seeing red, I charged into Danny & although I tried my best, he absolutely destroyed me. Paul although injured himself, managed to get help me up & take me to the Welfare Room, thanking me for sticking up for him. But 2 things forever stuck into my mind that day:

1) That was first time someone called me ‘nigger’

2) That was first time that I felt different to other people and for things I had no power over…

If my world was a balloon, it was someone let the air out and for next 25 years, I’ve been desperately trying to fill it up again.

‘The American Dream’

Back in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected the President of the United States, I like many people around the world thought that we were living a new era – Martin Luther King’s Dream had finally been achieved – where ‘a man would not be judged by the colour of his skin but the content of his character’. Some commentators said that we live in a ‘Post-Racial Society’ saying that because Obama became President, there would be no barriers for People of Colour & other minorities and discrimination had finally been pushed out of our civilization – and we all believed it too. 

But with the Brexit decision and the coverage of the 2016 US Elections, I saw that racism, discrimination and hate did not ‘die’ but crept off silently into the shadows, hiding and waiting in the fringes. Like a good horror flick, just when we thought it was safe, the monster was came back, grabbing & taking us into the darkness.

Tired

I’m not going to write about the reasons why I think that racism & discrimination are still with us and offer up solutions: Many great women/men, a million times smarter than me have been doing this for centuries & have been crusading for change. I’m just an ordinary joe. I don’t want to point fingers at white people, black people, Arab people or any other race because frankly from what I have seen in human history, one thing that our species are experts in, is finding new & inventive ways to suppress & kill each other – over something as dumb as the type of pigment in our skin.

So why am I writing this at all?

Because I’m tired. 

All I can talk about is what I have seen in my world and on my journey.

I’m tired of working of walking into the workplace and being the only Person of Colour, feeling like I have to the expert & ambassador of my entire race.

I’m tired of seeing politicians and other leaders openly discriminate and bully other groups to get votes or increase their poll ratings.

I’m tired of arguing about slavery/colonialism and who’s fault it is.

I’m tired of seeing people who look like me get brutalised/murdered just because.

I’m tired of people who blame society and the system for everything that has gone wrong in their lives, but refuse to do anything to change it or at least change themselves.

I’m tired of feeling that if I talk a certain way to one race, I’m not ‘good enough’ and if I talk a certain way to another race I’m not ‘smart enough’.

I’m tired of when walking behind someone in the street, when they person sees me, they walk faster or clutch their bag tighter.

I’m tired of people telling me not to trust a ______ person because of ‘the way they are’.

I’m tired of being told my ‘face don’t fit.’

I’m tired of people forcing me to justify the harmful acts of a misguided person that may look like me and blame the ‘system’ when it was their own stupid actions that got them there.

I’m tired of people who take religions which are built on love & respect and use them to spread hatred and oppression – really?

I’m tired of struggling with my own internal prejudices & the daily battle to choose love & understanding.

I’m tired of being tired.

As a teacher, I feel like I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to teach kids before society/culture/life starts putting these poisonous ideas in their head. The fact that 90% of these kids can look past their differences & work/play together never ceases to amaze me. But my heart also breaks for them – outside the soft bubble of school, the ‘real world’ has a habit smashing the hopes of the most idealistic of us.

I Still Have A Dream

Dr King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech is commonly voted as one of the greatest speeches of all time. It’s so beautiful, inspiring and heavenly and full of hope… But sometimes I do wonder, in the darkest and most lonely times of Dr King’s life, did he still believe that his dream could become a reality?

Talking to people & looking at things at home and abroad, all I know is:

Many people are angry.

Many people are hurting.

Many people are afraid.

Many people around the world feel like how we all feel when we have a beautiful dream in the night only to wake up – desperately trying to get back to sleep to run back to our dreamland but knowing that we will never enjoy it again.

But… because a dream is not real doesn’t mean that they are any less beautiful. Down the ages, it has been those who dreamed of a better world that have led to greatest changes to human kind.  

As the world seems to be pulling apart rather than coming together, it’s the beauty of that dream, no matter how far away it seems that gives me hope. Hope that we may never kill the monster, we can imprison it & go forward together.

It’s good to dream. It keeps the hope alive. I will keep dreaming… And I hope that you can too.

Thank you for reading guys! These are the  most raw & honest thoughts on everything that has happened over the last couple of weeks! Please let me know what you think in the comments below or tweet at me @karlwebdev.

As always thank you for reading and see you next Thursday!

Karlwebdev 

The Simple Exercise That Busted My Stress & Boosted My Happiness

Reading time: 5 minutes

checklist-2

D’oh!

Have you guys ever had a Homer Simpson ‘Doh!’ moment? Where you were looking at the answer to a particular question and you were racking your brain to figure it out? Only for a friend/colleague to come along and in literally 5 seconds, points out the solution that has been staring you in the face all along? All you can do is slap your head in disgust & laugh it off-feeling silly for not being able to figure it out…

As I mentioned in my previous blog post as I have been learning to code, I’ve hit what Seth Godin called ‘The Dip’, the slump between being a beginner and becoming a master when learning a new skill and I had to develop a number of new strategies to help me power through.

As well as being in my current profession as a teacher, learning to code and (trying to) have a personal life, everything has been… overwhelming. I’ve been feeling a little stressed as a result. Realising that stress and anxiety are not only a danger to effective learning but can harm my mental health, I started googling looking for solutions. There had to be a better way…

The ‘Don’t’ List

Eventually I came across the videos and books of craniosacral therapist and author Julian Cowan Hill who in his writings spoke about the ‘better/worse list’. In the following weeks, I found that Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey used a similar method he called the ‘Daily Note’. For simplicity, I call it the ‘Don’t List’.

It’s incredibly simple. All you do is grab a blank sheet of paper (or use the an ‘note’ feature in your smartphone) and create 2 columns: DO & DON’T. Now over the course of a week when you are at home or work, study the things that you do over the course of the day and add it to the list.

The items that you would add to the DO column would be things like:

  • Whenever you do things that you find enjoyable 
  • Things that put you in a ‘flow’ state (aka ‘the zone’ – doing a task where you are so engrossed in the task that everything around you fades away and you lose track of time)
  • When you do things that make you feel energised
  • When you speak to people that make you feel good
  • Anything that puts you in a positive state of mind.

The items that you would add to the DON’T column would be things like:

  • Things that stress you out or make you anxious
  • Things that are repetitive and boring
  • Things that are mentally or physical draining
  • Whenever you talk to people that make you feel negative etc.

Here’s a sample of my list (names have been changed to protect the innocent)

Do (Positive)

  • Computer Games
  • Tai Chi
  • Writing my blog
  • Taking a walk & listening to music
  • Talking to good friends
  • Thinking about business ideas
  • Teaching
  • Planning lessons
  • Coding
  • Organising debates for the class
  • Being present in the moment
  • Working with Sam/Michelle/Jamie

Don’t (negative)

  • Hearing gossip/office politics
  • Lacking sleep
  • Over doing things
  • Hearing bad news
  • Having a cold
  • Dealing with Sarah
  • Marking
  • Information overload/over-complicated tasks for no reason
  • Pointless meetings
  • Rushing around
  • Coffee
  • Eating a heavy lunch (makes me drowsy)

When I first saw the exercise, I thought “yeah right buddy – that’s not going to help me!” But I didn’t have anything to lose and tried it for a week… then 2 weeks… then 3… and over 2 months later I’m still adding to it! There’s a 4 interesting patterns that came out of this exercise 

1) The DO column showed me where my strengths were

I love teaching and communicating so it didn’t surprise me that teaching and writing this came up as one of the things I enjoyed the most. Writing this blog is something that I love to do & I have loved to write since I was a wee lad.

2) The DO column taught me things that I didn’t know about myself

But there things that did surprise me that kept appearing: planning lessons and discussing ideas for the college are almost the opposite of talking to a group of rowdy kids but I found it fascinating & enjoyed brainstorming with others.

3) The DON’T column showed me that effect of dealing with negative people 

I hate mind games & office one-upsmanship with an absolute passion. At work, there were people who because of gossip and their passive aggressive movements that left me feeling frustrated and drained. Don’t get me wrong, no one is perfect and we all have rough days, but when you are dealing with people that are always negative they tend to put you in a negative headspace.

4) The DON’T column showed me how food and lack of exercise had a major effect on my mood

I used to be a massive coffee head, especially when facing a rough Monday morning. But after the initial ‘high’, the ‘caffeine crash’ would leave me feeling stressed, irritable and anxious. So what did I do to combat this effect? Drink more coffee and the cycle would repeat. Eating a heavy lunch made me sleepy and sluggish which hurt my work performance

 I found that the opposite was true when I practiced Tai Chi and had  Green Tea – doing Tai Chi and going for a walk made me feel more grounded & in control and gave me the a ‘high’ that did not send my energy crashing to the ground.

Although the main reason why I started this list was to ease work stress, I found the results so revelatory that I applied to every area of my life. Here’s 2 things you do once you got a good block of stuff on your list.

Do more in the DO list

One of the things that I realised that made the positive difference to my life was talking to my close friends. But because of my hectic life I let that fall by the wayside and although I was getting more done professionally, I felt empty and generally unhappy.

After noticing this on my DON’T list I made a deliberate effort to put in a call at least once a week and all the positive energy and clarity I got spilled into every area in my life. I used to think that all the different parts of my life were separate & they had no real effect on the others – how wrong I was. Make sure you try to do things that enrich & fulfill you. This will give you the energy to face the speed-bumps of life.

Minimise the things in the DON’T column

I know this list is not perfect. If you have a nightmare boss or an annoying colleague, you can’t exactly just tell them to throw themselves in the ocean. But you have a lot more power than you think. For example, I realised that certain people and situations made me unhappy so I tried to minimise my time with them as I could, stopped the gossiping and complaining & this generally made me feel happier at work. 

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If this is your boss, good luck trying to get away from them…

Another thing that kept on cropping up was a colleague would send me over complicated reports that I didn’t understand & I had to muddle through to get the info that will let me complete my work. From my list, I realised that I could do 2 things:

  • I asked for her to send me a brief summary highlighting the main parts of the report 
  • If she sent them over & when they were vital to complete my daily tasks, I would politely tell her that I couldn’t complete it then and schedule a better time to do it.

This immediately freed up my time & I felt less frustrated – what a relief!

To-Do lists are not complete

When I initially started this list, part of me thought that it wouldn’t work because it was too simple and too obvious to make a real change in my life. But that’s the beauty of it. What I starting to realise that the simpler the method is, the less likely that it can go wrong.

The problem I found with a lot Personal Development books is that most of them talk about doing more: working harder, stronger, faster, longer – but I realised doing more doesn’t mean that you getting the important stuff done. The beauty of this list is that it brings a mindfulness to your life and from there you can make better decisions.

I double/triple/quadruple dare you to try this – what have you got to lose? Try it for a week & I put my life savings on it you will be shocked at what you see!

Let me know how you get on in the comments below or tweet at me @karlwebdev – I would love to hear from you!

Thank you for reading & see you next Thursday!

Karlwebdev

Are You a Secret Agent Or A Gardener?

Reading time: 4 minutes

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Alan Titchmarsh would beat up Jason Bourne any day of the week…

My Old Man

My Old Man (my father) liked gardening. After a hard day of crunching numbers as an accountant in the City, he would come home and put on his battered jeans and tatty shirt and potter around the garden. For a hyperactive 9 year old, gardening was… boring. I mean, The Old Man would stroll up and down, turning over the soil, watering the plants and removing the weeds. As a man from The Old Country (Africa), Dad had a special appreciation to the Earth that I, the London city dweller never appreciated. After a couple of months (sometimes years) of work, Dad would proudly put the greens, fruits, tomatoes and onions on the table and with a weary grin say “there is no better taste than food planted by your own hand”. Boring. Boring. Boring.

But as I have grown older, I think that The Old Man was into something…

Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist

During the journey of changing my career, I decided to blog for 3 reasons:

1) It would be an online ‘diary’ to show myself and others how far I have come in learning to code

2) To help other people who want to change their career path especially in Tech

3) To become a multi-millionaire blogger who is best friends with Kanye West, Mark Zuckerberg & Richard Branson*

(*OK, I’m only kidding but if it did happen, I wouldn’t say no!)

Social media has really opened my eyes to a whole new world. It has allowed me to talk to incredible people from all around the world. But I’ve also noticed another interesting pattern…

Sometimes, I will be contacted by an ‘expert’ or ‘guru’ who will bombard with direct messages telling me “How To Be A Billionaire in 10 Minutes” or “How To Be A Property Magnate in 2 Weeks”.

That always give a great chuckle.

If Direct Messages were weapons, Mr ‘Expert’ would be whacking me on the head screaming BUY! BUY! BUY! while I sent my money to his email address propertygurumillionaireexpert@gmail.com. But why do people fall for these scammers time & time again. Because we view success like a Secret Agent…

007: You Only Succeed Once

Hollywood has messed us up. Anything worth having in life is meant to be sexy, fast, fun, exciting & you’re meant to look good while doing it. I feel that our relationship with life change has gone the same way as James Bond on his latest mission: whether it losing weight or changing our careers, we are told to “follow our dreams” and go “all out”. Like a James Bond film, we expect every single moment to be exciting, meaningful and to have a happy ending. We want it and we want it NOW, damnmit!

But it’s not like that. Most of the time it’s… Boring. On this road, many of us won’t be jumping out of planes like Mr Bond but our journey is slow and steady – It’s a process and not an event. 

2 Life Lessons From Gardening

When I first started to learn to code, I was informed by the bright neon coloured advert that I would be I would be “job ready within 6 months”.

Yeah right.

A year and a bit in, I still don’t know what I’m doing. Learning to code for me has been a bit like watching ‘Inception’ – just when I thought that I understood the movie, my mate came along and told me something about that 10 second scene that gave the film a whole new meaning to me. But… I am making progress. I’m in a state of “comfortable confusion” – I still don’t know what I’m doing but I am having fun doing it. In honour of Papa WebDev here’s 2 things I picked up that has helped me in my journey.

1) Be Patient 

In our garden we had an apple tree that produced the most sour apples that you could ever taste. It’s like an apple tree had a secret affair with a lemon tree and our tree was the lovechild. I recently discovered that from being planted to producing fruit, an apple tree takes 6 years to mature. Yet The Old Man was patient and stuck to his schedule. Everyday from 6pm to 7pm, he tended to that tree and the garden, trusting that it will produce crop.

Sometimes I get impatient with coding and I want to throw a hadoken at the computer screen but I remind myself that there is always a lagtime between planting and harvest.

2) Weed and Protect

Patience doesn’t mean being passive. it’s not like you plant things in the ground and you forget all about it. My Old Man, when the shoots started to come up, would regularly, walk around the garden, pulling out weeds, repairing holes in our fence and put special barriers around certain plants. The Old Man explained that when plants are young, they are weak and insects and animals can quickly gobble them up. Weeds can grow next to them and suck up all the nutrients from the soil, starving them before they mature – you have to “protect the garden, or you lose the garden”.

Likewise whenever I have tried to make a positive change in my life, certain ‘weeds’ like bad habits, people and circumstances seem to come up that stops me hitting my goals. It takes daily effort to keep on doing the positive actions that will make my life better and not to be sidetracked.

Not Shaken But Stirred

I’m not patient person. give me the Hollywood version of life any day of the week. But an entire life doesn’t fit well into 3 hours.

I read an article where the current Head of MI6 said if James Bond was a real person, he would never make it as a Secret Agent because he known for taking ‘moral shortcuts’. Even in the real world, the ‘James Bond Way’ wouldn’t work.

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James didn’t take it too well that he was going to be made redundant…

As much as I would like to be Mark Zuckerberg in the 180 minutes it takes for Daniel Craig to complete his mission, I know that deep down my Old Man was bang on the money with his approach. I’m hitting the Dip in learning to code but rather than giving me a shaken Martini, Bond Girl and PP7 pistol, give me the battered jeans and tatty shirt and one day, I too can taste the crop that was planted by my hand.

I think I get it now Pops. Thank you Old Man.

As always thank you for reading! Which one are you: A Secret Agent or a Gardener? Leave your comments below and/or tweet at me @karlwebdev.

See you next Thursday!

Karlwebdev

Book Review of “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Dr Spencer Johnson

Reading time: 3 minutes

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Hello People!

Today I will be reviewing “Who Moved My Cheese?” By Dr Spencer Johnson. This book regularly appears on lists as one of the best Personal Development books of all time – so as an ever eager student, I had to grab it to steal it secrets! Let’s dive in shall we?

Of Mice and Men

The book is only 95 pages long – so this can be read literally over a long train ride (which is fine by me). The book is really two stories in one: the book opens with a group of middle aged friends who after their high school reunion, get together to catch up with each other and see how they are coping with the everyday struggles of modern life. The friends talk about everything from shaky marriages, job layoffs and raising children and agree that they are all finding it hard to cope.

In the midst of the doom and gloom, one friend starts to tell a fairytale about four characters that lived in a tiny maze: two mice called Scurry and Sniff and two ‘little people’ called Hem and Haw. These little critter’s main job, was to run around the maze, eating cheese to stay alive. All four characters live at a place called Cheese Station C, where there’s a large stockpile of cheese. Now the mice, not having advanced brains and living off their instincts, started to notice that that she supplies of cheese was falling and leave to the station to find a new supply. The little people however have grown quite comfortable at Cheese Station C and built houses next to the cheese pile and thought that the cheese will last forever. When the cheese inevitably run out, the little people panic and lament over their lost cheese. Hem and Haw argue over what to do: stay and wait for more cheese to come or venture out into the dark cold maze, on the hope that they will find new cheese. But as they start to starve, they realise they haven’t got much time left and one of them makes a bold decision…

Review

The main theme of the book is how, we as humans, deal with inevitable, unavoidable life changes and the cheese is a metaphor for what ever is important to us: whether it’s health, money, career or relationships. The four characters represent different responses to external change: people like Sniff sense changes way before they happen and people like Scurry represents the people who act proactively with the information and make changes happen. People like Haw represent those who are resistant to change and need to be persuaded to take action and Hems will not only resist but refuse to change at all. The fairytale aspect makes the lessons easy to understand & digest.

What I thought was a nice touch from the author was that when the characters made major decisions, they would sum it up in easy to remember quotes, that were placed in large pictures (yay!) that would be placed throughout the book.

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Also, what’s interesting is how each of the high school reunion friends discuss the main ideas so that we, the readers, can see how we would apply them to our lives.

How This Can Help You

If you are going through a challenging time in your life which you have no control over, you will find the overall message really valuable and positive. Unfortunately bad things do happen which we don’t see coming and which we just have to deal. This book will give you the philosophies of how to handle these changes and will show you how to respond to them. In this troubled economy, where layoffs, downsizing and increased stress are more common than ever, I welcome any books that help us handle that better. 

Also for coders, I thought the main message is really important as the industry is changing so quickly that we, like Sniff and Scurry, must daily monitor the changes & be ready to adapt with the marketplace or be left behind.

Verdict

Guys to be honest, I’m really torn: don’t get me wrong I did like the book, but there were a couple things that did irritate me a little bit…

1) I found the books parable a little too childish for me… Humans are complex and will not only motivated by external things (money, status and power) but have internal motivations (purpose, joy, self-actualisation). Also it came across as too ‘American’ for me (sorry guys – I love you lot). It was at times too positive & motivational & it come across sometimes as a little patronising. (By the way, I’m a Brit & we can be miserable gits – blame the weather).

2) I didn’t like the analogy of mice and ‘little people’ in a maze. This sounded too close to the idea of the ‘rat race’ and in my humble personal opinion, feel that we have a lot more choices about what we do & when we do it. Besides I’ve had mice before & they are not friendly, lovely little creatures! You really don’t want mice in your home…

Score: 5.5 out of 10

If my mate had a copy to borrow, then I would take it but I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy it.

Thank you for reading. Are there are any books that you guys want me to review? As always dear people, please leave a comment below and follow me on Twitter @karlwebdev.

See you next Thursday!

Karlwebdev