Global Day of Code and Deliberate Practice

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By Justin Herrick, Tampa Bay Front End Instructor

Recently, The Iron Yard was the location of The Global Day of Code Retreat for the Tampa Bay area. It was my 3rd time facilitating the event, and as always, it was an amazing experience. #GDCR is a global, day long, intensive coding practice event. It is a chance for developers to get out and practice their craft in a fun and inclusive environment. It is also an opportunity for developers to learn, grow, and challenge themselves in ways they may not be able to in their day job.

Hosting this event always has me thinking about deliberate practice and the ways we learn as developers. It could be said that, as developers, we are always practicing our craft. We write code every day, that alone should count as practice, but its not the same. Deliberate practice puts our mind into a different state, we have reframed the problem. This is no longer about reaching a deadline or rushing towards a goal. It becomes about us and the code. It becomes about trying those things we may have been interested in, but never tried.

At a certain point in every retreat, it is reiterated to the participants that this event is not about the problem they are given, it is about them. I tell them that today is about writing a single line of code, the perfect line of the code, code that you are proud of, that excites you, and makes you happy. This is where learning happens, this is where tangential learning can really take off. Where we can improve our skills in ways we had not even tried to, and its fun, not work.

I believe, that one of the biggest take away from this event, is that the learning and fun that occurred does not need to only happen once a year at this event. It can, and should, be something that we engage often. We owe it to ourselves to never give up on learning and to always be setting aside time to have deliberate practice.

Finishing Strong

By Brian Burridge, Tampa Bay Rails Instructor

Eight weeks ago, a classroom full of adults made the difficult and scary decision to remake themselves. This is never easy to do, but it is particularly challenging when you’re an adult and you feel the pain of needing to responsibly provide for yourself. Yet, this group of individuals committed themselves financially and emotionally, and have spent every breath they have over these last two months toward the one goal of becoming a software developer.

We are two-thirds of the way to the finish line now, and I have one piece of advice to share with them, and to any who may be in a similar situation: finish strong. Some of them may be tempted, now that they are worn down physically and mentally, to ease up and coast through to the end. But, as J.R.R. Tolkien said, “It is the job that is never started that takes longest to finish.” I cannot urge them enough to finish what they have so bravely started, for no matter how weary they are now, it is far, far harder to start a journey such as this, than it will be to finish it.


They are all at the stage where they may question whether they can be the developer they had hoped to be. As Rich Devos once said, “The only thing that stands between a person and what they want in life is the will to try it and the faith to believe it is possible.” They have all already showed they have that will and a bravery far beyond most others, and for that they have all earned my utmost respect. Many others will read this post, check out our home page, and wonder if they too could step out with such incredible courage, but sadly, only a fraction will actually start the journey.

Though our students don’t know it yet, they are only on the first leg of what will be a life long journey, but regardless of what lies ahead, no one will ever be able to take away from them the incredible victory of completing this course. That is, if they finish strong and persevere through these next four weeks. When they do that, regardless of what happens next, they will be a success; they will have a clearer sense of purpose, of who they are, and what they are capable of. And at that point, what could stop them?

“You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.” ~ Michael Jordan

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” ~ George Eliot

“Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.” ~ George S. Patton

A programming career may be what you’re looking for …

There are all kinds of myths associated with becoming a programmer. 

  • You have to be good at math.
  • You’ve been programming since you could walk.
  • You read nothing but science fiction. Probably know a little Klingon.
  • You hang out at Renaissance Fairs and belong to a guild of some sort. Some people look for Bigfoot, you look for dragons.

But like all assumptions, these are outdated stereotypes.

What type of people come to The Iron Yard to start a new career in programming? Could you be a good candidate? Check out the interviews with a couple of our students: 

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Alyssa 

Tell me about the best time you had in school.
The hands down best time I had at school was when I was taking the commercial art course at a community college. We spent a lot of time talking about art history, and the psychology that goes into advertising. I love that aspect of design. The teacher was really inspiring, and had a pretty huge wealth of knowledge that he couldn’t wait to share. 

Why were you interested spending 3 hard months learning to be a programmer?
I’ve been working full time since I was a senior in high school. I was expected to work and go to school because I had to pay for things. I have been saving for the past year or so to move out on my own, so I have some savings. I decided I’d rather invest that back into myself and be able to really dedicate some time to learn. I read the iron yard blog. Its true. Working on school work on nights and on the weekend is exhausting, and it’s not enough.

I found myself telling my coworkers, if I could just learn all day and be able to focus I could get so much further. This opportunity presented itself and thats all I can see it as. Opportunity. 

You’re learning to build web applications using JavaScript. What kind of background did you have in programming?
I had never programmed before. I had taken a web design course in basic html and web design but it didn’t give me the job skills that are needed today. 

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Bill

Tell me about the best time you ever had at work.
One of my favorites job roles was as a “Fixer” for Checkers. I was responsible for assessing all aspects of a store, identify theft, document and release bad apples, retrain successful behaviors, create the construct for continued growth of the crew and leave the store once it was improving. I enjoyed working with different people at each store. I found that sharing successful strategies with others in this format was incredibly rewarding.

Outside of learning to program, what are you passionate about?
Understanding the homeostasis of a healthy body at every stage of development. Currently I am learning a lot about the latest developments concerning our symbiotic bacteria partners. Fun fact…. there is an average of three pounds of bacteria in and out of each of us and there are literally ten bacteria for every one cell we have! I am finding we can take much better care of our partners in health.

You’re in our Rails Engineering course. What kind of background did you have in programming?
I had two years of failed attempts at Ruby. I would try some online courses, read books, occasionally work with some local experts. Nothing really worked for me until I started the immersive Rails Engineering course at The Iron Yard.

Is a career in programming right for you? We’d love to hear from you. You can learn about our campus, our courses and ask us any questions here.

Failing to fail

By George Junginger, Campus Director

“The ceramics teacher announced he was dividing his class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right graded solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an A.

Well, come grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity!

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

Art and Fear – David Bayles & Ted Orland

Here’s the thing – this applies to almost everything in life…

A baby doesn’t hop out of his crib and suddenly walk down the hall. Instead, he’ll fall, get back up again, steady himself and promptly fall again. He might cry, get frustrated, but get up and try it again. Determined look on his face, tongue jutting out the side of his mouth, maybe flapping his arms to try and move three steps across the floor. Who knows how many times he’ll try? Eventually, he’ll walk.

A 6 year old girl decides to try riding a bike without the training wheels. She wobbles, falls. Tries again. The bike goes down, knees are scraped and bandaged. Out on the bike again. Finally, she rides without training wheels.

Kids seem to know that perfection comes with trying and failing. And trying again until they get it right. Walking, bike riding, multiplication tables, skiing, painting, playing a guitar, kicking a football. The list is endless.

They learn from failing. Adjusting. Trying again. Failing again. Adjusting. Until they get it right. 

Why do we think adults should be different? That somehow we get to bypass the fail part of the “try, fail, learn, try, fail, learn, try, succeed” loop?

It all comes down to this:
Failing to fail ensures you will fail to succeed.

Why Tampa Bay for The Iron Yard?

This is a post from George Junginger, our Campus Director in Tampa-St. Petersburg. 

There’s still time to apply for our September 22nd classes. Apply online today!


Why Tampa Bay? What is it about Tampa Bay that’s so special?

It seems to me that the words “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” are everywhere we look. Everyone seems to want to create a “culture of innovation”, a “center for entrepreneurship” in their city. And they’re right. Growth comes from the ability to create new businesses. It also comes from businesses that are attracted to an area because they will be supported by the community and the workforce. It’s that favorable environment that says, “This is where I want to be.”

That environment is created not by natural resources, but by people. The people in the area have to embrace that culture. They have to make it part of the fabric of how they are defined.

It always comes down to people.

From an innovation/entrepreneur perspective, just look at what Tampa Bay has to offer. Every one of the organizations was created by people—people who believe in Tampa Bay, who want to help Tampa Bay. People who see the potential in the area and in its citizens.

Sylvia Martinez of Collaborative Technologies, encapsulates that idea well: 

The determination and passion to make Tampa Bay an incredible place to work, live, and play is apparent just about everywhere I go…people are collaborating more than ever before because it’s common knowledge that we all share the same goal. That collaboration and willingness to help one another—along with important economy-building efforts like The Iron Yard—will no doubt take Tampa Bay to that next level success.

We couldn’t agree more. Let’s take a look at the specifics of what we have going on in the Bay area. 

  • USF ranks 12th in the world in the number of patents issued in 2013. In fact, when you add the patents received by UCF and UF, they rank higher than the patents received by the universities in the Raleigh-Durham (RTP) area  and the entire University of Texas system PLUS Rice and Texas A&M.
  • Tampa Bay Wave – This well-respected resource was started as a “by entrepreneur, for entrepreneur” non profit in 2008. It now includes First WaVE Venture Center and First WaVE Accelerator.
  • Tampa Bay Innovation Center – Their mission statement is “Accelerate Entrepreneurial Success”
  • Tampa Bay Technology Forum – Dedicated to growing and promoting Tampa Bay’s technology “eco-system”.
  • SMARTstart Incubator – Designed to engage entrepreneurs, grow new businesses and create job opportunities in Pasco County.
  • USFSP – One of only two state universities in Florida to offer an undergrad in Entrepreneurship. USF, the main campus, offers a graduate/masters degree in Entrepreneurship (Master of Science in Entrepreneurship in Applied Technologies).
  • Greenhouse – A collaboration between the city of St Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of St. Petersburg. Its purpose is to help you create or grow your business with counseling, training. access to capital and credit, and many other services.
  • TEC Garage – Provides entrepreneurs with the tools needed to turn an idea into a business or take the business to the next level.

There is an undeniable culture of innovation in Tampa Bay. You could even argue that it extends into the streets when you look at the number of local agencies, restaurants, stores and companies which are opening.

The Iron Yard wants to be a part of Tampa Bay’s growth and we want to provide one of the most critical ingredients to keep it going: talent. As a recent review of the best performing US cities concluded,

Talent thus appears to underpin tech-based economic growth. As Ross DeVol, the primary author of the report and the chief research officer at the Milken Institute wrote to me via email: “It really is a talent/human capital story this year and the relationship to tech.

We are committed to providing the tools and education that will help continue to fuel an already supercharged economic engine with job-ready developers.

Interested in starting a career in programming? Applications are still open for our September 22nd courses! Apply online today

Front End Instructor Justin Herrick’s Story: Finding the Path

By Justin Herrick, Tampa Bay Front End Instructor

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I can remember sitting at our family computer fifteen years ago, opening up a text document, and writing out the world’s most basic website. The fact that I could type in a window on a computer and it would do something was so incredible to me. However, our Mac from 1995 was not situated toward web development and my frustrations eventually drove me away from tinkering with code.

Ten years ago, I was sitting in my room building video games for my little brothers to play, letting them record their voices for sound effects and using their drawings as the art. I would throw these assets into a folder and change some code around until they could play the game that they had helped make. At this time, I never would have called myself a programmer— I didn’t even know what a function was at the time. All I knew was what I had copied from a book about game programming for teenagers. It was a language and framework that made making games pretty approachable for someone just starting off. In BlitzBasic, I learned about run loops, variables, and coordinate systems, but I didn’t know where to go from there.

After finishing high school, making websites was just some talent that I had, but never put much thought into, and the games I would make from time to time were nothing more than a hobby. I never thought it was a skill set I could develop into a career. Still, there was something there. Every job I got, I would find myself thinking ”some type of program could make this easier,” and that would lead to me tinkering on something at home after work and on the weekends. These programs never led anywhere, but they proved to be engaging and exciting. I learned about what programming was through this slow process.

Eventually, it clicked, what I wanted to do with my life and career was to make websites and applications. To build things for people and to create new experiences. How to get there was completely unknown to me.

I was building websites for friends and acquaintances while working part time waiting tables when I was given the opportunity to partner with a local development shop. Together we started a social media management firm, under their brand and my direction. Leveraging their existing clients, we were able to provide full management of their social media accounts and act as their online presence. To some clients we immediately became an essential part of how they operated. They were thrilled to not only have someone to handle these services, but available to ask technical questions to and provide insight about how the web operated.

During this time I continued to build websites for myself and others. I had learned about Ruby and Rails. I bought myself The Pickaxe Book from my local Barnes and Nobles. I had to read the book a few times, because some sections just weren’t making sense. I knew that no amount of reading was going to teach me what I needed to learn; I went to the internet and consumed every tutorial I could find. I wrote twitter clones, to-do lists, and blogging engines. I made a commitment to myself to always be working on something; this was how I learned and how my skills would grow. I didn’t realize how valuable this commitment to myself would be over the rest of my career.

Fast forward a few years, and I could confidently call myself an accomplished freelance developer. I was doing ‘full stack development’ for my clients, everything from managing the database schema to implementing the Javascript and CSS. I enjoyed having my hands in all the layers, making sure the site worked as expected and looked good as well.

When the opportunity presented itself to apply for a position at the new 8th Light office in Tampa, I jumped at the chance. This seemed like the opportunity to get myself the mentor that I never had before. 8th Light hires every employee through an apprenticeship program where they are paired with a mentor for 3-18 months until they are ready to work along side their fellow developers. The 3 months of my apprenticeship was the most intense period of learning of my entire career. Being able to collaborate with other developers helped me to gauge my own skills and to know my own strengths and weaknesses. After my apprenticeship, I worked with 8th Light for the next two years on various client projects while also mentoring apprentices of my own. I also found myself regularly teaching and tutoring those who came to our space eager to learn.

After leaving 8th Light, I returned to freelance development while searching for ways to continue to mentor and teach others. That is when I found The Iron Yard and joined their amazing team.

Looking back over my career, what stands out are all of the areas where I struggled, and how much further I could have made it with guidance. I see how much faster I grew when I had a mentor, and how valuable a peer group is to succeed. I am beyond excited to be able to impart my own knowledge and experiences onto a new group of developers who are ready to take that step into professional development.

I look forward to fostering the environment right here in Tampa Bay for people to learn how to be professional developers and how to pursue their dreams. The road is not easy, and it’s something no person should have to do alone.

Rails Instructor Brian Burridge’s Story: 20 Years of Programming in Tampa Bay

By Brian Burridge, Tampa Bay Rails Instructor

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This past July, I reached my 20th anniversary for working professionally in software development, and all of it done here in the Tampa Bay community. I actually started coding over 35 years ago, at age seven, as I learned to program alongside my father.

It’s been quite a journey. There have been ups and downs for sure, but overall I count myself blessed to have had the career I’ve had and to have had the opportunities to work on some amazing projects with some amazing teams.

I grew up a teacher’s kid. As a child that’s not an easy label to carry. If a student has a problem in school, and your dad is their teacher, somehow they like to take that out on you. But, now that I’m grown up and can look back at the big picture, I can see many benefits of growing up with a teacher as my father.

My dad wasn’t just any teacher. He was an incredible one. To this day, students from 35 years ago still talk about the impact he had on them. Though I had him as my teacher for a few school classes, I really had him as a teacher every singe day. He was my first mentor on many topics beyond computers. He taught me how to problem solve, how to think analytically, how to try and fail like a scientist, and how to share what you’ve learned with others.

It was those basic characteristics that created a strong foundation for me to be successful in my software development career. As I applied for my first ever full time position, I found I had much to learn. In fact, I wasn’t allowed to even submit my resume without taking a five question quiz, which I had to hand back to the receptionist…blank.

That’s when all I had been taught about being real and honest, working hard, loving your craft, and being dedicated to it, kicked in. I drove straight to Barnes and Noble and researched the answers to the quiz. I then typed them up, printed it out and returned, handing in the answers with my resume. I also included a short note that said, “I may not have all the answers, but I know how to find them.”

I got an interview. In fact, I was the only one interviewed without previous on the job experience. That got me in the door. My programming skills got me the job, when I successfully wrote code, on paper, without being able to run it before submitting it to see if I had it all right. That launched my career and I’ve never stopped learning since.

Over the years I’ve worked for the first ever Web agency, at least in Florida, and was a developer on one of the first ever online shopping carts. I worked for Valpak, IBM, Brighthouse, Intercontinental Hotels, and then for Miley Cyrus for five years. I served as CTO for a local startup, and worked freelance for a few other startup as both a CTO and Creative Director.

While working for Intercontinental Hotels I was the lead J2EE Architect for the hub that processed all their reservations and availability transactions from their 4,000 hotels around the world. It integrated with Priceline and all the other online outlets as well. It had to handle more than a billion transactions a year and process each one in milliseconds. It was another awesome challenge, with a great team. We rose to that challenge and were hugely successful.

In 2009 and 2010 I led two teams in a Rails Rumble, 48 hour hackathon, finishing in the top eight both times, out of hundreds of teams world wide.

The main project I worked on for Miley Cyrus was her private fan club. We had more than 250,000 customers paying $30 a year to be members. At one point, we had 11 million visitors per minute. It was a chance to learn a lot about Ruby on Rails, and to prove it can indeed scale.

I also had the privilege of creating an inspiring online support program for those running in the New York and LA Marathons. It allowed friends and family to post videos of themselves encouraging the runners. The runners then had RFID chips on them, and as they ran past large digital billboards during the race, these videos would automatically play, inspiring them to press on and reminding them of those that loved them.

I also worked for GitHub for about a year, serving as the developer to the training team. It was there that I became so fascinated with the idea of training people full time. It’s what peaked my interest in becoming a teacher and led me to The Iron Yard.

Over these 20 years, few of these applications I’ve created are still online today, but one thing that still remains are the junior developers I had the pleasure to mentor and teach. Many of them had no previous computer programming experience when they came to me, yet they still work in the field today. That is so much more exhilarating than the software itself.

This is the reason I am so excited to begin our first class in September, in our new Downtown St. Petersburg campus. I hope to create the same atmosphere in my class that my dad created for me more than 35 years ago. Should you choose to change your life and enter this field through my class, you’ll learn to think, to analyze, to problem solve, and to try and fail, without fear, in order to grow as a person and to create incredible software solutions that will help make our world the best it can be. And, like me, I hope you’ll fall in love with the thrill of programming.