Jon Link

First month or so with Launch Academy

Bootcamp trepidation be damned, I’ve joined up with Launch Academy. Here are my first impressions now that I’ve been at it for just over a month.

As I suspected, there are some good things and some disappointments. Let’s start with what is great:

  1. Community. More than you’d get learning on your own in the freeverse. It’s isn’t a booming community, but a small active one. The problem, of course, is that most people are just digging through the curriculum and popping onto slack for support, not community. Still, there are community events. Some of my experience might also be colored by the fact I’m active in the evening and weekends. Seems like there’s a bit more happening in the day.
  2. Support. Like I said, I’m really only active on the weekend and evenings. To the uninitiated it might sound like a recipe for never getting support from instructors. Not so! There are Launch Academy staffers on in the evenings and during the day on the weekends.
  3. From Zero to Dev. This program is very much set up with newbies in mind. Sure, it would be helpful to have at least a basic grasp of some basic HTML/CSS and coding before starting if you want to hit the ground running, but it isn’t required. Make no mistake Launch Academy has a very solid curriculum.

But make no mistake, it isn’t all roses and chocolates. There’s room for improvement:

  1. Curriculum. But wait, isn’t the curriculum solid?! Yeah, but there are places where it needs to be built out further. Some of the program tends to lean too heavily on the practical while ignoring the theoretical. In many cases that isn’t just ok, it’s preferable. But there aren’t many opportunities to understand the deeper principles of web developing and those opportunities are most often (though not always) through inference. The organization of the curriculum is also rarely not the most ideal—once or twice I’ve had exercises that required knowledge gained in preceding lessons.
  2. Not for the experienced. Yes, this is self-paced, but there’s no fast-forward button. Already know how to write html and css? Too bad, you’re doing the all the challenges and exercises no matter how basic they may be. Does it take long? No. It is time well spent? No.
  3. Occasionally dogmatic. I’ve received “no pass” on system checks (kind of a final test for a unit). The first was when I took an extra step and gave the minutes and seconds of a album instead of minutes and fractions of a minute. The second was when I failed to include yet another link that went to nothing in an HTML file. That one is more understandable and if I’d read more carefully I would have seen it was required. Then again I’d included a lot of real links in the file, so I’d met the spirit of the requirement (which was to prove you could make a link). Ultimately, this is only problematic because some exercises, challenges, and system checks have unclear requirements and directions. That is especially problematic when it comes to system checks as instructors will hesitate to offer any answers as it is a test.

But let’s not end this on a negative note! There are a few more things to like about Launch Academy:

  1. People care. It is very clear from all the interactions I’ve had with instructors and other staff that these people care about my experience. I’ve run into problems minutes before an instructor was scheduled to go offline. Rather than leave me hanging, they’ve always helped me solve my problem.
  2. Quality instructors. As with any school the quality varies from instructor to instructor, but they all get it. They know why you’re here, why they’re here, and how to help. Some have more experience than others, but even if an instructor has less experience they are in it until you’ve solved your problem. And that’s the other part. StackOverflow is great in soooo many ways, but at the end of the day the process is usually just question -> answer. The instructors at Launch Academy help students understand and explain their problems, think through solutions, and do the work themselves. Teaching autonomous learning is vital especially for web developers because continuous learning a cornerstone of the job.
  3. Updated curriculum. I know, I know, enough about curriculum. But curriculum is really the name of the game. Looking at Launch Academy’s you can see that they don’t just want it to good, they want it to be better. It’s obvious that the hundreds of hours of work they put into the curriculum wasn’t enough for them. It’s still being actively improved and updated.

My take away? I would totally recommend this to a person who doesn’t have much or any coding skills, but is motivated. If you are in Boston and have an open schedule for a month, it might make more sense to attend Launch Academy on the campus.

The online experience is great for those who need a degree of flexibility and can keep themselves motivated. And that last part is really what makes or breaks it. If you’re a prospective student and you know you can’t maintain prolonged focus (we’re talking months to almost a year), then move on and do an on-site program, otherwise you’ll just be wasting money. For those who can stick with it, I think it could be a rewarding experience.


ps. bonus tip: search for “vimeo playback speed plugin” to go through videos faster if they are covering concepts you’re comfortable with already.

Coding Bootcamps

After years and years of coding, I’m considering a coding bootcamp. Why? I’m not totally sure.

In the early 2000’s I first taught myself to code HTML, CSS, PHP, and MySQL. This was back in the early days of PHP and even setting up a local environment was a huge pain. I had to learn enough of the command line to build PHP on my Mac with all the libraries I thought I needed. H-u-g-e pain (MAMP is a lifesaver for newbies!). I started small and ended up making an open source asynchronous chess website for me and my friends. That was back in the late 2000s.

Fast forward to now and I’ve co-written a web app that is used by my employer internationally. It has become a business critical operations and planning solution supported by our IT department. Through this I’ve learned to use GIT, shored up my JS/JQuery, and learned MS SQL and how to work with the quirks of IIS.

My point is, I know how to code. So why a bootcamp? Mostly because I taught myself everything I know (with help from the lovely people on Stack Overflow the last few years). I know there’s some things I don’t know, and I’m not worried about that because I can keep teaching myself. What I worry about is that I don’t know what I don’t know, ie. the unknown unknowns.

Maybe —Maybe— a bootcamp is the answer to this?

I like my job right now, so I’m not looking to quit and join a bootcamp. So my options are somewhat limited (part time, online). I’ve narrowed it down now to these options:

I’ll be posting more as I dive deeper.

Softcover’s Cover

softcover-coverI designed Softcover for Natural History Press (a press I run with Super Friend, Natalie Lyalin) and Monica Fambrough. While I am very happy with the cover—especially how it looks on the cover stock—it hardly holds a torch to the awesomeness inside.

When designing the cover, Monica pointed towards vintage Cuban book cover art. I borrowed a lot from the color palettes I enjoyed in those covers and slowly narrowed it down to what you see here. The end design that Monica chose was one of the simplest, but I think it was also one of the most striking.

Huge thanks to Monica for allowing me to take part in sharing her stellar work with the world.

Book Cover and Text – Month of Big Hands by Andrew Morgan

My work at Natural History Press has allowed me to create a cover for Andrew Morgan’s fantastic book, Month of Big Hands. I also did the interior layout and design work. I’m very pleased with how it came out. I’m even more pleased with the writing. It’s easily one of the best books of poetry I’ve read this year.

The design I chose for the inside was very simple. The poem and page number are the only things on the page. For poetry the best thing is to let the text inhabit the page with all possible distractions removed because it is as much a visual document as it is a literary one. The pages in this book with built first by looking at the ideal of the golden ratio, and then adjusting for the reality of the poem on the page and the financial constraints of printing a book. That was followed by an embarrassing number of hours looking at fonts to find the perfect one.