My first week at Bitmaker Labs

It’s been a whirlwind of a first week for the 40 of us in the October 2013 cohort of Bitmaker Labs! Allow me to record the highlights here before I forget:

Day 1

We were told to arrive around 9:30 to start our day at 10, and when I entered the room at the suggested time it was already nearly full and buzzing with excitement.  We each stood up to give a brief introduction, and I was impressed by the variety of different backgrounds the other students come from. Although the group predictably skews young and male, there are at least a few students over 40 and a total of 6 women. Some of my classmates are entrepreneurs looking for the technical skills to take their businesses to the next level, while others are recent university grads looking to start a career for the first time, and at least a couple are former Apple Store employees. They’ve come from across Canada and overseas, and quite a number aren’t sure what country they’re “from,” after living in so many different places.

Next, the Bitmaker team introduced themselves and told us about the work they’ve done and how they’ve ended up here. They’re a fascinating group, and they all share an enthusiasm both for technology and for raising the next generation of coders.

After lunch we jumped into the first lesson, on Git, GitHub, and using the Terminal, followed by our first two assignments. Although it was review from the prep work we were expected to have completed in the weeks leading up to this point, the assignments were useful in terms of practicing what we’d learned. It was also my first opportunity to work on a project with others through GitHub (it’s not much fun to use the “git pull” command all by yourself!). Around 7:00, having completed our assignments, most of us headed to a pub across the street to continue getting to know each other.

Day 2

On the second day we jumped straight into Ruby, which was also review of the prep work. We also learned some best practices for coding in general, such as DRY: Don’t Repeat Yourself, and I was relieved to discover that developers generally dislike using a mouse or trackpad as much as I do. It’s tough keeping track of all the keyboard shortcuts, but they save a ton of time, and there are tools to help remember them, such as CheatSheet.

Our assignments focused on the basic Ruby concepts, from strings and variables to loops, if statements, and more. One of them involved building a Bitmaker version of the classic fizz buzz program.

Day 3

On Wednesday we continued our tour of Ruby basics, moving on to methods, arrays, and hashes. Our assignments involved manipulating and changing an array of grocery items and a hash of student cohorts with the number of students in each group. At this point I was finding the assignments to be a bit too simple, considering they were similar to what we’d already done in the prep work, but I changed my tune when I looked ahead to Thursday’s sales tax assignment and had no idea where to start. I wisely put that one aside for the next day.

In the evening, a group of us headed to the Distillery District to see Jack Dorsey, founder of Square and co-founder of Twitter, moderate a panel discussion on operating a small business in Toronto. We were a bit disappointed that Jack didn’t do much talking, but I did pick up a free Square reader. I have no idea what I’ll do with it, seeing as I don’t have any need to receive credit card payments from anyone, but it’s a super cool gadget.

Day 4

The next day things went a bit more theoretical and conceptual, as we discussed object oriented programming. We’d learned about classes and objects in the prep work, but now we were diving into the deep end, and I found it fascinating. Fortunately our teacher also got us started on the sales tax problem, and it turned out to be much less scary than I’d found it at first.

Day 5

On Friday we started on a lighter note, by learning about Aaron Patterson, aka tenderlove, a wacky guy who is super important in the Ruby community. He is responsible for the #FridayHug trend, which involves people posting photos of themselves giving an air hug, so of course we had to participate.

In terms of the actual material we learned, we discussed getter and setter methods and tackled our most difficult assignment yet: creating a Customer Relationship Application (basically an electronic rolodex).

I’ve learned a lot, and I’m enjoying myself quite a bit; this kind of work is definitely something I can see doing as a fulfilling career. And speaking of careers, this week was Hiring Week for the cohort that finished just before we started, and I had the opportunity to chat with a number of the students, since they were hanging around Bitmaker for their interviews. As far as I can tell, each student who was interested had multiple job interviews with local tech companies each day this week, and there was a feeling of optimism that they would all end up being offered positions that they found interesting. I can’t wait to hear from them once they’ve actually been hired!

If you have any questions about the program, please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment. I’ll post again when I have another chance to catch my breath.

Can’t blog – too busy coding

I promise I’ll write a proper post when I have a minute, but in the meantime I’ve been tweeting more than usual:

https://twitter.com/gslavender

And you can find tweets from my classmates here:

#BLOctober2013

Only 2 more days until I start at Bitmaker Labs

It’s been more than 2 months since I went down to Bitmaker Labs for my interview, and finally I’m about to start the program. I’ve been working hard at my prep work – we need to be up to speed on the basics of HTML, CSS, Ruby, Git and GitHub before we start, so we can hit the ground running. I’ve already met 8 of my 39 classmates, at coffee shops and at the Labs to hear talks, and I’ll meet the rest on Monday.

I can’t wait to write about my experience. Stay tuned! In the meantime, here’s a picture of me and my classmates working away at Second Cup.

Prepping for Bitmaker Labs

How to learn more about Bitmaker Labs

As I mentioned in my last post, before signing up for Bitmaker Labs I did my homework by reading the blogs of current and recent students. Of course, there’s lots to learn from the official website and blog, but naturally they’ll only have good things to say about their own program. So if you want the inside scoop, you can check out the links below, which I’ve found helpful.

A few students from the current cohort have started a podcast about life at Bitmaker. They call it Bit by Bit, and it’s definitely worth listening in on. In Episode 2, they give answers to some of the questions they had when starting the program.

And here are the blogs:

While you’re at it, you may want to try the mainstream media too:

I’m becoming a web developer!

My contract at Seneca Libraries came to an end last month (I knew there was no chance of extension). I had a fantastic experience, and I will miss my colleagues there. Thanks, everyone!

Though I’m sad to leave Seneca, I’m excited about my next career move: I’m participating in an intensive 9-week bootcamp to become a web developer. The program is called Bitmaker Labs, and it’s located in downtown Toronto (so I can easily take the subway down each day). Starting October 21st, I will be learning Ruby on Rails (and other tools) with a group of 39 other motivated students from a variety of educational and career backgrounds.

What does this mean for GrahamLavender.com? Well, I will be posting less about libraries, at least in the short term. When researching Bitmaker Labs, I found it helpful to read the blogs of students from past sessions, so I plan to document my own experience for the benefit of prospective students. The coursework will take up the vast majority of my waking hours, so I may not post as often as I’d like, but I’ll do my best.

Wish me luck!

Wearing my Bitmaker Labs t-shirt on the rooftops of Essaouira, Morocco

Wearing my Bitmaker Labs t-shirt on the rooftops of Essaouira, Morocco

GrahamLavender.com is now licensed under Creative Commons

This is just a quick note to let you know that GrahamLavender.com is now licensed under Creative Commons, as you’ll see from the snazzy badge on the right side of the home page. I welcome everyone to make whatever use of my work will be helpful to them, so I’ve opted for the simple and accommodating Attribution (CC BY) license. My Flickr stream has been CC licensed for a while (and people have indeed made use of my photos here and there), and I’m now extending the license to my blog as well.

So please, go nuts! And although there’s no requirement for you to inform me (as long as you give attribution), I’d be curious to know how you’ve found my material useful, so drop me a line.

My poster won a prize at the 2013 OCULA Spring Event

This past Friday was the 2013 OCULA Spring Event in beautiful Jordan, Ontario. The theme was “Forward-Facing Library: The Future of Reference and Instruction in Academic Libraries,” and I presented a digital poster with my awesome colleague Joanna Blair about the Information Literacy assessment program we’re working on at Seneca. We made it using Powtoon, which is an easy way to make fun animated videos. You can take a look here:

And we won a prize! Ours was voted best digital poster during the second half of the poster presentations.

Photo by Jennifer Peters, originally posted at http://oculaspring.wordpress.com/event-pics/

Photo by Jennifer Peters, originally posted at http://oculaspring.wordpress.com/event-pics/

Digital poster winner trophy

Digital poster winner trophy

Many thanks to Jennifer Peters and Sarah Forbes for organizing a fantastic event. I’m looking forward to next spring already!

iPads vs. Android tablets vs. Surface vs. PlayBook vs. e-readers: which is best for lending to students?

As I mentioned very briefly in my post about how I landed my job through networking, I’m working on some fascinating projects at Seneca. One of these projects is to choose a mobile device for Seneca Libraries to lend out to students. I’m doing it as part of a committee, but I want to share my personal thoughts here.

The committee was asked to look at the various e-readers and tablets available, test a few of them, and then make a recommendation as to which would be best for lending. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to play with a bunch of gadgets! I’ve done my own (very limited) comparison of mobile devices before, but that was a couple of years ago, so I was interested to see the latest tech. First we all did some research to decide which devices we should test, and then we ordered a few of each so we could all try them out. Here’s a photo of some of the devices we bought:

Image

Here are some (but not all) of the devices we tested.

And here are my thoughts on each of the options. I should first mention that I own an iPad 2 and use it every day, so I may be slightly biased simply due to my familiarity with this device; however, I’ve done my best to be objective. Also, I have an Android phone, so I’m not a total Apple fanboy.

  • Sony Reader & Kobo Glo
    • Clearly, it’s unfair to compare these basic e-readers with the more full featured tablets in this group. However, they do have some advantages, such as the e-ink display, which some people find easier on the eyes than a back-lit tablet screen, and which can still be read in the dark thanks to the Glo’s side lighting. There’s also the portability factor: these were the smallest and lightest devices in the group, making them the easiest to toss in a backpack. And finally, they’re considerably cheaper than the tablets, which means we could buy more of them.
    • For someone who wants to read some fiction while on vacation, or on the subway, these devices make a lot of sense. The reading experience for epub files is excellent – the text flows to fit the screen, and the slight flicker when turning pages doesn’t bother me.
    • In terms of a device we could lend to students, I think it’s important that they be able to do research on it, and unfortunately these readers don’t connect with enough of our resources. It’s possible to download ebooks from some of our databases (such as OverDrive), but it involves first downloading the file to a computer, then plugging in the device, and then transferring it, whereas the tablets can do it all without any wires or intermediate steps. Both the Sony and the Kobo can connect to WiFi and have browsers, but surfing the web is an incredibly unpleasant experience (to be fair, neither company heavily promotes the browser; it’s sort of a hidden feature in case you’re desperate to get online and no computer is available).
  • BlackBerry PlayBook
    • We all wanted to like the PlayBook, since it’s made by a Canadian company (albeit a struggling one) and sells for not much more than an e-reader, and it does have some great features. It was the only device we tested that plays Flash out of the box (which is necessary for watching videos on SeneMA, the Seneca Media Archive, though many of our other streaming videos don’t require Flash), and the interface is intuitive and efficient. It connects by Micro USB rather than a proprietary port, which means that replacing the cord will likely be easier and cheaper, and the Micro HDMI port means it should be simple to connect to an external monitor or TV.
    • Unfortunately, the PlayBook suffers from a serious lack of apps compared to Android and iOS. For example, there’s no way to read DRM-protected ebooks from sources other than OverDrive (Bluefire Reader is not available), and the device takes a very long time to restart. And personally I find the 1024 x 600 screen format to be awkward – if you hold it portrait-style, it’s too narrow, and landscape-style it’s too wide.
  • Microsoft Surface
    • The Microsoft Surface (RT version) was promising, and indeed, it offered the most laptop-like experience. I love the built-in “kickstand,” and the large screen is great for watching videos. It’s the only device to offer a native Microsoft Office suite (no surprise there), which would be appreciated by students who have papers they’ve already started writing on their home computer, and the full-sized USB port (also unique in our testing) makes transferring files even easier. And for anyone not ready to embrace tablet-style navigation, it’s possible (but awkward) to switch into the more familiar desktop mode.
    • The Touch Cover is a great idea – it’s a keyboard that also serves as a screen protector when not in use. It attaches magnetically, and it’s easy to snap on or off. The keys themselves, however, are not very pleasant to use. They’re touch-sensitive, so you have no tactile confirmation that you’ve successfully pressed a key, but unlike typing on the virtual on-screen keyboard, it requires more pressure than a simple touch. I imagine the similarly-named Type Cover, with mechanical keys, would provide a better typing experience, but I haven’t had the chance to test one of these.
    • Although using it with the kickstand works well, I don’t like the way it feels when holding it. It’s heavier than a full-sized iPad, and, as I noted with the PlayBook, the 16:9 screen ratio is awkward for reading (though great for watching videos). And, again like the PlayBook, the app store has a limited selection, and won’t allow you to read DRM-protected ebooks. Finally, the proprietary power adapter is a bit awkward (and presumably hard to replace). I’d say it’s a great first-generation tablet, but it’s simply not the best option currently available.
  • Android tablets: Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, Google Nexus 7, and Fujitsu M532
    • Sadly, two of the three Fujitsus we bought had severe battery life issues (one wouldn’t turn on at all when not plugged in), which meant that (a) I didn’t have the chance to test one, and (b) while it’s entirely possible that they just came from the same bad batch, we decided to look for a more reliable product.
    • From the outside, the Galaxy Tab and the Nexus 7 are very similar 7-inch tablets – their dimensions and weight are almost identical. Functionally, they’re quite comparable, though on the inside there are a few important differences:
      • The Nexus has a faster processor and a higher resolution screen.
      • The Nexus uses the version of Android that comes straight from Google, while Samsung puts their own spin on the OS. It’s a matter of opinion which interface you prefer, but I would certainly opt for the pure Android experience. Samsung has their own app store, in addition to Google Play, which students may find confusing.
    • At $209, I think the Nexus 7 offers the best value of the devices we tested. Although there aren’t quite as many apps available for Android as for Apple devices, I was able to do everything I could do on an iPad (Bluefire works well for downloadable ebooks from our databases). I like the Micro USB connector and the hardware specs in general, but I can’t quite get past the screen’s aspect ratio and small size, so it’s not my pick of the litter.
  • Apple tablets: iPad 2 and iPad Mini:
    • Considering how much I’ve been complaining about the devices with smaller screens, I liked the Mini more than I thought I would. Maybe it’s the extra 0.9 diagonal inches, but more likely it’s the 4:3 ratio. In any case, although it’s considerably smaller than the full-sized iPad, it doesn’t feel cramped (and the reduced weight makes it more pleasant to hold in one hand).
    • I came across a few small glitches, especially when using the Chrome browser instead of the default Safari, but overall Apple provides a very smooth experience, and most things “just work” in a way they don’t always with the other devices. The selection of apps (both free and paid) is unmatched, so the only danger is the many hours you can spend just browsing through the App Store.
    • Edit: It was pointed out in the comments that my evaluation of the Apple products was rather one-sided, so here’s what I don’t like about the iPad. The proprietary cord is undoubtedly a downside, and the most recent cables aren’t even compatible with earlier iPads, such as the iPad 2. Android’s notification system is much better (though this is more important on a phone than on a tablet), and iOS doesn’t offer as much customization (e.g., you’re stuck with Apple’s on-screen keyboard, which hasn’t changed in years, whereas Android offers brilliant alternative keyboards). And if you use a lot of Google accounts, like Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Calendar, you’ll find they’re easier to set up, and more deeply integrated, on Android (which is a Google product).
    • Personally, I read a lot of magazines on my iPad, so I would never trade it in for a Mini. However, the Mini’s advantages in portability and price are certainly attractive, so I would heartily recommend either of these tablets.

So there you have my pick: the iPad 2 or iPad Mini. The newer full-sized iPads are more expensive and have no improvements that would be significant in the context of doing academic research; the higher resolution screen and more powerful hardware don’t matter much for reading ebooks, annotating PDFs, and watching videos (well, the videos might look better, but they wouldn’t be any more educational). However, I think it’s important to note that none of the devices we tested can do everything that a computer can do. At Seneca Libraries we already lend out laptops, and anyone who wants to hunker down and do hardcore research would be better served by even an underpowered netbook than by a mobile device that’s designed more for casual use.

Whew! That’s enough from me – does your library lend out tablets? Do you have a preference for one device over another? Let me know in the comments.

Happy blogiversary to me!

Wow, it’s hard to believe it was 5 years ago today that I published my first blog post. It all began as an experiment – I had no idea whether it was something I wanted to keep up, but I thought it would be fun to try. My blogging has changed a great deal since then, in terms of the length, content, and frequency of posts, but it never stopped being fun so I never stopped writing.

I’d like to thank all the established bloggers who have inspired me, as well as everyone who’s been reading what I write. I’m constantly impressed with the people who choose LIS as a career, in the blogosphere and beyond. Keep being awesome, everyone!

Five (No Jive) by Gerry Snaps

 

How I landed an awesome job through networking

As you may already know, in September I started a new job as Information Literacy Librarian at the King Campus of Seneca College, just north of Toronto. My position involves a lot of teaching (i.e., in-class information literacy sessions), some reference work, and a variety of fascinating committee-based projects. I’m working with an innovative library team, supportive faculty, and engaged students who are researching interesting topics. Life is good! And did I mention that I recently married the most wonderful woman in the world? Life is very, very good!

On this blog, I generally avoid writing posts that are purely personal, and I’m not telling you my good news because I want you to be happy for me (though I hope you are). I want to tell the story of how I landed my job through networking.

It all started back in March, when I was on the job hunt in Toronto. I had signed up for a course through the iSchool Institute that wasn’t so much a course as it was a series of panels where librarians would come to talk about their jobs and about librarianship in general. It was led by the fantastic Kim Silk, and although it won’t be offered again in 2013, you can still read the course description, and I would highly recommend that you check out Kim’s session at the OLA Super Conference (Thursday January 31st at 3:45pm – session #611), where she will be discussing the course. One week the panel was made up of government and academic librarians, and one of the participants was Kathryn Klages, who was at that time doing exactly the job I’m doing now (she’s at a different Seneca campus now). She was clearly a superstar librarian, and working on some very interesting projects, so at the end of the session I arranged to meet her for coffee so we could chat a bit more about her work.

I didn’t know much about college libraries then, having spent my professional career in Quebec; the CEGEP system is similar to college but quite different in many ways. So I was interested to learn from Kathryn about the college system, and how it differs from universities. I had heard previously that Seneca is one of the best academic libraries in Ontario to work for, and our discussion gave me the impression that this was accurate. Kathryn seemed to think I would be a good fit, so she kindly offered to mention my name at work. She even said there was a position opening up that would be perfect for me, and that she would discuss it with her outstanding Chief Librarian and Director, Tanis Fink. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t eligible for the position Kathryn had in mind because it was the OCULA New Librarian Residency position, which is only available to recent grads (the good news is they found a great new librarian, Lydia Tsai – check out the video she made about her position). This was disappointing, but as you already know, everything worked out in the end. I kept plugging away at the job search, and a couple of months later I was at the OCULA Dinner at Ryerson, when I had the good fortune to end up sitting at a table with three Seneca people: Tanis Fink, Shanna Pearson, and 2012 OCULA President Jennifer Peters. I had a good chat with all of them, and Jenn generously offered to show me around Seneca, so we made plans for me to visit. She arranged for me to meet with four librarians, including Shanna and herself, so I could learn about different areas of the library. The visit went really well – everyone was happy to share their experiences with me and seemed to be working on very cool projects, and I could definitely picture myself working there.

A couple of months later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call from Tanis Fink, telling me that a position had opened up and asking whether I would be interested to come in for an interview. After months of applying (unsuccessfully) to jobs by emailing a cover letter and resume to a hiring committee I’d never met, I knew I’d succeeded with my networking when I received a call before even applying. The interview process was just as rigorous as it is for most academic library positions (after an initial interview I was called back for a second one where I gave a presentation), but looking back, it comes as no surprise that of the many interviews I went through this spring and summer, it was Seneca that offered me the job.

So here I am. I owe a huge thanks to Kim, Kathryn, Tanis, Shanna, and Jenn for their roles in the process; they are all fantastic people. I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned from this experience, but I’m going to put some thought into it before posting. Stay tuned!

P.S. This is unrelated to networking, but here’s a photo of me at work, participating in Movember and doing my best Hulk Hogan impression.

Dressed up as Hulk Hogan during Movember

Dressed up as Hulk Hogan during Movember

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