Category Archives: Starter League

My first Rails App

It just keeps getting better. Week three of The Starter League has been the best so far, after the amazing first two weeks I didn’t think it could get any better.  This week we started to play with rails! O man, learning to code is sooo much fun!

I love the fact that I walk away after each class having learned something new.  The idea is that we cover something new in class, and we get to do it once in our pairs in class. Then after class, you try and do the example from class by yourself, referring to the solution when you get stuck. You continue to practice this until you can complete it without looking at the solution.

Once you get there, you try and do what we learned in class on your own app or idea.  Since I didn’t really have an app or idea that I wanted to work on I had to come up with something.  So, since I am trying to get a job as a ski instructor in Fernie, I thought let me try and build an app for helping them recruit seasonal workers.

My first Rails app, Apply page

Here you apply in my new rails app, it will enter your details into the database.

So this week we were introduced to rails. Rails is pretty cool, it makes life allot easier and it allowed us to set up the skeleton for a web app in no time. It also makes talking to a database really easy.  So my FAR (Fernie Alpine Resort) recruiting app became my first rails built, database backed app.

The data for this list result page is pulled out of the database.

The data for this list result page is pulled out of the database in my first rails app.

It is actually amazing how much we’ve learnt in only three weeks. While building out my FAR recruiting app I got to do a few things for the first time. I used bootstrap to help me with styling and used rails to set it all up.  I set my own database for the first time and interacted with it. They call it CRUD – Create, Read, Update and Delete. Basically the actions you perform while interacting with a database.

I am having so much fun! Still can’t believe I didn’t do this a long time ago. The more I enjoy this, the more I think I want to be a hacker!

My Facepage App

I am having so much FUN learning to code! The Starter League classes so far have been awesome, I walk away after every class with new insight and something substantial that we have learned.

This week started with us still playing with HTML and CSS. We explored bootstrap, which is a framework to use in CSS, bootstrap is really cool. It reduces the work you need to do by 100’s of hours.  It allows you to structure the layout and display the content beautifully with way less work.  The bootstrap site, itself built using bootstrap, offers all the help you need to implement it.  It was a revelation exploring it and seeing what it empowers you to do.

We had our first real ruby playground session this week, which was awesome! We played around with arrays and hashes and had to do a challenge to combine it all to work out sales tax on items in a shopping cart. Kelvin (also from SA) and I, were working together and we tried to do a little more by styling the output to look like a receipt.

Our till slip output. Items with the tax and total.

Our till slip output. Items with the tax and total.

On Friday Raghu showed us how to use what we learnt in the last two weeks could be used to play with the Facebook API.  It was unbelievable to see what we can already do even with the limited exposure we have had.  So after class we had to get something ready for a show and tell session in the afternoon.

I decided to play with the Facebook API a little more.  I pulled the last 200 posts in my timeline, sorted out the pictures, and isolated the ones with at least one like. Then I wanted to sort them by the number of likes, which turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought. I call it My Facepage App:

This output all from My Facepage App. It was fun playing with the Facebook API!

This output all from My Facepage App. It was fun playing with the Facebook API!

But Google was my friend today, so after a few trial and errors, I managed to get it working. YEA! I can already think of many times in the past where the little skills I have learned so far could have saved me so much time!

This is AMAZING!

1871 – Home of The Starter League

The Starter League is located in a co-working space in the Merchandise Mart, called 1871.  Merchandise Mart is a huge commercial building (372 000 sq meters) that was built around 1930, this building has its own metro train stop, full food court and much more.

1871 is a community non-profit endeavour that seems to be working really well.  1871 was the year of the great Chicago fire.  But the story is more about how the city was rebuilt after the devastation, and how passion and innovation was combined to not only build one of the most amazing cities in the world but also contribute to world we all live in today.  So 1871 now tries creating a space where passion and innovation can be combined again to form some of the great businesses of the future.

1871 Reception Area

The Reception Area of 1871. 1871 is home to The Starter League and TechStars Chicago

The Starter League, TechStars Chicago and few others are also located here.  The vibe is really cool, location is great and the infrastructure everything a young start-up needs.  There is also a coffee shop and honesty based stocked fridges to get something to eat or drink at any hour of the day or night.  It works on a membership basis starting from $125 a month for evenings and weekend and goes up to $400/month for reserved space.

View of the open working area at 1871

View of the open working area at 1871

They also have some great events at 1871, like talks by founders and hackathon.  I am really looking forward to attend many of them.  It is also fascinating watching everybody working, people are mostly dressed really casually, like you would expect form start-ups. Every now and then there are some suits walking around, they really stand out.

The Starter League class room with iMacs

The North Classroom of The Starter League at 1871

It is also very interesting so see some of the conversations going on all around the place, you can often see people having job interviews or even meetings with potential investors or mentors.  It is really awesome seeing a community like this in action.  This must add immense value to the Chicago start-up ecosystem. It was clearly a great idea and the execution seems to be going great as well.

I have not really looked for places like this in South Africa, and can’t really say that I know of any on this scale and size.  But it would add great value if there was something like this in every major city in South Africa.

Day one of The Starter League

Today was the first day of class in season eight of The Starter League.  I have been looking forward to it so much, needless to say I was awake at around 0400 ready to go, but the rest of Chicago was still asleep.  So after another two hours of sleep, I was woken by my annoying alarm.

After a shower, breakfast and making lunch, I started on my way around 0645, the streets were still pretty quite.  It only took me about 30 min to get to Merchandise Mart. I was about an hour early for class, so I got online and did some work.

Almost everybody was on time so we started at 0830, where Raghu and Jeff our instructors, started to explain more about how the classes would work.  In class we need to do mainly listening, and thinking about questions.  We get all the notes and additional info on The Starter League’s own system, so no need to take notes in class.

I had to change the settings of terminal to look more like matrix - now I can look like a real geek!

I had to change the settings of terminal to look more like matrix – now I can look like a real geek!

We are learning from the beginning to do pair programming, the latest best practice.  This means that you will always be two people per iMac, working together.  To help facilitate this, you have to start to learn to articulate everything you do as you go along…. gonna take some time to get that right.

They also encouraged us to just try things, play around, and build things.  Try and have a pet project or idea that you can use to practice what we learn in class.  First they will show us something in class, then we should try and do it ourselves from scratch, and keep doing that until we can do it without looking at the code they provide.  Then use what we have learned on our own project.

We started playing with the command line, and doing normal folder operations from there.  Played with Sublime, a text editor that we are going to use to write the code in.  Then we played around with some basic html, create some .html files from sublime and opened them in a browser. Raghu also showed us a very cool app that helps you to snap windows around on a Mac.

Bettersnap tool is a great app from snaping windows around on a Mac

Bettersnap tool is a great app from snaping windows around on a Mac

Jeff explained a basic computer science model involving input – processing – outputs.  He showed how even a basic calculator can be broken down to fit into this model. The key they want us to take away after 11 weeks is to ‘learn to learn’, so we can go on and become ever better.

We all got a copy of ‘Learn to Program’ by Chris Pine, and we were pointed to online resource for HTML and CSS.  Now there is a heap of stuff to do before the next class on Wednesday!

I am going to The Starter League!

I have read and pondered allot since I left Private Property more than a year ago, about what my next serious career will be.  Being a ski instructor is too much fun to be considered a serious career!  I wrote a post in January entitled: ‘Do I want to be a hacker?’ My thoughts are still that I am not sure if I want to make a 10 year commitment, but I am very keen to go to the next level, and learn more. As they say, so far so good.

While we were in Fernie, I did as much research as I could about development/ programming boot camps.  There is a bunch of boot camps opening up all over the place.  I initially liked, but when I found The Starter League it felt like I hit the jackpot!  It looked like the perfect fit for what I wanted to learn.

The whole approach that they will help you start in the direction you want to go, really hit home.  I know I will struggle, I mean it must be impossible, to become a world class developer in 10 weeks. But this will be a wonderful first step in that direction.

I am really looking forward to spend the summer in Chicago at The Starter League!

I am really looking forward to spend the summer in Chicago at The Starter League!

So on the day we left Canada, I applied to the Starter League.  A few days later I had a Skype interview with them, everything went well. So I was excited and nervous all at the same time. A few days later I got an email saying – I am in!  Man, this is going to be awesome! is also involved in The Starter League, they are the ones who started Ruby on Rails. This is what I will be learning in Chicago.  It will also be the first time that I will be in the USA in summer, so I will watch as much baseball as possible!

I hope to see many games at Wrigley Field this summer!

I hope to see many games at Wrigley Field this summer!

TechStars Chicago is also in the same building as  The Starter League, so hopefully I will get to meet some great startups and learn as much as I can about the eco system.  This is going to be an amazing three months.

The biggest challenge is going to be away from home and my family for so long. I have travelled more than most in the past, but this will be the longest I have been away from home at one time.  I hope the sacrifices we make for this will pay of big time in the future.