Your First Year as an Engineer

by Prachi Singh in Career Services.

Working for Bloc requires a perpetual quest for information about education, careers, and success. While developing out ideas on career preparation, I posed a question to the Bloc Mentorship and Engineering teams. I asked: “What are the three things you learned in your first job as an engineer?”

It started as a casual question, but turned into a valuable list worth sharing. 

Below are the answers I received.

Alex Spencer
Mentor – Bloc

  1. If you don’t know something, that is okay! No one knows everything and only jerks pretend like they do.
  2. The best way to learn something is to promise to give a “tech talk” on it the following week.
  3. Desire to code > coding skill. I can teach anyone the skills. I can’t teach passion.

Ariel Fogel
Engineer – Bloc

  1. Perfect is the enemy of good enough.
  2. Ship iteratively.
  3. Automated testing is important but doing it right is more of an art than a science.

Caila Blanton
Mentor – Bloc

  1. That I don’t know anything.
  2. That I am going to have to learn a ton (sorta goes with 1).
  3. That no one cares about my college GPA. Working hard is no longer the key to success, but rubbing elbows is.

Carrie Coxwell
Mentor – Bloc

  1. That I don’t know anything.
  2. Creating a good end result is not about being a “loner coder” and is all about communication and teamwork.
  3. Being good at this is not about having a specific skill set, but rather a capacity to constantly learn.

Courtland Alves
Program Director – Bloc

  1. The longer a project is, the further off your estimate will be.
  2. Great feature ideas can, do, and should come from engineering.
  3. When debugging, make no assumptions.

Dave Paola
CTO – Bloc

  1. Don’t be proud of the thing. Be proud to have done the thing.
  2. You are not the smartest one in the room.
  3. Real code is a mess. It doesn’t mean the sky is falling. Leave things better than you found them.

Jack Schuss
Alum – Bloc

  1. Soft skills > knowing everything.
  2. Understanding a problem before you go off on your own is super important. Communicating any questions you have and making sure that you’re clear on the expectation is the way to succeed. If you’re not sure about how something should be implemented, make sure that you communicate that, and be clear of the fact that it will be an iterative process.
  3. Make sure to observe the process and dynamics before you start voicing opinions. If you voice your opinions too early, you may come off as combative or argumentative. There will be time to change things.

Joe Lipper
Engineer – Bloc

  1. How to work with others on an engineering project (good communication, etiquette, expectations).
  2. How to respond to crises, diagnose them quickly, and put up a fix by communicating with users.
  3. This isn’t really a third, but lots of programming knowledge that’s only gained by repetitively doing the same things. Little details that end up being important later on because they save you a bunch of time.

Levi Kennedy
Engineer – Bloc

  1. How to use git on a team.
  2. How to use VIM.
  3. Pairing with someone more experienced in TDD than me helped me fully understand the how and why of test driven development.

Matthew Maxwell
Mentor – Bloc

  1. How to effectively translate what someone says they want into what they actually want.
  2. How to break tasks down into smaller tasks.
  3. How to change my mindset to work under pressure.
  4. Also, what to do when I didn’t know what to do.

Matt Thompson
Mentor – Bloc

  1. How to collaborate with other Engineers.
  2. A ton about Rails and developing large scale web apps.
  3. Server admin and deploying web apps.

Mike Branski
Mentor – Bloc

  1. Things take longer than you think.
  2. Having good, reliable backups is crucial.
  3. Take care of people and the rest will follow.

Wilson Rector
Mentor – Bloc

  1. Other people are smarter than you, and that’s okay (ask questions).
  2. Double your estimates, because everything takes longer than you think it will.
  3. Your sanity is not worth constant overtime.

Rajeev Singh
Mentor – Bloc

  1. Brilliant code is worthless if your peers can’t read it.
  2. Good apps are the product of good communication.
  3. It’s everyone’s job to be an advocate for end users.

Richard Newman
Mentor – Bloc

  1. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
  2. Our ego, as engineers, are tied up in thinking we’re smart and should be able to reason everything. This is opposite of the truth and you need to let that go.
  3. It ain’t just about the code. You have to think of how to build, whether you’ve thought about copyrights, docs, etc. The code is just a small part of what is necessary to release software to users.

Varun Mangla
Mentor – Bloc

  1. Premature optimization is bad.
  2. Don’t kid yourself, you don’t know anything.
  3. Focus on the T (wide breadth, but depth in one area).

Want to learn more about the Bloc Engineering Team? Follow@BlocEngineering on Twitter for weekly insights and questions! 

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A Day in the Life of a Remote Engineer: Levi Kennedy

levi-2xI’m Levi Kennedy, and I’m a remote Senior Software Engineer at Bloc. I’ve been a software engineer for eight years. Most of my background lies in e-commerce and health care. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my girlfriend and two cats. I want to share with you what a typical day in the life of a remote engineer looks like.

Routine
Before I jump
into my daily schedule, I want to point out how important it is to have a routine when you work from home. A daily routine helps simulate life in an office, as well as helps set boundaries between work life and home life. When you work from home, the line between the two is easily blurred.

Morning
By 9 a.m., I’ve been up for about an hour. I dress as if I’m going into an office—well, I dress as if I’m going into a startup’s office. Jeans, sometimes a button down, sometimes a t-shirt. When you’re a remote employee, it’s easy to think you can work in your pajamas, but I see the value in actually dressing for work. It helps me set the tone for the rest of my day.

The first hour of my day consists of checking email / Slack conversations that happened after I logged off the night before. I’m in the Central time zone, and the rest of my team is in Pacific. Sometimes conversations happen after I’m done for the day, and I need to get caught up.

For example, at the end of my day yesterday, I finished one of my tasks and sent it to Gina, our Mentor Operations person, for QA. When I got up this morning I had a few questions to answer. This particular task was a report that predicts when we will run out of mentor availability for any given course. She wanted to make sure the report took into account freeze requests. It did :).

Noon
At noon, I take my lunch break. I try my best to get away from the computer at lunch. Again, a daily routine helps set boundaries when you’re remote. In an office, you’d likely go out to lunch or gather in the “break room” with your colleagues. At home, it’s easy to take your laptop to the kitchen table and work through lunch. I usually use my lunch time to read a book or articles of interest to me. Right now, I’m reading PostgreSQL 9.0 High Performance. I’ve been doing a lot of database related tasks, so it felt like the right thing to read right now. If I just want to browse, I usually start with lobste.rs and Hacker News.

Meeting Time!
Our engineering meetings are normally held at 1 p.m. my time, which is 11 a.m. Pacific, giving the West coasters enough time to get settled in the office. The first meeting of the week is our Sprint Kickoff meeting. In this meeting we talk about three things. First, we go over any unfinished business from the previous sprint. Our sprints are one week long, so anything we didn’t finish last week is discussed. Each engineer gives an estimate of how much work is required to finish the task.

Second, we go over the tasks that we think we will complete this week. If we’ve not discussed the task before, we open up the ticket, decide how complex it might be and assign it a point value. The higher the point value, the more complex the problem and the longer the task will take.

Third, we assign an engineer to bug duty. Last week, I was on bug duty. Being on bug duty is like being on call. If a bug pops up that affects the student experience, the person on bug duty drops what they are doing and fixes the bug. For example, a bug was introduced last week that blocked a few students from submitting checkpoints. I dropped what I was working on and fixed it in an hour or two.

Afternoon
The rest of my day is full of working on tickets, code reviewing, and chatting with my coworkers about things I might need some additional insight on. For example, today, Megan and I paired on a bug in one student’s enrollment. Pairing remotely can be difficult, but since almost 80% of our company is mentors, and mentors pair remotely with their students all the time, we’ve mastered the art of remote pairing. Megan drove and we worked together to find the issue.

Evening
I wrap things up around 6pm. At the end of the day we try to leave a comment with an update on the tasks that we are currently working on.


Have any questions, feedback or desire to share any stories of your own? Follow @BlocEngineering and Levi @levicole on Twitter to engage with our engineering community at Bloc. 

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The Bloc Online Student Community

people-coffee-notes-tea

“Become meaningful in your interactions and the path to success in any endeavor is simpler and far more sustainable.”
Dale Carnegie

As social creatures, much of our decision making around what we do depends on who’s there. We seek out communities that validate us, empower us and keep us motivated (as we should). When we are seeking to improve ourselves (learn a new skill, join a new gym, etc.) it is vital that we choose the right community that will not only pick us up but hold us accountable for putting in the work.

If you’re wondering what your experience will be like during Bloc’s program, from our one-on-one mentorship to our online student engagement- this is an inside peek into our community:

We are Radical
One of our company-wide mantras at Bloc is the idea of radical candor. Radical candor, a framework adopted by Google executives, is the ability to give feedback at the intersection of challenging employees directly and showing you care about them personally. From our students to our mentors, we preach a culture of genuine advocacy for students and classmates, paired with honest feedback and encouragement.

We are Immersive
A mentor by definition is “an experienced and trusted adviser.” This is why during our selective hiring process we only bring in top tier mentors that are disciplined, ask the right questions at the right times, and take an interest in the future of our students. These qualities have landed them jobs not only at some of the world’s leading companies (Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.) but with us here at Bloc too.   

One of the things that separates Bloc from the rest is that our mentors are full-time employees. Because of this, they put our students first and are active participants in making Bloc better. We have scrapped the lecture model and moved to interpersonal learning because we know in order to grow, it starts with effective mentorship.

We are Connected
Above all, Bloc is a community of encouragement. We move forward by propelling one another through one-on-one mentorship, accountability and friendships within the student body. Bloc has online social communities for students and alumni to share tips, insights and resources to learn together.

 

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The Job Application Process Survival Guide: Part I

I think we can all agree that when it comes to job searching, there’s no such thing as “the thrill of the chase”. Between the countless hours of resume tweaking, cover letter writing and interview prep, applying to jobs seems like a full-time career in itself.

At Bloc, we believe in being strategic, so we’ve streamlined the process so you can keep your mind in the right place and get back to being excited about your new career switch.

For this career guide, we’re not going to bore you with the same regurgitated advice that you already know (although, yes, you should delete that Facebook photo of you breaking the keg stand record). Instead, we’ll help you where it really matters by providing vision and helping you take action.

night-office-shirt-mail

Be Strategic
Congratulations! You’ve just graduated from one of our programs and are looking to show off your skills. Many job hunters make the mistake of letting their excitement send them on a resume submitting frenzy. Instead of “clicking to apply”, first make a list of what you have, what you want, and your actionable steps to get there. Start with the skills and contacts you can utilize, look into the areas (both task-oriented and geographic) you want to develop in your career, and create a document tracking your outbound applications. We’ve got a template for you here.

 

Hard Skills Alone Won’t Get You There
This is an important concept to understand. Application processes are often resume-oriented and it can seem like a lot of people have the same skill sets when only looking at the surface. If an employer has followed up with you, chances are that they already think you are qualified. This next step in the interview process is for the employer to understand how you think. To pass this test and land the job means you’ll have to  demonstrate your critical thinking abilities alongside a soft skill set that shows you work well with others and can get the job done. Beyond this, build a connection with your interviewer. Transform your interview from an interrogation to a conversation. Ask questions about your interviewer and show concern for the problems the team is trying to solve. This will show your interest for the company, the team, and the mission.

Some examples of this could be:
What was your journey coming to this company like?
What are some of your most valued qualities in a teammate?
What are your team’s long and short term goals?
How would you describe your leadership style?
Who are some of your career mentors or role models?

Never Underestimate the Value of Network Building
My first job out of college came from running into an old acquaintance at a department store. I had just moved to San Francisco from the east coast and knew no one in the city. Upon shopping for bedding and essentials for my new apartment we caught a glance at each other and instantly dispelled into a chorus of, “What are you doing here?!” Later that week I had my first interview and by the end of the month I was signing an offer letter.

I don’t completely subscribe to the saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” but being courteous and going out of your way to start a conversation creates opportunities. Before you blindly send out emails and stalk executives on LinkedIn, look to your personal network for opportunities to connect.

Leverage Short Term Goals to Reach Your Long Term Goals
It is said that happiness is perceived value based on how our expectations meet reality. Often job seekers have their eyes focused on a singular role or company that leads them to think anything else is failure. In Silicon Valley we see this often with companies like Google, Airbnb, Uber, and Facebook.

Although many of our graduates have been lucky enough to land the job they wanted, don’t assume that your dream job will be the first job you get. Often times, it requires practicing and developing the skill sets you want to prepare yourself for the big gig. For your first job out of the program, look into roles where you’ll be able to work in a team and learn from experts in your field to leverage your short term goals to get to that executive level.

Want it. Be Motivated
To make any major change in your life, you must first change your way of thinking. Use these tips and the ones to follow in our Job Application Survival Guide: Part II to stay focused and keep your sights set on the career you want. Reach for the stars and hack the planet with Bloc.

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Word on The Bloc: “The First 4 Months”

medium-post

Original post here
Authored by @KaseyCodes

Today is exactly 4 months from when I started the part time web developer track at Bloc, so what was the first four months like?

I signed up about a week or so before my start date, I used that lead up time to do some free coding tutorials to make sure I wasn’t crazy and this is what I actually wanted to do.

Once the bootcamp started I chose a mentor and got acquainted with their setup. In the first week I was introduced to HTML, CSS, the command line, Git and Github. I was on the shorter 27 week track but slowed down to the 57 week track so I would have time to absorb the information and keep my sanity as I’m also working full time.

From there it has been a roller coaster of being stuck, of not being able to figure something out and feeling like “I suck at this, what the hell was I thinking” to that special moment of hitting refresh and seeing my work come together and then feeling like “I AM THE MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE!!!!”. That process is surprisingly addicting.

As I’ve gained more experience I’ve become more patient, accepting where I’m stuck and taking the time to take a step back to look at it differently or completely stepping away for a break so I can come back with a fresh mind.

One of the hardest parts for me is wrapping my head around the idea that looking up answers on the internet IS the right way, it’s hard to let go of the idea of that being “cheating”. I don’t have to memorize every bit of code and recall it all from memory. I can use the information available to me and trust that as I gain more experience with it I’ll recall more information but with how quickly things update and change, I’ll always have to look things up.

The other struggle has been not yet knowing what exactly I want to be doing when I complete the bootcamp. Being new to web development, I’m not sure if I want to focus on the front end or the back end. The way this bootcamp is designed you’re exposed to both then spend the final third of the course specializing, so I know I’ll figure it out along the way.

One of the best parts of the bootcamp so far has been working with a mentor. I couldn’t imagine going through this process without a mentor, someone to turn to when I’ve spent hours trying to figure something out or am questioning whether or not this process actually makes me job ready at the end. His experience in coding and especially in guiding other students through the bootcamp has been an invaluable resource.

So far in the first four months I’ve been introduced to command line, Git, GitHub, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery and most recently AngularJS. I feel comfortable with command line, Git, GitHub, JavaScript and am loving AngularJS. I’m entering into an Angular project that isn’t guided, more self sustained than the guided modules I’ve done so far. After that I’ll begin Module 3: Backend Foundations.

Note from Bloc: 
If you are a student or alumni and would like to contribute to the Bloc blog, please contact us at: hello@bloc.io

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4 Tips on How to Turn Your Daydream into your Day Job

It has become commonplace to assume that to be working is to be miserable (enforced by memes expressing agony at terms like “adulting” or “Mondays”). When referencing our careers, we often use the term “making a living”, forgetting along the way that our jobs are how we will spend a large portion of our lives. In Deloitte’s Shift Index Study they found that approximately 80 percent of people hate their job. How has it come to be that such an integral part of our lives and identities is so widely accepted to be depressing?

Technology has paved the way for a resurgence of creativity and inventiveness in the work environment. It has challenged business models and inspired people of various backgrounds and demographics to become entrepreneurs. In the tech world, long gone are the days of cubicles, cold calling and sorting files. This industry is exciting – it thrives on innovation and solution seeking for traditional (often broken) systems. However, if you want to play the role of the superhero, first you have to learn how to fly.

pexels-photo

Below are the 4 steps to follow to make your break into the career you really want.

Map Out the Things You Love
We all have heard the common quip “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life”. We have commodified this quote so much with no context, that it borders sounding like an end to a fairytale. However, in recent years, industry leaders have been resurrecting its impact.

Make a list of all of the things that interest you, whether you are good at them or not. They can be activities, causes, study topics, genres of art or literature, or different industries. It is important to have a concrete list of these to stay on par with your interests and keep your mind open to different possibilities.

Think of the Work You Can’t Not Do
This is a concept borrowed from Scott Dinsmore, founder of Live Your Legend, and advocate for doing what you love. He suggests that rather than taking a passive approach to our careers, we run full speed at our goals and focus on the things that we can’t live without. By tying our passions and dreams into our career, it replaces forged productivity and apathy with actual enthusiasm.

Get the Training you Need to Execute Your Goals
Now that you have the what and the why, it is time to focus on the how. If one of your goals is to be an artist who uses their craft to advocate for social causes, become a digital designer and do freelance work for non-profits in your area. Have a business idea you want to develop? Learn to write code and get started on an online platform that will drive traffic and engage others with your company.  

Go out and Get Started
Bloc’s online bootcamps give you the technical skills you need to build on your interests and take control of your career path. Attend an info session and enroll in one of our programs today to get started on making a life you take pride in.

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Learning with Bloc = Training at Amazon

Earlier this year, Bloc met Alexa- Amazon Alexa, that is.

Amazon Alexa is the voice-activated operating system for the Amazon Echo. You may have seen a few of the company’s funny commercials, featuring Alec Baldwin, advertising the product’s various capabilities. Since hitting the market, Amazon Echo as well as many other household intelligence hardwares, have been sweeping the consumer market.

Alexa also adds voice capabilities to devices like Fire TV, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, NEST thermostats, Philips Hue lightbulbs, and Belkin WeMo switches. Alexa is being positioned to be the center of a connected home and is being hailed by many as the most game-changing platform since the iPhone’s Siri feature (it’s a B. F. D.). The Alexa developer community has already released over 400 skills including teaching the Amazon Echo to order a pizza from Domino’s, call an Uber, play a song on Spotify, and connect with dozens of other IoT devices.

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Create Skills for Amazon Alexa
Bloc has partnered with Amazon to create the Alexa Project. This project is designed to immerse students in real-world experience at top tech companies. Its curriculum, the Alexa Skill Set, teaches students how to build engaging voice experiences. The program also allows for students to explore with unique problem solving solutions and be creative in ideating for new product features.

Any students who are successful in creating new skills for Alexa have not only a serious addition to their portfolio, but the capability to have their work showcased and incorporated into Alexa’s algorithm. Upon creating three or more unique skills for Alexa, the candidate is also awarded the opportunity to sit with Amazon executives to discuss assets and employment.  

“We’re delighted to collaborate with Bloc to help developers and designers learn more about Voice User Interface Design and how to build Alexa skills,” said Rob Pulciani, Director of Alexa. “We look forward to seeing more great Alexa skills from the developer community. Their creativity is making Alexa even better for customers.”

Bloc Alumni and Amazon
Henry Schaumburger is a graduate of Bloc’s Full Stack Developer Track and was part of the pilot program for the new Alexa project. Henry and his mentor Mark Carpenter decided to create an Alexa skill that looks up the geographic location of a telephone area code. Check out a recording of his Alexa skill at Henry’s portfolio website.

Attend the Alexa TechTalk
Henry and Mark hosted an online TechTalk about how they built their first skill with Alexa. They cover how they used two platforms — Alexa Skills Kit and AWS Lambda (part of Amazon Web Services), and the JavaScript runtime environment Node, to create this simple skill. Check out the recording here: Getting Started with Alexa TechTalk

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Dear portfolio…

Chris Courtney is the Director of the Design Program at Bloc, Training Director for SND.org, and Mentor for imermanangels.org. Chris is speaking at interaction17 and hosting a meetup in New York on February 4. Follow him on Twitter to find out how you can meet Chris and other Bloc members. 


Every week, several designer portfolios find their way into my inbox. Most are looking for direction en route to their final destination. Knowing that these carefully constructed vessels tend to carry with them the hopes and dreams of their creators, I want to pull back the curtain on my review process to give greater transparency into how I pick apart each of these efforts.

.   .   .

My inbox is dinging again. Or maybe that was Slack. Did I just get another DM on Twitter? Nope, that one was email.

With five email inboxes flooding into the same space, I’ve largely tuned the noise out. But the growl notification still pops up, and I almost immediately see the subject line that says “Could you take a look at my portfolio.”

To be completely honest, it is an honor every time a designer sends their work my way for review.

Regardless of whether they are someone who attended a conference I was speaking at or if they are a student of mine at Bloc, the person on the other end of the request is looking for the same thing. They want to make whatever they have better than it is.

Here is the test that I apply to all that land in front of me.

.   .   .

Hello, little portfolio.

Where did you come from?

Can I tell who sent you my way without referring back to the email?

Do I know what type of work your creator wants to do?

I’m sure you are full of beautiful work, but before we start I want to know more about how you are built. Did your creator leave any easter eggs for me to discover under the hood? Let’s find out.

Inspect element

The markup of your portfolio says nearly as much about you as the work inside of your portfolio. How you have chosen to construct your portfolio tells the recipient who you are and what type of design work you are qualified to perform.

 

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When your portfolio is relatively simple, why add a lot of extra weight with frameworks?

Custom build

This portfolio shows the work of a designer who could potentially do anything. They clearly have written their own site from scratch. I don’t know how much of this site is broken at this point, but knowing that they did it on their own carries a lot of weight with me. Even if it is imperfect, I see someone who at a least runs hard at things that they might not be awesome at. If it turns out that the portfolio is awesome, I am very confident that they will get the job that they are seeking (provided that they aren’t a total head case when you talk to them).

Frameworks like Foundation are fine, provided you can justify the added weight.

Frameworks like Foundation are fine, provided you can justify the added weight.

Frameworks

Wow, I remember seeing a really fancy nav bar on this site when I came in. How the hell did they do that while still using Foundation (or Bootstrap). This is a person who can build prototypes quickly, but I’m not sure how much they know and how much they are simply pulling in from a framework. They can clearly build their own stuff, but I want to know more about why they are using a framework for their own site. Their answer to this question will tell me whether this is a really smart or lazy move. That said, I bet it is responsive and that’s never a bad thing. This is also the time I stop and begin resizing my browser to discover how you are using media queries.

Yes, it is very easy to tell you simply bought a template for your portfolio. No, you didn’t fool anyone.

Yes, it is very easy to tell you simply bought a template for your portfolio. No, you didn’t fool anyone.

Template portfolios

This is the work of someone looking for a visual design position. Maybe a UX position. Clearly not interested in a prototyping or front-end developer position. These are fine and everyone deserves to have a decent looking website. I just hope I don’t see a skill list that includes prototyping or Javascript.

Also, template portfolios like Squarespace or Coroflot are easy, quick, and popular. Unfortunately, they look very similar to one another and you can generally spot them without opening up the inspector tools. In that regard, these sites are sort of like ordering food at Taco Bell. Gimme ten bucks of whatever, because taste doesn’t matter all that much.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t designers that get jobs simply by having a template portfolio, but how hard is it to throw Bootstrap onto Github and hook up your URL? Not very.

Behance, Dribbble, etc…

A Behance URL tells me that I don’t even really need to review the source code. This is a UX designer that wants to talk process — which is great, but they aren’t comfortable with the visual side of design. For an excellent example of a well done UX portfolio on Behance, look no further than LaiYee Lori’s work.

The opposite reaction can be reached by opening a Dribbble URL. This is a visual designer that is all about how it looks. I personally consider Dribbble a great community for seeing awesome work but find it to be limiting when you are on the hunt for a job. It’s fine to have and could expose your work to people who might otherwise miss it, but I wouldn’t make it my calling card when applying for work.

‘The work’

Nothing is more important in your portfolio than the work you include in it.

There is no room for error here. This is the best possible depiction of the work you have created. If you are going to have a broken link, a misspelled headline, a structural issue in the design of your portfolio itself — don’t let that happen here.

But past that, what do you show when you show your work?

Designers vary greatly and much of it will depend on age. Designers who have been around a while don’t do a lot of job seeking and tend to turn their portfolios into photo galleries. These greatest hits portfolios are fun to look at, but they are terrible examples for new designers to emulate when creating their own portfolios.

So why isn’t a great looking portfolio enough to get someone a job?

Because I wouldn’t really know what they did. Sure it looks great but I don’t know the problem they were trying to solve. I can’t see the context surrounding what they built.

If I’m simply looking at a picture of something that looks nice I have to do a lot more work to determine if I am interested because twenty years of

design experience tells me that a picture of past work isn’t a reliable indicator of future success.

Your process is far more important to me than the actual finished product that we tend to hold up in our minds as ‘the work.’

Your messy process matters more than any perfect solution. The more rough sketches I find, the better I feel.

Your messy process matters more than any perfect solution. The more rough sketches I find, the better I feel.

Did you perform user research for the project before you started building?

What tools and methods did you employ in that effort?

What problems did you discover?

How did you go about working through those with your client?

How did you test your solutions?

Did you collaborate with a team or do this by yourself?

Did it launch?

How did it do?

Did you follow-up post launch and make adjustments?

And those are just my questions for UX designers.

For visual designers I want to know more about information architecture, branding and type. Fucking type. If you are a designer and you don’t discuss your type selections in detail you are dead to me. Not really. I still love you, but I love type more.

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Hello, front-end developers. Tell me how the app I am looking at is constructed. Better yet, can you tell me why you built it?

What trendy javascript framework is powering this shiny trinket? Is it Angular? React? Ember? How about the CSS? It’s actually Sass, isn’t it? Can I go clone it from Github and take a peek under the hood? Above all, have you been honest about what portion of the project is yours and what part the rest of your team built. There is absolutely no shame in working on a project with a team. That just proves that you aren’t Ted Cruz.

Wait, you say that you are a rainbow-farting unicorns that can do all of these things? Go grab any job that you want. My assistance should only be sought when you go spend your piles of unicorn cash.

I know you are thinking that I am pretty hard on these poor portfolios, but I do no favors to people if I pull punches.

Either I ask the questions or your potential employer will. If you want that job, you’re going to have to answer these questions eventually.

About you

What am I going to find when I select the ‘about you’ link on your portfolio?

Opinions will vary greatly among professionals, but most will tell you that this is where you write something safe. You list your skills and you provide a link to allow people to contact you.

That answer is death.

Unless you are a piece of cardboard, you are more interesting than that and you have things to bring into the mix that make you the right fit for a job somewhere.

The fact is simple. You need one job, one place where you will thrive and grow.

If you don’t put yourself out there and tell your story you are missing a huge opportunity to separate yourself from the other 50 candidates that also have roughly the same skills and experience.

Are there boundaries to this? Sure. Don’t claim to be the Zodiac killer.

Talk about God. Talk about politics. Talk about family. Talk about struggle.

You don’t have to talk about those specific things but you do need to talk about the things that explain why you are who you are. Why do you exist? That should be in the one document that you created to showcase what you can do.

So talk about the things that you are passionate about. That is the only way you are going to find the other passionate people who want to work with you.

The things you say will repel a percentage of job opportunities away from you. Those are jobs you would have regretted taking anyway.

For every job your passion pushes away, another will gravitate toward you. Those are the opportunities for growth and happiness. And that is what this entire process is about.

Who you are is as important as what you do. Both deserve equal time.

.   .   .

And that’s it.

Sure, the quality of the work that appears in a portfolio will vary greatly but how portfolio is made means nearly as much as the work displayed.

Most of it comes down to communication.

Whether or not a designer can communicate the process they use to produce the work you see (or don’t see in the cases of NDAs) is more important than the work itself.

Those that also possess the ability to explain why they are a designer and not a banker will also have a decided advantage.

So work on explaining what you do and why it matters to you.

That’s way more important than a pile of pixels.


You can find this post originally on Medium.

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Tips for New Bloc Students

Last week, I sent an email to a big batch of new Bloc students whose future program start date was approaching. Upon reflection, I thought my note would be worthwhile to share more broadly, specifically so those who might be considering Bloc have the appropriate expectations before they enroll.

If you have questions about any of this, or want to learn more about Bloc, please write hello@bloc.io and we’ll get in touch!

-Clint

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Clint Schmidt
Subject: Before you start at Bloc…

My name is Clint, and I’m the CEO at Bloc. I’m writing on behalf of our team to say hello and welcome! As you approach your program start date, I’d like to share a few keys to success and tips that we’ve collected over the last five years in helping thousands of Bloc students. I hope you find these useful!

Top 5 Keys to Success:

1) Commit the time. This is by far the most important tip. We’ve specified a certain number of hours per week for each pace of each program. These are not suggestions! If you can’t dedicate the required time to your program, ask your mentor to shift you to a less intense pace right away. You’ll thank yourself, because it’s tough to catch up if you fall too far behind.

2) Avoid lulls. We’ve seen how student momentum through Bloc suffers when they step away for more than a day or two. You build learning momentum when you complete some of your Bloc roadmap each day, so prepare your weekly schedule to allow for a steady cadence of Bloc.

3) Make good use of your mentor! Learning to clearly articulate your questions is an important skill, and we’ve seen how much time can be wasted in message correspondence and mentor appointments when your questions or areas of need are unclear. It’s also wise to spend a few minutes before each mentor appointment defining the items/topics you’d like to cover, in order of importance.

4) Ride the roller coaster. Your learning journey will include thrilling “I did it” breakthroughs and moments of keyboard-pounding frustration. These highs and lows are common and expected – maintain a steady hand! You can do this if you persevere, just as thousands of Bloc students before you have done.

5) Learn to forage. Even the most experienced software developers and designers rely on foraging skills in their day-to-day jobs. You’ll thrive when you become similarly adept at foraging for answers amid the growing abundance of valuable resources on the internet. Embrace it!

Helpful Tips:

  • PLEASE contact our Student Success team at help@bloc.io if you have a question or need help! We’ll be there for you! You should expect to receive a response from us within 24 hours.
  • Right after your program has started, join the Bloc Student Slack Group and the Bloc Hacker Club on Facebook. Both are great for moral support, encouragement, and networking.
  • Remember this: if software development and design were easy professions, the current talent deficit wouldn’t exist. Persistence and sustained enthusiasm for the journey will be your biggest assets!
  • Some people just need more time to master the material. If you need more time to complete your program, you can purchase a 1-month extension.

Finally, although I’m perpetually on the brink of email bankruptcy, I really covet your feedback. Most of your issues are best resolved by our Student Success team (help@bloc.io) but please write me if there’s something on your mind. I promise to read every message, and if I can’t respond, I’ll route your message to the appropriate people at Bloc to help.

So get some rest before your program starts, and get your batteries fully charged. We can’t wait to see what you can do.

morph
Best regards,
Clint
CEO, Bloc
Bloc offers structured, mentor-led, online programs for those who aspire to careers in software development and design.
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Don’t Learn to Code in 2017

If you want to fail at something, make it your New Year’s resolution. “I will get in shape,” “I will be a better friend,” and “I will learn to code” are all unattainable goals. Goals in general are misguided and formless ideas. Achieving something is the result of many small steps performed consistently, not the result of an intangible idea.

At Bloc, we’ve helped thousands of students learn to code and change their careers. We’ve also seen students fail. One reason some students fail is because they focus on the goal of learning to code, rather than the steps for learning to code. If you want to become a developer in 2017, don’t make learning to code your goal. Instead, complete small tasks related to coding, and do them consistently. Each of the tasks below requires only 10 minutes. To kickstart your new coding habit, do at least one per day. We’ve outlined six tasks, so even if you do all of them in a day, you’ll only spend an hour.

Sign up for GitHub and Watch a Repository

GitHub is where developers collaborate on software. You won’t be able to contribute code right away, but there’s no reason not to sign up for a free GitHub account. A GitHub account allows you to follow developers and source code (known as repositories, or “repos” in GitHub). Pick a few repositories and follow them by selecting the “Watching” notification, shown below:

watch_repo

You’ll receive emails when developers update the repositories you watch. Read the updates and focus on the narrative – you won’t understand the code yet – just read the comments and get a sense of what the developer is trying to do with the code they submitted. Here are a few active repos you can watch, though the actual repo isn’t as important as becoming comfortable in GitHub, and learning how developers collaborate.

  • Twitter Bootstrap – The most popular HTML, CSS, and JavaScript framework for developing responsive, mobile first projects on the web
  • jQuery – A JavaScript library that makes it easy to program dynamic web site interfaces
  • HTML5 Boilerplate – A professional front-end template for building fast, robust, and adaptable web apps or sites
  • Ruby on Rails – A popular web application development framework

Codify Your Twitter Feed

Most prominent software engineers, developers, and designers use Twitter more than any other social media platform. Following them is a great way to learn about the software industry: trends, lingo, open source updates, hiring trends, etc. Consider following these prominent developers and companies:

  • Chad Fowler – Author, CTO, speaker, and early Ruby evangelist
  • Dave Thomas – Programmer turned publisher of one of the most well-respected technical book brands, The Pragmatic Bookshelf
  • David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) – Creator of Rails, CTO at Basecamp
  • GitHub – The world’s most popular code collaboration tool
  • John Resig – Creator of jQuery
  • Kent Beck – Author of Test-Driven Development, programmer at Facebook
  • thoughtbot – Well-respected development and design consulting firm, and prolific open source contributors
  • Yehuda Katz – Prolific open source developer, Rails contributor and Ember creator

This is a small list, but once you follow them you’ll receive recommendations for people like them. Spend 10 minutes per day reading their tweets, and you’ll start to learn about the software industry and how developers think and speak. The purpose is not to mimic them, it’s to understand them.

Ask a Question

It’s incredible how much one can learn when they simply ask the right person the right question. No matter if you’re a total beginner or an expert, you will always have questions when learning. To receive a good answer, you must ask a good question; yes, bad questions exist. A question is bad if it’s not asked thoughtfully. A thoughtful question provides context, is articulate, and has a defined scope. Here’s an example of a bad question:

I have a Ruby array of two fruits, and I can’t seem to access an element successfully. What does “nil” mean?

That’s a bad question because it’s impossible to answer without more information; it lacks context. How are you trying to access the element? Which element are you trying to access? Are you getting an error? If so, what’s the error? Does nil refer to the problem you’re having or something else? Ask a bad question like this, and you’ll get a bad answer.

A good question looks like this:

I just started to learn Ruby. I have an array consisting of two fruits: fruits_array = [“apple”, “banana”]. I’m trying to access “banana” by referencing fruits_array[2] but keep receiving “nil” in my irb. Why won’t it return “banana”?

This is a good question because it’s written well and is grammatically correct. It also provides adequate context: “I just started to learn Ruby,” “I’m trying to access by…,” “I keep receiving nil…,” etc. This question provides all the facts someone would need to answer it. It’s an easy question to answer for an experienced developer, which makes it likely that someone will answer it and answer it well.

There are many great places to ask questions. Quora is built for asking questions in general and Stack Overflow is built for asking technical questions. We’ve written “Getting Help on Stack Overflow” at Bloc, which provides details on using Stack Overflow. Once you have a GitHub account and have codified your Twitter feed, you can ask questions on those sites as well.

Write a Blog Post

Writing is one of the best ways to improve your coding skills, because it forces you to clearly articulate your intent. Coding forces you to articulate your intent as well, only to a computer instead of a person. You write for people, you code for computers, but you use the same thought process for both.

Write 100 words (less than half a page) about anything you’d like. The only constraint is that you must try to clearly articulate your thoughts. Medium is a great platform for writing, and integrates with your Twitter account. As a separate task, read Writing to Learn by William Zinsser. It will open your eyes to the power of writing.

Write Code

At some point, of course, you’ll actually need to write code. There are many places to write code – none better than a simple code editor on your laptop – though as a beginner you may want an easier place to start. Sign up for a free account with Codecademy and Codewars. Codecademy has tutorialized, in-browser courses that teach you the basics of programming syntax, while Codewars will challenge you to solve puzzles (called “katas”) with different programming languages. Both are great places to practice writing code.

Read Code

Reading code is an underappreciated practice. It may not be as exciting as writing code, but it is equally, if not more important. GitHub and Codewars are great places to read code. You don’t need to understand all the code in a GitHub repo or Codewars kata; start small and pick a class, method, or single line of code. Use the Rubber Duck technique to explain the code to yourself. By reading code you’ll expose yourself to new patterns, syntax, logic, and approaches that you would not otherwise know. Tutorials can only teach you so much, reading code will take you much further.

10 Minutes a Day and Free!

All of these small tasks are free – they don’t require subscriptions or memberships. You won’t learn to code by doing these tasks consistently, you will code. Please, don’t make a grand resolution on December 31st – instead, commit yourself to small tasks and you’ll succeed in 2017. After you’ve created habits out of these small tasks, you may find yourself wanting to take your coding journey to the next level and change careers.

Happy New Year, and we hope you find success in 2017!

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