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Introducing “the byte”: let’s code!

2012 November 15

Serious swagger: CO2 Sturges, Sustainable John, and Sell Efficiently

I’m taking the plunge and joining the crowd: it’s time to learn to code! For whatever reason, it has taken me this long to get on board after watching on the sidelines, as my brother picked up a couple languages, a good friend Tyler re-oriented his entire career in this direction (read his learn to code overview), and the cleantech sector I work in took a major turn in the direction of mobile + data + web + software etc.

So where to begin? I’d say anywhere, just jump in, and start coding to get your feet wet. Then, make a plan to get the skills you want based on your own goals and things you dream of making. For me, this list would be a number of mobile apps: 1) carbon allowance app, 2) YouKubb app to make Kubb a viral sport, 3) Jian Bing Johnny’s app for street food (specifically jian bing + chuanr + anything that’s not on Dianping), 4) The Book of Energy app for energy education. Aaand I introduce to you “The Byte”, a new category on my blog where you can read my posts on coding and app development. It had to rhyme with the rest (trike, mic, hike) so I think Byte was a decent soft rhyme and a great fit!

For some unknown reason, I started with Java. I think it had to do with its platform independence and dominance over the past decade as an object-oriented programming language. It did not end up becoming a useful tool for the web so much, but should remain an important language for desktop software, servlets, and API’s. It also has pretty standard syntax and is useful for learning basic programming concepts and elements, which will be widely applicable.

I attended my first hackathon at Austin SXSW Eco, which was an awesome experience as I described in an earlier post. I didn’t do too much coding there. I played the role of subject matter expert, data gatherer, and HTML tinkerer with some small help writing some math functions for our Python guy. I came back and told some of my LBL friends about the experience, and my friend Andrew was interested in joining the next one. This past weekend, there was another hackathon, only this time right in San Francisco. I also already wrote about this pre-hackathon.

Well, this hackathon was also a lot of fun and pretty productive (watch the cool video, I’m at 1:54…). The product mockup idea I had, an efficiency sales tool for appliance sales staff, was similar to the one in Austin, but Andrew and I refined the idea, and Andrew was excited to help me begin setting up a strong code base and a slightly different design under the new name “Sell Efficiently” with our web 2.0 domain recently purchased from Libya sellefficient.ly. We also got the chance to pitch the idea to a panel of impressive judges, including folks from Greenstart and Facebook. And we won a prize of $750 for best user interface. This was totally undeserved, but we were still pretty stoked. Our “interface” was built using mostly Twitter bootstrap, a ready made toolkit for making websites look decent on the fly. I was able to contribute a bit more this time on HTML and CSS within this bootstrap framework, and learned about GitHub as a really useful collaborative coding/project management tool. You can check out our comparison tool mockup below or click on the link above and surf around the website.

Award winning user interface of sellefficient.ly 🙂

We had similar problems as in the Austin hackathon… not enough time to make it look pretty, little knowledge of Javascript for event handling, and lack of hacking skills/time to set up our data on a server and have the website interact with that server via Ajax calls. The good thing is that I work in the same building as Andrew, and he is totally stoked to continue working on this project as am I.

Time to learn some Javascript…hello Codecademy! Oooh shiny trackers and badges… seriously their design/psychology does work in getting you to keep slugging away at this stuff and eventually you will start building awesome websites and apps. A lot of shit is gonna break and go wrong and it’s going to be very frustrating. It seems as I learn to code, I will also be working on my patience. You in? Let’s code.

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