Learning to Code at Simplificator

When I finished my Master in Economics in September 2014, I didn’t want to take on some random office job where I do the same every day. I wanted a job where I have to learn something every day and where I have to keep up to date with what I do. I then decided to take on a 50% accounting job, in order to make a living, and meanwhile, I decided to learn programming. I started with online tutorials and practised on my own. However, I soon realised that, at some point, I didn’t get any further. I had a basic knowledge about data structures and control structures, but I had no idea where I would have to use them in a real project.

In early 2015, I then looked at different companies and it soon became clear to me that I wanted to work at Simplificator. When I called to ask for an internship, I was told that Simplificator doesn’t have any internship positions. I then thought about applying at a different company, but I really just wanted to work at Simplificator. So I sent an email to Lukas (the CEO), asking again. They then invited me for a short interview and they agreed that I could start a 50% internship the next week.

During my internship, Tobias was my team lead and instructor. He taught me about classes, methods, design patterns and much more. Especially at the beginning, I had to learn a lot of different technologies: Ruby, Rails, SQL, HTML, CSS etc.  Soon, I started my own little project, which was a calorie tracker. The calorie tracker was a very good way to learn new things as the project developed. I started with the backend, so that the business logic was implemented as discussed with the “client”, who was Tobias. The frontend didn’t look nice at all. I only used it to test if my backend works as intended. I then received a design from our designer Marcel, which I had to implement. This was very important, because I knew that it also works like this in real projects.

This is what the calorie tracker looked like after I implemented the design:

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-14-14-50

Later, I wrote unit tests and integration tests, as well as controller tests for the calorie tracker. As a next step, users were introduced, so several people would be able to use the calorie tracker. This was quite tricky for me, because I had never worked with sessions before. But again, I knew this would be important in real projects, too. Next, there should be a date picker, where the user could jump to the requested day.screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-14-37-20

Another requirement was that the user should be able to add a new entry without the page needing to reload every time. This was probably the hardest part, as I had to learn jQuery and the concept of AJAX at the same time. However, it worked out and the user experience was much better than before.

I really liked the calorie tracker project, because I learned so many things that would be useful in later real-life projects. Also, it was nice to see that the calorie tracker developed along with my programming skills. I implemented the easiest features in the beginning and they became much more fancy, as I learned new concepts and technologies. I also had a small insight of how a real project would work. I had to deal with the customer not yet being sure about what he really wants and thus, with changing requirements. It was a great way to develop my programming skills.

I want to thank Tobias for his great guidance to smooth operating, clean code and coding methodology. I learned so much in this year that I will be able to use for my whole programming career now. But it was not only Tobias who was helpful to me during my internship. Actually, everybody at Simplificator was always happy to help me with questions and giving me guidance in everything they could. I am still so happy to have had the opportunity for this internship, even though such a position didn’t actually exist. This is exactly how I perceived Simplificator from the beginning: People are always open for new ideas, even from outside people like me, at that time.

Since September, I have been working at Simplificator as a full-time Junior Software Developer, and I am working on much more challenging projects now. It is always interesting and I am still learning every day. Just like I always wanted :-)

 

EuRuKo Sofia 2016: My first Ruby Conference

I was really excited to go to EuRuKo 2016, because it was the first time for me to attend an event such as this. The conference was on Friday and on Saturday, and we arrived on Thursday morning to discover Sofia. As it turned out, the city is quite small, so a few hours were enough to do so. We then ran into some other Swiss guys who attended the conference (Pascal among them) and when they were talking about past conferences, I really couldn’t wait anymore for the next day.

The EuRuKo started with the key note of Matz. He talked about the Ruby community and about how Ruby is designed to make programmers happy. He wants to keep the core features from Ruby, while at the same time keeping up with the development of the technologies and the needs of the programmers. “I don’t want the Ruby community to be dead. I want it to keep moving forward!”, he said. He also spent some time talking about Ruby 3 and its incredible new features (like partial type inference, called “duck typing”), and then finished off by saying that we will not get it for some years :-).

matz_euruko_2016

Another talk that I really liked was “Little Snippets” from Xavier Noria. He showed real code examples that are often used in practice, and their much simpler and more readable counterparts. This was especially great for me as a junior developer, because I didn’t know about some of these easier way to write code. When seeing it, it makes total sense. For example, he mentioned the order of code snippets really matters. If you write it the same order that your brain logically conceives it, another person can read it in one flow, and will understand it right away. Here is an example:

attr_reader :deleted_at
attr_reader :created_at
attr_reader :updated_at

This order doesn’t really make sense, if you think about the natural flow of a project. Normally, you first create an instance of a class. Later you might update it, and finally, you might delete it. Therefore, this code snippet should really look like this:

attr_reader :created_at
attr_reader :updated_at
attr_reader :deleted_at

You might say this is a detail. But we should write code the way our brains can conceive it as natural. This also makes it easier if another person has to work on or maintain the code we wrote.

The official party of the conference was on Friday, and it was absolutely great. I met so many new people from different countries and everybody was so nice. I then understood what many people have told me before: the Ruby community is an exceptional one. Later, there was a vote about where the EuRuKo should be hosted in 2017. It was a close call between Rome and Budapest. In the end, Budapest got the most votes. So I will of course be there in 2017.

On Saturday, there was a talk about “The consequences of an Insightful Algorithm” by Carina C. Zona that really touched me. She talked about the consequences an algorithm can have on a person’s life. One example was a story about a large online shop that sent promotion mail about pregnancy products to a young woman. Her father was shocked and called the online shop, complaining that they sent mail like this to his daughter. Some days later, he called again, apologising to them, because his daughter was indeed pregnant. Carina discussed about the difficulty of how far data collection should go and to which extent it is morally defensible to use it in order to make profit. Her talk can be viewed at this link: Carina C. Zona: Consequences of an Insightful Algorithm | JSConf EU 2015

ruby_together

There was another talk on Saturday by André Arko that made me think a lot. He was talking about Ruby Together and how their last year was. At Ruby Together, they maintain the Ruby infrastructure, such as Bundler and RubyGems. André said that they lack volunteers to help working on the maintenance, as well as funds to pay professional developers to do so. He told the following story: the RubyGems site was down and a lot of developers contacted him, saying that they would be willing to help getting it up again. Once everything was back to normal, he contacted these people, asking them if they would be willing to help with the general maintenance. Zero of these people agreed to do so. This was really surprising to me. We all need the technologies to work, but I guess also in our free time. People tend to take these things for granted. However, the infrastructure doesn’t maintain itself. I knew that Simplificator already supports Ruby Together, and I then decided to do so too, as a private person. It costs $40 each month and I think that is not too much, considering that I use these technologies every day. Please consider making a contribution too!

The two conference days were over pretty quickly, and I am very happy to have met so many new and interesting people. I am already looking forward to the RubyDay in Florence at the end of November. And of course, I will also be at EuRuKo 2017 in Budapest next year.

Rails Girls Helsinki

Two Simplificators, Marion and Ferdinand, have been to Rails Girls in Helsinki as coaches. Here is a short travel report.

Friday

We arrived in Helsinki on Friday and went to meet the Rails Girls organizers of smartly.io in their office, where they welcomed us graciously. They could not believe that we flew to Helsinki just for the event and called us crazy people :). When they had the installation party, Ferdi and I went to explore the city. We met them again for dinner, where we had so much fun getting to know all the organizers and coaches.

IMG_20150509_113745

Saturday

The event was a cooperation between smartly.io and vamos!, which is a charity organisation that looks after young people who have social difficulties and don’t know what to do with their lives. For this reason, there were some boys attending the event as well. There were also two boys who wanted to become DJs, and so this was a perfect event for them to practice.

The day started with a lengthy breakfast at the smartly office before the event, which 20150509_095745is always nice. Then, I had a small talk about how I came to be a little programmer and why we flew all the way from Zurich. After this introduction, the workshop started. Ferdi and I coached a group of three girls together: two girls from Finland and one from Taiwan. We went through the Rails Girls tutorial, creating a simple website. It was strange to once know more about programming than others for a change, and I think I succeeded in answering their questions in a woman-friendly way. When I couldn’t answer a question, Ferdi was right there to explain. They were already done with the tutorial by lunchtime, so we advised them to actually learn a little more Ruby with Code School. It was really amazing how motivated the girls were, and that they didn’t give up when things didn’t work out right away. Also, they were eager to find out how these programming languages work, and really kind of got the hang of Ruby by the end of the day.

All in all, it was a great weekend and I have learned a lot. And more importantly, I am so happy to have been able to help these girls understand Ruby on Rails. Maybe, one of them will find her way into programming after the event.