Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Code Academy: Week 12

Code Academy Demo Day practice:

We're presenting in front of 200 movers and shakers from the Chicago tech scene tonight, and I'm about to get up there and tell 'em to connect me with Detroit's biggest mover and shaker - Dan Gilbert.

Code Academy Demo Day 
TechNexus 200 S Wacker
Chicago, IL

Friday, December 16, 2011

Code Academy: Week 11

Until this week, I haven't felt comfortable saying this:
I'm a software developer.
Despite being a part of Code Academy and learning the skills of a developer, to call myself one always felt wrong, like I was a poser faking it in a field I knew very little about. And though I'm no where close to where I want to be in terms of my ability as a developer, a couple of things happened this past week that gave me enough confidence where it finally feels natural to call myself what I've become over the last 11 weeks: a developer.
  • On Wednesday I went to a Chicago meetup put on by a company called Heroku. I've been using Heroku to deploy the applications I'm building and they organized an evening session to talk more about their product and to show off some demonstrations on how to use it. About 30 developers were in attendance (maybe half of them Rubyists) and there wasn't any moment that I felt out of place or in over my head. In fact, they had a live coding demonstration of an email/signup app that they deployed to Heroku and as a few of the audience members watched in amazement at the speed with which he was able to code and deploy, my thoughts were generally something like - "that's easy." I could have gotten up in front of a room full of Chicago developers and offered some of them new skills related to the software craft. A poser developer couldn't do that.
  • A fellow Code Academy student sent me an email this week about stripe.com, a payment processing service similar to Paypal. He had just implemented it on his site, found it to be very easy and seamless, and knew I had been struggling with Paypal. He recommended I check it out. If you go to the homepage the first thing you'll see is "Payments for Developers." 11 weeks ago this service wouldn't have been for me, I wasn't a developer, but I'm happy to report that after spending about 2 hours this week working on implementation, I got Stripe hooked up to my site without too much trouble. I was able to follow along with their code tutorials, make a few customizations needed for my site, and perhaps most tellingly, appreciate their product from a developer's point of view. Their homepage headline made sense...because I'm a developer.

Learn how to code!

This internet thing might be around for a while.

The Rise of Developer Economics
The one absolutely solid place to store your capital today — if you know how to do it –  is in software developers’ wallets. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Code Academy: Week 10

I've found a lot of success in failure this week. I've spent the better part of 3 days struggling to get PayPal integrated to a site I'm working on and still haven't managed to get it set up properly. Digging through PayPal's endless and poorly organized API docs, researching how to handle the params I'm receiving from PayPal, understanding that redirect_to is a HTTP GET request while I need a POST, and reading production log files to troubleshoot hasn't solve my problem. I'm still forced to disable auto-return (forcing the user to click on a link after payment to get back to my site) in order to finish the transaction. Frustrating but not a completely lost battle.

API, params, GET, POST, production logs. What?!!? Exactly. There was a moment yesterday while knee deep in my investigation where I took a quick step back and realized how far I've come in the past ten weeks. I've picked up a whole new skill set (and the vocabulary to go with it!) and am writing code to handle a custom PayPal integration to accept credit card payments on a site built from scratch. Awesome!

I'm close to solving this PayPal riddle and after talking to a lot of folks this week about what I was working on, the general consensus was that PayPal is terrible and that its API and documentation is some of the most confusing out there. I'm hoping they're right because if I get this hooked up, everything else I tackle should be easier.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Make a Gift to KickStart

As most of you know, I spent the majority of the year in Kenya working for KickStart International. My project was related to the foot powered irrigation pumps we sell throughout Africa, and I spent more than a month in Zambia and Malawi getting a first hand look at how our MoneyMaker pumps are used and the impact they are making on the lives of African farmers and their families.

There are plenty of positive statistics I could share as a result of our Malawi/Zambia survey where we interviewed over 500 farmers using our pumps, but I'd rather share one simple quote we captured while interviewing Dancen Kazimbi, a Malawian farmer using our MoneyMaker pump:
I'm planning on getting more land because what I currently have is not enough. With the MoneyMaker, anything is possible.
Anything is possible. Beyond providing extra income that helps feed their families, pay for their children's education, and improve their living situations, the MoneyMaker pump allows farmers and their families to think about the future. For the first time in their lives, these farmers can look past today's concerns. They no longer have to worry about what their family will eat today and how they'll pay for their daughter's school fees this semester. They can finally look to and plan for the future with a sense of dignity that everyone deserves and yet so few in the developing world experience. They can finally look to the future and dream. Anything is possible.

This past week, I got an email from my former boss asking me to pass along to anyone who might be interested in KickStart's annual appeal for donations. I didn't have a chance to meet Mama Edna, the farmer featured in KickStart's email (below), but I met plenty of farmers just like her and know first hand that KickStart's work makes sense. The organization has the tools, the passion, the talent, and the model to rapidly scale this solution to reach the millions of African farmers that are in need. These farmers don't want a handout, they want a way to make money and a means by which they can plan for the their and their family's futures. KickStart provides just that and you should help them achieve this by donating.

If you're interested in donating visit KickStart's donate page. And feel free to send me any questions about  the organization, their work, or my specific project. Would love to help.


Meet Mama Edna

Mama Edna sells her fruits and vegetables from a kiosk in Sotik town, 125 miles from Nairobi. She says that buying a MoneyMaker pump changed everything for her family in a very short time – she proudly describes herself as a prosperous, serious farmer with a hired farmhand.

The year before, Edna was dependent on rainfall and a bucket for irrigation. Her crops often failed in the drought. Even when she could bring something to market, everyone else was selling the same produce and much of her harvest went to waste because there was little demand.

Mama Edna knew about the MoneyMaker pump but didn’t think she could buy it outright because she had to pay school fees for three children. She bought her pump with KickStart’s unique mobile phone layaway program “Tone kwa Tone” or “Drop by Drop.” Edna’s farmhand generates even more income from the pump with a car wash business next to the river.

The first thing Mama Edna says when asked about her pump is, “Kama siyo hii ningekwama” or “If it weren’t for this, I’d be stuck.” She sees a future where she will be a model farmer who supplies her produce to rural schools and hospitals. She says, “I am now the envy of the village, thanks to this amazing pump!”

KickStart uses your funds to build awareness of the value of pump ownership through radio advertising, Farmer Field Days and other events. KickStart also tracks the impact of pump ownership to measure nutrition, education, electrification, and other lifestyle improvements.

Your funds help Mama Edna and hundreds of thousands of farmers like her provide better nutrition, better education and a better future for their families, as well as provide additional jobs for dealers, distributors and farmhands.

Los Angeles Thanksgiving

A view from atop Runyon Canyon, Los Angeles:

A view from inside Galco's, featuring Detroit's own:

Monday, December 05, 2011