Category: education

Lynda for Libraries in Birmingham

Have you used your local library to learn about tech? Programming? Web site design and construction? If not, why not?

I haven’t been getting those materials from my local library, in Birmingham, AL. They didn’t have what I needed. I’ve bought my own books and training materials. Among them, off and on, was subscription access to Lynda.com.  I’ve used Lynda training materials (first for websites, then for ongoing design software training) for almost 20 years. Until the past few years, it was not easy to afford.

Two and a half years ago, while attending a WordPress conference in Toronto, one of my fellow attendees, Alex Sirota, told me that Lynda.com had a library program (He has a write-up on his professional blog.) It’s been a big success for the Toronto Public Library system, with city residents using it to learn needed skills quickly. This is a great example of the idea of “city-as-a-platform”, in which the city/region/state works to make it easier for more residents to pick up in-demand skills.

I’m currently using Lynda.com to learn about systems administration and security, and Windows 7 & 10 deployments. Since my last use three years ago, they’ve added more IT and programming related materials to their existing design-software core. Most of it is introductory through intermediate, but it’s enough to give me direction as to what I should be studying next. 

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CompTIA A+ OnRamp

CompTIA has put together some new materials on what to expect when studying for and preparing to take the CompTIA A+ exams. Check it out at http://courses.certification.comptia.org/

CompTIA A+ certification in the Birmingham tech job market

I teach the Innovate Birmingham Generation Initiative CompTIA A+ boot camp. As part of taking on that role, I wrote and passed both of the CompTIA A+ exams in 2017. These notes will be updated  as needed. 

Why the CompTIA A+ exam?

The A+ is an entry-level tech industry certification that verifies that you meet a certain level of knowledge about computing hardware, operating systems, peripherals, and networking. It has two parts; the 220-901, which focuses on hardware, and the 220-902, which focuses on operating systems, networking, security and the command line(s).

Aplus Logo Certified CE

See? I earned a thing!

If you have been working with Windows computers for while, have learned how to work at the command line, and have been working doing computing support, it will take you a week or so of study after work to prepare for each exam. If you’ve been using Windows (and a smart phone) but haven’t stepped into the back end or explored some of the finer points of the operating system, it will take you longer – but with persistence and focus, it’s completely doable.

Currently, in Alabama (especially in Birmingham), there are more jobs open where the certification is requested than there are people looking for work who hold it. Demand is expected to grow. Entry level positions are usually as a computer support specialist, with progression to system or network administrators, or to business analyst (usually other areas of education or knowledge) common. If you’re willing to put in the time and work (40 – 60 hours for someone with experience, up to 300 hours for someone new to tech), this certification opens doors. The CompTIA website has a career path roadmap PDF available for download. If you have other qualifications as well, it can be the start of a well-paid tech career.

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How to organize a newbie-friendly hackathon

A few weeks back, I attended my first hackathon as an effective coder.  I was helped in this, in part, by the hackathon organizational style used by Women Who Code.at their first hackathon in 2016.  I liked it so much that I’m making notes as to what worked so that we can use it in Birmingham.

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Infographic tools & application – getting started

I volunteer as a Photoshop tutor at Woodlawn High School. One of the student projects is to develop an infographic. This blog entry is for those students, to explain the purpose of an infographic, how to design a good one and the tools that are available.

In the graphic arts, as in many other areas of life, engineering and design, automation makes the design and construction of things easier and faster. The artist or technician who can produce the tool they need is valuable to many potential employers – or customers. This requires, in addition to training in the visual arts and design, a good knowledge of coding, applicable programming languages and some understanding of current computing hardware.

An infographic is a visual image, such as a chart or diagram, used to represent information or data. The website, Customer Magnetism * has an infographic about infographics (and a case study to back up their claims).

What is an Infographic?
Created by Customer Magnetism.

Good infographics engage readers and make difficult concepts easy to understand. They require planning, research, and attention to colour composition, design flow, and determination of what is important on the page.

Before you start designing, you need to spend a little time organizing your information. Shift Learning has a great post detailing the steps required. They are:

  1. Gather your information. Find research sources, look for conclusions by different research teams doing different studies, make sure that you are giving your readers good, valid information that they can use. Your credibility rests on using credible sources that you have verified.
  2. Visualize the data. Who are you telling this story to? Who is your audience and what do they need to learn?
  3. Outline. Sketch out the story to be told in a rough draft.
  4. Wireframe. Sketch out, on paper or electronically, what needs to be illustrated.
  5. Design and refine. Now you start the hard work. Work out your layout, work out your color palette, choose appropriate fonts for your subject matter and audience, seek feedback and then refine again.

Another article that details the steps required to create a great infographic (read the piece – it explains the points listed below):

  1. Let the data tell its story.
  2. Determine purpose and audience.
  3. Construct an engaging narrative.
  4. Make the complex understandable.
  5. Focus on the structure first.
  6. Wireframe, explore and iterate. In the bad old days, this was called “sketching” – a quick minimal drawing to work out your ideas.
  7. Select the right tool for the job.
  8. Choose the right visual approach.
  9. Distribution and PR.
  10. Treat infographics as moral acts.

This list is a little longer than the first one – but it emphasizes similar points. The key concept that I think is important to remember, is that your job is to make complex subject matter understandable.

How Design’s tips  has additional tips regarding creating great infographics.

When infographics were first being produced, most were created in Photoshop or Illustrator – or their open source equivalents, Gimp and Inkscape.  The best ones still are. (Tips to create that work from DezineGuide )

However, there are times when you need something quickly, and perhaps your Photoshop skills are still kinda basic. In that case, check out these tools, as recommended by Levin Mejia at the Creative Bloq:

In addition, I turned up some tools that will convert .CSV (comma separated values) data, a format used for most open source and government data, into charts and graphs without needing to use Excel or other proprietary software. These are:

I consider these quick and dirty tools – they’ll give you good enough results for many circumstances, but should be used with care so that they support your message (and story), not detract from it.
Other tool options include open source (free to use, once installed) office suites such as LibreOffice, NeoOffice, and OpenOffice.

I hope that this quick reference list helps you to create your next great infographic.

*ScanWP reports that the CustomerMagnetism.com website is built with WordPress. Another one of my obsessions. But I digress.

A code skills to-do list

Parking this here until I can circle back around to it. Swiped from an article about Pop Up Code’s offering in Huntsville. Things to learn for web development:

• Ruby on Rails
• HTML and CSS (first checked off, know the second, just need to work with it more . Edit – as of May 27th, have done a fair amount of review and am ready to start building some little samples and templates.)
• Twitter Bootstrap (yeah…..)
• Domain modeling for database-backed web applications
• Understanding and utilizing APIs (well along on this bit)

 

 

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital RevolutionThe Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Still digesting this one. Walter Isaacson masterfully links Charles Babbage’s original work and Ada Lovelace’s ideas about computing with Hollerith’s punch card tabulation system, Edison’s systemization of innovation and the developments in circuitry control during the 1930s that laid the groundwork for today’s digital technologies. Good book – I recommend it as essential background reading for anyone interested in understanding how innovation happens, in the history of computing, and in understanding trends going forward.

Call for interest – Women Who Code Birmingham Chapter

Hello!

If you’re here, you’re interested in forming a chapter of Women Who Code, here in Birmingham.

Women Who Code‘s key initiatives include:

  • Free technical study groups (Ruby, Javascript, iOS, Android, Python, Algorithms)
  • Connecting our community with influential tech experts and investors
  • Career and leadership development
  • Increasing female speakers and judges at conferences and hackathons
  • Increasing participation in the tech community

To join as a founding member, sign-up at Women Who Code BirminghamOnce we hit twenty local women, we’ll set a date for a first organizing meeting.

Edit – Monday May 25th 2015 – local chapter is now live! We’re starting in on Ruby on Rails in June. First Git class running on June 1st.

Computing – A Concise History

Computing: A Concise HistoryComputing: A Concise History by Paul E. Ceruzzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I was back at school, I was desperate for a history of computing that would give me a framework on which to hang all the new information I was acquiring. This is the book I wish I had.

Published in 2012, it’s a tight, well-written, (short!) book, that ties together the technical developments of the 19th century, 1920s, 30s, 40s & 50s into a clear, concise story of how different technical developers (and their resulting tools and ideas) were able to build on earlier work to create systems to first, automate calculations using hardware, and then later, develop the first programs and software.

One of the clearer histories written to date, this will serve as a good beginning orientation for all people who are starting to explore computer technology, and who want a context in which to place current modern devices and software. Shirley Bob gives it two thumbs up.

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet

Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the InternetTubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A layperson’s introduction to the hardware that makes up the backbone of the Internet.

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