** Edit April 26th, 2017: Most of these links are outdated now (hurray!) please visit my Code page for updated examples of my work **
It’s been a couple months since I got serious about learning to code. Some days are harder than others but I’m so excited to join a world so different than the one I know (and excited to bring what I learn back). They say that to begin is to be bad, so I’m sharing the baby steps of my learning with you, even if it’s not pretty. If you’d like to help me, I’m looking for an internship that can help me learn more about front-end development. If you know of something in Medellin, Colombia shoot me an email.
Without further ado, here’s what I’ve worked on for the last few months:
I’m learning to code primarily through FreeCodeCamp, a mooc (massive, open, online course) that teaches coding through algorithm challenges and projects. They use a GitHub-type graph to show your progress and I like that they show your individual solutions to each challenge. Here’s my profile:
Toyin Adewale-Gabriel Tribute Page
Random Cats/Quotes Machine
Some times my mind is BLOWN by the coding world and the fact that there’s so much to learn. I can’t wait to dig into it all.
It’s not uncommon for me to pour a parts of myself into my work, I’m still trying to find that balance between nothing at all and everything. One example of putting 100% of myself into a work project is a winter newsletter I wrote for Skills Ontario in 2015. I used to ghost write the Executive Director’s messages and this one came after a break up and a refreshing family vacation in Cuba. The follow is an excerpt, edited for length:
“This January, like many Januarys before, it’s as if the world takes a collective sigh and resets our internal clocks and expectations. Many of us make promises to ourselves and our loved ones that this will be the year that we; lose; gain; let go; take up; change. Still many others decide not to make New Year’s resolutions because it’s a lot of pressure. If this sounds like you, then this year, I challenge you to resolve to dream big.
It’s important to have measurable goals and reasonable expectations but we’ve gotten so caught up in playing it safe with our dreams. So this year, dream your wildest dreams and chase them exactly how you want to. Friends, this is the year that we resolve to live big and dream big.”
So every January since, I dream big despite the pressure or shame of failing. And when I fail, I get up and I dream another big dream and I keep going. I hope you’ll join me in doing the same.
Or a way to explain why I’m learning to code
I’ll admit it: I used to participate in math contests in high school. I didn’t think much of it back then, I was just generally a well-rounded student. In Ontario, where I grew up, we started planning our career plans right out of grade 8 when we chose our classes for grade 9. By grade 10, you had all your required Science classes. By grade 11, you fulfilled the provincial requirements for Math. I was good at both but Life or Something Like It, my favourite movie, had convinced me to pursue communications so I filled my schedule with all the English classes available, kept a spot each year for French and added Music instead of free periods. I went on to study Communications and Political Science in English and French at uOttawa, earning a double major with honours and exploring the world on a back-to-back exchange in France and Singapore. I didn’t think about math or science for years.
Sometime in late 2013 coding peaked my curiosity. Since then I’ve noticed all the ways that knowing how to code can enhance almost any career and consider it a skill on par with speaking English. I took my first class in 2014, a Ladies Learning Code session that had us create a webpage with HTML and CSS. This wasn’t my first time using HTML, I had learned a lot from Neopets, a web-based game where you could use HTML to customize your personal shop. The workshop was boring and I didn’t actually learn anything so I shelved the idea. Sometimes I’d revisit it, like the time I took part in a datajournalism bootcamp put on by some friends at WLUSP.
This year, I found myself at a fork in the road, and while I normally suspected it be between marketing and sales, I saw smarketing and coding. At last, I’m really learning to code. So why did I tell you about high school before I told you about learning to code? Because I could’ve easily gone into an engineering career and I regret not seeing it before. The truth is, I didn’t know enough about possible careers in STEM because no one ever guided me in that direction the way I was guided towards writing and languages. My French teachers would praise my accent, my English teachers would push me to write clearer. I don’t remember ever having that encouragement from my math and science teachers. A movie showed me a role model I related to in communications but never in STEM. It’s only been in the years working at startups that I’ve met and worked with these role models.
I’m learning to code because I like solving problems and I like creating new things but I’m also doing it to be part of the change in an industry that’s been male-dominated for too many years. I’m excited and I can’t wait to show you all the new things I’m learning!
On Sunday, I’ll celebrate 5 months in Bogota and I realize only now that I’ve missed fall and most of winter in Canada. It’s a realization brought on by a friend’s question, “do you miss the seasons?”
Suddenly, I began thinking about how I lived by the seasons. I felt nostalgic for Sundays spent in bed watching Netflix while winter roared outside, nostalgic for cold noses and cold fingers making contact in bars during after-work drinks. I smiled as I told my friends about how the first few days of patio weather are like beacons calling us outside to drink cesaers and blonde beers. I thought about summers that induced a sense of wilderness and adventure and fall’s beloved sweater weather.
Each season has it’s different call to action and I realize that in a seasonless place, I have to call myself to action. It’s another exercise in choosing the person I want to be instead of letting circumstances make me who I am.
…Or maybe I’ll just wait until Bogota shows it’s second season again: rain, rain, rain.
“What makes a choice hard is the way the alternatives relate. In an easy choice, one alternative is better than the other. In a hard choice, one alternative is better in some ways, the other is better in other ways and neither is better than the other overall”
I’ve had to make a lot of hard choices this year. The way the world works, I saw this video after I’d made many of them – taking time off work, planning LiveLocalKW again, moving to Bogota, choosing between 2 jobs, finding a place to live – but it still resonates so much with me. All the choices that I made this year were for me and they’re paying off. I’m loving life in Bogota, my Spanish is getting better (and slangier) everyday, I’m part of a fantastic team at Voice123 and this is my view from my bed:
Of course, I miss my family and I miss walking Uptown in the middle of the night. I miss feminist potlucks, KW Poetry Slam and Snyder’s Flats. I miss reading The Community Edition (which by the way LiveLocalKW won best local ad campaign in Best of WR!) and plotting community improvement with my friends and neighbours.
But I’m happy here. Through hard choices I’m creating reasons for myself to become the distinctive person that I am. How cool is that?!
LiveLocalKW was motivating, heart-warming and fun. I met a bunch of people who agree that we’d be happier if we lived in a supportive community and I got to present it, and myself, in a genuine way. I’m so thankful to my family, friends and neighbours for supporting LiveLocalKW and by extension me. Find out what’s next for LiveLocalKW here.
So now that it’s over, what’s next for me?
I have a one-way ticket to Bogota, Colombia, my hometown… Or is Waterloo my hometown? It’s hard to tell so I’m going back to see what it’s like (#immigrantstruggles). I hope to find a job in Colombia and live life there for a little while so I can’t tell you exactly when I’ll be back in Canada but I’ll be back for sure.
Let’s keep in touch while I’m away – I’m on twitter @jgmz2!
Short update: It’s summertime and the living really is easy.
I’ve been enjoying my days reading books and meeting lots of folks who believe in LiveLocalKW and want to see it grow as much as I do. I’ve watched this idea of mine grow up, raised by a village of my friends, family and neighbours and I have to report that it feels great!
I’m happy to announce that LiveLocalKW is back for another year and after confirming that people dig it, I’m trying to advertise it better and have a larger engagement this year.
I announced the dates on May 11 and in 10 days the response has been exactly what I expected (by the way, I’m noticing that getting exactly what you expect is super rare). It’s always funny to me that I didn’t particularly like Kitchener-Waterloo while I grew up here but the way the community embraces and supports LiveLocalKW warms my heart and encourages me to continue being involved in KW’s development.
Anyways, check out the blog post announcing what’s new for LiveLocalKW and help me out? As I alluded above, getting exactly what I want hasn’t been happening. The universe keeps trying to teach me that the right answer isn’t always the first one, so help me search for that magical ~45th-ish~ right answer. To quote my pal Janice Lee, “cookies would be involved.“
When my family was immigrating to Canada, I happily told all my teachers that I’d probably never see them again and my mom was less than ecstatic to answer all their questions about our move. I learned that day to watch how much I reveal about myself.
With this in mind, I’m about to share something close to my heart that I haven’t written on the internet yet. A few weeks ago, I went into work to find out that my employment was terminated.
I did what I often do when I need new ideas – called my brother, called my mom and searched the internet. I found very little that soothed me, so in a real “turn lemons into lemonade” moment, I wrote the article that soothed me myself. And then I got it published.
The article was just posted on elephantjournal.com and you can read it here. My hope is that sharing my story will help others (and make it to the front page!) so please share widely. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback.
Thanks for your support,
Thanks to the brilliant minds at Wilfrid Laurier University Student Publications, I spent my Saturday learning how to find, mine and use open data to investigate trends and write exclusive stories. Lead by William Wolfe-Wylie and Danielle Webb, a group of about 15 of us also learned how to use My Maps, Fusion Tables, HTML and CSS to display our found information in beautiful interactives.
Here’s a map I made during the workshop. Unfortunately because I use WordPress.com, I can’t embed it here but once I make the move to WordPress.org, I’ll update it (that’s right, there’s a move to WordPress.org in my future).
The day was jam packed but well worth the brain melt (which we cured in true WLUSP fashion with post-workshop beers at Ethel’s). I can’t wait to use what I learned to make interactive maps for Live Local KW. I have a really good feeling about Live Local KW this year and I want you to be a part of it too. Have any ideas? Let’s get together!