Updates from Post-Launch Life

Since at some point I’d like to start posting some projects and other info to the blog, I figured I should put up a quick note saying how life has gone after Launch. In a nutshell, really well.

After Launch, I ended up landing at a startup called GreatHorn run by some folks I knew from earlier in my career in tech (prior to Launch, I worked mostly as a project manager in video games). I got there when it was just a seed-stage startup with a handful of people, and left two years later when it was about 20 people. While there, I did front-end React, back-end NodeJS, and a whole lot of everything else. Since the company was so small, and because I ended up showing I had a steady hand for things, I ended up doing a whole lot of the firefighting when a crisis hit. This meant I was often debugging all the various components of our software in real-time, and gave me exposure to out Python systems, a lot of Linux admin issues, memcached, and a ton of Postgres.

After a couple years of this (and the birth of my fourth child), I was really burnt out. A good friend recommended me to the folks at Harvard FAS Research Computing, and I was able to get a job over there as a Systems Software Engineer – a job that has been part Linux admin and part DevOps infrastructure support. Been happy as a clam ever since.

For anyone looking at Launch, I’m sure your question now is, what can I draw from this experience? Honestly, the biggest one is that you should make sure to network with other people like CRAZY, and not just with people who can get you a job right now. Once COVID is in the rear-view, get out to those meet-ups and talk to everyone around. The job at GreatHorn came because, back when I was doing indie video games for a stint in 2008, I met a couple guys that were toying with doing the same thing. We kept in touch over the years, they ended up starting a cybersecurity company, and I ended up working there. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity if I hadn’t busted my hump at Launch – but I also wouldn’t have had it if I hadn’t networked a lot back then.

As a note, ever since Launch I’ve occasionally been approached by people that are just completing the program and said thanks for the videos, that they helped them make a decision to commit to going. It makes me incredibly happy to hear that these videos have been useful to you all – thanks for letting me know.

Apologies that this isn’t a more polished or longer posted, but I needed to get it out and published. I’ve started writing this post multiple times since Launch, and got hung up on doing it well enough. Please hit me with a comment if there’s something you’d like to know!

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Addendum to Launch Academy

One more video!

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Launch Academy – Weeks 8 to Done

So, that was a hell of a ride.

Here are my last two videos from Launch Academy – the first was done at the end of Week 8; the second is from yesterday and recaps the last two weeks, the Career Days, and touches briefly on the job I have taken!

If you just want to know about the job, head to 3:51 of the second video.

Side note – I find it funny how I’m in exactly the same chair for both videos, and you can essentially see a time-lapse of foliage in my back yard.

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Launch Academy, Week Seven: Team Projects

I have a low-key flip-out about how there aren’t 4 more hours to a day.

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Project Management for a Launch Academy Team Project

Today we started our team projects at Launch Academy; the whole cohort has been broken into teams of 4-5 people, and we’ve been given our task – build an entire website.

There’s a lot of room for us to prioritize and create stories for what we want to do; as with all software development, it’ll be easy for us to get lost going down rabbit holes and to fall victim to scope creep.

One of my fellow launchers asked my advice on how to project plan for this; here’s what I told him.  We’re mostly using Trello for this work, so my recommendations are based around that.

With that, here we go:

  • You want your story scope to be “just right”. If it seems like a big feature for a two week period – to me that’d be longer than a day or a day and a half – then it should be broken into multiple stories.
  • It’s also possible to break stories down too far, and to get really pedantic about things. I’d say if it feels like it’s too granular, ask your teammates what they think –  if folks agree, just make it a line item in another story.
  • Create agreed-upon acceptance criteria for each story!  The whole team should agree that a story is written up as completely as makes sense – in the biz, we often call that “groomed”.
  • Set up your Acceptance Criteria to be testable. This is REALLY important. This means that your stories can serve as a blueprint for your automated tests. There should be a test (more if needed) per acceptance criteria item.
  • Setting up Trello:
    •  I recommend having at three columns for a story backlog: Core Stories, Nice-To-Haves, and Needs Grooming
    • The Core Stories are what you need to satisfy our criteria for shipping the product, per the lesson instructions
    • Nice-to-Haves is everything past that. And I mean everything. Stories that have both core and Nice-To-Have functionality should be broken out into multiple stories. Implement the core thing first, hit the extended goal later if you have time. It’s analogous to what we’ve been told every Friday for Systems Check – don’t start on your Exceed Expectations work until you’ve finished the Meets requirements!
    • Finally, Needs Grooming is where team members can put their ideas for functionality. Everything should go in there, no matter how small
  • Dealing with your backlog
    • If new things are going into the backlog (or your stories aren’t fully groomed), you’ll want to devote time here and there to doing so
    • During that time, the Needs Grooming stories should get expanded/revised/broken down so they are ready to code.  You should also discard stories or leave them ungroomed if it’s unrealistic to think you’ll get to them.
    • Stories should get prioritized within their column.  Your most important core stories should be at the top of the list.  Same goes for the Nice-to-Haves
    • Finally, when prioritizing your stories, risky core functionality should be prioritized most highly. That is the stuff you must have, but possibly will take longer than you want. Get that out of the way first.
  • Create two In Progress columns – one for each 2-person pair on your team. Pull in the stories you’re working on when you start them.
  • Archive your stories once they are complete
    • A story is complete when a) all the acceptance criteria are met, b) your tests are all written and passing, and c) when your pull request is approved & merged

This can be a lot to keep in mind!  I would recommend taking a shot at your backlog setup, looking at this list, and then seeing if anything needs to change.  After a couple cycles through setting up and completing stories, you’ll start to have an instinct for when a story isn’t fully ready to be done.

Good luck!

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Launch Academy, Week Six: JavaScript

What happens when you take a shortened week and add a week and a half of JavaScript material to it? Sadly, I didn’t get me weeping blood on video.

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Launch Academy, Week Five: Brutal

Week five was, in a word, brutal.  It was the toughest stuff to date, for me – wrapping our heads around Rails in the space of a couple days.  Along with that, though, I’m feeling more and more comprehension, curiosity, and excitement about everything that’s going on.

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The End of Week Four

Week four is done! I took this video yesterday, on Monday of week five.

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The End of Week Three

Week three, done!  And boy, do I look tired in this video.

I’m actually that tired.

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The End of Week Two

Week two is in the bag.  I spent most of that week sick, which made things extremely challenging – but I’m more and more excited about the possibilities of the things I’m learning.

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