No Rest For The Unemployed

After two years, yesterday was my final day of being a developer for BarterQuest. As anyone living in expensive New York City in the same situation, I have been focusing part of my energy looking for a new gig. I'm pretty confident, despite the current economy, that I will land on my feet sooner rather than later. I have a few leads, with one in particular that I am really hoping will come through.

In the meantime, I'm not just throwing my resumé in the face of companies everywhere in the U.S. I have also decided that since now that I have quite a few extra hours in my days, I should really do productive things instead of sitting on my couch and re-watching all previous seasons of 24 (believe me, I would watch all 7 seasons in a row if I could) or jamming away to Guitar Hero. This is a perfect chance to do lots of technical things I've been wanting to do for months, but just never got the time to do so. Here's a short list of some goals I'd like to get started on.

Learning new stuff

For the past two years, I've been exclusively using Ruby and Ruby on Rails at my day job. I've always wanted to broaden my skills by doing other types of programming, but when you take into consideration that I would usually be at work more between 9-10 hours per day, plus a commute that would sap an additional two hours, there wasn't much time for me to be able to do personal things, let along learn new stuff. Now that I'm finally free, I can now spend more time with those things I've wanted to experiment with.

I've always wanted to learn iPhone application development. I know the basics of Objective-C, and have the book iPhone SDK Development by Bill Dudney, but I was never able to sit down and code something up. I have a few ideas for apps, so even if I can make a simple app that's accepted to Apple's App Store will be an achievement for me.

I've been very interested in implementing Push technology to web apps, like Comet or Web Sockets, using nginx's Push Module and Orbited.

Although I've never had the opportunity to work with extremely large data sets, I've always been curious about frameworks like Google's MapReduce and Apache Hadoop, particularly how well they can "crunch" the data thrown at them.

Keep on with what I already know

As I mentioned, I've been using Ruby for years now, and I know Ruby on Rails and Sinatra pretty well. However, just because I want to learn new things doesn't mean that I want to abandon this awesome language. In fact, I want to keep using it more with the latest toys.

Thanks to Ruby Version Manager, I was able to safely install the latest versions of Ruby 1.9 and MacRuby and start learning their new features. I was also able to check any possible compatibility issues in my older applications with different major Ruby versions. Seriously, if you are a Ruby developer using a Mac or Linux, install RVM now if you haven't.

Recently, there have been more and more news about Ruby on Rails 3, the next major release for the wonderful framework. I'd like to stay one step ahead of the pack and start learning about the new changes before it officially hits the web. One of the leaders of the newest Rails changes, Yahuda Katz, has written lots of blog posts relating to the changes in Rails 3. They're definitely worth a read.

Strengthening my shortcomings

There are quite a few things - development-wise - that have been bugging me for a long time, yet I've never taken the proper steps to correct. Now is as good a time as any to take on these things and finally conquer them.

My main weakness, as a web developer, is that I'm pretty bad at design. I know CSS and its properties, I know about browser incompatibilities (having been a victim many times before by the evil and immortal Internet Explorer 6 browser) and all that stuff. But as far as design goes, like font sizes, element placement, usability and colors, these things are not my strong suit. I've actually stocked up on some books about these subjects (like Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug and Web Design for Developers by Brian Hogan), so I hope that by the time my unemployment ends, I'll be much better off making my work look good - or at least decent.

Another weakness I consider is that I get distracted from development from time to time. It's not frequent enough to affect the quality of my work, but it's enough to annoy me when I do it subconsciously and I then catch myself in the act. I have read some people who had some success using the Pomodoro technique, so starting tomorrow I decided that I'll give it a try. There's a nice little app called Concentrate for the Mac that seems to be just the thing I need during those times when I need to get stuff done and not get distracted.

Beef up my GitHub profile

I have to admit that I'm a little bit ashamed to see my GitHub profile virtually empty. For a long time, I've been wanting to add more of the projects that I have in my laptop to GitHub and see if some of them take a life of their own. Sadly, for whatever reason, I haven't done that. Most of the times I'm a bit too critical at my code and think it's embarrassing to make public, but that's really what I need to do to get better as a developer. I can take criticism with the best of them, so there's really no excuse. I need to make more of my code open-source, period.

Not only do I want to show my own work, I also want to give back to the community. I have used so many open-source projects over the years, yet I've only submitted a handful of patches to very few projects. I don't want to be a person who takes, takes, takes and never gives anything back in return. So I'm going to take steps to correct that. I've started cloning some repositories of my favorite projects from GitHub to my computer to start reading their code more in-depth, which I had been doing anyway. I'll check if these projects have Lighthouse pages with open tickets, or if there are any open issues on their GitHub page. A few years ago, Dr. Nic wrote an excellent post titled "8 steps for fixing other people’s code" that inspired me to start finding features or defects that I can handle.

I have to say, I'm only one day into this routine, and I don't remember the last time I felt this free and liberated doing what I wanted to do. Full-time employment is great for earning money and making substantial stuff, but sometimes there's a feeling of emptiness due to not being able to explore on your own. Being unemployed doesn't mean that you need to spend all your time looking for work. Unless you're truly struggling economically and can't pay the bills in the next couple of weeks or even days, why not spend part of your time gearing up for the future?

Written by

Dennis Martinez

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