Hello, World

How I Got My Start As A Professional Software Developer

This month marks my 20th year as a professional software developer. Over the years I’ve had a lot of opportunities to work on some pretty big software projects and meet some great people along the way. But I didn’t start out like most of the other developers I’ve worked in my career. I got my first real programming job when I was 19 and didn’t graduate college until I was 29. In those ten years I took night classes at Minneapolis Community & Technical College and later, after I moved to Chicago from Minneapolis, online classes at Metro State University.  If you might be questioning the need for a four year degree to become a processional developer or maybe you have other blockers keeping you from getting your degree now, this is how I did it.

My first job was as an entry level/jr. developer at Wells Fargo in the Stock Options Services group developing Visual Basic 6 desktop and Classic ASP apps. Except for two computer classes in high school and a one year computer programming certificate from the now defunct Brown Institute, I had zero classroom computer science education at the time. That Brown Institute certificate is the same as a coding boot camp; a 12 month course where you focus on a variety of programming languages but never really getting into them enough to fully understand how they work. Looking back at that experience, as much as the organization promised we’d all have super awesome programming jobs at the end, I don’t feel like that adequately prepares someone just entering the work force to be successful in the software engineering space. So, a lot of my education came from reading books, getting the MCSD, create a few AOL Proggies and just building things on my own. I feel like I was pretty fortunate as I was hired with a non-existent computer science education and couldn’t even order a beer at team happy hours – I had a lot of cherry cokes in those days.

My dad is an old programmer who had been building my small hometown a water usage billing system in Visual Basic. He generously allowed me to hack away on a few components along side him to give me some real world working experience. I quickly added this to my resume – right above the one year programming certificate and my previous experience as a warehouse “manager” at Wick’s Furniture in Edina, Minnesota. I’m convinced that having this development experience on my resume is what enabled me to get an interview and later hired as a professional software developer without any experience or a four year education – or even a two year education. Before this job I applied to hundreds of entry level programming jobs and never heard anything back – which is hella discouraging. After months of applying to jobs and never hearing a peep I started get really down and thinking about backup plans. The thought of joining the Army even popped into my mind. That or maybe start looking at two or four year colleges. Then I got an interview for an entry level developer role at Wells Fargo. That interview came from a job fair my roommate convinced me to go to with him. I interviewed with a HR person, technology manager and the director of the business; they all decided to hire me. Coming from a non CS background with very little experience, getting that first job was crucial. The saying goes “you can’t get experience without a job and can’t get a job without experience” so after a couple years of development experience it was pretty easy to get job offers. Potential new employers start to look past not having a degree to see that any experience was enough to look past not having a degree.

There are so many senior developers and people in the business who took me under their wing to help me grow as a developer and person in those early years. It would be easy for me to say I got hired as a professional developer without having a four year degree all on my own, but that would be a lie as there were many people who made that happen for me; my dad, my roommate, the HR rep, technology manager, business manager, etc. I’ve since tried to reach out to the people who made it happen to say thanks for the opportunity but haven’t been able to find them online yet. They probably have no idea how much their decisions meant to me then and how much they do today.

Every now and then I’ll be talking to someone at a party who isn’t happy with their job and eventually they’ll ask if they can pick my brain on how to get into programming. Many of these people are looking to get started in development as a career without a formal CS degree or previous development experience. My answer is always to just build something by solving a problem you have or a problem you can see. You’ll learn a lot building that first app or website and you’ll have something to put on your resume. There are so many resources online to learn the concepts of programming, but you’ll never really get it until you try to build something on your own. If there is an idea you have or an open source project you’re passionate about, then I’d recommend trying to build that app or website or get involved in that open source project.

I learned a valuable lesson then in taking chances on people and how getting a small job opportunity can be the break someone needs. I try to pay it forward when I’m working with younger developers or if I have a gig I can bring on a more junior developer to help them gain experience.

Tips getting your first programming job without a four year degree:

  1. Learn a language by utilizing an online course. JavaScript, C#, Python, Ruby, it doesn’t really matter what language you pick, try building a couple “Hello, World”s and choose the language that jives with you the best.
  2. Build something. A snow emergency website or tamale tracker or playlist generator.
  3. Create a Github profile and start pushing code from those projects to your repositories.
  4. Create a portfolio website to present yourself as a professional developer and display the different projects you’ve worked on – open source or your own. The more you can show off your skills the more likely you can set yourself apart.
  5. Update your resume with your portfolio, links to the sites/apps/open source projects and your Github profile.
  6. Network like crazy while linking to your portfolio whenever you can.
  7. Join local tech meetups.
  8. Join local tech Slack groups. They usually have a #jobs channel where people will post jobs and some of them are for entry level developers.
  9. Reach out to other developers to ask questions or advice.

Music About Food And Drinking: A Thanksgiving Playlist

It’s Thanksgiving time and that means firing up my Thanksgiving playlist. This playlist is a mix of music I’ve put together over the years with songs that are about Thanksgiving, food, family and a little bit of drinking. Really everything that you love and possibly don’t love so much about Thanksgiving wrapped up in one jazz, blues, hip-hop and indie rock playlist.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Here is a full track list of my Thanksgiving playlist:

Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant Massacree
Ray Charles – Mess Around
Carolina Chocolate Drops – Cornbread and butterbeans
Dee Dee Sharp – Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)
The J.B.’s – Pass The Peas
The Roots – Bread And Butter
Vince Guaraldi Trio – Thanksgiving Theme
Brandi Carlile; Emmylou Harris – Take Me Home, Country Roads
Digital Underground – Food Fight
They Might Be Giants – Dinner Bell
A Tribe Called Quest – Ham ‘N’ Eggs
Patty Griffin – Making Pies
Heavy D & The Boyz – Black Coffee
Lightnin’ Hopkins – Long Gone Like a Turkey Through the Corn
Bobby Troup – The Hungry Man
Lou Donaldson – Gravy Train – Rudy Van Gelder/Digital Remaster/2007
James Brown & The Famous Flames – Mashed Potatoes U.S.A.
Nat King Cole Trio – The Frim Fram Sauce
Lambert, Hendricks & Ross – Gimme That Wine
Louis Armstrong – All That Meat And No Potatoes
Tom Waits – Eggs And Sausage (In A Cadillac With Susan Michelson)
The Handsome Family – Drunk By Noon
Billie Holiday; Sy Oliver & His Orchestra – Gimme A Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer
Norah Jones – The Long Way Home
Fat Boys – All You Can Eat
Johnny Flynn – Leftovers
Trampled by Turtles – November
Iggy Pop – Candy
Patsy Cline – Hungry For Love
Fountains Of Wayne – Mexican Wine
Nat Kendrick & The Swans – Mashed Potatoes
The Flaming Lips – She Don’t Use Jelly
Cannonball Adderley – Autumn Leaves
Lou Donaldson Quartet – Wiskey Drinkin’ Woman
The J.B.’s – Givin’ Up Food For Funk
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Give Thanks & Praises
Thelonious Monk – Stuffy Turkey
Loretta Lynn – Wine, Women And Song
Andrew Bird – Measuring Cups
Lou Reed – Perfect Day
Nat King Cole – Save The Bones For Henry Jones (‘Cause Henry Don’t Eat No Meat)
Dee Dee Sharp – Mashed Potato Time
Jelly Roll Morton – Big Fat Ham
The Clash – Lost in the Supermarket – Remastered
Hank Williams – Jambalaya (On The Bayou)
The Smashing Pumpkins – Mayonaise – Remastered
Cab Calloway & His Orchestra – Everybody Eats When They Come to My House
Charles Mingus – Eat That Chicken
B.B. King – Troubles, Troubles, Troubles
Drive-By Truckers – The Thanksgiving Filter
Weezer – Pork And Beans
Bing Crosby – I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For
Adam Sandler – The Thanksgiving Song
Booker T. & the M.G.’s – My Sweet Potato
The California Honeydrops – Pumpkin Pie
Little Eva – Let’s Turkey Trot
Quincy Jones – Groovy Gravy
Otis Redding – I Want to Thank You
The Avett Brothers – Nothing Short of Thankful
Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five – Beans And Corn Bread
Sarah Vaughan – Black Coffee
Golden Smog – Pecan Pie
Jr. Walker & The All Stars – Home Cookin’
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Home
Neil Young – Harvest Moon
Sam Cooke – Bring It On Home To Me
Louis Prima; Keely Smith; Sam Butera & The Witnesses – Banana Split For My Baby – Remastered
Dale Watson – My Baby Make Me Gravy
Joe Diffie – Good Brown Gravy
James Brown – (Do The) Mashed Potatoes
Sly & The Family Stone – Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) – Single Version
Paul Desmond – Autumn Leaves
Bob Marley & The Wailers – One Love / People Get Ready – Medley
Ernie K-Doe – Mother-In-Law

How To Make Cold Brew Coffee At Home

Here’s an easy guide on how to make cold brew coffee at home. Makin cold brew coffee at home is pretty simple – just grind your beans then soak them in big jars on the counter for about 16 hours.

I follow the Stumptown method of 12:64, that’s 12 ounces of freshly ground coffee to 64 ounces of water. This will create a strong concentrate of coffee, so I usually cut the finished product with 1:1 amount of water. You can soak your coffee grounds longer if you want to some really strong coffee concentrate.

Step 1.

Get some coffee, preferably a 12 oz bag of whole coffee beans. I like to use my local Minneapolis roaster, Spyhouse Coffee. You can use already ground if you like as well.

Step 2:

Grind those beans on the coarsest setting possible. Or dump out your bag of already ground beans into a bowl if that’s the route you’re taking.

Step 3:

Fill a 64 ounce jar/pitcher/container of your choosing with filtered water. Dump your coffee into the jar.

Step 4:

Stir the coffee and water together.

Step 5:

Seal the jar or cover the jar with a towel and let it sit out on the counter for the next 16 or so hours.

Step 6:

After 16 hours of room temperature “chilling” the coffee is done. Grab a mesh strainer or other type of sieve, hold the strainer over another container/jar and pour the coffee through the strainer letting the liquid pour through into the second jar/container. This will catch the big chunks of coffee grounds.

Step 7:

Now we’re on to the final step. Rinse the junk out of the first jar/container and place a new coffee filter over it. Pour the first filtered coffee through the coffee filter into the original jar/container. This will filter out the rest of the sludge from the coffee.

And that’s it. Store the finished product in the fridge and enjoy over ice. I like to cut the final result with a 1:1 ratio of water to coffee to dull it down a little bit. Pour the final result over ice and enjoy the summer. A splash of milk of any variety is a nice touch as well.

The Best Internet Radio Stations To Stream

I listen to a lot of music while coding, reading and walking my dog. Over the years I’ve built up a solid go-to list of radio stations across the world to listen to when I want to put something on and not worry about choosing a specific album or playlist. These are the best Internet ratio stations I’ve found over the years to stream that keep me going throughout the day and night. These stations are actually more than just Internet radio actually, most of them are broadcast from a city over the FM dial. But since none of them are in my area I’ve come to rely on them strictly via the web.

They’re also commercial free radio so there’s no need to worry about interruptions from local car dealerships. They all rely on people like you and me to keep the music going, so drop them a dime or two if you find one that you like.

KEXP – Seattle

Indie/Variety
Stream URL
KEXP’s curatorial staff of 45 DJs, who are widely recognized as experts in their field, present the newest emerging popular artists alongside established bands. KEXP’s programming features both variety and specialty shows that brings you the emerging sounds and long-time favorites from the Pacific Northwest, the country, and throughout the world. – kexp.org

WWOZ- New Orleans

WWOZ 90.7 FM is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Station, a community radio station currently operating out of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Our governance board is appointed by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation.
WWOZ’s mission is to be the worldwide voice, archive, and flag-bearer of New Orleans culture and musical heritage. – wwoz.org

WQXR – New York

Classical
Stream URL
WQXR is New York City’s only classical music radio station, broadcasting live on 105.9 FM. We share our audience’s passion for music by playing the most outstanding pieces on air, online and through our app. – wqxr.org

KCRW Eclectic 24- California

Indie/Variety
Stream URL
KCRW’s all-music channel blending the collected talents and tastes of all KCRW’s DJs into a single voice streaming 24 hours a day. – kcrw.org

After Hours FM – Internet

Techno/Trance
Stream URL

AH.FM is a online radio that plays Trance and Progressive mixes produced exclusively for AH.FM by the hottest DJs from around the world. Afterhours’ main purpose is to provide the Electronic Dance Music community the best and richest quality music, all for FREE. We don’t believe in charging listeners money to listen to music, we believe that if a listener likes what they hear and wishes to support Afterhours, they will simply donate or purchase something in the store to help. – ah.fm

How To Renew Your Passport In 24 Hours

This is a post on how to renew your passport in twenty four hours. There’s a rule in most countries where your passport cannot expire less than six months after your return international trip. I learned this lesson the hard way at 3pm the day before were suppose to leave on our trip. If you find yourself in this situation, follow the steps below to get your passport renewed in twenty four hours.

Call the passport agency

Step 1: Call the National Passport Information Center to make an appointment as soon as possible. These guys will route you to your local passport agency where you’ll set up an appointment for an expedited passport renewal. There’s also an Online Passport Appointment System that you can use but in case of an emergency I like to talk to a person.

Schedule an appointment

Step 2: Lock down an appointment. Your local passport agency will schedule an appointment for you to come in to speak with a passport agent for the same day or the next depending on when they can get you in. I called at 3pm, which is closing time for my office, and got in at 8:30am the next morning.

You can view a list of regional passport agencies on the National Passport Information Center website.

If you can get an appointment in time then you’re probably going to be OK. They print your passport right there so if you get in you should get your passport. The process to create the passport is about 4–5 hours so if your flight leaves the same day as your appointment make sure to allow enough time or try to reschedule your flight.

Expedite rules

In order to expedite your renewal you must follow these rules:

  • Customers must bring a passport photo. This is a new photo that will go into your new passport. Walgreens or CVS do these for you in a couple of minutes.
  • All passport agencies require an appointment. There is no charge to make an appointment at a passport agency and customers should not pay anyone or any business making such a charge.
  • You must pay the $60 expedite fee in addition to application fees to apply at this agency.
  • Proof of international travel is required.
  • Will call service is offered for life or death emergencies and immediate travel abroad (leaving within 8 business days). The agency will advise you when the passport will be ready for pickup at will call based on your documented travel plans.
  • Passports will be processed within 8 business days of applying at the agency. During your appointment, the agency will advise how the passport will be sent to you.

Change your flight

Step 3: Change your flight (optional). Because the appointment wasn’t until 8:30am the day of my flight we’d be cutting it close for a 3:30pm departure. Initially Delta wanted to charge $3,000 per person to change the reservation. But, after speaking to a manager the good folks at the airline were able to get us on the same flight the following day for $300 per person. The point here is to be nice and ask for the manager.

Prepare the documents

Step 4: Prepare all your documents. In order for an expedited passport renewal you need the following items:

  • Passport Application
  • You need one 2×2 color passport photo. See Passport Photos for requirements and photo examples.
  • Proof of travel within the next two weeks (airline ticket, hotel reservation, etc)
  • Your current passport
  • Money (these things ain’t free)

Go to appointment

Step 5: Show up at your appointment. Here you will drop off your old passport as well as all the supporting documentation. You’ll talk to an agent and tell them why you need your passport so quickly.

Wait

Step 6: Wait.

Pick up your passport

Step 7: Come back the next day to pick up your brand new passport. Mine was ready at 2:05pm which seems to be passport-handin-out-time since there were a lot of other people showing up to get their passports along with me.

The time it took me to renew my passport was exactly 23 hours and 5 minutes since I realized I needed a new passport. That’s it. All the information you need to find regarding an expedited passport renewal can be found on the How to Apply for a Passport page.