So I've finished the second week of Makers Precourse. Not gonna lie, this week was a lot harder than last week. I have finally dragged myself through the 40th chapter of Learn Ruby the Hard Way and a kicking back with a well-earned Franziskaner. FYI, LRTHW is hard, and I just bought Chris Pine's Learn to Program on Amazon, in actual book format which I shall mark up with a highlighter, because I think I need more practice. I even went back to Code Academy to have a look at their explanations for things - boy is anything easier than LRTHW.
My thoughts from this week:
- Fixed growth mindset is so important: our coach shared this fantastic Ted Talk which you should all watch.
The phrase "effort + difficulty = new neural connections" really resonates with me. Programming is hard, but I look back on this week and I think of all the things I've learned that I couldn't do before and that's pretty cool.
- Some katas on Code Wars are easy and some are beasts. Choose wisely, and take an ally.
- Pair programming is great. I did my first pair session today and having another head on a problem is really helpful.
- It's really important to understand what a piece of code does, rather than just call it blindly. Thanks to Gus, who spent two hours explaining arrays over Slack to me to make sure I REALLY understood everything before calling a function to do the dirty work for me.
- However, why not take the programming outside and work through with a pen and paper while being surrounded by daffodils?
- I might have given myself a pep talk as though I were a Starfleet officer.
- I'm trying not to go too crazy on the Precourse, simply because I know the course is going to be MEGA intense. So stopping when my brain says enough and making sure to have fun is important!
- My FitBit is totally getting me out of the house!
Until next week
This is me in China in December 2016, having a classic night out with a Long Island Iced Tea in each hand. Apparently having a great time. Ten days later I was diagnosed with depression.
More accurately, I finally accepted depression, having known for years that I had it but not been ready to face it. I started taking medication the day I returned to the UK and now, two months later, I feel well enough to write about it.
So how did I know I had depression? Well, turns out the following are signs of depression:
1. Waking up crying and feeling sad for no reason. This happened a lot over Christmas when I had no work to distract me.
2. Fantasising about being dead. (Every time I had a bad headache I took comfort in the fact that maybe this would be the brain tumour that killed me. No joke. Even as I write this, my mind goes back longingly to that idea. Or the one about being on an airplane and crashing and everyone else surviving unhurt but somehow I die. I took a lot of airplanes for tours and I thought this a lot.)
3. Feeling numb to pleasure or anything enjoyable. Books? Coffee? Lie-ins? Nothing.
4. Small things making me feel hopeless and despairing. (NB This is not being a drama queen or making a mountain out of a molehill. This is like putting any weight on a completely crushed foot that simply cannot bear any load.)
Depression in my case came with a lot of anxiety as well, very closely related to living in London. Moving out of London was the best mental health decision I could have made. It's taken me six months to be able to enjoy having a drink at the pub without being anxious and on edge about the "waste" of time.
So if you have experienced any of this, you may be depressed and you should go and see your GP. Except that part of my brain thinks that if you feel this, it's probably 100% accurate and you should just go and end your life. And that is the part of me that is depressed.
I'm still learning about depression and there are lots of things I don't know:
- Will I be on medication forever? (That's totally fine, if so.)
- What is "me" and what is "depression" and to what extent does depression = me?
- Can I find another way of exercising besides running that gives me good endorphins?
- Will I ever be "normal"? What is "normal"?
- How much does depression decrease my (already low) tolerance for fools?
- Will anybody love me if I am depressed?
- Can I be in a long-term relationship and be depressed? (I know that intellectually the answer to both these questions is yes, but intellectual knowledge is kind of useless in this situation.)
- Will I ever not be depressed?
Things that have helped me so far:
- Medication!!!!! I cannot say it enough!!!!! I wish I had taken drugs years ago.
- Meditation. Not good for crises, but really good for long-term changing negative thought patterns and corrosive self-hatred (have I mentioned that lovely symptom?)
- Friends and family who are just awesome safe spaces
- Saying no. Recognising that I am ill, that I can't do things, has been really tough. I have let people down. But permission to fail, to be imperfect, is so important.
So there you have it. Look forward to more blogs on this as I try to figure it out, in between coding and violining.
And if you know a depressed person and can find a way of letting them know it's totally ok for them to be sad around you, that they don't have to pretend, do that. Pretending is hard. It takes energy we don't have so we run away just when we most need to be around people who love and accept us unconditionally.
I've been thinking about how my violin skills can help (or hinder!) my programming. Thanks to over twenty years of musical training, my brain is programmed to do the following:
1. Search for patterns.
2. Pay attention to minute details.
3. Process multiple streams of information, mainly aurally but also up to about eight different written inputs, and also visual signals from a conductor (including deciding in a split second whether the conductor's input is useful or not!).
4. Execute the results of the "program" (i.e. the written music) in a timescale, in a coordinated effort with up to 80 other people. Execution means a) choosing which of four strings, four fingers, and roughly eight positions (which I believe is 128 possibilities, but someone correct me on the math if not; and bear in mind there is generally more than one way to execute, so this split second decision also factors in stylistic and other concerns). Furthermore, I have to understand and implement the duration of a note, both in a strictly metronomic sense and also accounting for any flexibility someone else in the group may decide is expressive.
Consider the following piece of music, one which every violinist will know by heart.
Lots of different rhythms, pitches, all sorts of variables to be executed rapidly, accurately, and in coordination with a large group of people. Seamless integration of all the different streams of information is child's play to an experienced violinist at the top of her game. Even a less familiar piece rapidly sorts itself out into patterns that my brain recognises and executes.
Now consider this screenshot of the command line:
Two colours (different colours, but neither one uses colours to indicate anything)
Text reads from left to right and top to bottom (except when the command line lists files, which it does in columns)
Details make all the difference - a missed " . " in coding can stop a program from running while a missed " . " can mean an incorrect note length.
Command line has no timescale
When reading music, I observe the following sequence:
1. Glance over the whole piece to get an overview
2. Mentally note any difficult spots
3. Play the piece, reading each line from left to right while keeping my eyes at least one measure ahead of where I am currently playing (this requires short-term memory to be functioning!)
When reading the command line, I find I often forget step three. It's frustrating how slowly I read code - I'm used to reading music very quickly - so I try to solve problems using just steps 1-2 without really going through each line. So my next challenge is to accept that for a while I'll be slower at reading code but that the time invested in learning to be really fluent will pay off later.
So I've finished my second day at Makers.
What I have learned so far:
1. My cohort's hive mind is great. We share information and it's wonderful to have access to their intelligence and drive.
2. Leaving a problem for an hour and returning can magically make the problem go away. I was starting the mystery for the week, and literally couldn't figure out what step one was. Nothing made sense. So I cycled out to drop my violin off at the luthier for repair (it sounds terrible, am hoping it's just an open seam and not a crack), got some apples to make pie for American Pi(e) day, meditated, and then hey - GitHub, the command line, pushing, cd.. ...it all started making sense.
3. Diving into the command line takes away the fear and uncertainty. When I started doing the command line exercises, I really missed Ruby and the logic of programming. I felt like the command line was a bit of an annoying distraction from the main fun of coding, and it also looked like a lot of gibberish. Having spent a day with it, I know it a lot better. Also, changing the font to pale green on a black background definitely helped, as did making the text size bigger.
4. Starting the day with a walk around Cambridge is fantastic. I met a friendly cat, got a free map of the Sussex Downs, and saw some really beautiful houses
In non-programming news:
1. I have a violin recital on 2 April. This will be pure joy, but it's difficult to be motivated to practise, mainly because my violin is currently making dead cat noises (hence the trip to the luthier). Hopefully he can sort it out and I'll enjoy practising again.
2. I walked over 8,000 steps today. I definitely would not have walked anywhere near this if it hadn't been for my Fitbit. I am going to up the goal to 10,000 next week. I am still last in my competition but hey - I'm moving.
3. I made a pie for American Pi(e) Day! It wasn't my best pie (a bit out of practice, especially since I've been eating more healthily), but my landlord's dinner guests were very appreciative nonetheless.
Today I'm starting my first day of the Makers Academy programming course. (Pictured above: CodeAcademy Ruby study in Canterbury - I programmed for 4 hours before playing a rehearsal and concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra.)
Starting this course is scary and amazing. Scary because what if I turn out to be crap at coding and I spent a lot of money for nothing? Amazing because I'm pretty sure I'll keep loving coding and it'll be a great change in my life.
My prep for coding has consisted of:
Buying nerdy Tshirts so I will have a coding "uniform" to get my brain into coding gear for when the full-time course starts. The shirts will be arriving soon so you will see photos in a later blog.
Buying a FitBit so that I stay active during the course (I love walking and exploring Cambridge, and I will be kicking my 8,000 step goal out of the park). It also allows me to track water, nudges me every hour if I haven't moved, and does a guided 2-minute breathing meditation. (One of the things I loved about MA was its commitment to students' wellbeing - I totally agree that people learn better when their brains and bodies are taken care of!)
Buying a MacBook Air. WOOOHHOOO!!! I am a MacMommy! I have named it Emmeline (after the suffragette Pankhurst) Skål (the Danish word for "cheers", but also the Danish word for skull, because, you know, Vikings drank from skulls).
Now I'm off to learn some code!
I am an Irish-American violinist living in Cambridge, UK. I perform with the Philharmonia, the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, and many other top groups, and am also the Business Developer for Encore Music and am on the Makers Academy course for programming.