Ain’t it pretty? This is the above-the-fold part of my first larger project for Omaha Code School. Can’t wait to move this online.

(Here’s a little blog-reading tune I’m working on. Read on for the post.)

Starting today, Omaha Code School students possess the tools to build a web application.

"It’s going to look terrible, it’ll be slow and take forever to build," Sumeet says, but today marks a huge milestone, especially considering we’re midway through only the third week.

So let’s recap: The first week, we built pair-programmed Ruby apps that challenged us to solve problems and to understand and build effective classes and methods through test-driven development. The second week, we learned the web application framework of Sinatra, how to interact with Ruby gems/APIs, and matured from using text files to store data to using persistent databases.


It’s important to look back upon each day’s lesson, how each built off the previous ones. Just this week, we’ve learned the basics of SQL and ActiveRecord to advance our understanding, and we’ve devised plans to build our first larger project, a blog. (I’m excited to bring my idea to fruition.)

For this entry, though, I’d like to cover a bit about how Omaha Code School operates at a more aesthetic and friendly, open-minded level. I’ve come to greatly respect our instructor Sumeet, my classmates and our support system of Abby Jones, the TA, mentors, our yoga/meditation guide and the recent addition of Chris Wolfgang as OCS space, event and social media manager.

Just step through the doors around 4 p.m. on a day when we’re tasked with homework or a project, and you’ll hear what I mean: mostly the sound of fastidious typing. If there’s a question, Sumeet, our TA, classmates and/or mentors will answer thoughtfully. The school’s philosophy encourages people of all learning styles to work in whatever environment fits them best: even if that means heading to a coffee shop down the street.

At the forefront of that philosophy is Sumeet, whose knowledge, humor and transparency keeps the learning seriously fulfilling. We’ve placed our trust in him. We’ve quit jobs, stepped away from career paths. One of our classmates moved halfway across the country from New York. Sumeet’s striving to be “always on,” to never gloss over a concept just because it would be easier for him as a teacher: That’s part of what steels me to be on time and to pay attention.

It is a marked difference from college, for sure. There is no attendance policy, no requirement to participate, no grades. And yet, I haven’t considered missing a day of class. I’ve felt comfortable asking questions when they come to me, which I couldn’t say was the same in my journalism classes. And I’ve worked harder on homework than ever before, even though there’s no hardline obligation to finish it: I feel the drive to understand the lectures and put their lessons to practice.

All in all, it’s been a wonderful first quarter (almost). Now let’s see just how far we’ll have come around this time next week. Meet you back here.

It was a breakthrough, though not exactly the one I was seeking.

Backstory: Omaha Code School had filled its first week with five pair-programming exercises. These allowed a coding newcomer like me to augment my understanding with the often more precise understanding of a classmate.

Together, we built programs that tracked the ins and outs of a hypothetical humane society. We built programs that picked, paired and grouped classmates randomly. By Wednesday, we were building programs that played an automated game of bowling, and by Thursday, we made programs that assembled a portfolio of stocks. By the end of the week, we were adding artificial intelligence to a tic-tac-toe game.

It felt like progress, though I admit I was often piggybacking upon the mental jumps of my classmates.

I was grateful to be offered an extra half-day of review on Saturday as well, during which we magnified the concept of scope when it comes to local and instance variables. We learned more about how classes talk to each other. And we built the barebones of a program that helps facilitate a recording studio management system, basically ensuring that band members that haven’t paid for one album can’t record another with a different band.

So that’s the backstory.

On Monday, we learned more about the inner-workings of the internet — from a high level, that is. This marked our transition from working on programming locally, or on our computers, to moving our work online. Our instructor Sumeet walked us through the basics of Sinatra, a framework that allows the programming language Ruby to be presented on the Web.

After lecture, we were tasked with the first solo assignment of Omaha Code School: Present our stock portfolio program on the Web. And then I spent a couple hours on the first step of practice with Sinatra. Through a few binding.pry tests — which stop a program at a certain point to inspect whether it’s doing what it should do — I determined that I was parsing a text file of comma-separated stocks.

That’s good.

But I couldn’t figure out how to present those stocks in a table. And so, I took a short break to recharge my mind. That’s when I made my breakthrough.

Back at home, I picked up my guitar and, even though my guitar has two D strings right now — my G string broke, of course — I started to play a new chord progression in the 5/4 time signature. My second D string gave a regular C chord a sort of melancholy, which opened up my songwriting potential.

It’s been ages since I finished a piece of a song. I believe I wrote the last piece before I moved to Omaha last October, and that song piece never did find the rest of its body. But I have a good feeling about this one.

With that sense of accomplishment in mind, I got back to work on my assignment and made headway. And although I didn’t get quite as far as I’d have liked to, at least I’ve found one way to unstick my brain: with songwriting.

Welcome to my dictionary in progress. Here, I work toward defining the terms that whiz by at first, ricochet off the mustard and maroon walls of Omaha Code School, and sling themselves into my grasp like a Snitch in Harry’s hand.

Today, we began our 12-week course at the east end of Midtown Crossing: that parabolic group of businesses including Cantina Laredo and CRAVE. Our director, Sumeet, his fiancée, Beth, and Sumeet’s Big Wheel Brigade workmate Rahul had outfitted this 8,000-square-foot space with ample desks and comfy office chairs for the 14 students, couches and ottomans, and artwork provided by Council Bluffs coffee shop/coworking space drips.

Ushered in by coffee and bagels at 9 a.m., we spent the bulk of the day installing the tools necessary for coding: a “dangerously opinionated framework” aptly named Boxen, assembled by GitHub. Sumeet established early on that the process might carry on through most of the day, and it didn’t disappoint. 

Working through various hangups, we each reached the finish line at different times. In pairs or trios, we created our first simple Ruby app for a hypothetical client, New Nebraska Humane Society. The 70 or so lines of our code tracked when pets came in to the shelter, when they were adopted, and when pets that had been adopted were returned.

While I felt behind the curve in general programming understanding, I’m hearing a dialect of a language I can follow, but can’t quite speak without fits and starts. Day one, though, right? I look forward to diving into homework and review each night.

I just hope I can use another Harry Potter metaphor in my next entry.

It struck me recently that aliens are terrible at research.

Think about it: These so-called highly evolved beings have — first mistake — decided to visit our world. So they cart their anvil-sized brains across the universe. And when they step onto the president’s front lawn, what is the first word they say? “Greetings.”

Pirate a copy of Rosetta Stone or something, you dummies. Say hello. Give us a little “Hi, how are ya?”

Anything to illustrate your supposed intelligence, your ability to command respect by showing it. In my interviews with musicians, I try to do the same. I’ll open with a question that means to say, “Yes, I’ve prepared well, so give me your best answer.”

But journalism is a skill I’ve developed over five years, starting with an undergraduate degree and continuing with experience at newspapers and a wonderful organization called Hear Nebraska. I’ve seen and helped this nonprofit for which I’ve served as managing editor effect change in our state’s local music scenes.

Omaha and Lincoln artists are taking pride in their efforts. People here do give a damn about songs written in basements and garages. And I will always write about Nebraska music, hoping to help HN establish our state as an international cultural destination. In a few months, I hope to start creating web applications, too, to bolster Hear Nebraska’s already fearlessly creative and well-built coverage and events. 

You see, I’m going to learn how to say hello in a few new languages. As one of the students in the Omaha Code School’s inaugural class, I will learn the hard skills of programming languages such as Ruby and Javascript, alongside soft skills like presentation and communication. For 12 weeks from Feb. 24 to May 16, I will spend at least 800 hours at this very special boot camp for web developers in training.

I’m happy to be joined (serendipitously) by two Hear Nebraska contributors, Kaitlyn and Matt Hovanec who have respectively created illustrations and multimedia for HN, and have laid brushstrokes across our artistic landscape with their own music as members of the creative class. The mere happenstance of two other members of the HN family being part of a 13-student class maybe isn’t so coincidental. This community of artists that chairs Hear Nebraska through the marketplace of the world is not only far-flung and diverse, but it’s composed of the most talented and creative citizens of Nebraska, ex-pats and close relatives.

This community comprises the 29 interns I’ve had a pleasure of working with: editing stories line-by-line, setting animation to video, covering and hosting concerts, and bringing together young writers, multimedia producers, marketing minds and more from Omaha and Lincoln. It includes the 100 or so contributors whose quality work I’ve edited is all volunteer and always welcome.

The staff and board members of Hear Nebraska are both great friends and great inspirations for me. There is absolutely no one better fit for taking on the managing editor role than Chance Solem-Pfeifer. His thought-provoking and detail-driven stories are only a microcosm for who Chance is as a confident leader, skilled editor and Nebraska music advocate whose editorial philosophy is rooted with a respect for artists.

I hope to continue working with incredible people like Lauren Schomburg (programming director), Eric Nyffeler (art director), and board members Jess Paisley, Tim McMahan, Scott Hatfield, Kendra Ingram and Aaron Shaddy. I’ve learned what might amount to a few terabytes of information if my memory were a hard drive through Eric’s design edits, Lauren’s event coordination and marketing, Tim’s editorial might and the rest of the board’s knack for serving and connecting with the community.

And although I could never adequately thank Andrew and Angie Norman for their belief in my 22-year-old abilities as Hear Nebraska’s first hire in 2012, I must express my utmost appreciation for this scrappy, incredibly valuable organization they’ve spearheaded and daily build up through kindness and an unswerving faith in this state’s music and arts community and those who support it.

It is with a hefty opportunity cost that I’m deciding to bolster my skills with web development, but if there’s one sure bet I could make, it’s that Hear Nebraska will continue to grow at an extraordinary pace toward accomplishing its mission: to establish our state as an internationally known cultural destination. I will do everything I can to help make that happen.

And even though today, I would say, “Greetings,” if I were to meet you in the land of CSS or jQuery, by the time I make my first trip past code school, I’ll know how to forge great relationships with native speakers. I’m excited to skydive into web development, and I can already see the clouds starting to shift.