Moving on with programming

As mentioned in a previous post my activities as a web developer have taken a new turn last year as I started learning how to code – see my latest achievements here.

While there is no need to master any programming languages to build websites, a variety of content management solutions being available on the market, it does make things slightly easier as you are not limited by systems built by others anymore.

The consequence is, I can now not only make websites look exactly the way I want rather than customising existing style sheets, but also produce web applications with fun features, like this very basic drawing app.

Am I trying to sell you something? Maybe… Programming is indeed not just another hobby so if you have any need in terms of web development, it’s the right time to drop me a line!

Life is so full of opportunities to start again. Overwhelmed by day to day activities and commitments we often miss them. But it’s all right, as new opportunities keep showing up every day until you eventually catch one – as indeed, you will.

Over the past years I got to know a growing number of people who got faced with the tricky question at least once in their life: “should I carry on with what was so far my main focus or leave it aside and move towards something completely different?”.

Living the life they could once only dream of is now their reward.

My first app

I did it! After six months learning programming and working as part of Black Badger Labs I have created my very first app from scratch using JavaScript and jQuery. While it still needs some improvement, it is now available for free trial on Google Chrome. Who would have guessed: I may well have a proper profession to show on my CV soon.

How on Earth did I not realise earlier that becoming a programmer was actually an option – this is the real question. I was given my first computer by my father at the age of 9 and have been involved in the software industry since the completion of my studies twelve years ago. In 2007 I started building rather complex websites using wiki syntax. Still, I did not think I could actually *write software* myself until recently.

Why? Because I am a woman? I doubt it. Because I picked up law studies and thought programming was absolutely out of reach given what I considered to be a non technical background? More likely. Which seriously calls into question our educational system.

Not yet graduated from high school we are exhorted to decide on studies that will determine our future. Throughout five years, we then hardly see daylight, with very little time left to explore the actual work opportunities that may some day derive from it – we just assume we’re gonna be ok. I remember the job guide that eventually landed into my hands; the careers’ descriptions were appalling.

I tried to escape from Law. Took a year off at the age of 21, travelled, acquired work experience. To get a good job however it appeared that a Master’s degree of some sort was absolutely necessary – well, in fact not, but back then it was supposed to make a difference. I thus went for it. Got my LL.M. And since then whatever I did, I always ended up with the same hat: “legal minded”.

This time is luckily over now. Making long phrases out of nothing will not be requested from me anymore. I can now shut up in peace, and while others may be busy arguing about upcoming European regulations, I will be moving on in silence, heading towards the future using a text editor.

E.U. is not the only way

Once upon a time I used to run an NGO in Brussels, aiming to make the world a better place by hanging around and spreading the word in the corridors of the E.U. institutions.

Driven by the euphoria that had followed the rejection of the software patent directive by the European Parliament a few years earlier, I was confident that Democracy would always prevail and that educating decision makers on certain realities they were not aware of would eventually lead to sustainable changes.

Sadly, bureaucracy kills progress, and it would be foolish to expect the bolts of a machine to have any influence apart from their predetermined role – unless they’d break. Similarly, you can’t hope for any major change to come from our elected representatives. Bear in mind: most of them don’t even have the choice of the software they use.

By mid 2013 it had become obvious that the European institutions were not the right levers to consider for he or she who wants to make a difference in Europe.

This came to be self-evident after the adoption of the Unitary Patent by the European Parliament in December 2012 – not only inconsistent with the position defended in the past, but also a complete waiver on their power as legislator in patent law in favor of a system that both citizens and the entire software industry had expressed concerns about.

I was flabbergasted. Such a level of incompetence and complacency was beyond imagination. This sudden realization happened together with a growing despondency regarding Brussels. Nothing was holding me there anymore. I decided to move away.

The truth is, E.U. is not the only way. It’s a well established myth to think that as long as politicians won’t take action there is nothing we can do to fix our economy, our environment and our society. It is however completely up to us to come up with solutions and start implementing them within our own circle of influence.

It is certainly not an easy task and does require a bit of commitment. But this is something we can do, as long as we genuinely want it, and it does not imply any kind of extreme behaviour – simply a little practice in thinking out of the box.

A few months back I decided to start learning programming. I already had good experience in web development but had yet to master any computer language. Since then my vision of the world and the possibilities offered to us in terms of innovation has radically changed.

Tools to fix our society’s flaws are just at our fingertips. Technological progress will ultimately overcome current crises in such an indisputable manner that politicians will have no other choice but to follow. Old, outdated models will then simply collapse on their own.

The remaining question is: how long it will take, and whether or not you are willing to be part of it.  “The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new”, says Dan Millman’s character. How about giving it a try?

Why you should use Linux

This year I had the chance to be appointed as member of the program committee for LinuxCon Europe, which will take place in Düsseldorf from October 13th to 15th.

Discussing about the opportunity for programmers to attend such an event I was faced with a disrupting statement: Windows would provide a better work environment for coding than Linux. More functionality, with a lot of applications, no need to rummage around in a terminal and if something goes wrong, only one person to blame: Microsoft – whose dedicated team is then paid to fix bugs you encounter.

A reminder of what free software is about and why it is worth the effort running Linux on at least one – if not all – of your machines seems to be opportune.

While a growing number of open source products offer a nice and user-friendly interface (download Libre Office or have a look at Gov dot UK website and you will quickly get an idea), the free software model was originally not designed to make things easier for us to work.. But to set us FREE – to the extent that we would want it.

The idea is simple: from the moment you legally acquire the software – whether because it’s available for free download, or because you as a company have paid a few hundred K to have it developed by a third party – you become entitled to use it, study it, modify it and share it depending on your needs without asking for prior permission, without any license fee whatsoever.

This supposes that on one hand, the vendor is not tracking your activity – you are free – and on the other hand, you have access to the source code of the software to do whatever you fancy with it – you can now understand why “open source” and “free software” are just two expressions meaning exactly the same thing.

“Fair enough, but why would I go for Linux while Windows provides me with all the features I need as a programmer to do my job?” I hear you ask. “I don’t really have time for playing with the software I use as a tool, I have enough work with the code I develop for my company”. All right… Let me tell you why, then, you should give Linux a chance.

First of all, you know that already, because as far as you are willing to devote some time in learning how to use the kernel, you can then customize it the way you want. Your work is not limited anymore by the system designed by the vendor. A functionality is missing? Go and create it. You are now in full control of your machine; not the other way round anymore.

Secondly, if you have no time for changes and fixes, the Linux community is far bigger than the debugging team a single company can manage. And here comes the Linus’ Law: “Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix will be obvious to someone.” This means most bugs will be dealt with quickly; the community being then heavily composed of programmers, it is very likely that the functionality you need is already available on a forum somewhere.

Thirdly, think about security. Only “root admin” of your computer will be able to modify the system; viruses, who usually only get basic user’s access, will then unlikely damage any major component – if ever you open a malware attachment, you would indeed need to go through a few steps to actually authorize its installation into your machine.

Finally well… Be aware Linux is used everywhere now – television sets, mobile devices, web platforms, cars, supercomputers… Be selfish, think about the career possibilities that will unfold once you’re a Linux master and GO FOR IT!