Those who can, teach

A year ago I attended my first coding workshop with Ladies Learning Code. This past weekend I returned, this time as a mentor.

I think it speaks wonders for Ladies Learning Code I went from complete n00b to someone who was able to teach the basic building blocks of HTML and CSS after just attending three of their workshops over the course of a year (if you’re curious, I went to their HTML & CSS, Mobile Coding, and Hack Day workshops).

Over a hundred of learners and mentors were packed at the CSI Annex for a full day of learning and mentoring. I remembered what it was like to sit down as a learner for the first time, opening weird and new programs, typing odd combinations of words, and slowly creating a real-life website (which later became this beauty). I remembered it being an intense day, and at the end of it rubbing my eyes from having stared at a screen too long, and needing a drink from absorbing too much material. It was a strikingly similar experience as a mentor.

Sure, there was an instance or two where I had to ask another mentor for help – I did only start a year ago, and other mentors were full-time developpers. But that’s the glory of the Ladies Learning Code structure – there are so many mentors in relation to the learners that it’s so easy to draw from others’ experience. And by teaching, I relearned a lot of the basic coding tools and feel even more confident in my abilities.

It was exciting to teach, and see everyone’s faces light up as they all, one by one, successfully implemented code. The mood was just terrific, and my heart melted when my learners thanked me for my help.

I was reminded of how much I missed teaching. I’m definitely going to mentor with Ladies Learning Code again.

Are you interested in learning more about tech skills? See what Ladies Learning Code (yes, men are welcome!) has in store for you.


IKEA’s got it

I love IKEA. As a kid it was where my sister and I played in the ballroom and my parents could relax in the restaurant. As a teen it was where I could daydream about my future apartments based on IKEA’s model suites. As a university student it became my go-to for every item of furniture and kitchenware I needed. The first months after I bought my first house were filled with IKEA dinners and trips to the As-Is section.

The IKEA catalogue is bested only by the latest Walrus and Food&Drink magazines in my opinion.

So call me biased if you want, but dang their new catalogue (and catalogue app) are something else.

We’ve all taken our turns mocking QR codes, those ugly squares that pretend they’ll take you somewhere special but mostly direct you to a non-mobile-friendly URL you could just have easily typed in to your browser yourself.

So as I dug in to my $1 breakfast at IKEA and flipped through their latest catalogue, I was intrigued by the little icon on some of their pages. Always curious about new techie things I held my phone over the page and BOOM I was taken directly to a video. No fiddly focusing or trying to get a QR code right in the middle of the cross-hairs of my QR code app. I tried a few other pages. Some took me to extended galleries of the product. One page gave me x-ray vision and allowed me to see through the cabinets, Superman-style.

The catalogue app could be considered gimmicky. I mean, did I really need to watch IKEA videos while reading the IKEA catalogue in the IKEA restaurant? Is creeping on the inside of someone’s cabinets really going to convince me to buy more? That I’m not sure. But as far as introducing a new consumer behaviour and foraying in to augmented/enhanced reality (a main topic at last year’s Untether.Talks conference), IKEA has done a great job.

I’m hoping if as this trend catches on, I can expect more interactivity, or even rewards. Imagined if there was a golden ticket or coupon hidden in the cabinets, revealed only if you scanned the page? Invitations to special events?

I want to commend IKEA on jumping in with this rather sleek approach to digital extras. I’m excited for what their next catalogue will bring, and how eventually this technology (or some version thereof) will be almost everywhere. It’s the future man. And I, for one…

What say you? Is this approach pure gimmick, or will it become the new norm?

Be Good Be Social: Part Deux

The Be Good Be Social Toronto Committee: Frankie ChowMarcie CrosbieClare McDowall, Emma JenkinClaire Kerr, Laura Bradley, and Tara Irwin

Last night was the second annual Be Good Be Social Toronto (check us out on Facebook and Twitter), a free conference about social media for nonprofits.  Be Good Be Social started in Glasgow a few years ago, and it’s starting up in Amsterdam too.

Clare McDowall starts the night off in a packed room for Be Good Be Social Toronto

I was delighted to rejoin the organizing committee of BGBS – a group of incredibly talented individuals from all corners of the nonprofit sector.  The planning of the event over the past few months happened almost exclusively online, and mostly through a private Facebook group. We met once in person to confirm our commitment and divvy up responsibilities, and once closer to the event itself to check in.

Paul Nazareth, nonprofit jack-of-all-trades extraordinaire, has a pretty great Storify up about highlights from the night. For those who couldn’t make it, or weren’t following #BGBS12, here are some of my favourite points from the night:

Many hands make light work
Jason Shim & Shubhagata Sengupta started the night off with a terrific run down of crowdfunding. If Karyn Bosnak can get strangers to giver her money to pay down her $20,000 shopping debt, there is a lot of potential for valuable causes.
(Sidenote: Wikipedia has a page called cyberbegging. Harsh. Let’s stick with crowdfunding, shall we?)
Other great examples included The Oatmeal’s BearLove Good, Cancer Bad (raised $220,000 with a goal of $20,000) and Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum (raised $1,380,000 with a goal of $850,000) and President Barack Obama’s approach to fundraising, going for more smaller donations rather than focusing wholly on the big ticket donors.
But what if you don’t have the profile of The Oatmeal or Obama? The common factor in successful crowdfunding campaigns are two things: they are very very specific (so you know exactly what your dollars are going towards), and they are time-sensitive (to create a sense of urgency).

NFP Confidential
Claire Kerr moderated a panel of Emma Lewzey (The Redwood), Kelly Bergeron (Ontario 211), and Liz Worth (Kids Help Phone) on how service organizations with sensitive information work with social media. Tips for your crisis service organization:

  • Be explicit on all your social media channels about what issues can (and cannot) be dealt with online, and transfer users to channels they can use for help (be in your phone number or shelter)
  • All organizations have different structures for creating content and monitoring social media. Find the one that works best for your users, cause, and resources (e.g. staff). I think The Redwood’s approach of each senior manager taking two-week shifts in the role of “social media manager” is pretty neat.
  • For organizations of all sizes, social media analysis doesn’t always make it to the board level. Find a way of making your information digestible – whether it’s raw data or a pretty one-pager infographic. There’s value in social media, help management understand that.

Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Amazing!
Julie Silvestri of the Yonge Street Mission was exactly what’s missing from a lot of nonprofit social media conferences. It’s great to hear about how a hospital was able to use QR codes through their city-sanctioned race to raise millions of dollars, but how is an organization with little staff and fewer dollars supposed to replicate that? Julie’s words of encouragements to those handed a stagnant social media presence and tasked with turning it around were simple, but bang on. She also emphasized a visual consistency through all your channels – a gal after my own heart! Though my favourite tip was her sharing her editorial calendar:

Just plan ahead, and learn. It’s how we all get started. And it’s something manageable for the small shop nonprofit.
And like, no big deal, but…

Also, big love to our sponsors Good Works, CharityVillage, and My City Lives, who made Be Good Be Social Toronto 2012 a smashing success!

Were you at BGBS12? What did you think of it? What topics do you think so hot right now for social media and nonprofits?

Emma Jenkin: Hacker

As I’ve said a few times before, I really like Ladies Learning Code.

Saturday morning I joined a packed room of coders-in-training for Hack Day, the first event of its kind by Ladies Learning Code. Rather than a structured workshop on a specific code or program, Hack Day was an opportunity for anyone to bring in their project and take advantage of the wealth of knowledge of tech/coding/hacking mentors. Before my first Ladies Learning Code workshop, I knew only the most basic of HTML (literally: <i>, <b>, and <br>), and less than a year afterwards, I was signing up for a Hack Day.

Throughout the day a hundred of us with different coding levels came to learn new tricks, set up websites, tackle specific coding issues, master WordPress and MailChimp, and anything else we needed to work on. The mentors, tech experts who volunteer their time and know-how were at hand to guide and help us in our work. With one mentor for every two Hack Day attendees, there was plenty of help to go around.

Hack Day marked my third Ladies Learning Code workshop, and I’m mulling over becoming a mentor myself (for Photoshop or Illustrator though, not coding – still status:grasshopper when it comes to coding!).

What really sets Ladies Learning Code apart is its Choose-Your-Own-Adventure structure. You’ve given the tools and the guidance on how to use them, but at the end of each workshop you leave with something different from everyone else in the room, based on your skill sets and interests.

Thanks to the mentors and Hack Day I was able to really clean up my code and finalize the absolute best website I could create. It’s incredible empowering to start with a blank page and code from scratch (no templates here!) an entire website. The mentors even helped me get my head around some jQuery and lightbox functionality!

This is almost too broad a statement to put to type, but tech skills are important to have, and will only become more so in the future. I strongly encourage you to see if there are any Ladies Learning Code sessions that interest you. Chat a big with them on Twitter or Facebook, because their wonderful staff are happy to answer your questions.

And, yes, regardless of the name, men are welcome too. At all the sessions I’ve attended many of the mentors have been men, and there have been men who’ve come to learn. Ladies Learning Code is about creating a welcoming and empowering environment where you can learn new skills at your own pace and comfort level. And they succeed.

Being able to create my own website from scratch, and put to use some pretty neat coding tricks, is such an accomplishment. As my freelance design work has been taking off, I’ve realized I need to have a professional web presence. I wanted complete ownership over the design, and needed to be able to update the content on a whim. I think I’ve come up with something pretty gosh darn slick and snazzy, and would love your input:

Why see just a screenshot when you can enjoy my handcrafted website in its full glory here!

What do you think about the importance of tech skills in the job market? What’s your experience with coding? Have I convinced you to sign up for a Ladies Learning Code workshop?

Some thoughts from Untether.Talks

After my team blew everyone’s minds with our mobile website winning a draw at a Ladies Learning Code workshop I scored tickets to Untether.Talks, a two-day conference on mobile tech. The days were packed with some incredible speakers with unique case studies.
Here are some of the highlights:

The Format
I love the format! (Yes, although I’m interested in tech, I run events. I’m a renaissance woman, Jaqueline of all Trades, and I take notice of this sort of thing)

While the presentations were traditional mic’d-speaker-with-slides (which suited the topics well), for the follow-up Q&As and panels, the speaker and moderators sat on sofas and chairs, late-night-television style. I loved the transition. Mics were set up in the aisles for questions from the audience, which meant no “can you repeat that?” which is all too common when audience members need to call out their questions from their seats.

The sound in the room was spot on. It should be, it’s the Glenn Gould Studio. I had been there for concerts and recording sessions, but never for a conference. It suits the purpose well. And the sound is broadcast in to the reception area and washrooms, so you never need to miss any of the content.

Geolocation is the way of the future, also creepy as heck
There were a lot of topics brought up that I hadn’t really thought about. But the conversations around customization vs. privacy and geotagging got me interested. Let’s say I’m walking down the street and get a buzz on my phone. It’s a push notification form a nearby business! They know I’m in the area, because I’ve opted in to an app for just this purpose, and want me to know they’re nearby in order to get my business. That’s cool, but this has to be really smart or it’s going to be overwhelming. What if every business within a five-minute walk buzzes me?

Push notifications aside, I would like to pull up a map and automatically see where a list of nearby pre-approved businesses are – libraries, Davids Teas, parks, water fountains, public bathrooms… That could be useful, and not like being harrassed by businesses in which I have no interest. (Patent pending).

It got me thinking about the “things you may like” recommendations based on past purchases (or neighbourhoods based on geotagging). Could you image if Davids Tea tapped in to my purchase history to give me recommendations the way that Indigo does? Flowchart-style, if you will? (Patent pending)

Business want to know where I frequent, where I am in real time, and my buying habits so they can market to me more effectively. While it could seem like geolocation capabilities are just a new way to be hounded by advertising, the idea of being offered what I want (and not what I don’t want), while someone else can benefit, without me feeling creeped out… Well that’s something I could get behind. But mostly it would just creep me out.

Are organizations overstepping privacy, or are we just putting too much out there? Here I disagree with the speaker. As far as overshare, businesses don’t care what I had for lunch or my reaction to last night’s Mad Men. They want my A/S/L and buying habits so they can sell my information to advertisers. I’m more protective of these details.

Speaking of extremely creepy tech developments, enter SceneTap. Restaurants and bars install these cameras with face recognition capabilities. When you enter, it determines you A/S/L & posts these stats online, amalgamated with everyone else there. Folks can head online and check out the male:female ratio and average age at the bar down the street. This appeal to those who want to avoid sausagefests and cougar nights, I suppose (also, the kind of people who use sausagefest and cougar night without rolling their eyes). It gives me the heebie jeebies. Speaker Amber Mac said if this was to be implemented, it better be really obvious it’s happening, and that by entering the space you are agreeing to having your personal information added to their database.

The topic of privacy continued on to the second speaker Damien Patton. He uses Foursquare and loves it. I don’t, because stories like this have creeped me the heck out. I do, however, subscribe to “Find my Friends” on  my iPhone, because I pick who’s on it, and I approve of who can find me.

Yes, it could be cool if my Starbucks app new where I was – it could calculate the local weather and when I approached one of their location and sent me a message like “Wouldn’t you love an iced coffee about now?” but, I probably already know that. So these location-based push notifications really just seem like another buzz on my phone to ignore.

Privacy is seen as a transaction by the organization, and not enough as a transaction by the average user. The user hands over private information, and gets in return a social network. To a certain extent, this could be analogous to real life. To make friends, to be referred by people, I must, and they must, share my personal information (name, physical description, qualities and drawbacks). Social media just takes it so much further, and sells it. Ever notice when people get up in arms about a Facebook change it’s because they’ve changed your privacy setting without telling you? If I give you my private information in order to access your social network, don’t go changing the agreement with nary a headsup.

Tech in the classroom
Sidneyeve Matrix gave some refreshing perspectives on technology in the classroom. While she joked that a “tech fast” could never work because of smartphones, I would have loved it. I know classes where I wasn’t simultaneously on several social networks and scrolling through web comics (I am eternally grateful that I had neither twitter nor animated gif tumblrs when I was a student, or I doubt I would ever have graduated) were the ones in which I learned the most. Funny how that is.

It was, however, great to hear a teacher talk about embracing tech. And it’s true, even if a professor makes the attempt to embrace tech, either with video in their powerpoint slides, or online course material, there is some sort of connection made with the students. I mean, I consider myself still somewhat of a nerd academic and I happened to love my art history classes that were nothing more than two slide reels and a professor pacing the front of the class laying down some knowledge for us to pick up. But that’s a method that works well for art history (inevitable upside-down slides and carousel jamming aside).

I’m not sure which side of the fence I find myself. Do I wish instructors embraced tech because it’s the language of their students, not something to fight? Or should students suck it up because if you’re busy on MSN (ha, dating myself) then don’t complain when you bomb the course. You don’t get to be spoonfed.

The tragedy was hearing her discuss all the exciting possibilities that bridged the gap between hyperactive multitasking students and the instructor’s mission are stymied by the lack of funds. Sponsorship deals are of course a tricky course to navigate. Should a university let McDonald’s sponsor its app for nutrition science? Maybe not. But if a tech organization with a mission to engage youth came forward and offered development skills, that sure sounds like a happy arrangement.  What are your thoughts on tech in the classroom?

Who is this guy?
I also want to talk about Whurley. I was in the lobby posting to my work’s Facebook page, so came in to the theatre late. He called me out right away for tardiness! In a …jovial way I suppose. Anyway, his presentation format was awesome and I will absolutely steal it for the next time I’m on stage. He started with a blank slide deck and canvassed the audience for questions right off the bat — what did we want to hear him talk about? He typed our questions on to his blank slides, then went through them, speaking to each point. It was certainly the most engaged the audience would be all conference.

He also showed how they created a mind-controlled skateboard and potential for real-world applications of telekinesis.

I, for one, etc….

(Also, sorry I was late.)

To sum up…
Honestly, there was so much more at the conference and the ideas are still buzzing but there you’ve got a quick sampling. Huge thanks to Ladies Learning Code for sending me there and continuing to foster my techie development!

(Oh, also, work on my website continues apace!) 

Mobile web!

Thanks to the wonderful folks at Ladies Learning Code I’m slowly but surely developing a mobile version of my personal website

It’s tricky, and finicky, but it’s slowly working. I want to rely on the same HTML file as my desktop page and just link it to a mobile CSS file. This is how the Ladies Learning Code workshop laid it out and it makes sense to me. Of course when I designed my desktop website I didn’t do it with the foresight to make it easily transferable to mobile. 95% of my desktop website is rollover buttons (gosh darn it they are fun and snazzy) and… you can’t really rollover stuff on a mobile device.

But it’s coming along. It’s one heck of a confidence booster to stare at a page of code that mere weeks ago would have looked like nothing more than gibberish, change a few characters, refresh my mobile browser screen, and boom! Exactly what I wanted to change, has changed. This of course happens every 1 in 10 times I try to change something. But again, it’s coming along.

Are you a developer and remember being a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed neophyte in the world of code? How long until the buzz wears off?