For someone who has always been in love with the written word, and a consumate consumer of narrative, it’s surprisingly hard to contribute even a single post to the ocean of text already out there in the great wide world, whether on the printed page or stored on a server somewhere.
I’ve recently begun a new step in the Nicole recipe, though, and I think it’ll be important to document my progress through it. Important for me, that is, when I look back and read about how dumb I was when I started, so I hopefully keep some sympathy for those who are just starting, some humility, and some mile-markers for the progress I’ll have made by that point. Maybe this will help others, too, going through a similar path, or help someone going through an entirely different awakening or change, who somehow sees some parallel. Mostly, though, I want to be able to remind myself, when I’m panicking, that I’ve actually accomplished a lot, and bolster my confidence again (however temporarily).
I also (accidentally) read an post encouraging people to write more, as a way to not only contribute toward the sum of knowledge out there, but to increase general curiosity, amplify focus on the world, and just overall pay more attention. Here’s that post, if you feel like being galvanized toward committing pen to paper or keys to sensors.
So, here goes!
Two weeks ago I started learning Python (among other things) in the company of a group of women under the auspices of Hackbright Academy. This is both a complete right turn from where I’d been before and also feels like a return to a path I should have been on the whole time. I love logic, puzzles, and languages. What was I THINKING waiting so long to get into this?
I’m actually not entirely sure how to answer my own question. It may just have been the conviction that a 25 year old girl with no CS classes in her history has no chance of learning enough to make a contribution as a developer. I want to smack 25 year old me for such thinking.
So now I’m two weeks into the program, and I’ve learned so much, it’s already hard to think back before I knew what a for-loop was (I kept thinking people were saying “four-loop”) or the difference between the 1st element in a list and the element at index 1. I know that, as with any learning experience, I’ve picking the low-hanging fruit. I know that each successive lesson will most likely be harder, more abstract, more complicated, than the one before it. Such is the nature of learning, though, so I vow to try not to get discouraged when subsequent successes are fewer and farther between.
I will not fall into the pit of dispair that yawns beneath my feet whenever something is not easy to understand, conceptually, and cannot be instantly implemented. Well, I will try not to.
This past week, one of our challenges for class was to create a Markov text generator; taking a sample text by some person (Dr Seuss, Jane Austen, JK Rowling) and creating psuedo-text in the style of their writing. We created a dictionary mapping n-grams (bi-grams, in this case- chunklets consisting of all the two-word combinations used in the sample text) to all the potential next-word options in that book.
I can’t even tell you how fun this was for me. Frustrating, at times, when I say what I needed, in English, but couldn’t figure out how to make it happen in Python… but ultimately, so satisfying to complete a function and have it work as expected. Gratifying to pass the completed program a chunk of Dr Seuss writing and to have the generated sentence yield “I do not like green eggs and ham.” It was most thrilling, though, to feel like I’d made something. From scratch. What a heady feeling that was!
Then writing a script to connect to twitter and tweeting the generated text to all my millions (tens, really) of followers… that felt real. Like something I could be asked to do in the future. I tweeted more in that day than in any other day ever, I think. Not that that’s saying much.
I know that, when I’m in the workplace again, I almost certainly will not be asked to create a Markov text generator again. I know there will be aspects of coding that I’m not thrilled about, and tasks that aren’t so fundamentally exciting. But I am so glad to be learning about all the things I can do in Python, and I hope I’ll always have more puzzles to solve to keep me excited.
Maybe knowing that these words are live on the open information network will keep me honest, keep me feeling accountable for the site in general, and for reflecting and contributing content regularly, too. I hope so.