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Need Realistic Advice on My Sitch

Robin Lane
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Joined: Apr 30, 2008
Posts: 76
I'm in the middle of a complete career "about face". I'm taking classes in Software Engineering online. I'll have my Associate's degree in about 10 weeks and will then start my Bachelor's program and will most likely continue until I receive my Master's. I'm coming from a totally different work background (Convention/Hospitality industry for about 10 years and even co-owned a business planning special events for corporations for three of them), and a break of several years during which I have been absent from the job market.

I currently live in a very small town (less than 4,000) in a very rural area (about 30,000 in my county!) and was hoping to work as a contractor and telecommute. I can write a business plan and set up my own little consulting firm. I can sell my self well, if I am on firm ground regarding what I need in terms of talent. If I don't have the knowledge I need, I get it. I am very ambitious (as an employee not a corporate "ladder climber" who is merely good at taking the credit for the work of others). I have a high set of personal standards that shows in my work.

My challenges (above and beyond the changing careers/industries, small town in massively rural area) are several. One issue is that I have no one geographically near me that I can ask to mentor me. I've had no luck finding an online resource for tech industry (specifically programming) mentors. I'm a full-time student at this point and have no work environment in which to further my practical education or put into practice what I am learning in my classes.

I've posted on here a few times when I was taking my Java class, and I refer to my programming ability as Kindergarten Java. (laughing at self) I have no way to compare what I'm learning to what is considered good programming. Therefore, I'm unable to assess my ability or growth.

Any and all feedback is much desired and will be gratefully accepted!


Disclaimer: The author of this post makes no claims, implied or otherwise, as to her ability to understand anything but the simplest of answers. Further, the author of this post has no programming background whatsoever and has taken one Java Programming class which was 9 weeks long. She does want to learn, so please teach patiently.
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30586
    
154

Originally posted by Robin Lane:
and have no work environment in which to further my practical education or put into practice what I am learning in my classes.

The Cattle Drive sounds like it would be good for you. Professional programmers nitpick your code to teach you good practices. They have a number of programs on JDBC/Sevlets/Design which are all skills you will need as a developer. It's not free, but it's a great value for $200. I recommended the Cattle Drive to some people I work with that are learning Java for the first time.

It sounds like you are ahead of the game in some ways as you have excellent business skills already. That's something that most beginning programmers have to learn in parallel with programming.

Later on, one of the most important things will be to get some experience in programming - internship, volunteer, etc. Of course that requires learning a language first. Do you have more classes in Java coming up or are you on your own at this point?


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Robin Lane
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 30, 2008
Posts: 76
Jeanne, first, thank you so much for responding!

I do have more Java classes coming up in my Bachelor's program. One, maybe two. It depends on the curriculum. If the curriculum for one class is the same as the class I've already taken, then I will only have one additional class on Java. Plus, I'll be taking at least two classes on C++.

The Cattle Drive sounds wonderful, but my budget is very tight right now. I'm currently a full-time student, and it is exceptionally difficult to find work around here. (Which is why I think I'll have to work as a subcontractor or freelance under my own company.) I wonder if Java Ranch knows of an organization that would grant me a $200 scholarship for the Cattle Drive! (starts laughing at the absurdity of her remark) I'll make joining the Cattle Drive an imminent goal.

Do you have any other thoughts, suggestions, advice? I need all the feedback and information I can get.
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30586
    
154

Originally posted by Robin Lane:
Do you have any other thoughts, suggestions, advice? I need all the feedback and information I can get.

What does the second Java class cover? I do have some more thoughts, but they would depend on the answer to that question. (Some 2nd Java classes cover JDBC, Swing, etc and others cover more basic Java or algorithms.)
Vikas Kapoor
Ranch Hand

Joined: Aug 16, 2007
Posts: 1374
Originally posted by Robin Lane:
... but my budget is very tight right now. I'm currently a full-time student, and it is exceptionally difficult to find work around here. ...


You can ask your parents?!
Robin Lane
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 30, 2008
Posts: 76
Originally posted by Vishal Pandya:


You can ask your parents?!


(very gently with a warm smile) My parents are both deceased, but thank you for your reply, all the same.
Robin Lane
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 30, 2008
Posts: 76
Originally posted by Jeanne Boyarsky:

What does the second Java class cover? I do have some more thoughts, but they would depend on the answer to that question. (Some 2nd Java classes cover JDBC, Swing, etc and others cover more basic Java or algorithms.)


I'm not sure exactly, as I do not have access to the syllabus, yet. However, I have already had a Logic and Algorithm class that I Aced through sheer force of will. (starts laughing at self) It's true, though. I almost had to start wearing a wig I was pulling my hair out so badly--figuratively, of course.

My textbook from my first Java class was Java: How to Program (6th ed.) by Harvey M. and Paul J. Deital and is excellent! I believe it is Harvey M. Deital who has a Doctorate. Additionally, from the Dummies series of books, I have three books that were authored or co-authored by Dr. Barry Burd, who is fabulous! So, I was very fortunate in my learning materials.

I have already started working on mock exams for Java certification, because this helps give me someway to measure my progress in learning, retaining, and properly understanding the Java language.

(mulling things over) I could start a type of portfolio--a portfolio of code. Perhaps showing examples from my textbook or reference books and then writing code that changes the context of the program to show my ability to apply what I learn to other applications? It's always good to be mentally agile and adaptive.

Additionally, with some advice and guidance from this wonderful community, I could certainly continue to expand my study techniques and educational resources. Sun Microsystems has a Java developers community that welcomes students, and I joined that. That site is so rich with content! Yet, I still need Real World advice, so my focus is sharp and my time spent most productively.
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30586
    
154

Robin,
That additional information is helpful. I think at this point the best thing to do is keep practicing coding. You'll want to write a lot of hands on code so you get really comfortable with the basics. It doesn't really matter what you code. It's more to get used to translating ideas into code and getting more used to the Java syntax. There are many places to get sample ideas of programs to write. The first three that jump to my mind are:
1) the Cattle Drive - the projects themselves are free - there's only a charge for nitpicking
2) the exercises in the back of each chapter of "Thinking in Java" - older versions are also free online
3) projects from other universities intro to java courses

After the second Java class, it would be good to learn some more advanced things that are used in industry. Feel free to post here for ideas. The reason I suggest waiting until after the second class is that some of these things are likely to be taught in the second class.
Jeanne Boyarsky
author & internet detective
Marshal

Joined: May 26, 2003
Posts: 30586
    
154

Originally posted by Robin Lane:
I could start a type of portfolio--a portfolio of code.

A portfolio will be good to show employers when you are ready to start looking. It may be a bit premature to start it now as they will be interested in seeing advanced examples rather than toy ones. (From your description it sounds like you are still practicing writing pretty basic stuff. Which is good to do as you need a firm grasp of the basics to conquer harder things.)

Originally posted by Robin Lane:
Yet, I still need Real World advice, so my focus is sharp and my time spent most productively.

This goes back to the basics comment. It's hard to give real world advice until you reach a certain point. I could say learn about JDBC, Swing and Servlets. (I suspect 2 or 3 of these will be covered in your Java 2 class though.) That's real world advice. At the same time, I think it is too early to do that. And I realize I'm harping on the fundamentals. It's just that you need to learn these cold to be able to do more advanced things well.
Vikas Kapoor
Ranch Hand

Joined: Aug 16, 2007
Posts: 1374
Originally posted by Robin Lane:
(very gently with a warm smile) My parents are both deceased, but thank you for your reply, all the same.

Sorry Robin
Robin Lane
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 30, 2008
Posts: 76
Originally posted by Vishal Pandya:

Sorry Robin


It's okay. I know you meant well. (smile)
Robin Lane
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 30, 2008
Posts: 76
Jeanne, thank you so much for your time, wisdom, and guidance. I will keep practicing and try to keep abreast of my progress via the Fabulous Community and their feedback here on Java Ranch. I will, also, put the Cattle Drive on my Goal's list and maybe in my letter to Santa. (starts laughing)

You've been a great help!
arulk pillai
Author
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 31, 2007
Posts: 3220
I like your communication style. A very good skill to have.
[ July 27, 2008: Message edited by: arulk pillai ]

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Robin Lane
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 30, 2008
Posts: 76
Originally posted by arulk pillai:
I like your communication style. A very good skill to have.

[ July 27, 2008: Message edited by: arulk pillai ]


Thank you! I love communicating with people and work very hard to do it well.
 
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