Category Archives: Projects

Webmaker at Brothers For All

Naga IT Services
Filed under: Projects

This Saturday past, 28th June, myself and a bunch of volunteers headed out to Brothers For All in Langa to run another Webmaker event. Thank you Gavin, Andrew, De Wet, Jeremy, Simon, Trevor, and Nathan for all your hard work, and a huge thank you to Sihle (@sihletshaba on Twitter) of Brothers For All @brothersforall on Twitter for hosting us.

The event

We ran this event with a very similar agenda to our previous one.

The internet at Brothers For All is blazing fast, which helped a lot. On top of that, our students were really great. They blazed through the course and helped each other out a lot: they hardly needed us teachers!

At the end of the course, Sihle treated us all to some proper Langa braai meat from a place around the corner. It was delicious; thank you, Sihle!

The activities between the computer stuff

We used very similar activities to our previous webmaker event, again using some of the great ideas from Sharon Bowman’s Training From The Back Of The Room.

We started with “What makes a good web page?” Students placed stickies on the wall answering the question.

After lunch we tried to have a few more move-around-do-stuff activities to get the blood rushing again after lunch.

We started with “Take a stand.” We marked one side of the classroom as “Not so confident” and the other side as “Very confident,” and asked students to stand somewhere on the line that represented how they felt about the morning session. Then, we paired up students at the opposite ends of the scale, and gave them a few minutes to discuss what was good about the morning, and what was bad about it.

Then, we did a “beat the clock” activity: students had one minute to write down as many sticky notes as they could about HTML and CSS, based on the things they had learnt in the morning session.

We closed the day with a reflection exercise. Students got one index card each, and were asked to write down what the most valuable thing they learned was. Then, they were asked to form groups of four or more and discuss their cards.

And now?

The two weeks between the our two Webmaker event flew by, so we didn’t have time to make as many changes as we wanted to, or to have our teacher meeting to discuss the ups and downs of the previous one. At the moment, the next Webmaker event we have lined up is in September, so that gives us plenty of time to make some changes.

Webmaker at the Bandwidth Barn Khayelitsha

Naga IT Services
Filed under: Projects

On Saturday 13th June, myself and a handful of intrepid volunteers (huge thank you to Steve, Deb, Brad, Ian, Gavin, and Nathan!) headed out to the Bandwidth Barn in Khayelitsha to run a Mozilla Webmaker event. It was great fun, despite a few stumbling blocks!

The agenda

The course was an introduction to HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, using a bunch of things from Mozilla’s Webmaker directory, all ready and ripe for remixing. The plan was that in the morning students would look mostly at HTML and the structure of a web page, then in the afternoon look at fancier stuff with CSS, with a smattering of JavaScript near the end for the very fast students.

The experience levels of the students varied more than we were expecting, so we strayed off the course and into a more computer literacy kind of direction for some students. I tried to put in some extra, real world, activities in to the agenda (cribbed from Training From the Back of the Room).

How the event came together

After some discussion with Baratang (Miya, Founder of GirlHype, Head of the Transformation Portfolio at Silicon Cape, and Business Development Manager at CiTi), we agreed to run a Webmaker event (rather than a Railsbridge or something similar). I spent some time reading and thinking about Mozilla’s Web Literacy guide. That led me on to Mozilla’s excellent Event Resources page, and on to their Medium Event guide (since we were aiming for 30 students).

From there, I went through the teaching kits that they have prepared on their Teaching Activities page, and started to think about making a new remix of activities just for this event. I plowed through the Webmaker directory, started a remix of the Make Your Own Teaching Kit page, and ended up with the course that we ran on Saturday.

And now?

The teachers are going to gather and knock our heads together to discuss ways to make the next one better (like we do for RailsBridge) and make our next event better for the students. The next Webmaker event is already queued up! I’ve agreed to run a workshop for Sihle at Brothers For All at the end of this month. Now to round up some teachers!

Notes on Show Your Work

Naga IT Services
Filed under: Process, Projects

Over the weekend I read Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work. The book is about getting discovered and self-promotion, but I picked it up with a more general vibe in mind. Skimming through the preview I was hoping I would get some nuggets of good advice by reading it, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The book is divided into ten sections:

  1. You don’t have to be a genius.
  2. Think process, not product.
  3. Share something small every day.
  4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities.
  5. Tell good stories.
  6. Teach what you know.
  7. Don’t turn into human spam.
  8. Learn to take a punch.
  9. Sell out.
  10. Stick around.

Show Your Work sketchnotes - page 1

Early in the book, Austin talks about collaboration and connections, in the context of being part of a group. I really dig this because that’s how I feel about all the meetups and things I’m involved with (CTFEDs, SPIN, RailsBridge. I loathe the term “networking,” but I do really enjoy hanging out with smart people, and talking about interesting things.

Other themes in the book were things like honest, openness and vulnerability: humans like connecting with other humans.

I also enjoyed his discussion around sharing something small every day (even though I mostly fail at doing that!): over time, doing lots of little things can add up to a big thing.

Show Your Work sketchnotes - page 2

Having recently read Sharon Bowman’s excellent Training From The Back Of The Room, I really liked the section in Mr Kleon’s book on teaching what you know. He talks about how, by teaching other people what you know, you learn things yourself.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the book for me was the section that explains why sharing your work won’t put you out of business: quite the opposite in fact. I’ve had many arguments with people about this before. I’ve mostly tried to talk about how there is plenty work to go around and that it’s on a continuum (my clients aren’t necessarily the same as your clients). I’ve also tried to talk about how keeping things secret doesn’t work. If your only value to the client is that secrecy, then your business won’t last long.

Mr Kleon talks about how knowing the technique is very different from mastery of it. The various activities of User Experience are an excellent example of this. Usability testing has very simple steps (or so it seems): find a person, watch them use a product, and take notes. Doing it well is another matter entirely: who do you find; what tasks do they do; what do you ask them (and what do you not); what things are important (and not); how do you interpret the results? That knowledge only comes with practice and mentorship.

I guess it’s not surprising that nowadays I find myself working on Open Source projects like Vumi and Universal Core.

Show Your Work sketchnotes - page 3

One last thing I took away was to “find my knuckleballers” – the people who share my mission and principles. For me, that’s focusing on Progressive Enhancement. I want to always be mindful of the worst case scenarios and build things that will work on bad connections on hostile browsers. I want to build things that work when JavaScript fails to load, things that load fast and don’t cost the users lots of money.

It seems that there are very few people like that in Cape Town. Justin, Alex, and Rich are people whose work and principles I hold in high regard.

Show Your Work sketchnotes - page 4

Hands-on device testing

Naga IT Services
Filed under: Industry, Projects

One of my side projects is the Nomad Device Lab. It’s an Open Device Lab: a shared community pool of internet-connected devices that’s free to use for testing purposes by web and app developers. If you do a Google image search for device lab, you see a lot of walls of devices. For me, this feels a bit off.

Having all the devices on the wall is okay for testing layout and general functionality, but it misses a bit part of the testing: the user experience.

One difference is the physical experience: how you hold and interact with the device. Tapping a phone mounted on a wall is not the same as the more usual use case of using it with one hand and one thumb.

Another difference is performance: the speed of the site. Even though phones and tablets (and many other types of internet-connected devices) are getting faster, they’re still slow compared to their laptop and desktop counterparts. It’s hard to gauge just how slow when you’re looking at a wall of devices all updating.

Although I’m a big fan of apps like Ghostlab and tools like BrowserSync (which I use a lot), taking the time to sit and play with your sites manually on a range of devices really lets you feel the pain of loading and interaction times.