The Deep End

falling in

The theme for this month’s Ground Control issue is “The History of the Commons.” As one of the newest members of the team, I am unqualified to address this specific topic. I can however talk a little about what it’s been like to join an existing project with such a talented, active and committed development team and community. Additionally, this year’s summer break from my studies was especially exciting, so I’d also like to share those experiences here with the Commons community as a whole.

New Kid on the Block

I’ve been reading about and attempting to learn how to develop in many different languages on and off for the past 15 years, I’m 33 at the time of this writing. However, it’s only been in the last 5 years or so that I’ve really concentrated on honing my skills. It was the explosion of the web and its myriad flavors of highly dynamic and exciting languages that brought a laser focus to my desire and set me on the path that brought me to the Commons. I can write HTML and CSS by hand, I can add dynamic content to a page on the client side through Javascript and produce dynamic content on the server with either PHP or Ruby. The relatively recent acquisition of these skills is only now bringing me into ever larger groups of developers. Before joining the Commons I worked on only one other development team, and while that team was an unmitigated disaster from the top down – I am thankful for the experience. It was never meant to be a full-time position (it was just a summer job to make a little cash between semesters), but it taught me more about non-individual development than I could have ever anticipated and helped prepare me to join a team like the one we have here on the Commons.

For me, development is an extremely personal and individual activity. At times this makes it difficult for me to feel comfortable in a group where so much of my code is shared with the code of so many others. While that was a serious problem on the afore mentioned team, it has yet to be an issue while developing on the Commons code base. I firmly believe this is due to the exceptional skills of my fellow team members. Whether it’s one of our Community Facilitators who are so adept at translating user reported issues into bugs that we dense developers can understand, or the dedicated full-time educators steering the CUNY Academic Commons subcommittee, you will not find a more dedicated group of consummate professionals gathered together in one place. It is this level of commitment and love for the Commons that made this transition one of the easiest changes I’ve ever made.

This latest adventure isn’t without its challenges though…

The View from the Deep End

There are times in our lives where constant and steady work towards a single minded goal is the only way to accomplish a great feat. Then there are times when jumping in with both feet can propel you so much further than years of serious study and preparation ever could. For me, joining the Commons has most decidedly been a feet first plunge into the deep end of community centric web development. If you don’t already know, the Commons website is built on top of two closely related open source projects, WordPress and BuddyPress. While I knew quite a bit about the former when starting my development on the Commons, I had only a passing familiarity with the latter. Working directly with a member of the BuddyPress core team has allowed me to rapidly close the gap in understanding between these two platforms, and I am a better developer for it. I may even have my own contribution to the BuddyPress core code base approved very soon. While the water was freezing at first, I feel that I have acclimated quite well and the view from the deep end has never looked so good.

Time Is Not On My Side

This is the first time in my life where I’ve been employed remotely 99% of the time. Our development team meets only once a month – which means the vast majority of my time is spent developing from home. While this can be extremely liberating and offers me the ability to maintain focus on my studies, it carries with it the constant danger of falling victim to my lifelong battle with a natural lethargy. The temptation to do tomorrow what could be done today is ever present and requires constant vigilance to keep it in check. Thankfully it carries with it a higher level of satisfaction and pride in the tasks that are completed, as well as a greater appreciation for the value of the limited time we are all granted in this life.

A Summer Break to Remember

If you’ll indulge me for the remainder of this post, I’d like to tell you about the two trips I took this summer. One was an adventure that I doubt I can do justice in this small space. The second was a much shorter trip, but almost as awe inspiring.

Alaska or Bust

My mother comes from a family of eight children. Most of my aunts and uncles are spread across the eastern seaboard. All but one that is. My Aunt Margaret has lived the majority of her life in America’s 49th state: Alaska. For as long as I can remember she’s been trying to get all of us to visit. We finally got the opportunity this year. From June 15th till June 23rd my mother, her sister (my Aunt Connie) and I explored that great wilderness. We went kayaking, on a flight-seeing tour around Mt. Denali (Mt. Mckinley) and on a glacier cruise – amongst other shorter sight seeing trips. It was absolutely amazing, a trip I will not soon forget. When I returned I planned on writing a post about each day, but have only gotten a few up. If you’re interested you can check out more here and here.

The highlight of the trip for me was the flight-seeing tour around Mt. Denali. It is the center piece of the Alaska Mountain Range and Denali National Park and Preserve. Our tickets included a landing on a glacier during the middle of the tour. When we arrived in the small town of Talkeetna (pop. 876) it was obvious there was a large weather system moving down off of Denali (yes, it’s so large it creates its own weather systems). By the time the storm rolled passed it had knocked down two trees that were each over 100 years old. I have to hand it to my mother, she didn’t even flinch. She just sat calmly until the storm passed, nothing was keeping her from this flight. Somewhat fortuitously the storm delayed our departure just long enough for the tour company to receive a call from Denali base camp – four climbers were ready to come home. So instead of landing on a glacier, we landed at Mt. Denali base camp 7,200 ft above sea level – where only the most experienced and rock hard climbers get to go. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to land at Denali base camp, here’s a video I took of our landing with my camera.

The Great Falls

For my second trip this year, I jumped on an Amtrak train and headed up to visit a friend I hadn’t seen in a while and spend some time catching up with his family. I wasn’t expecting much more than just a fun weekend, but they had a surprise for me. We were going to see Niagara Falls. To be honest I hadn’t even thought about visiting The Falls, but I am so thankful that they took the time so I could see a truly glorious sight. Being in the presence of such awesome and beautiful power is hard to describe. I felt truly insignificant in its presence. Again, I can not do the experience justice in this small space, so here’s a second video from my camera, just to give you a small taste of what nature is capable of.

I wanted to put so much more into this post; I wanted to name and thank each of my fellow team members for making me feel welcome and making my job easier (and sometimes harder) and I wanted to thank the members of the CUNY Academic Commons subcommittee for their hard work and dedication to the Commons. But we have so many wonderful features coming down the pipe that you’re going to love, I really need to get back to work. 🙂

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