VizTech: Learning the basics

I feel like VizTech has been getting a bit of a short shrift on the blog lately, but that’s largely because we’re not yet to the point where we’re doing anything interesting (last week, we programmed some colored boxes in a responsive design for a webpage).

This course has a lot of groundwork to be laid, especially for the people who have never programmed before. I often have difficulty keeping up with what Siqi is doing at the front of the class, even though I’ve done some programming before and I am not particularly intimidated by code. It’s difficult to take notes, type on my laptop, and watch what he’s doing at the same time, and very easy to miss that one essential step that makes everything go catawumpus (and, of course, fixing that step means you miss the next one, and it just snowballs from there). I’m not sure that there’s any way around that, though. I think it’s just part of the game in a code class.

I always learn best by just diving into these sorts of things, so the take-home assignments have been where I really integrate what’s going on. (It took an embarrassingly long time to figure out that I was modifying my parent box width rather than the children in the last assignment, and that that was why I couldn’t get the float conditions to work. Lesson learned!)

I get a feeling that many of the students in the class aren’t quite ready to be on their own like that yet, though, so it’s probably good that he’s keeping it super simple for now. I have been thinking that I really should just invent some practice challenges to push myself, but haven’t yet managed to sit down and do it. Maybe I should make that a goal for this week. I have a feeling that I could run pretty fast with this once I manage to sit down and do it, but I’m also hesitant to get too far ahead without knowing where I should be going, and there are lots of things from my other classes competing for my time.

So far, none of the things that we’ve covered have been at all difficult conceptually (at least, not if you’ve programmed before). It is complex to work with three different languages and 3 different programs (a browser, the command prompt, and the IDE) at the same time, though. From what I understand, that’s just how it is when you’re programming for the web, so I’m attempting to get used to it. I’m also attempting to get used to the fact that the programming environment doesn’t tell you if there’s an error. I’m really not sure that I like the permissiveness of web code.

We’ve had one lecture each on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and last week we started to get into some low-level programming structure using loops and if statements. Like I said, nothing hard at all, but the implementation does take a little getting used to.

I’m looking forward to doing more complicated things once we all get up to speed. I’ve heard a lot about what the D3 library can do, and I’m excited to get my feet wet. Siqi said that we’d be moving fast after Columbus Day, so it won’t be long now before we get to jump into the deep(er) end of the pool. Half of me thinks that I should be careful what I wish for, but the other half is ready to do something that’s a bit more independent, and more of a stretch. I think I’m likely to get that either way, so I suppose it’s better to be looking forward to it!