Holiday Gift Guide: the TechReads Edition

It’s that time of year! As you compile your list of gifts for your friends and family this holiday season, consider these ten tech-related books.

For the Visionary:

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

This book is great for someone who values history as a way of appreciating what we have in the present, as well as a way of imagining how to keep moving forward. You’ll find no Great Man Theory here: in this book, Walter Isaacson, who also wrote Steve Jobs’ biography, explores how collaboration between many talented people brought about the digital age.

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries

If you know someone who dreams of (or is currently) starting their own business or launching a new project, this book provides scientifically-grounded advice on how to succeed. Even if someone doesn’t consider themselves an entrepreneur but is excited about innovation and staying on the cutting edge, this could be a great read.

For the DIY-Lover:

Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Almost) Anything by David Lang

This book would be great for that person who’s always tinkering around, taking stuff apart or trying to invent something new. They’ll find plenty of insights in this book before putting it down, ready for another experiment with renewed inspiration.

For the Gamer:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This book is commonly categorized as young adult fiction but would also be an enjoyable read for any adult who wants to reminisce about videogames and 80’s pop culture. Ready Player One takes place in a world where much of one’s life can take place in virtual reality; the founder of this virtual reality has left his fortune to whoever can solve a series logical puzzles and riddles in a 80’s-themed quest. The mission becomes not only to win a fortune but to determine how this virtual reality will be used to affect the rest of the world.

For Job and Internship Seekers:

Cracking the Coding Interview: 150 Programming Questions and Solutions by Gayle Laakmann McDowell

With examples in Java and C/C++, this is a book for someone who has had at least one year of coding experience and is looking for a job or internship in software development. One of the best features of this book is its detailed solutions at the back of the book. Even seasoned developers looking to change jobs might benefit from this book, as some of the examples are rather tricky/advanced.

Women in Tech:

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Some of you might be tired of hearing this recommendation, and that’s okay. For those of you who haven’t heard of Lean In, this book is an inspiring call to action by Facebook’s COO to be better role models and foster empowering environments for women in the workplace. While not focused exclusively on the tech industry, there are plenty of insights here that, if anything, are even more appropriate. A new edition, Lean in for Graduates, was released this year.

Pioneer Programmer: Jean Jennings Bartik and the Computer that Changed the World.

This is the only autobiography in existence by one of the six female computer scientists who in 1946 programmed ENIAC, the world’s first all-electronic, programmable computer. Bartik, who led the team, sheds light on an oft-forgotten part of computing history and writes about what it was like to be a female pioneer in computer science. For more biographies on women in computer science, I would recommend researching Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper.

Other Biographies:

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

If you know someone who loves Apple products and would love learning about the life of its co-founder, this biography is a no-brainer. Walter Isaacson writes about Jobs’ personal and professional life, bringing to life one story behind the cultivation of this well-known company.

Alan Turing: the Enigma by Andrew Hodges

Alan Turing was a brilliant mathematician who developed theories for computing that heavily influenced the progression of computer science. Among many things, he developed the Turing Test which continues to play an important role in the study of artificial intelligence. An fyi: this book is on the lengthy side (about 600 pages).

Let’s Talk Tech and Psychology:

The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive by Brian Christian

This would be a great gift for someone who enjoys psychology and philosophy in addition to a love of technology. What does our view of computers say about our view of humans? This book is sure to generate an interesting discussion.

This is a special edition of TechReads, my series of technology-related book reviews. If you would like to suggest a book for a future TechReads article, please leave a comment below.

An Introvert’s Guide To Tech Conferences

Tech conferences are a great place to discover the latest technology ideas, products and jobs.

…tech conferences also tend to be noisy and crowded.

If you are like me and fall towards the introvert end of the introvert-extrovert spectrum, here are some tips for getting the most out of your conference experience. (If the term ‘introvert’ is new to you, I highly recommend looking up work by Susan Cain.)

You Don’t Have to Dwell on the Small Talk

Many introverts aren’t fond of small talk, and instead prefer an in-depth conversation. At a tech conference, small talk might be as little as introducing yourself and briefly touching on where you’re from and what you do. From there, it’s usually more than acceptable to jump into any technical topics you might have in common. Not sure what else to say? Ask and listen to what brings the other person to the conference. You’ll probably be talking shop in no time.

Be a Great Listener

Introverts tend to be great listeners. They often are curious and insightful: if you are tired of talking and find yourself in a conversation with someone who is more than happy to share a good story or piece of knowledge, listen carefully. They’ll feel more appreciated and by being curious and asking questions, you never know what you might learn.

Network and Follow Up

It may take longer for an introvert to think of questions and ways to follow up on a great conversation. If you’ve ever been stuck in a class discussion or meeting feeling like you have no idea what to say, only to have a great thought hit you several hours later, you know this feeling. This is not necessarily related to intelligence; sometimes an introvert’s thoughts need to ‘sit’ before they take on a more definitive form, and it is simply a different thought process from an extrovert’s. Collect those business cards and ask to connect with people on LinkedIn: later, you can strengthen your connection by sending someone a quick follow-up message once you’ve processed your thoughts, perhaps remarking that you enjoyed your conversation and wondered about [topic].

It’s Okay to Take a Break

Let’s face it: extroverts typically feel energized by being around more people and noise. Introverts might have fun in this environment for a while, but it’s also energy-draining for them. You might be having some great conversations but feel like you need a moment of peace and quiet to recharge before rejoining the crowd. Whether that’s a restroom break, time to grab some refreshments, or striking up a 1:1 conversation in a less noisy spot, know that you don’t have to be ‘on’ all the time. Chances are that you’re not the only one feeling a bit overwhelmed by the crowd.

Remember that it’s healthy to step outside of your comfort zone every now and then. The next time you consider attending a tech conference, challenge yourself to take some risks, speak up and be open to new opportunities to share your love of technology with those around you. Use your introvert strengths to handle the high-energy environment of the conference while exploring new ideas and meeting great people. There’s no telling what good things may happen.

I’m back! I plan on returning to my TechReads series in time for the holidays. Keep following iGirl Tech News to catch the TechReads-inspired gift guide I’ll be releasing in December.

VIDEO: 5 Things to Know Before Learning to Code

Learning to code isn’t easy, but you can do it. Check out this video with 5 things you should know before learning to code.

I’m on week five of Sabio’s .Net developer training program and while I am beginning to understand a lot about the Internet — I still have a ways to go.

I do know enough, though, to be sure that you, dear reader, could probably also learn to code if you had enough “ganas” or motivation to get through the frustrating bits. Coding isn’t what I thought, but there are a few things I wish I would have known before I started.

I wanted to make this video to share those thoughts, please share with anyone you know who might be learning to code and tweet me @SaraChicaD if you have questions. Happy coding!

Sabio sets sights on creating Latino, women developers

Sabio is a developer program run by two Latinos aiming to create more women and minority web developers. What’s the best way to get more women and minorities great tech jobs? Train them yourself.

So goes the logic of Sabio co-founders Liliana Monge and Gregorio Rojas, who are set to graduate their first class of four trained web developers in February. Sabio was created in 2012 and the first class was in session in September of 2013.

The 20-week class includes training in a variety of development specialties. Specifically: front end development (HTML5, CCS3, JavaScript); back end development; database development; source control; native mobile development, and more. Plus, mentoring and assistance finding a job, for a cost of $10,000 that participants pay up front.

The idea for Sabio first arose when Rojas and Monge were discussing the need for more women and minorities in the tech industry. Rojas has been working in the Los Angeles tech scene since 2000, and knew from experience that diversity was an issue.

So, with Sabio, Rojas decided to make a dent in the tech industry’s diversity problem and train women and minorities in web development himself.

“It is a win-win,” said Monge. “It is a win to have an underemployed, or unemployed young adult empower themselves with high-tech skill-set. They can literally create a multi-million dollar application with their bare hands.”

Sabio’s two Latino co-founders are proud to be graduating two women and two African-American developers in their inaugural class. The tech industry is dominated by white men, and different people and organizations have many different reasons for why this needs to change.

For Sabio, the main reason is economic.

“The USA must keep its competitive edge,” said Monge. “To do this, it must harness the expertise, and talents of all its citizens: black, white, Latino, male and female. So that we, as a nation, can continue to lead the tech revolution, that is creating an unprecedented amount of wealth and opportunity.”

Ultimately, the tech industry can benefit from all types of creators — not just “young, affluent Caucasian men,” said Monge, noting that one of the most important lessons she’s learned teaching the first cohort is that tech companies will hire people without a formal Computer Science degree. What they want are people who can code, who are willing to learn, work hard, be motivated and do the work.

And people who don’t come from a tech background and work as entry-level programmers if they are dedicated and willing to learn, she said.

Sabio’s first cohort is already being hired as full-time developers, and the organization is gearing up for its next cohort. In the future, Sabio is hoping to create a weekday, and weekend, course to help accelerate the learning process for people who are unemployed, or looking to transition more quickly.

For more information visit Sabio’s website here.

HUB101: startup accelerator for diversity

HUB101 strives to be a different kind of startup accelerator, one focused on upping the diversity quotient and bringing the accelerator model to new groups of folks, such as veterans, women, Latinos and others.

A new startup accelerator in the Los Angeles metropolitan area is looking for creative people who aren’t “fresh out of college and eating ramen”.

HUB101 is trying to create a mentor-driven program that helps user-entrepreneurs make the first step into bringing their ideas to the real world. HUB101 provides entrepreneurs with experienced mentors, programs to bring their product to life, and office space. All of this will be available at night and weekend – allowing the entrepreneur access to these valuable assets on their own time.

MásWired and HUB101 co-founder Ginger Zumaeta sat down recently to discuss the program, its services, and what makes Hub101 stand out from other startup accelerators.

Zumaeta’s group is seeking, in particular, “Entrepreneurs who are building scalable businesses (startups) that are focused on top-end growth. I’m talking about the types of businesses that want to make a so-called ‘dent in the universe’. Really big solutions that solve big pain points.” They do respect small businesses, however, Hub101 is seeking to ensure that big solutions for big problems can begin to grow.

MW: What exactly is a “startup accelerator,” and how do they work?

GZ: For HUB101 what it represents is a structured mentor-driven program wherein we help startup founders work on the elements that will position them for success over the course of 12-15 weeks. At the end of the day, most startups fail because of a lack of customers, so we spend a lot of time validating how the business will acquire paying customers.

MW: What kind of entrepreneurs does HUB101 take on?

GZ: There are many startup founders who are still in regular jobs and working on their companies on the side or who have recently left steady jobs for one reason or another. That’s a really difficult path for a host of reasons. HUB101 was built to serve this unique type of entrepreneur.

Research has demonstrated that most startups that survive past 5 years are actually started by people who have had a significant amount of work experience. They’re called user-entrepreneurs. They’ve seen different types of challenges and are more likely to have business ideas that solve big problems. We like that.

At HUB101 diversity is in our DNA. I’m a Latina in my 40s and my cofounder is a Marine veteran. We’re really committed to upping the diversity quotient among startups and bringing the accelerator model to new groups of folks. That was a big factor driving our “after-hours” model and mentality.

MW: What are the prerequisites (if any) for an interested entrepreneur to take advantage of HUB101’s services?

GZ: We don’t have any prerequisites per se beyond understanding the difference between a startup and a small business. Ideally you should have at least one additional co-founder, but it’s not an absolute requirement.

MW: What kind of support does HUB101 offer to entrepreneurs?

GZ: Our support hinges around three core elements.

1) We surround the entrepreneurs with experienced mentors from a wide range of industries. Often the most important thing a startup team needs is perspective and access. Our mentors provide that. They really get involved.

2) We offer a rigorous program that takes founders through the process of finding product-market alignment and most importantly doing customer validation to ensure they’re building a product or service that customers will actually pay money for and that is scalable.

3) Finally, we provide office space where the entrepreneurs can interact. We’ll be at great co-working space called OfficeSlice that is hosting HUB101 on nights and weekends so founders can get away from distractions and focus on building their business, but also so they can interact with other startup founders

MW: Are mentors tailored to the entrepreneur?

GZ: Absolutely. Mentorship is harder than it sounds. It’s vital that there’s real mentor-entrepreneur chemistry, so the mentors will meet with teams and there will be a mutual agreement for mentorship based on both parties wanting to work with each other. In reality, most entrepreneurs will likely have several mentors that help them in different ways along the journey

MW: Does HUB101 offer any starting finances to entrepreneurs?

GZ: We’re not offering seed money upon sign-up. At HUB101 the value we bring is more in mentorship and helping find product-market fit. However, we will be actively engaged in helping the entrepreneurs access funds when they need it, and we will have a demo day at the conclusion of the program where we’ll invite angels and VCs to learn about the businesses.

MW: How much does HUB101’s services cost?

GZ: HUB101 doesn’t cost anything for the founders, though we will look for a nominal equity stake in the startups we accept into the program.

Learning to Code: 6 Things you Need to Know

If you want to learn to code, there are a few key things that you should keep in mind, no matter what your level or what your goals are.

After two weeks of in-class prep, and months of pre-work, the start of my Sabio web developer training is this week. While I am nervous, I’m more excited, and in conversations with my fellow Sabio Fellows and professional developer friends, there are a few key things that you should keep in mind if you’re learning to code.

1.) Just start.

Start something. Lots of people make up excuses for why they can’t start learning to code: they want to “make sure” they learn the “right” thing or don’t know where to start. Once you start learning something you’ll have a better idea of where you want to go, don’t make up excuses for why you need to wait.

2.) Get used to being frustrated.

Every profession has its quirks, and from my very limited experience, and the much more extensive experience of my friends, it would seem that one of the quirks of working as a developer is that you are always frustrated in trying to solve the puzzles presented in your code. That’s part of the job.

3.) Always be learning.

There’s more than one way to do just about everything it seems, so you have to keep yourself open to learning if you want to be a developer. The learning, according to my friends with more experience, never stops.

4.) Give yourself a break.

You may not understand everything the first time, or the second time — or the third time. But maybe on the fourth time it’ll all make sense, and then you can build on that the next time. It’s ok if you don’t move as fast as you think you should, as long as you keep moving.

5.) Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

How are you going to learn if you don’t ask questions? The more you ask, the more you know.

6.) Google it.

This is related to question #5, it seems like every developer has a blog, there is so much information out there to answer your questions, if only you would look.

Photo by  Michael Pollak

8 things harder than learning to code

Coding is hard, but it’s not as hard as other things I’ve already done. So even when I get discouraged, I remember that I’ve already succeeded at many harder things than coding.

Recently I was chatting with someone about my experience learning to code and they asked me a point-blank question I think lots of us often wonder but never say out loud: “Is it hard?”

I thought it was a good question, because I think we often make the assumption that it is hard before we even ask. The truth is, I told him, coding is hard, but it’s not as hard as other things I’ve already done. So even when I get discouraged, which is more often than I’d like, I remember that I’ve already succeeded at harder things than coding.

In that vein I wanted to share a list of things that I personally think are more difficult than coding. Read this list and think about the amount of energy, brainpower, time and failure it takes to learn these things. Compared to most of this list, learning and memorizing a specific way of presenting information to a computer is almost easy!

Please share and feel free to leave your comments.

1.)  Not learning to code

I don’t know about you, but I want to be part of the current and future professional world — which is increasingly about technology and gadgets and computers. To me, it would seem that being left out of this loop would, in the long run, be much worse than not being a part of the loop.

2.) Getting a college degree.

It’s reasonable to assume that we all had different experiences in college, either harder or easier, but the fact that you work at a singular goal for four (or more years) to yield just one result is pretty difficult. If you did years’ worth of work to get a degree, you can learn to program a computer.

3.) Becoming fluent in another language.

As someone who considers herself bilingual, I’m also painfully aware of the fact that my English is light years better than my Spanish. The sheer amount of work it would take to learn Spanish as well as English seems astronomically more difficult to me than learning to code.

4.) Learning calculus and trigonometry.

I really struggled with these subjects when I was in high school but I was determined to figure them out, between three high schools, after school tutorials and copious hours of exasperated frustration. But I did it!

5.) Becoming a great cook.

I’m not a huge fan of cooking, but I know enough to be healthy and get by. I have friends and family, however, who take cooking and baking to the next level by making things from scratch, messing with recipes, adjusting temperatures, letting things marinade a certain way, and a seemingly infinite number of other techniques that, while yielding a delicious result, seems just baffling to me. Considering there are people who spend years learning to cook a particular cuisine, or have spent years learning to cook multiple cuisines, picking up a few programming languages seems easy by comparison.

6.) Learning how to responsibly manage your finances.

Since we don’t learn this in school, and many of us may not be well schooled by our parents, learning to navigate finances between credit cards, school loans, car payments and bills can be super difficult. In my case it took several years to learn to do it well — but I did it!

7.) Being in a serious romantic relationship.

Learning about another person — everything from their likes, moods, memories, families, thoughts, feelings, preferences and whatever else — is exhausting. It takes time, it takes energy, it takes a lot of willpower, patience, and understanding. Ultimately, this is something most of us will do, and something that takes years, and in some cases lifetimes, to do well. If you can figure out how to make it work with another person whose thoughts you can’t read, learning to code is a cakewalk.

8.) Figuring out what you want to be when you grow up.

I didn’t study journalism in school, but became a journalist. I didn’t study digital media, but began working at digital media start-ups. I’m not sure I want to be a code monkey for the rest of my life, but I’m going to study it and figure it out! If anything, coding — like journalism and digital media — will be one more skill in my professional tool box that will help me in my current endeavors, as well as my future ones.

What do you think of this list, anything you would add?

Image by Remko van Dokkum

Latina learns to code: JQuery, JavaScript, SQL & frustration

Learning to code has been a very humbling experience, one that’s teaching me how to learn in a totally different way, and I’m grateful for that.

If I’ve learned anything about coding the past few weeks it’s that you have to make some very real mental adjustments to the way you approach learning. As a lifelong overachiever and typical “Type A” personality, I’m used to being able to learn new things pretty easily and with minimal effort.

Recently I ran into some serious frustration with some of the advanced JavaScript classes I was taking online and felt like I’d hit a wall where I could no longer learn anything because I was so frustrated. The last time I remembered feeling that level of frustration was when I was in fourth grade and I couldn’t figure out how to divide and multiply fractions! I remember crying about it, but eventually I learned how to do it, and to this day I still know how!

Through this frustration, though, I’ve learned a new and very important lesson: just because something isn’t easy, doesn’t mean it’s not something I can do. Perhaps I’ll get it the second time, or the third time, or however many times it takes until I figure it out, but I’ll get it.

Learning to give myself the space to fail a little bit, and be okay with frustration and confusion, is probably one of the best gifts I’ve given to myself since I began my coding journey.

Learning to code has been a very humbling experience, one that’s teaching me how to learn in a totally different way, and I’m grateful for that.

There are times when I feel like I don’t know anything, but then I’ll click on a website or have a conversation with someone, and I’ll know how the website is working or be able to explain a concept using technical terms. It’s in those moments when I know that, despite the frustration, my perseverance will pay off.

Learning to learn in this new way has actually helped me see the world from a whole new perspective, similar to when I lived in Mexico and learned Portuguese in college. I’m looking forward to starting my Sabio classes so that I can continue to grow as a coder, and as a person.

Textter is a real-time texting app from Miami

Textter is a live messaging system allowing users to users to chat in real-time, letter by letter. The Miami-created app also has some great privacy features, allowing users to see each others’ messages without ever having to press “send.”

Carlos Cueto created Textter after watching his two teenaged daughters texting. They text constantly, he said, and so are constantly frustrated by having to wait until their friends respond to their texts. With Textter he found a way to address this issue: instead of watching as texts are being composed, Textter allows users to see texts being written in real-time.

Cueto told Más Wired that the company was recently contacted by a large medical device maker, requesting a group chat function in order to see which emergency responders are available. He also said Textter’s live delete function can aid with privacy, given that users can read and share messages without having to ever press send; they can simply delete their messages after each has seen them.

We spoke with Cueto about his business, enjoy and share this interview!

Más Wired: What is Textter?

CC: Textter is a live messaging system (LMS), which allows users to users to chat in real-time, letter by letter. A beta version is currently available on the Apple App Store and Google Play for free. It’s completely free — no ads. We are releasing a major update in approximately 30 days which will include sharing pictures, as well as copy/paste function and many [other] improvements.

MW: What’s the story behind Textter?

CC: I created the app because I was frustrated with the SMS (Short Messaging Service). When you are engaged in a conversation via text, it is extremely annoying for me, and a waste of time, to wait for the other person to finish typing, fix typos and re-editing their text. Then they need to wait for you to read their text, come up with a response, type, fix typos and edit your message. Cut your texting time in half with Textter because you will finish the other person’s answer halfway through them typing the question.

MW: Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

CC:  I decided to become an entrepreneur when I realized the management I worked for were not forward thinkers. Their idea of planning for the future was looking ahead three-to-six months.  I am always working on a two-, five- and 10-year plan. Out of frustration I quit my job and decided to start my own business because I knew my growth was stunted. Twelve months after I left, the company closed, laying off 350 employees.

MW: What are some lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?

CC: I started my first business in 2004, thankfully it was successful and it is currently funding my startup Textter. It’s not easy to gain exposure and traction. I thought it was going to be extremely easy. Once you can prove your numbers, the money will follow, hence allowing you the ability to take your time and hire the best candidate as a co-founder and team of developers. Hiring offshore is not the best way to go, you can not control their hours and its easy for them to simply ignore you.

Wire Framing is extremely important. Look at other apps, mimic the best in the industry, use as a blueprint for simple task such as login, creating an account etc.

Don’t rush to release — test, test and test again. There’s nothing worse than losing a customer because of glitches.

Beauty And The Not So Geek

My title is in reference to a show called Beauty and the Geek produced by Ashton Kutcher back in 2005. Today, my company hosted a Tech Meetup called Demos & Drinks at Maker City LA in Downtown Los Angeles. The event showcased various apps in the tech space including the ever so popular alcohol delivery app Saucey, as well as Postmates and Causecast.

As I scanned the room looking for interesting characters to mingle with, I realized that technology wasn’t the only thing to evolve, PEOPLE evolved. Years ago, lets just say, 15-20 years ago, images of Steve Urkel would conjure up in our minds whenever we would think of the typical “nerd”. We thought of the geeks dressed in overalls, thick rimmed glasses and the extra nerdy types that would carry around pocket protectors.

Fast forward to 2014, our society has become so integrated.  Women who were most likely the “popular girls” in high school were in attendance.  Twenty years ago, could you picture the popular girls and the nerds sitting at the same table during lunch? One of my good friends is an embedded engineer who designs rockets. I, however, hail from a marketing background. I wonder if our social circles would have crossed paths 15 years ago.

In the past, the word “technology” corresponded with nerd, geek and brainy. In the present moment, technology signifies innovation, it signifies simplicity, and it signifies creativity. Saucey, the app designed by the so-called “nerds” is used by techies, athletes and the businessmen of the world. So what is the bigger picture? One way or another, the advancement of technology has brought us all together.

In that moment, I took a sip of my drink, smiled, and celebrated the fact that we were all together, no matter what our background was.

Picture by Nathan Rupert

Inspiring Women in Tech!