Bit By Bit Student Podcast – Cohort 6, Episode 1 – Welcome to Bitmaker Labs!

The New Bit By Bit Hosts!

Hello Everyone!

The Bitmaker Bit By Bit student podcast is back and this time we have Sanborn, Sandeep, Ian, and Taha from Cohort 6 at the helm. Our 6th cohort for our Web Development Immersive course commenced on March 24th and will be concluding in the 3rd week of May. Applications are still open for our June Web Development Immersive program. You can also check out our introductory-level Rapid Prototyping program if you’re looking for an earlier (May) start.

Want to get to know our student podcast team a little bit more? Of course you do, just look at those faces. Below you will find all the Cohort 6 podcast host information.

Continue Reading →

Bitmaker Alumni Win Over $10,000 in Prizes at Startup Weekend Library Edition

Last weekend we had a number of our alumni participate in Startup Weekend Library Edition at Mozilla Toronto. For those who don’t know, Startup Weekend is a global grassroots movement of active and empowered entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures. It is the largest community of passionate entrepreneurs with over 1800 past events in 120 countries around the world in 2014. The event was all about solving issues facing libraries around the world. The event brought together library professionals, developers, designers, and entrepreneurs to create solutions to the problems libraries are facing today.

Luckily there were a number of Bitmaker alumni in attendance to not only dream up great solutions, but equipped with the the technical ability to implement their ideas. It’s no surprise that three of the top four teams were equipped with Bitmaker Labs alumni – The Hub, Raisin Readers and BrookList. Continue Reading →

Realizations: How I got started with programming

Joshua Comeau is a student participating in the March cohort of the Web Development Immersive program. This article was originally posted on his blog.

My first real experience with programming— not counting an ill-fated attempt to learn C from an 800-page reference manual when I was 13 — happened a couple years ago. I’ve been using pre-written JavaScript and PHP for many years, but I wanted to develop a deeper understanding of what I was using. There was something of a consensus around Python being a great beginner language, so I downloaded the environment and got started.

Realization #1: Programming is awesome.

After learning the fundamentals of strings, arrays, ‘if’ statements, ‘while’ loops, objects and classes, I started experimenting. I made what I dubbed “Mean Pong”, which was a variant on classic Atari Pong designed to be punishingly unfair; your paddle would shrink to a few pixels, the ball would move erratically or smash right through your paddle, and so on. Overall the game was pretty underwhelming, but I was having the time of my life; the satisfaction of creating something is addictive, and the bugs and problem-solving just add to the sense of fulfillment when you get it working. Continue Reading →

Pulling Back the Curtain on the ‘Magic’ of the Internet

Left-to-right: Sanborn Hilland working with fellow students Marie MacDonald and Jennifer Follero

Left to right: Sanborn Hilland working with fellow students Marie MacDonald and Jennifer Follero.

While most of us use complex web applications every day, only a select few know how they work. Starting with little programming knowledge, 25 year-old Bitmaker student Sanborn Hilland is only a few weeks into his journey to become a web developer.

Technology can be scary for older generations who haven’t grown up with it, but, even if my generation is good at using technology, most of us don’t know how it works – it’s magic.

- Sanborn Hilland, Bitmaker Student

With limited experience, he was apprehensive about jumping into the 9-week immersive web development course. “Technology can be scary for older generations who haven’t grown up with it,” Sanborn said, “But, even if my generation is good at using technology, most of us don’t know how it works – it’s magic.”

Over the last week, Bitmaker students have been learning about the power of even simple applications by building a basic Customer Relationship Management (CRM) app in Ruby. Recalling the simple keyboard-only CRM he used when working at Leon’s, Sanborn shared his excitement about his time at Bitmaker so far.

“It’s crazy because I’m pulling back the curtain and what used to be totally mysterious suddenly starts to make sense – I have a framework for understanding it. When thinking back to that [CRM at Leon’s], I can now say I roughly know how it might work. I know the pieces that are involved, which is really really cool.”

On the way to their first full Rails application, the current Bitmakers are now extending their Ruby CRM apps onto the web with the Sinatra framework. Knowing the ‘pieces’ behind the structure of an interactive website, the students are about to break into new learning territory.

“What interests me is seeing something and having no idea how it’s done,“ Sanborn said, “It’s back into mystery mode and I want to find out how that works so that I can pull back the curtain again.”

Apply to Bitmaker Labs – Web Development Immersive

An Interview with Stephen Megitt of Filament Creative

This Thursday, March 27th, we’ll be hosting Stephen Megitt and Matt Hryhorsky from Filament Creative. These two will be giving a presentation entitled “We F#ucked Up!”, covering the many lessons learned while building Filament from the group up.

Be sure to join our Meetup group and come out to Think Thursday.

We were fortunate to chat with Stephen about Filament this week. Here’s what he had to say: Continue Reading →

The Art of a Start(up): NBTC 2014 Conference Recap

Last weekend I attended the National Business and Technology Conference to glean thoughts and experiences from the movers and shakers in the startup world.

Here’s a recap in sketchnotes on: Effective Crowdfunding Campaigns by Ayah Norris, Marketing and Community Manager @ Indiegogo:NBTC Sketchnote by Minh Ngo (2014)                                                                      Divya Narenda, CEO and Co-Founder of SumZero’s path to not being a doctor like his parents wanted:NBTC Sketchnote by Minh Ngo (2014)                                                                                                                                     Thoughts on why it’s an exciting time to be in tech by Daniel Debow, SVP @ Salesforce:NBTC Sketchnote by Minh Ngo (2014)

Blair Beckwith from Shopify shared some thoughts on why he loves the micro-entrepreneur and being a part of the app ecosystem: NBTC Sketchnote by Minh Ngo (2014)
Mic Berman, an executive coach, advisor and farmer, challenged us to think about ” What you will say no to?” and how that might make or break you as a team and a company:NBTC Sketchnote by Minh Ngo (2014)                 Seth Rosenberg of Facebook laid the groundwork for making difficult decisions:NBTC Sketchnote by Minh Ngo (2014)                    Cameron Chell from SLYCE and Business Instincts Group sincerely asked what would happen if you asked “What if…” questions:NBTC Sketchnote by Minh Ngo (2014)

Michael Hyatt shared his random thoughts on success.NBTC Sketchnote by Minh Ngo (2014):

And lastly Nitin Kawale of Cisco asked us to think about what is possible in the age of “The Internet of Everything”:NBTC Sketchnote by Minh Ngo (2014)

By Minh Ngo

Sketchnotes of the National Business and Technology Conference 2014 from Admissions Officer, Minh Ngo!

Bitmaker Labs’ Admissions Officer, Minh Ngo, was on site at the National Business and Technology Conference in Toronto today, learning about tech trends, crowd funding, and entrepreneurship. For those of you that don’t know, the NBTC features 400 youth leaders from across North America, who meet to share big ideas, connect with industry professionals and listen to world-class speakers. Delegates also have the opportunity to compete in the flagship Entrepreneurship Competition and Consulting Case Competition in order to earn incredible prizes.

Another thing most of you probably don’t know is that Minh is an incredible Doodler. She does it to help more vividly remember information. Check out Minh’s awesome sketches from the conference below!

Daniel Debow, SVP at Salesforce


Divya Narenda, founder of SumZero


If you’re interested in finding out more about the NSPIRE Innovation Network, check out their website.

Dev Environment Setup: The Missing Manual Pages for Linux

For those of you doing the prep course for Bitmaker Labs, and perhaps for those considering signing up, I am here to tell you something the instructors probably haven’t. When I was researching the program I came across the following: “Bitmaker Labs strongly recommends students have Macs. Linux is OK too.” There are two elliptical clauses missing from that statement that are likely relevant to a small portion of incoming students.

The first: Bitmaker Labs strongly recommends students use Macs… with the latest version of MAC OS X installed.

The latest version of Mac OS X is important because it allows you to run the latest version of Ruby (and other important software later in the course). The instructors like it when everyone in the cohort is using the same version because it makes troubleshooting student problems that much easier for them. And of course, learning the latest hotness is why you are signing up at Bitmaker in the first place.

So if you are a Mac owner, and you haven’t updated to Mavericks (the most current version at the time of writing) then make sure to do that before the first day. Ryan Ming, the instructor that oversees this kind of thing, will make you do it before the end of the first week anyway, so just skip the hassle and do it before you show up.

As an aside, that also means if you are running an older Mac that doesn’t support Mavericks, you will need to look into alternatives and I suggest you do that before you show up on the first day as well (see more on alternatives below).

The second missing clause is “Mac is ok, so is Linux… but Windows is not.”


If you are coming into the program with a Windows machine, you will likely be able to progress through the prework without an issue, but you will be in trouble by week two.

Stop. Breathe. Don’t freak out.

This is not a huge problem. You will just have a few more hoops to jump through than everybody else.

If you are in this boat, before talking about those hoops, I would suggest you consider switching to Mac. You have just dropped a small fortune on tuition so paying for a new machine is probably not at the top of your list of priorities, but consider it. Depending on your situation (and your ability to rationalize the premium you will pay) it might be worth it. I am not speaking for the instructors. This is just my opinion. But it’s a serious recommendation.

Another aside, the classroom space has a dozen external monitors that can connect to Macs via DisplayPort. Using these monitors may upsize the value of the cheaper Mac machines (I am looking at you 11-inch MacBook Air).

But if you are unwilling to pay the Apple tax, there are two credible options endorsed by the staff:

  1. Use one of the ten iMacs on premise. These are gorgeous 27-inch models. They have all the software you will need installed. No sweat. No hassle. The one downside is the portability. If you want to work from home, or on the bus then you will need to make compromises. That’s not a deal breaker but it is a pain for some.
  2. The second option is to partition your Windows machine in two, and install Linux on one of them. I mentioned there were hoops. This is what I am talking about.
  3. If you have a very powerful PC, you can also run Linux in a virtual machine using tools such as Parallels or VMWare.

Linux is attractive to students because it’s portable and it’s free. Of the 40 students in the January 2014 cohort, approximately half a dozen ran/are running Linux. They can attest that this approach works. After you install the system there is no real disadvantage. One student, Matthew Lackey from the October 2013 cohort, has already written about this issue here on the blog.

The qualifier “after installation” is a big one though.

In my experience installing Linux on a Windows machine, particularly the newer ones optimized for Windows 8 and above, is harder now than before. Like Mavericks I strongly suggest you get this out of the way before Day 1; unlike updating Mavericks installing Linux can take a long time depending on your machine. If you haven’t done it before it can be painful. To this end, I have prepared a primer for Bitmakers new to the challenge. I should note, unless someone in future cohorts keeps this primer up-to-date, it will likely go stale pretty quick — so review it with caution and defer to the official documentation as needed — but hopefully it will give some needed context so you can show up at Bitmaker Labs with your best foot forward.

Offering a Free Bitmaker Labs Part-Time Course

We’re happy to announce that all new applicants to the March Web Development Immersive program will gain a voucher giving them access to one free enrollment in any part-time course available at Bitmaker Labs this summer.  This includes our Rapid Prototyping, Advanced Analytics and AngularJS courses.  There are only a few spots available, and admission closes this Friday, the 14th. If you’re interested in attending the March Web Development Immersive, contact our admissions team right away by clicking on the Apply button here.

Smart People Copy

How do we solve problems? That is a question that I have been asking a lot of students at Bitmaker Labs recently.

There is a myth that we, humans, should be able to sit down, and with no prior experience, be able to solve problems that we have never seen before. I think the idea is that if we can do this then we are somehow “smart”.

My hypothesis (yet unproven) is that this comes from university and traditional school in general. We are taught from a very young age that all of our work has to be original. Copying is evil! Only the poor students copy; the smart students solve their problems on their own.

The problem is that, for many students, this gets translated into, “I have to come up with a solution out of thin air”. The reality is that this just leads to frustration, low self-confidence, and abandoned projects.

So how do we solve problems? As far as I can tell, we pattern match. We take the problem, find a similar problem that we know the solution to and then apply a few variations.

When I was in art school, one teacher, very early in the year, told us that we needed to look at every magazine, newspaper, billboard, etc., that we could find and rip out and file everything we liked. Then, when we were running low on inspiration, the idea was to look through everything we had saved and look for new ideas.

There are no truly new ideas. Everything is just a variation on something that came before.

How does this apply to future software developers. The trick is to read as much code as possible. If you are just starting out, read other people’s solutions to the same problem you are trying to solve. If you don’t have the patterns in your mind, then how do you solve the problem?

Software development is all about solving problems, but in order to do so, you have to fill your brain with as many solutions as possible. The more solutions, the more problems you can solve. The more problems you solve, the more solutions you have. It’s circular and starts with seeing and understanding solutions.

So, if you are just starting out, give up the idea of trying to solve problems you have never seen before. Instead, go read, copy, borrow, and understand as many solutions as you can find. Then apply those solutions to new problems and see how they fit. Change them if the fit isn’t perfect and learn new solutions.

The only successful way to learn is through pattern matching, but if you don’t have the patterns to match to, it just ain’t possible. Go find the patterns then go and solve the problems.