Jay McGavren's Journal


How to Hunt for a Development Job

Update 2019-07-02: I’ve taken an offer! Huge thanks to everyone who got in touch and/or shared that I was looking!

I was laid off from my job a week ago, along with many of my colleagues. Luckily for us, the friendly Twitter developer community has turned out in droves to help us. It’s generated a lot of leads.

I’ve noticed that my communications with contacts at these companies tend to fall into certain patterns. I ask many of the same questions of each. But I also find that I sometimes forget to ask certain details. Or worse, I ask questions in the wrong order, getting a bunch of details about the tech stack but then discovering the position isn’t remote-friendly, for example.

So I’m writing this post to help other job hunters avoid the same pitfalls. I mean for this to be a living document. If you have comments or suggestions, please get in touch!


Backend web development tutorial on YouTube

Treehouse asked me to write up an overview of back end web development to publish on their YouTube channel. Yeah, there’s a little sales pitch at the end, but if you want to know what web developers do, it’s a great summary. Our motion graphics team’s work is amazing, as always!


Motivating examples for beginning coders

One thing I learned from the authors in the Head First series who came before me is the importance of good “motivating examples” - a task that the reader can easily understand but requires learning a whole suite of skills to actually implement (coinciding as closely as possible with the skills you want to teach). Motivating examples are valuable because they give a reader a sense of progress as they work toward a goal.

Rosetta Code is basically a wiki-based collection of motivating examples for beginning developers. There are tons and tons of tasks on there, each showing solutions in a wide variety of programming languages. But a large portion of them aren’t ideal for beginners:

But there are a lot of great beginner-friendly examples too. I’ve collected promising-looking ones here, for people to mine for inspiration.

Align columns
Character codes
Chat server
Check that file exists
Comma quibbling
Command-line arguments
Compare a list of strings
Count occurrences of a substring
Create an HTML table
CSV data manipulation
Echo server
Even or odd
File input/output
File size
Greatest element of a list
Guess the number/With feedback
Hash from two arrays
I before E except after C
Input loop
Leap year
Letter frequency
Longest string challenge
Mad Libs
Morse code
Named parameters
Number names
Object serialization
One-dimensional cellular automata
Palindrome detection
Pangram checker
Password generator
Percentage difference between images
Phrase reversals
Pick random element
Pig the dice game
Playing cards
Plot coordinate pairs
Rate counter
Read a configuration file
Read a file line by line
Read a specific line from a file
Read entire file
Remove duplicate elements
Remove lines from a file
Roman numerals/Encode
Search a list
Secure temporary file
Take notes on the command line
Temperature conversion
Text processing/2
Text processing/Max licenses in use
The Twelve Days of Christmas
Tokenize a string
Top rank per group
Update a configuration file
URL parser
Web scraping
Word wrap


Console family timers

The most recent game console generation (Xbox One and PS4) offers NO parental time limits for kids. Microsoft (and presumably Sony as well) continues to ignore the thousands of requests it’s getting for this feature. The last console to do this (mostly) right, as far as I know, is the XBox 360, with its “Family Timer” feature. This is unfortunate. In my case, it means we’ve been unable to purchase any of the new consoles in order to avoid giving my screen-addicted teenager a constant distraction from homework.

Many parents who ask for a feature like this get accused of shirking their responsibilities. And a timer is certainly no substitute for appropriate supervision. But my teenager knows all the tricks to try and get extra screen time out of me (and my fiancee), and I find that the timer avoids a great many arguments. Time’s up? You’re done playing. No discussion necessary.

I’m putting together this post so that future parents know what they should be able to expect from the parental controls of a game console, computer, etc. I feel it’s needed, because very few manufacturers get everything right (if they even try at all). This will be a “living” post; I intend to update this as new use cases come to light, or as errors are found.

Aspects to look for in a system’s time limit feature

Each entry will be followed by a list of systems that offer that feature.

  • Time allowance can be set to renew on a daily or weekly basis. (XBox 360)
  • More time can be added at any time, whether because a child legitimately missed some of their screen time or as a reward for good behavior. (XBox 360)
  • When time is up, the system doesn’t shut down. Instead, it blocks the screen from being viewed, with the option to add more time. In the event that a child is caught off-guard by time expiring, this allows the parent to give them a few more minutes to save their progress. (XBox 360, Windows 8, Mac OS)
  • Can set times of day system can be used to prevent midnight playing. (Windows 8, Mac OS)
  • Can suspend timer so others can play without affecting child’s remaining time. (XBox 360)
  • Can adjust time remaining (up or down) via web account, so it can be done without interrupting play on the system. (This is a wish-list item, as no system I know of allows this. Windows 8 allows adjustment of overall settings (not time remaining) via a Microsoft web account, but in my experience this feature is completely broken anyway; no limits were enforced until I switched to managing them locally on the PC itself.)

Aspects to avoid in a system’s time limit feature

Each listing will be followed by systems where it’s a problem.

  • Can’t set times of day system can be used. (XBox 360)
  • Child can easily circumvent it. (On Windows 8, I have to set a one-hour window each day when my son can log in, because he knows how to circumvent the time limit aspect.)
  • Can’t modify timer unless time is up. (Mac OS, Windows 8)
  • Poor, hard to understand UI. (XBox 360 controls are split between the “Family Safety” and “Preferences”.)
  • Not possible to subtract time (except by logging in to let the timer run down, and then watching to ensure the child doesn’t play). If my kid breaks the rules, it would be good to be able to reduce their available time as a consequence. (XBox 360, Windows 8, Mac OS)
  • Not enough granularity in allowed time. (Windows 8 only allows time to be set in half-hour increments.)

Readers, your help maintaining this post would be appreciated! If you see an error, or have info on a system that isn’t represented here, please contact me.


Leveraging Ruby Libraries webcast

Video of “Leveraging Ruby Libraries”, my webcast for O’Reilly, has been posted. It’s a whirlwind tour of some of the cool things you can do with Ruby’s core classes, standard library, and third-party gems.

  • Intro
    • What is Ruby?
    • Installing Ruby
    • Syntax basics
  • Examples of Core Classes
    • Array
    • Hash
    • File
  • Examples from Standard Library
    • CSV
    • ERB
    • YAML
  • Examples of Ruby Gems
    • lolcat
    • Rails
    • Sinatra

Just sign up here (make sure to un-check the two boxes so they don’t spam you) and you’ll be e-mailed a link to the presentation immediately.