Linux course post-mortem
There was a dearth of classes going on at 091 Labs over the summer, so I stepped up to the plate at the start of August and advertised a Linux programming class, spread over four weeks: Learn the fundamentals of programming through the Bourne Again Shell, and all its queerness and oddities of syntax. The first class was held on August 19 in the hackerspace with the three successive classes each held on the following Monday. The crowd was small, and only shrunk, but compared to some classes I’ve attended and run, they were pretty attentive.
I, me, myself, I too learned a lot from this class, both in and out of Bash: Why certain things were handled by Bash in a certain manner (subshells comes to mind-I’ve been using them since day one, but never really thought about how they worked); how to perform tasks I thought difficult or weird (advanced awk and sed operations); how to parse the material for the class in an understandable manner; and odd as it is to admit, how to make eye contact and just interact in a relaxed and confident manner, given how long I’ve been avoiding just this.
The Bash part of the learning was fun, and I can comfortably say that I came out of each week with a better understanding than I did going in. The case structure, variables, oddities, efficiently testing items, parsing integers, math operations, and even some binary operations too were all items I picked up from basically scratch.
I’ve also built up a good body of material that I can just turn around and give to someone who wants to learn the Bourne shell, as simply as just sharing the Google Drive folder with them. The slides are concise if sparse, and cover the fundamental operations without delving into anything Linux-specific: You can follow through the slides and examples through Terminal on OS X, or Cygwin on Windows.
On the classes themselves, I learned some things: A Facebook event is where workshops go to die; Facebook users are as conditioned to ignore event invitations as they are blinking advertisements. The 091labs.com blog post, word of mouth through members and friends, and repeated postings on the 091 Labs twitter and Facebook accounts were what brought people in the door.
I did some things right, and others wrong:
- I should have had printed handouts with exercises and solutions available.
- A split-screen terminal (Terminator) was excellent: I could simultaneously show creation and execution without having to either tab away or change desktop.
- Offering Cygwin and SSH access was a fantastic idea. It saved me from having to mess with people installing Linux for the first time.
- Problems with Windows’ line-endings cost me time and frustration. Everything seems coded okay, but then you run it and whoops. Ditto this and people deciding to try vim despite my stern warnings away from it.
- RE the above: Next time I need to mandate a good text editor for Windows and OSX, either Sublime Text. If you use Notepad or Wordpad or TextEdit-or any kind of rich text editor for that matter, you deserve to be shunned.
- Relying on slides for the first week of solutions limited me and only served to fluff out the slideshow. Coding and uploading solutions separately allowed me to append notes at length.
The final workshop is tomorrow, and instead of a segue into C#, I will probably stick with more real-world examples of scripts, give more exercises, and invite my students to offer up problems for me to handle programmatically.
In the end it was fun, the money brought in helped the hackerspace, and I can port this material to other programming languages (C#, probably) with minimal effort. B++, would run again.