DrumSensei

betwixt code and music

The Iron Yard in Review

or What I learned about me

As I sit and reflect over the last few months of my time at The Iron Yard-Austin, I can make some good observations about myself and my future path. Sure, I learned a lot of useful, technical knowledge, but I also had time alone to reflect and to immerse myself in my studies. Though challenging to mostly be away from my family, this turned out to be a great plan of action in this circumstance.

Mathew children on first day of school
Mathew children heading off to the first day of school - August 2015
(left to right) Stephen - 11th grade, Isaac - 7th grade, Olivia - pre-K, Alexis - 5th grade

I moved to Austin to live out of a suitcase, with the goal of returning to Dallas each weekend to see my family. This year, just like any other, I started school at the same time as my own children, but I would be in another city far from home. The Sunday before The Iron Yard August cohort began, I drove down to move into my friend Dave's spare bedroom. He is a good guy, and we go back a long ways. When I first began teaching my own groups, Dave was my constant percussion companion while he was an undergrad student at TCU, also working to get young people to achieve greatness each day. Over the years, I had Dave come up from Austin to help teach my groups for one week each summer. This was a nearly annual event for over a decade. I love Dave, and he is a good friend to many people for good reason. As a bonus, he is a superb cook who avoids red meat, so I tended to eat pretty well, too! I owe Dave in a big way!

While in Austin, I decided to reboot some personal habits. I am happy to report that I arose each day and made my bed immediately before doing anything else. This was a great way to start the day by accomplishing something. Hat tip to the incredible
Frank Troyka, who alerted me to this life hack when I worked with him at Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas. I also made it a habit to go to bed relatively early, usually between 10:00pm and 11:00pm. This helped me to get up pretty early. I know myself pretty well after all of these years, and, for me, working in the morning after a good night's sleep is very fruitful. Getting up early also let me enjoy some beautiful morning walks. I knew that this would be useful to offset the copious amounts of chair-sitting that programming entails. I was pretty solid at walking several times a week and getting to bed early. I reckon that this helped me to sustain great health and energy for my entire stay in Austin.

So where did I want to go when this training was to end? I had time to think about my other jobs I have had. What parts of the jobs did I like? What parts was I naturally good at and which were more outside of my comfort zone? I love that I have practiced public speaking (of a sort) for years. I have a good knack at talking to a group of people and finding some common ground. This was useful when interacting with teenagers or parents in a meeting. I think it helps that I genuinely like people and find it interesting to learn each person's story. Being around teenagers for all of those years was a great way to learn what would make them tick, which meant I could get to the heart of the matter much more easily with those students.

Working on a unified team was always fun for me, both as a student and a teacher. A group of people moving with velocity toward a common goal tends to have a greater journey and outcome than disparate individuals doing their own thing. Also, as an optimistic person, I enjoy being around a group that is positive and working hard. Surrounding myself with successful people tends to work out better. Like my uncle Ricky always told me, "You are who your friends are." That always sticks with me, and I hope my own children also learn such a useful thing from me!

Some jobs allowed me to maintain the website which were also fun times. I love making things. My mom was a gifted visual artist with a pen/pencil/writing utensil. I loved her art, and our family always encouraged her to pursue it as a career (which she steadfastly ignored; rock 'n roll to the bitter end, alas). The only art of hers that I still have is relegated to a few envelopes or birthday cards that she would hand-draw. I have that same desire and ability within me, but my goofy hands only work for typing and drumming. Hand-drawn art is just out of reach and always has been. As such, the front end developer's job is appealing because it combines logic and art. (I recently read that in the comments section of
a story on medium.com, and it certainly resonates with me.)

Olivia is glad to have Daddy back home
Olivia is happy to have her Daddy back home permanently - November 2015

Now the hard part begins. Learning about JavaScript and self-invoking functions and hoisting and prototypal inheritance was difficult, sure. However, I knew that every day I would get up and head to South Congress Avenue in Austin to get my learning on. Overall, I will work hard to keep a positive outlook. Leadership is all about influence. As a teacher, I was supremely aware of this and took that part very seriously. Moving forward now my path is less clear, so I will keep making my bed, going to bed somewhat early, learning code, going on walks, and trying to improve my skills...and keep my eyes open for chances to use my influence in a positive way.