Back in 2011, as I was getting a bored with my job and I started looking for a new job. During my search, my friend Daniele (with whom I had built Novlet and Bitlet years before) forwarded me a link to the careers page of the company he was working for at the time, ITA Software.
While Google was in the process of acquiring ITA Software, ITA still had a number of open positions they were looking to hire for. Unlike Google, however, they required candidates to solve a programming challenge before applying to engineering roles.
The problems to solve were surprisingly varied, ranging from purely algorithmic challenges to more broadly scoped problems that still required some deep technical insight. As I browsed through the options, I ended up settling on a problem that intrigued me because I thought it resembled a problem I might one day wanted to solve in the real world and seemed to try to test both the breadth of my knowledge (it required good full stack skills) as well as my understanding of deep technical details.
I have good memories of the time I spent investigating this problem and coming up with a solution. When I was done, I had learned about a new class of data structures (suffix trees), gained a deeper understanding of Java’s internals. A year later, I got a job offer due in part to this puzzle.
Over a year ago I switched from having my site hosted on a CMS to having it built statically and served as a collection of static pages. I have been extremely happy with the end result for all these months – the site is very easy to update and effortless to maintain – but I just made a few changes that made my experience even better.
I spent some time during the last weeks playing with the Open Data published by the City of Milan. I did not have a clear goal in mind, except for building some interesting visualization of the Public Transport coverage of the city grounds.
A quick exploration of the dataset seemed to be encouraging: while most of the data was relatively useless, some datasets were indeed promising and worth spending some time. While at the end of the week I was able to get the result I had in mind (the heatmap below), I was left with that lingering feeling of dissatisfaction that accompanies me when I see good initiatives that can be dramatically improved by changing a few specific features.
One of the things I was not expecting when I moved to Amsterdam was its active and vibrant tech community. Appsterdam, a non-profit organization focused around aggregating people with a passion for technology, is probably one of the central forces in this movement.
In my year in Amsterdam I had been to a few meetups organized by people from Appsterdam and always came back home having learned something new. This is why when my colleague Matt (who himself is quite an active Appsterdam member) talked me into presenting a guru session on Google App Engine, I saw that as an opportunity to return the favor.
A few weeks ago I attended The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam and joined a bunch of fellow programmers for another edition of the Kings of Code Hack Battle, the same kind of event as the one where Bring Your Own Music was born.
Following the usual schedule, after a brief presentation from the API partners (Spotify, SendGrid, Braintree, Deezer, Pearson, Nokia, Rebtel, Bol.com, Smart TV Alliance and LinkedIn), all the attendees started evaluating ideas about what to build.
View this post on Instagram Hacking @ The Next Web #TNW
A post shared by Alessandro Bahgat (@abahgat) on Apr 24, 2013 at 11:30am PDT
I teamed up with Alexander, a friend of mine I already had the chance to work with back in the days when I when I was consulting.
Having LinkedIn among the sponsors seemed to encourage us to build serious applications for serious professionals, but after discarding a few alternatives that would have been better projects for a Startup Weekend than a hackathon, we decided to take the opposite direction: building the silliest possible thing with the APIs we had access to.
Google App Engine for Python ships with the capability to manage user accounts without the need of any additional library. This functionality is, however, insufficiently documented. This post is a step-by-step tutorial addressing user registration, login, password reset and a few other details.
This post is a summary of the weekend we spent at the Kings of Code 2012 Hack Battle in Amsterdam. What started as an occasion to get to know smart people doing cool things in Amsterdam (something I look for since I moved here) turned out to be one of the funniest experiences I had in a while.
After a brief presentation of the services offered by the hackathon partners (Apigee, Esri, Spotify and Sendgrid) Diderik, Mattia, Mike and I teamed up to build the hack featured here. We started with the most obvious concept we could come up with: putting songs on a map and having people visualize them. We tried to elaborate the concept to include as many of the partners’ APIs as we could, but then we decided for something simpler, something we could build over the weekend.
It took us a couple of iterations to get to the final idea we developed: Bring Your Own Music, a toy application that allows users to control music playback through NFC-enabled objects by using an Arduino-powered NFC reader driving a Spotify app.
A while ago I wrote about a few problems we were having with the way our issue tracker was misused and concluded that the tools we use have a crucial role in directing our behavior towards good or bad behavior patterns.
One of the major pain points I mentioned was linked to the many duplicate issues we were seeing and listed one possible solution to reduce the number of duplicate issues that were being raised. After reading my post, my friend Mattia came to me saying “Good point, why don’t we just build it?“. Well, we did.
I spend most of my days at work on powerful IDEs like Eclipse or Netbeans, tools so advanced in functionalities that their feature lists span over several pages. Their power, however, has its own drawbacks: their memory consumption is measured in the gigabytes, and running them on underpowered computers is the most frustrating of experiences. Issues that any Java developer on Earth will have to face, sooner or later.
Having grown frustrated by Eclipse being too slow on my 4 years old work laptop (I will not comment on this), I decided to drop the IDE for a while, switching to an extremely powerful editor that offered me the one thing that matters the most to me: blazing fast navigation between different source files.
Of course I knew I would miss some of Eclipse’s advanced features but I wanted to give it a try, especially since Andraz’s post left me with a bit of curiosity: how much the tools we use affect our abilities? And why IDEs are so used by desktop developers while they are not so popular with web frontend developers who generally use scripting languages?
A commonly accepted explanation is that it is easier to write IDEs for static languages, when lots of information is known at compile time. It is easier to extract information from the code and use it to build powerful and useful features.
However, after a few weeks of experimentation, I ended up with a slightly different point of view on the whole matter: the popularity of IDEs for Java encouraged coding conventions would not be so widely accepted if the majority of coders used a plain text editor to edit their source files. Those conventions grew so popular that that today Java appears to be designed to be used with an IDE. Let me give a few examples.