The Leap: Building Something Cool as a Beginner

Short Form


The leap from learning to doing in programming can be terrifying. One hundred step-by-step tutorials will not teach you as much as solving one tough problem in code. This talk will present a process for taking that leap. And I’ll show you how I used that process to build a software plugin that lets you program in plain English.


This talk will present a process for taking the leap from learning programming to building projects. I’ll also show you, with a case study and live demo, how I used this process to create a software plugin that lets you program in plain English. The steps we’ll cover are:

  1. What problem do you want to solve? When you close your eyes, what cool thing do you envision? Even if you think it’s impossible. (Hint: You are not going to get there on the first try.)
  2. Now think about something humbler and closer to Earth: What’s the simplest possible way to solve this problem? Talk with other people, and ask for their views on the problem. They may have an insight that you didn’t.
  3. Figure out a minimum viable process, and make it work for one piece of code. One use case.
  4. If that doesn’t work, keep simplifying. Eventually, you’ll get to something you can solve.
  5. Now what? Scale back up. Add more use cases. Show people your prototype. What works well, and what doesn’t really work?
  6. Refactor your code. If you’re reaching spaghetti breaking point, you’ll know.
  7. Start conceiving and sketching out a true strategic implementation of your software, based on what you’ve learned. Don’t be afraid to throw out what you’ve done so far. Use the vision you have in your head as your touchstone — it’s what motivates and inspires you. It may have evolved or totally changed. Can you get closer to it this time?
  8. Repeat.

Attendees will be encouraged to pursue their own projects, no matter their current level of skill.


education, Process, hacks, plugin, programming, beginner

Speaking experience

PRMIA risk management panel, Lightning Talk at HopeX 2014, Hacker School lightning talks, NYC Hack and Tell meetup, upcoming SXSW TechBreakfast demo. This is a new talk.


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    I’ve been in and around the world of technology for a long time, mostly behind the scenes. Right now I identify as an iOS developer, IT risk management expert and writer/instructor. I’m taking a year or two to travel and work on my own projects, after six-plus years as a Senior Bank Examiner at the New York Fed with expertise in high-speed trading controls, business resilience and crisis management, and risk data aggregation. My current projects include a software tool that allows you to program in plain English, a series of “Short and Sweet” courses that teach basic programming and technical topics, and a flashcard app to help people study for exams.

    I have a master’s degree in information security policy and management from Carnegie Mellon University, plus a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Way back in the Internet Stone Age, I published my first website in 1996 and worked as’s first online section editor for computer books.

    Basically, I love technology, love learning, and hope to share that love with other people.