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I’m in Love With Markdown

I just want to go on the record for saying that I really, really love Markdown:

“… a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers. Markdown allows you to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML).” - John Gruber

In other words, it’s a simple way of writing for the web that lets you focus on the content. Because it’s plain text, it’s also incredibly easy to carry across multiple devices and platform (even mobile ones) and it’s much more future proof than some proprietary software format.

In fact, it’s so simple, you’ll probably say: “Wait, there’s all there is to it?” when you see an example of Markdown like the one below. Yep, it’s that simple. And that’s precisely why it’s so brilliant!

# This is the main title

## And this is a level 2 heading

Look, some text! **Bold** text and a [link](http://ialja.com)

## Let's try another section

How about a list of item?

- Cats
- Dogs
- Frogs

And a horizontal line for the big finish.

* * *

Goodbye Blogger, Hello Octopress!

The recent Google Reader fiasco reminded me of something I’ve been too lazy to take care of for too long: my blog, which I started back in 2006, was still being hosted on Google’s Blogger. Now here’s a question for you: how long before Google decides all blogging should be done on Google+? Ridiculous question? I don’t know. I don’t feel like taking chances with Google anymore. But what are the alternatives?

How a Lego Dragon Helped Me Explain Programming in 15 Minutes

Another Rails Girls Ljubljana workshop also meant another lecture on how the internet works and the basics of programming. The goal was to ease in the participants, this time mostly high school girls, into the practical workshop that consisted of creating a web app for collecting ideas in Rails. I was pretty happy with the first version of the lecture I did for our very first workshop that used a cute story about GitHub’s Octocat, who loves sushi, but doesn’t eat fish.

However, there were two majors issues we discovered by using the first version of the lecture at the workshop:
  • TryRuby.org, an otherwise super cute website, didn’t behave well during our workshop. With about 75 laptops on the same network, the site was painfully slow at moments, making it difficult for girls to keep up. Also, the order in which concepts are introduced in the tutorial is difficult for beginners (arrays make a surprisingly early appearance, for instance).
  • Beginners were a bit confused during the practical part of the workshop about switching from Terminal and local files with code. The meaning of all those directories and files in their Rails project wasn’t very clear.
All that meant I had to roll up my sleeves again and create version 2.0 that includes a giant dragon!

Lessons Learned From Rails Girls and Why We Really Do Need More Women in Tech

It can be surprisingly easy to not notice things because “that’s just the way it is”. I have to admit I used to feel that way about the lack of women in tech. Just as a lot of women in the industry, I quickly started to think of myself as on of the guys and not even notice that I’m consistently a part of a minority at most tech events. In some ways, I was lucky that my mom was a geek even before that was a fashionable word and that I grew up without ever knowing computers were boys’ toys. But once you do start paying attention, it’s impossible to turn the other way.

Self-driving cars will be on our roads soon, so why is it that seeing a large group of girls in front of a computer science faculty is still an exception reserved for Rails Girls events? 

How I Found Great Chocolate in Brussels and Glimpsed the Flame of Hope

I found myself in a bit of an awkward situation when I had to explain to my friends why I would be flying to Brussels this week. Sure, I knew the official answer. I have been selected as one of the 25 members of the ”Young Advisors Expert Group on implementation of the Digital Agenda for Europe” (yeah, I had to copy-paste that). I suppose it looks nice on my CV. And I will be visiting the capital of the European Union for the first time.

While I was looking forward to the trip, I didn’t really have a clear idea on what to expect. There was some strange paperwork I had to fill in, some very formal documents sent around that say a lot and yet nothing at all at the same time. It started to look a bit better when they created a Twitter list of YAG members. I admit I also felt a bit intimidated by some pretty impressive CVs from my fellow group members. What do I possibly have to offer? I don’t even pay as much attention to politics as I should, because I get frustrated about the endless talking and too little meaningful action. Discussing important issues is all well and good, but if you don’t follow it up with concrete actions, it’s just a nice hobby suitable for lazy Summer evening on a terrace, with a glass of fine wine in your hand. I know, I know, big political decisions are hard and should not be made lightly. But hard doesn’t mean impossible.

My first YAG meeting

Most doubts I had quickly disappeared once I actually met the other members of the YAG group, some members of DG Connect and (my new hero) Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda. We kicked off the meeting by touching upon some common concerns, such as obstacles faced by startups, the inefficiency of our school to prepare kids for a digital future (and present), the lack of a single digital market and so on. But, also encouraged by Paul André Baran, the Romanian Digital Champion, we quickly agreed that we shouldn’t spend too much time complaining about things we all know to be wrong, but rather switch to proposing solutions. Of course, there’s not much actual power you have as an external advisor. But we can bring a fresh perspective to the table, one not yet spoiled by the bubble of big institutions.

Neelie Kroes
Photo by Jordan Hatch
Diversity is key to finding innovative solutions. And I was pleasantly surprised to see how open the whole DG Connect team was to listening to what we had to say. They asked us to be frank and we embraced the opportunity wholeheartedly. What do we have to lose by speaking our minds? Nothing, but a lot to gain. I also loved the fact that they kept encouraging us, as a group, to get together and come up with practical propositions for the EU related to the Digital Agenda. Sure, the road to action is a long one and maybe even covered with wild plants, but it’s good to know it exists.

I Quit Evernote: Why a Company Shouldn’t Choose Good Looks Over Their Core Functionality

I used to love Evernote. “Remember everything” is their headline. People talk about “outsourcing your memory” with Evernote. And I did. I made Evernote the hub for most of my work that didn’t require documents. I stored everything, from meeting notes and blog post drafts to notes about our cats’ health and even kept a shared notebook for our favorite recipes.

One of the things I loved most about Evernote was its ability to keep all my notes synced across multiple devices. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Yeah, except things don’t “just work” anymore.

When Magic Happens at Rails Girls Ljubljana

What happens when you fill 2 classrooms and 1 big conference room at Telekom Slovenije with over 70 girls of all ages, who want to build their own web app, and 30 coaches, experienced web developers? No, it’s not a rhetorical question, it’s a real challenge!
Over a hundred people at the first Rails Girls Ljubljana workshop! Photo by: Katarina Jazbec
Sure, the girls are among the most enthusiastic out of the 586 that signed up for Rails Girls Ljubljana, a free two-day workshop. But most of them have no experience with programming whatsoever. And the coaches sure are all excited to help and hope to see more girls among their ranks, yet most of them have little or no experience with teaching, especially with teaching complete beginners. Even after more than a month of intensive planning, countless emails and meetings, I, as the main organizer, can’t help but feel nervous on Friday, December 14, the first day of the first ever Rails Girls Ljubljana. Is anyone even going to show up?