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Stories of Hacking: Part 2

This is a continuation of Stories of Hacking: Part 1 going a little bit more in depth of my life of "hacking" as some call it.

Post Engineering Problem Solving II

After Engineer Problem Solving II, I decided to take the next programming class immediately, Computer in Engineering.  Computers in Engineering sounded like more of a class to help understand why programming can be useful within different applications in Engineering, but did a much better job of better explaining the intricate parts of the C programming language.  While most of the class focused on the continuing knowledge of C, there were two parts that really got me to be more interested.  The first part was the introduction and use of robots to run programs.  While we used a programming language similar to C (called Not Exactly C [NXC]) it had some major differences with C, but mostly the inclusion of a few libraries that allow for control of the LEGO NXT brick.  The two programs we had to write for the NXT robot were a line following program (that took 2 left turns, turned around and then took two right turns) as well as a "graffiti bot" that would lower a pen or pencil and be programmed to draw two letters.  Some of the lessons that I learned in these projects was that because of the way that sensors work with respect to battery power, you really have to be prepared for any kind of input data and have a flexible program that can deal with the differences of having 100% power and only 50% power and how that affects sensor values.  The other thing I learned is that programming hardware is a lot more difficult than  you'd think, even with only 2 or 3 inputs/outputs.  If you think programming for user input was hard, it's even worse when you have to deal with differences in known ranges.
After dealing with robots and learning more C, I had my first introduction to Object-Oriented Programming (OOP for short) and how to deal with inheritance of super classes.  It was my longest program to date (nearly 1500 lines of code) and really did nothing special at all, but I learned so much about the intricacies of how object oriented programs work that I could carry on to future classes.

Non-Class hacking

After Computers in Engineering, it took quite a long time for me to have another programming-intensive class (Introduction to Software Engineering) but this is where my REAL hacking started.  In the time between Computers in Engineering and Introduction to Software Engineering I built a few sites and had a crazy time doing some major video editing for a project that a floor mate and I had my second year in undergrad.  This hacking included getting a web hosing service, domain name, database experience, php experience, dns experience, etc.  I really enjoyed these projects, I even had blogs that no longer exist that I kind of stood up just to try things out. (wordpress is easy to install, but I'm not a huge fan of it in the end)  I learned how to do a connection with mysql and php for a custom php-based website, I started to learn some CSS to make some absolutely hideous websites, but in the end, it was all experience in programming, experience in hacking.  EXPERIENCE is the key word there, you have to take time to simply do work in programming if you want to have a future.  If you don't stretch your skills beyond what you do in class, or at work, you'll struggle to excel in the area.  All of that time that I spent, "throwing my time away" was time that I was spending learning things that I COULD take a class in, but that class wouldn't necessarily teach me a practical use of the technologies without extra outside-of-class work.  This means that I didn't end up every taking formal classes in the methods, but instead just got practical use out of it.  In my current job, that kind of experience is very useful, but I'm sure I could do better.  I'm sure many of you can find some of the projects that I had done in my past, I learned a lot of very unique things in the 2 years between Computers in Engineering and Introduction to Software Design.  I also took a lot of time at my then job as a undergraduate research assistant working with excel sheets, and trying to have a better way to process the data that we had a LOT of.  I'm happy that I was able to provide that lab with a lot of tools that I believe they are still using today, it feels great to know that you've made a change in a process that is still having a positive effect. 


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