Deploying a MEAN stack app to Heroku

The time had come at last to deploy Chicken Breast Meals to an external  server so that it could be enjoyed by a larger audience. I chose Heroku because it’s a friendly “my-first-deployment” kind of technology that handles a lot of the nitty-gritty details that Amazon Web Services and others leave up to you. For a simple MEAN stack app deployment, Heroku has been sufficient for my needs so far.

heroku

However, despite Heroku’s fairly straightforwardness, I still encountered a number of problems along the way. This post is about all the steps I took to get my MEAN app from GitHub to Heroku.

For clarity’s sake, these are the technologies I used in the project and in my development environment:

  • AngularJS
  • MongoDB
  • Express server
  • node.js (and a bunch of npm packages)
  • Heroku
  • MongoLab on Heroku
  • GitHub
  • Windows 7 with msysgit bash (my environment)

And unlike Heroku’s tutorial, this tutorial assumes you already have a git repo on your hard drive and it’s already full of your project files.

Step 1: Open a Heroku Account and Add a New App to your Dashboard

Hopefully, Heroku’s site can walk you through this sufficiently well.

Once you have an account, add a new app via the dashboard. On the current version of the Heroku dashboard, adding a new app is done with the + button.

app-plus
Heroku’s “add new app” button is easy to miss.

Step 2: Get the Heroku Toolbelt

Heroku’s own site will tell you to do this, too. Go to https://toolbelt.heroku.com/ and install the toolbelt appropriate to your environment. The toolbelt allows you to use the heroku command from your shell.

Step 3: Enter your credentials

Heroku’s toolbelt site walks you through these steps, too, but just in case you’re following along here:

$ heroku login
Enter your Heroku credentials.
Email: myaddress@gmail.com
Password (typing will be hidden)
Authentication successful.

You may get a response like this:

Your Heroku account does not have a public ssh key uploaded.
Could not find an existing public key at ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub
Would you like to generate one? [Yn] Y
Generating new SSH public key.
Uploading SSH public key /home/jim/.ssh/id_rsa.pub... done

If this happens, choose Y and continue.

Since you already made a new Heroku app in step 1 you should skip the “heroku create” step.

Step 4: Add your Heroku app as a remote to your existing git clone’d repo

If you’re like me and you already have your git repo as a folder on your hard drive, you don’t need to make a new repo, you just need to add Heroku as a remote for it.

Navigate to your app’s root folder with cd and then use heroku git:remote -a yourappnamehere to add your remote.

If you follow these steps on Heroku’s own site, it will suggest using git init here (which you shouldn’t do since you already have a repo set up) and it will fill in your chosen app name where mine says chickenbreastmeals.

These are the steps I used to add my Heroku app as a remote to my existing GitHub repo:

$ cd /your/project/location
$ heroku git:remote -a chickenbreastmeals

Step 5: Attempt to push to Heroku – Permission Denied!

Pushing your repo to Heroku is done with just one line:

$ git push heroku master

…But if you’re like I was originally, you’ll get a permission denied (publickey) error.

(If you don’t get this error, hooray – you’re probably good to go. Or you’re stuck on a new problem that I didn’t encounter. Good luck.)

$ git push heroku master
Permission denied (publickey).
fatal: Could not read from remote repository.

Oh, snap. I Googled the “git push heroku master permission denied (publickey)” error and landed on this helpful Stack Overflow question. The first reply suggested a series of steps starting with heroku keys: add ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub

heroku keys:add ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub // or just heroku keys:add and it will prompt you to pick one of your keys

Alas, in my case, this didn’t work. Here’s what I got:

Uploading SSH public key c:/Users/Mandi/.ssh/id_rsa.pub... failed! Could not upload SSH public key: key file 'c:/Users/Mandi/.ssh/id_rsa.pub' does not exist

Well, that’s just super: I didn’t have an id_rsa.pub file yet. I needed to generate a new set of SSH keys, as detailed in my next step.

Step 6: Generate SSH keys

Fortunately, GitHub has an excellent guide on generating ssh keys, which will get you most of the way there. I encountered some problems along the way, which I’ve explained in this section.

The first step in GitHub’s instructions failed for me, of course, since I had no SSH keys.

All I got was:

ls -al ~/.ssh
total 7
drwxr-xr-x 1 Mandi Administ 0 Nov 10 16:04 .
drwxr-xr-x 48 Mandi Administ 12288 Nov 10 16:04 ..
-rw-r--r-- 1 Mandi Administ 405 Nov 10 16:04 known_hosts

If you also have no SSH keys (files with names like id_dsa.pub, id_ecdsa.pub, id_rsa.pub, etc) you’ll need to move right along to GitHub’s second step and generate a new SSH key:

ssh-keygen -t rsa -C "your_email@example.com"
# Creates a new ssh key, using the provided email as a label
# Generating public/private rsa key pair.
# Enter file in which to save the key (/c/Users/you/.ssh/id_rsa): [Press enter]

Just press enter when it prompts for a file location – you want the default. You’ll enter a passphrase twice (remember what you type here!):

Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase): [Type a passphrase]
# Enter same passphrase again: [Type passphrase again]

And then you’ll get something like this, telling you where your identification and public key were saved as well as your key fingerprint and a random ascii art image for your viewing pleasure.

Your identification has been saved in /c/Users/you/.ssh/id_rsa.
# Your public key has been saved in /c/Users/you/.ssh/id_rsa.pub.
# The key fingerprint is:
# 01:0f:f4:3b:ca:85:d6:17:a1:7d:f0:68:9d:f0:a2:db your_email@example.com

Then you start the SSH agent:

$ ssh-agent -s
SSH_AUTH_SOCK=/tmp/ssh-ALBBCxgfEl11/agent.7104; export SSH_AUTH_SOCK;
SSH_AGENT_PID=6672; export SSH_AGENT_PID;
echo Agent pid 6672;

And then you add your key to the SSH agent… and, if you’re like me, get a new failure message to investigate:

$ ssh-add ~/.ssh/id_rsa
Could not open a connection to your authentication agent.

Looks like my authentication agent was never started. Huh? The previous step failed silently, apparently.

Fortunately, there is another great Stack Overflow question about this “could not open a connection to your authentication agent” issue. However, the first couple of answers didn’t actually work for me!

This is the one that did:

eval $(ssh-agent)

Caveat: I’m on Windows 7 64-bit using msysgit bash, so your experience may differ from mine. Responses to this answer suggest the problem is not unique to the Windows environment.

Anyway, now that the authentication agent is running I can properly complete the ssh-add step:

$ ssh-add ~/.ssh/id_rsa
Enter passphrase for /c/Users/Mandi/.ssh/id_rsa:
Identity added: /c/Users/Mandi/.ssh/id_rsa (/c/Users/Mandi/.ssh/id_rsa)

Phew! Onwards to the GitHub step.

Step 7: Add new key to GitHub account

Following GitHub guide to generating SSH keys still, the next step is to copy the contents of your id_rsa.pub file to your clipboard. This is easily done with clip, like so:

clip < ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub
  1. Go to GitHub and click the “Settings” gear icon in the upper right.
  2. Click “Add SSH Key”
  3. Give your key a title (I named mine after my computer)
  4. Paste the contents of clipboard into the large field
  5. Click “Add Key” to save it

(GitHub has a visual guide to these steps here)

Step 8: SSH into GitHub

Okay, almost done. The next step (taken from GitHub’s own guide) is:

ssh -T git@github.com

You’ll get these warnings, but that’s okay:

The authenticity of host 'github.com (207.97.227.239)' can't be established.
# RSA key fingerprint is 16:27:ac:a5:76:28:2d:36:63:1b:56:4d:eb:df:a6:48.
# Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)?

Type “yes” and if everything goes okay, you’ll get:

Hi username! You've successfully authenticated, but GitHub does not provide shell access.

This step worked successfully for me, but if you get an error here GitHub has a guide for that too: Error: Permission Denied (publickey)

Step 9: Push to Heroku

Oh, yeah – I just remembered what I was trying to do before I went down the SSH error rabbithole: I was trying to push my GitHub repo to Heroku!

First, add that same .ssh file to with heroku:keys add

$ heroku keys:add ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub
Uploading SSH public key c:/Users/Mandi/.ssh/id_rsa.pub... done

Phew, success! Now I was able to run heroku push.

$ git push heroku master
Warning: Permanently added the RSA host key for IP address '50.19.85.132' to the
 list of known hosts.
Initializing repository, done.
Counting objects: 801, done.
Delta compression using up to 8 threads.
Compressing objects: 100% (705/705), done.
Writing objects: 100% (801/801), 994.30 KiB | 519.00 KiB/s, done.
Total 801 (delta 419), reused 0 (delta 0)

This message was followed by several screens depicting the installation of node and my project’s node packages. Heroku handles this setup automatically, and in my case, the installation processes went off without a hitch.

Step 10: Check out your app on Heroku – Application Error, hooray!

I’m glad I didn’t celebrate too early, because my Heroku app looks like this:

heroku-application-error

Application Error

An error occurred in the application and your page could not be served. Please try again in a few moments.

If you are the application owner, check your logs for details.

And no, it doesn’t go away in a few moments.

Step 11: Using MongoDB? Install MongoLab on your Heroku app

If you’ve ever tried to run your app locally while forgetting to fire up your MongoDB first, then you’ve probably seen your build process fail due to your database not being up and running.

There’s really no way to know that a not-running database is the cause of the application error screen, but I’ll spoil the surprise for you and tell you that in this case, that’s exactly what it was. If your Heroku-hosted MEAN app is using a MongoDB then you need to install an add-on called MongoLab.

Go to your app’s dashboard and click Get more addons

get-more-addons
If your Heroku-hosted MEAN stack app requires MongoDB, add MongoLab as a free add-on.

The addons page looks different every time I come in here, but the MongoLab icon hasn’t changed:

mongolab

Click the icon to learn more about MongoLab, including its pricing structure and features. You will have to enter a credit card number to enable MongoLabs, but sandbox (which is what you’re using here) will be free. (I think this is super annoying, BTW. If it’s free, it shouldn’t require a credit card to use. I’ve never actually been charged by Heroku or MongoLab.)

To install, head back over to your Command Line/Terminal window and enter:

$ heroku addons:add mongolab

You’ll get this sort of response:

Adding mongolab on chickenbreastmeals... done, v4 (free)
Welcome to MongoLab. Your new subscription is being created and will be available shortly. Please consult the MongoLab Add-on Admin UI to check on its progress.
Use `heroku addons:docs mongolab` to view documentation.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: My server.js file is already configured to expect MONGOLAB_URI. I’ve provided my server.js code here in case you need to do the same to your server file:

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'use strict';
 
var express = require('express');
var bodyparser = require('body-parser');
var mongoose = require('mongoose');
var http = require('http');
var app = express();
 
mongoose.connect(process.env.MONGOLAB_URI || 'mongodb://localhost/meals-development');
app.use(express.static(__dirname + '/build'));
 
app.use(bodyparser.json({limit:'50mb'}));
app.use(bodyparser.urlencoded({limit: '50mb', extended: true}));
 
require('./routes/admin-routes')(app);
 
var server = http.createServer(app);
 
var port = process.env.PORT || 3000;
app.listen(port, function() {
console.log("Listening on " + port);
});

From here, I attempted to view my app again. This time I got:

cannot-get

Le sigh. But this is progress – I don’t get an Application Error anymore, so the database installation made a difference. Checking the Chrome console, my Heroku app is generating this error:

Failed to load resource: the server responded with a status of 404 (Not Found)

Step 12: Giving Heroku access to my Build folder

I scratched my head a bit over this “cannot GET/” problem and Googled it, which led me to this Stack Overflow question, Heroku Cannot Get.

Just like the original asker, my .gitignore contained a line for my build folder, which meant Heroku had nothing to serve as it had no access to my “compiled” project.

I removed the build line from .gitignore, and pushed the updated .gitignore file and build/ folder to both GitHub and Heroku like so:

$ git push origin master
$ git push heroku master

Step 13: IT’S ALIVE!

At last, I see my app when I visit chickenbreastmeals.com. It’s lacking the database entries from my local development environment, so I’ll update this post once I get those in.

Hope this guide helped you deploy your MongoDB / AngularJS / Express / node.js app to Heroku! There’s only about a thousand things that can go wrong between point A and point Z, so if something in this guide doesn’t work from you it’s probably a difference in our environments or an error on my part – please leave a comment letting me know (and start Googling – good luck!).

Addendum

Did you use Gulp to build your app and automate some build processes? If so, your app probably doesn’t look so hot on Heroku right now. This is because Heroku doesn’t know which of your Gulp tasks needs to run after all your Node packages are installed. Let’s fix that!

Dev Dependencies

First off, it’s important to mention that if you installed any packages as a dev dependency (like you probably did with Gulp), Heroku will not include them in your build by default. This is because Heroku assumes you’re deploying a production build, and will run npm install –production, which ignores dev dependencies. There’s two ways to fix this:

1. In your app’s package.json, move Gulp and all related packages from the “devDependencies” list into the “dependencies” list. This is a pain and I do not recommend it.

2. Run the following terminal command to tell Heroku that it should use the standard npm install command:

heroku config:set NPM_CONFIG_PRODUCTION=false

Postinstall Scripts

With that taken care of, we need to tell Heroku what commands we want to run after all of our packages are downloaded and installed. Luckily Heroku has made this easy! Just add a “scripts” block to your package.json file, like so:

"scripts": {
 "start": "node server.js"
 "postinstall": "bower install && gulp build-libs && gulp build"
}

The “start” script tells Heroku how to start my server: run node with the file server.js. The “postinstall” script is actually three commands separated by &&, ran in sequence: bower installgulp build-libs, and gulp build. In my gulpfile.js, the build-libs task concatenates and minifies several libraries like Angular and Bootstrap. This task relies on those libraries being in the bower_components folder, which is why I run bower install first.

Troubleshooting

If any of the steps in this article don’t work, there’s a couple things you can try. The most helpful thing to know is that you can run common Linux shell commands on your Heroku container with heroku run. Like this:

heroku run ls -la

This is just like running ls -la on your own system, and will list all of the files in your Heroku deployment’s main directory. This is how I figured out that I need to run bower install: there was no bower_components folder in my deployment!

 

MongoDB cheat sheet

mongodbThis simple MongoDB tutorial is for you if:

  • you’re completely new to MongoDB and just want to do SOMETHING with it
  • you have MongoDB running but forgot the particulars of using the MongoDB shell
  • you want to look inside your db and confirm data’s actually getting written to it
  • you rebooted and lost your Mongo server and you can’t remember how you got it running in the first place
  • you don’t want to wade through the documentation again

Or, you’re just me in the future looking for where I wrote this down. You’re welcome, future self.

1. Install Mongo!

Install steps are better covered by Mongo itself: official MongoDB

2. Start Mongod

These steps differ by OS.

Mac / Linux

On my Mac machine, I can start mongod from anywhere because it’s in my $path (see this guide for steps on adding MongoDB to your $PATH).

Just use:

mongod

Successful connection looks something like:
Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 11.59.03 AM

Windows

On my Windows machine, I have to navigate to Mongo’s installation folder to start mongod. Open Terminal (Mac) or Command Prompt (Windows). Navigate all the way into the bin folder. On my Windows machine, my mongo folder is here:

J:\mongo\mongodb\bin

Now use:

mongod

On Windows, I see a connection spam scroll by. Leave this window open and go to the next step.

mongod_started

Problems starting Mongodb?

If you get the “Unable to lock file: data/db/mongod.lock. Is a mongod instance already running?” problem, you probably have multiple instances of mongodb already running. This can happen as you switch projects, switch between user accounts on the same machine, etc.

To fix it, do this to list your computer’s processes and filter them to just mongo (this example is from when I had the problem on my Mac):

ps aux | grep mongo

On my machine, running that command revealed a couple instances of mongo already running (these were started by Jim using a separate account on the same computer). The third process in the list (the one owned by mjgrant) is the grep itself.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 11.24.10 AM

Because my mongo instance was started by “root” (another Mac account, really), I had to be all dirty and use sudo to kill it by its process number (second column from the left).

sudo kill 61180

If you run the ps aux command again, you should see that there are now no instances of mongo running. If there are, just kill them using the same steps.

But what’s this? Trying to start mongo gives me this error now:

2015-04-26T11:30:11.114-0700 [initandlisten] couldn't open /data/db/memry_database.ns errno:13 Permission denied
2015-04-26T11:30:11.114-0700 [initandlisten] error couldn't open file /data/db/memry_database.ns terminating
2015-04-26T11:30:11.114-0700 [initandlisten] dbexit:

Rather annoyingly in our shared-computer situation, mongo’s knowledge of databases transcends user accounts. Navigating up to /data/db I can see all the databases on this computer. cbm_database is the one I’m trying to use, but mongo is choking on trying to access Jim’s memry_database.

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 11.35.10 AM

I check their permissions…

ls -la

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 11.37.15 AM

When asked why his databases belong to “root”, Jim says, “I probably did it wrong” :D Alas, we don’t know how we ended up with databases belonging to “root”, but Jim must have been using mongo as a root user, hence why he didn’t run into problems accessing databases owned by mjgrant.

Anyway… I used chown to assign ownership of these rogue root databases to my own account to unblock my work. (Standard disclaimer applies: use sudo with caution.)

sudo chown mjgrant memry_database.ns
sudo chown mjgrant memry_database.0

I run ls -la again and confirm that now I own all of the databases.
sudochown_sailormoon

Now you should be able to start MongoDB with…

mongod

And now you should see the connection data:

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 11.59.03 AM

3. Start the Mongo Shell

Open a new window (and navigate again to the bin folder if you’re on Windows).

mongo

This line starts up the Mongo shell.

(So to recap, mongod has to happen before mongo.)

On Mac:

Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 12.09.22 PM

On Windows: 

mongo_shell

MongoDB shell version: x.x.x
connecting to: test

You can now start your localhost server.  (If you were blocked by Error: failed to connect to [localhost:27017] that should now be resolved.)

From here on out, commands you type into the command line will be mongo-specific.

3. Viewing your MongoDBs

Let’s say you want to see your databases:

show dbs

show dbs delivers a list of your databases. You should see something like this in your terminal window after you type it:

mongodb_see_dbs

 

On mine, the result is:

> show dbs
admin <empty>
local 0.078GB
meals-development 0.078GB

4. Using your Mongo DBs

These are your database names. Go inside them with “use”:

use meals-development

Once you’re “using” a database, though, the terminal doesn’t give much clue as to what to do next.

use_db

5. Viewing Collections

A collection is a group of MongoDB documents. Generally, they’re similar in purpose, but they don’t have to conform to one shared schema. You can see collections inside a db by typing:

show collections

As an example, inside my recipes-development example I have:

show_collections_mongo_db

meals
system.indexes

Ah hah, finally. Now I know the name of the collection that contains my recipe (meal) data.

6. Look inside a collection

We’re almost to the good part. To see inside the meals collection, type:

db.meals.find()

You should get a number of objects with ids, names, etc. Each object will start with something like: { “_id” : ObjectID<“544dabfba054…

That’s it!

This was just a short guide to my most commonly used MongoDB shell commands. When I’m setting up a new db, I use these steps to look inside my db and see if data is being saved the way I expect it to.

Helpful Links

Code Fellows Seattle Review: I survived the JavaScript Dev Accelerator!

code_fellowsThis summer I did something completely crazy awesome: I quit my game industry design job to attend one of those trendy “coding bootcamps”, specifically Code Fellows in Seattle and start a new career in web development! After 8 weeks of intense work, I completed the Full Stack JavaScript Development Accelerator on September 26th, 2014.

There aren’t a ton of reviews on coding bootcamps, so I thought I’d add my own to the mighty Interwebs and try to answer some of the questions that I had going into it.

TL;DR

It was awesome! I learned a TON and my fellow students were brilliant and enthusiastic. Highly recommend, would do again.

  • Instruction: My class was taught by Ivan Storck and Tyler Morgan. They were both excellent instructors: good at explaining things, patient with questions, up to date on trends and technologies.
  •  Pacing: Intense! They introduced 5-10 new things a day. Homework filled every minute of my bus ride home and evening.
  • Job placement: I have not accepted a full-time position yet (2 weeks post graduation) but I have been in contact with a number of hiring managers who got my info directly from Code Fellows. I accepted a full-time software engineer position at Expedia, doing challenging and rewarding work with a great team of programmers!

The accelerator is not for beginners, so start writing code now if you’re interested.

What I did to Prepare for Code Fellows

Like most Code Fellows applicants, I was changing careers. Unlike many students, though, my past life was in software development. Even though I never wrote code for my design jobs, I was immersed in the lingo and processes of making a software product.

I’ll talk more about what I did, specifically, to cram for the class in a later section of this review.

Why I Didn’t Pursue a Bachelor’s of Computer Science Instead: Boot Camps vs. Degrees

Like a lot of boot camp attendees, I considered going for a Computer Science degree instead. I live near good schools and I’m sure I could have succeeded at any of them. Boot camps are too new to really know if they’re going to replace the traditional CS degree path into programming. And tech directors and hiring managers are right to worry about boot camp grads: apparently, some coding boot camps really suck.

But in my case, all that was really separating me from the front-end developer job I was aiming for was a better understanding of some very specific web technologies.  After finishing the program, I can say that I definitely made the right choice for me.

I can’t say if boot camp is the right choice for high school grads hoping to skip the cost and time investment of a CS degree. I think that comes down to what you want to do, and how much you value a degree. There’s a lot of entrenched thinking (right or wrong) that having a degree is an indication of a job applicant’s worthiness, and until that changes, a degree will continue to open certain doors. Plus, a hard science education is virtually essential to get hired making airplane software, medical devices, and other things where the price of failure is very high.

Web development and game development seem to play more loose and free with degree requirements, and some of my brightest and bestest co-workers did not have degrees, so I’m not personally convinced of the necessity of a degree in order to write code for a living. Being great at what you do and being likable should guarantee you never run out of opportunities.

As a point of interest: almost everyone in my class of 18 students had at least one college degree, and the majority had workplace experience. A handful (maybe 4 of us) had software development experience in some capacity.

What I Knew Going In: My Coding Background Prior to the Boot Camp

I already knew a bit of ActionScript (learned it in college and used it at my first job to script menus), HTML, CSS, and WordPress (picked these up from my blogging hobby), lua (from when I tried my hand at making little indie games in Corona SDK), Java (from a free online Stanford course) but I wouldn’t have called myself a programmer. At best, I was a hacker who modified existing things to make what I needed.

Still, there were a number of things I did in the year leading into my Code Fellows class that I think helped me do well:

  • Started and maintained several WordPress blogs – this taught me about web hosting, deploying to a web host, and a lot of web dev processes and lingo
  • Customized several WordPress themes – basically a crash course in CSS and PHP (I didn’t use PHP in the Accelerator, but there’s no “bad learning”, so to speak)
  • Completed Stanford’s CS106A Programming Methodologies – this taught me basic Java and object-oriented practices. The course videos are free on YouTube and the course materials are available on Stanford’s site. I cannot recommend this course enough. It gave me a stronger background in Computer Science than many of my fellow Code Fellows students had the benefit of, including an understanding of object oriented design, primitive data types, data structures, memory management, pointers, compiling, and more.  It was worth it for the object oriented instruction alone.
  • Finished the JavaScript Road Trip on CodeSchool – A one month CodeSchool subscription was easily the best $30 bucks I’ve ever spent towards my coding education. CodeSchool is great at showing you all the stuff a language can do, but not so good at showing you how to use it outside of the CodeSchool vacuum, so use it as a way to get introduced before moving on to building stuff on your own.
  • Knew quite a bit of Git – I learned Git as a part of my last job, which was great because Git can took me a while to wrap my head around, even though I had worked with version control before. Git proficiency freed up a lot of brain space for harder coding problems during the class.
  • Opened a GitHub account – All the class homework and class projects are hosted on GitHub. Already knowing how to create repos, clone repos, fork repos, create branches, resolve merge conflicts, merge branches, and collaborate with others on GitHub was big advantage for me.
  • Read the first several chapters of Code Complete – This “best practices” book is all about how to approach coding problems and how to structure the code you write. How long should a method be? What are good naming practices? Stuff like that. It’s approachable even to novices and I owe a lot of my good habits to it.
  • Followed this AngularJS tutorial and then built my own separate site using what I had learned – It took me a little while to really grasp MVC and the role of a framework like AngularJS, so spending a couple weeks on this before the 4 days it was covered in class was very helpful.

The class moved very fast and there wasn’t really time to get mired on a new technology or technique, so I tried to give myself a good grasp on the basics before the class.

Not that Code Fellows didn’t have its own preparation courses, which I’ve outlined in the next section.

Foundations I and Foundations II Review

Foundations I and Foundations II are Code Fellows’s pre-Accelerator preparation classes. When I took them, they were $500 and $1350 respectively (when paid for up front). Foundations I was pretty general, though we did write in JavaScript. Foundations II varies by stack – if you’re pursuing Python you’ll do a Python FII, iOS students go to an iOS FII, and so on. I took the JavaScript flavor of FII.

Schedule

Both Foundations classes meet two weeknights a week for four weeks each, 7-9pm. The classes are open to everyone; you don’t have to be committed to an Accelerator to take a Foundations class.

Both classes featured:

  • Live instructor-led demos on a big projector screen
  • Work time in class with access to TA’s
  • Challenging homework assignments to supplement instruction
  • A customized “what to work on next” guide for each student, given at the end of the class

Location

The Foundations I class was held at the University of Washington’s Seattle campus. Parking was usually $5 a night, but it was occasionally free due to unexplained reasons. The campus was beautiful, well-lit, and easy to navigate. The class was held in the biggest classroom I’ve ever been in, with about 150 students in attendance.

Here’s a pic I snapped 15 mins before class one night:

code_fellows_foundations_1_classroom

Foundations II was held at Code Fellows’s campus in South Lake Union at 511 Boren Ave. You can park in the Amazon garage around the corner (heading west on Republican, drive past Boren and then turn right into the garage). After hours parking has an unadvertised rate of $2.44 and it’s a ghost town by 7pm.

This parking garage doesn’t show up on Google maps. It’s a hidden gem.

cheap_garage_parking_SLU_after_hours

Heads up to any Eastsiders – I live near the Kirkland/Bothell border and my drive into the city for the night classes was hell. I took either via 520 or I-5, whichever one Google Maps predicted a shorter drive for at the time of my departure. The shortest I ever made the trip was an hour, and the longest was 90 minutes. It was tedious and miserable, and there were no better public transit options. Inbound traffic is super jammed up between 5-7pm. Just something to take into account if you live or work on the Eastside and have dreams of getting to these classes in a reasonable amount of time.

Foundations Curriculum

I came into the Foundations classes with familiarity with most of the material they introduced, but I appreciated the “legitimization” of my self-taught knowledge. Plus, the homework was good practice.

Foundations I included:

  • A brief history of Computer Science
  • Using GitHub – forking repos, pushing to repos
  • Writing simple JavaScript loops
  • Simple CSS styling
  • Creating a simple card game, first without and later with a visual (in browser) component

Foundations II included:

  • Creating a menu using jQuery
  • Lodash and Underscore
  • An introduction to Big O
  • More Git practice

I wouldn’t recommend relying 100% on the Foundations classes for Accelerator prep. You won’t get enough coding practice unless you do as much as you can on the side in addition to the classwork.

Dev Accelerator: 8 weeks of kicking my ass with code

The pace was brutal, the homework was never-ending, and the whole 8 weeks flew by so fast I was shocked when it ended so “soon.”

A typical day introduced anywhere from 5-10 new technologies to read up on, learn, install, and use in the homework. (A lot of these were node packages.) The class squeezed every last drop out of me, which I loved – I feel like I got my money’s worth!

Ivan Storck and Tyler Morgan were fantastic teachers. Just absolute geniuses at this stuff and I miss them now that the class is over! They were both very approachable, knowledgeable, and good at assisting in ways that helped without just giving away the answer.

Technologies Covered

This will probably be hilariously out of date in 6 months, but here’s a list to give you an idea of just some of the material we covered:

  • node.js
  • Workflow and build tools – Grunt, Yeoman, Sass, JSHint, Browserify
  • npm packages galore
  • mongoDB – CRUD operations
  • authentication / authorization
  • Unit testing in Mocha
  • Karma, Jasmine testing
  • deploying projects to Heroku and Amazon Web Services
  • Google Maps API
  • Algorithms
  • Backbone and AngularJS
  • Data structures – linked lists, queues, stacks, arrays, using objects as hash maps
  • Whiteboard questions like the kind you might encounter in an interview

And by “covered”, I don’t mean “they mentioned this in a demo once”. I mean actually wrote code that used these technologies, usually as homework and/or for team projects.

Daily Schedule

I actually had no idea what to expect for the class schedule other than “every day from 9-4”, so I’ll share what mine was like here.

Class Days

Class was held every week day from 9am to 4pm for 8 weeks total. Mondays-Thursdays followed a schedule of co-working time in the morning and instruction in the afternoon. Fridays were “How to Get a Job” workshops and did not include any coding instruction (more on those later).

For my class, the 9am-1pm part of the day was “co-working” time. This means everyone in the class is expected to be present, but the time is for homework and asking questions. The instructors are available during this time for help.

The co-working space was big enough for several classes worth of students to hang out in there at once:

code_fellows_co_working

People typically left for lunch around 11:45-12:00 and everyone returned by 1pm. Food in South Lake Union is pricey, and I brought my lunch almost every day – Code Fellows has refrigerators and microwaves on site.

The 1pm-4pm part of the day was instructional time, where everyone sat at desks facing the projector and followed along on laptops to the live demos and lectures that were given by the class’s two instructors. They instructors filled every minute until 4pm with useful stuff, which was great – I hate when class I’m paying a fortune for ends early. ;)

Here’s my class near the end of an afternoon lecture session:

dev_acclerator_typical_day

Some classes flip it and do instruction in the morning and co-working in the afternoon. On days when my bus ran late, though, I really appreciated missing 15 minutes of work time instead of 15 minutes of expensive instructional time. At $9,000 for the course (assuming you pay in full up front for the discount), every hour of instruction costs $93.75!

Team Project Weeks

Team Project weeks were weeks 4 and 8. Groups were self-selecting and typically 4-5 students each. The whole week was given as co-working time for teams to work together on projects that were then presented to the class as a whole on Friday. Instructors were available all day every day for help.

Team project experiences vary by team and individual. My two team projects went pretty well overall, and I learned a lot about Google Maps API and JavaScript (first team project) and Angular (second team project) by the time the week was done.

Like everything else in the class, the team projects are hosted on GitHub!

  • Find Fit – Week 4 (Google Maps and Places APIs, JavaScript)
  • InstaPitch – Week 8 (AngularJS, Auth/Auth, REST)

Friday “Get a Job” Lectures and Workshops

Instead of class, each Friday was a “How to get a job” lecture or workshop session. There were six of these total, usually an hour or two in length. A couple of the sessions were pretty elementary stuff, but I’ve worked in software for nearly a decade and have introduced myself more times, written more resumes, and interviewed more people than I can remember by now.  These sessions might be more exciting to someone without that experience.

But there were some real gems in the Friday sessions, too!

Gina Luna, a Code Fellows staffer and photographer, has a great eye for portraiture.  She took photos of each student and we all got a bunch of professional-quality photos of ourselves to use on our GitHub and LinkedIn profiles.

Code Fellows also invited two alumni to speak to the class in one of the Friday sessions. Those guys were awesome, and I had fun picking their brains about what it’s like to work at their respective web dev companies.

I also loved the presentation given by Mitch Robertson – he showed us a lot of LinkedIn tricks and emphasized the importance of being likable (in my own experience with hiring people, being likable is often more important than raw skills).

The Hardest Stuff

All things considered, the most challenging aspects of the class were keeping current on the homework (more every day!) and the week where we did whiteboard challenges for a couple hours every afternoon in small groups. These problems were hard, but they became more manageable the more of them we did, and now I feel pretty well prepared to write code on a whiteboard in an interview.

whiteboarding_sessions

How do I Job Now?

Code Fellows doesn’t place students in jobs, but they do have a bunch of “hiring partners” – companies that basically get first dibs on the Code Fellows resume stack.

I’ve already heard back from several of these companies, and they’re prestigious, exciting companies located in downtown Seattle, not Bumblefracktucky. So that’s awesome. (However, I’m only pursuing Eastside opportunities at this time.)

Networking

At Code Fellows, assuming you’re not a huge jerk, you’ll get to know a lot of great people who will be the start of your new professional network. I’ve personally never gotten a job where I didn’t already know someone on the inside vouching for me, so I think this “instant network” was just another one of the class’s benefits.

The Accelerator instructors also encouraged us to attend local Meetups, which I did, and I left with another half dozen really good contacts to keep in touch with.

In short, I met a lot of great people as a result of the class.

My Advice to Interested Students

  • Start programming now. This isn’t for beginners. The more you know going in, the more you’ll get out of it. You don’t want to be the person stuck on Git basics when everyone else is doing cool stuff.
  • Get some practice with algorithms, data structures, and Big-O. These topics really deserve more time than they get in the class, and they’ll probably hit like a bag of bricks the first time you encounter them.
  • If you’re a procrastinator or are just doing it for the paycheck, you probably won’t survive. This class was brutally difficult and frustrating at times, and the only way to survive it is out of a genuine interest and passion for computing.
  • Also, You’ll need a laptop with a UNIX based operating system.  That means a MacBook or a machine with Linux installed. I started this adventure with a Linux machine but purchased a 15.4″ MacBook Pro refurb right before the accelerator. It was a good choice.

And that’s it!

Overall, a fantastic experience and I’m glad I went for it. I think it would have taken me at least a year to learn all this stuff on my own, and it really helped to have knowledgeable teachers pointing me at the right technologies, answering questions, and challenging me with things I might not have discovered (or given up on) if I had been relying entirely on self-teaching.

If you’re considering a coding boot camp and you live in the Seattle or Portland area, you should check out the next Code Fellows open house.

Push to GitHub without entering username and password every time (Git Bash on Windows)

Today I learned… how to save my GitHub username and password so I don’t have to re-enter them every time I push something to GitHub from my Windows machine.

A bit of backstory:

I recently set up git on my Windows 7 machine using Git for Windows (mysisgit). That process went smoothly and I feel right at home in my little emulator, Git Bash, using all the same commands I already know and love from my Mac.

If you’re used to using git on a Mac and have to work on a Windows machine for whatever reason, I highly recommend mysisgit.

Credential check… every time!

Everything was going great until I pushed my changes. Every push triggered a new credentials check!

$ git push origin master
Username for 'https://github.com': xyz
Password for 'https://xyz@github.com':

I don’t want to enter my GitHub username and password every time I push something.

HTTPS vs. SSH?

So I hit the Google and found this StackOverflow question, where some helpful folks say the problem results from connecting over HTTPS instead of SSH, but GitHub’s help documentation recommends connecting over HTTPS, not SSH.

I’m hesitant to disobey the word of GitHub, so instead of relying on SSH, I followed GitHub’s instructions to use a credentials helper.

Credentials Helper Setup

However… GitHub’s explanation of how to cache your password with the credentials helper aren’t very clear. They tell you to enter this line and then don’t tell you what to do next.

Here’s what I did – worked for me.

In your Git Bash window, enter this line:

$ git config --global credential.helper wincred

Now push a change to Github and enter your credentials – this is where your username and password information gets saved to the credential helper.

You won’t get any feedback telling you that, but you can confirm it worked by pushing another change. This time, you shouldn’t have to enter your credentials again.

But I have this problem on Linux!

Try this: Caching your GitHub password in Git

$ git config --global credential.helper cache


WordPress Genesis Framework – Showing a List of Post Titles in Category View

Today I learned… how to customize the “Category” view in WordPress (Genesis framework) to show just the post titles as ordinary links in a list.

I really like the way posts of a category are displayed on DailyBlogTips. Each post gets a bullet in a simple unordered list.

posts_as_list_items
DailyBlogTips’s category view shows just the post titles in an unordered list.

By default, WordPress (and Genesis) gives you two options for displaying posts by category: either their full form one after another (do not want), or a truncated version with the post title and excerpt (also do not want).

A solution in which the titles were rendered as <a hrefs> between <li></li> tags required modifying the loop when on a Category page.

Please note that this code requires a theme built on the Genesis framework, though it should not be hard to modify the hooks to suit your framework if you know your way around a bit.

Copy the contents of functions.php into your child theme’s functions.php file.

Here’s what this is doing, in English:

When the current page is ‘Categories’ (Line 9), don’t do the usual genesis_loop (Line 13). Instead, do this custom loop (Line 14) called mjg_custom_loop.

Over in mjg_custom_loop, create a new unordered list (Line 21) and for each post (Line 22), echo its permalink and its name into a set of <li> </li> tags (Line 24).

The contents of style.css will probably need to be customized to fit your site’s design, but hopefully this is enough to get you through the hardest part which is customizing the loop on the category page.

Here is how it looks on the site:

category_links_only
Titles-only Category view on TowerSecrets.com

Book Review: You Don’t Know JS – Scope & Closures by Kyle Simpson

scope_and_closures_book_JS_kyle_simpson
Scope & Closures by Kyle Simpson

If you’re an intermediate JavaScripter who’s tired of weighty tomes and arcane examples, You Don’t Know JS – Scope & Closures by Kyle Simpson is right up your alley. This smart book takes a laser-focused look at scope and closures in JavaScript.

My rating: 5/5

Who it’s for: Intermediate JavaScripters. If you’ve heard of scope, closures, JS compiling theory, but aren’t sure you really understand them as well as you should, then this book is for you.

Review

Let me preface this review by saying I’m not a big fan of coding books.

I have been frustrated by out-of-date books, untested code, and overly complex explanations from coding wizards who have long since forgotten what it’s like to be a newbie. I’ve always been more of an in-the-trenches doer than an ivory tower studier, anyway.

So, I wasn’t expecting to like Kyle Simpson’s You Don’t Know JS: Scope & Closures book so much. A programmer friend insisted I read it, and 87 pages of golden JS secrets and epiphanies later, I’m glad I did.

This book is…

  1. Brief. No long-winded explanations or storytelling.
  2. Focused. One topic, explored deeply FTW.
  3. Short examples, usually just a handful of lines total.
  4. Easy-to-follow examples with good style choices, such as verbose variable names and comments listing the expected result.
  5. Concepts are explained and re-explained before moving on. This is complicated stuff for us intermediate JavaScripters, and he takes the time to attack topics from multiple angles.

Highlights

You Don’t Know JS – Scope & Closures covers:

  • variables: declaring, setting, and updating
  • scope
  • lexing
  • hoisting
  • closures
  • how the JavaScript compiler reads code
  • tokenizing

This book deserves credit for explaining the compiler’s process of operations in a way that actually clicked for me.

I also loved the short examples. They were easy to follow, none of that 30+ lines of code spread across two pages stuff you see in other books.

The book’s small size is a plus.  I took it with me on a day trip – hooray for books that aren’t the size of my laptop.

Criticisms?

The only thing I might say is that some examples in the book are like, “Yeah, duh, don’t do it that way” but to be honest, I probably had to be told some of these “duh” things myself when I was starting out a few years ago.

Overall, I’d give this book an A+. It fits into the vast gulf between “total n00b” and “JavaScript Jedi”.

Check it out on Amazon.com for the current price (as well as any coupons and deals that might be running).

Note to readers: TILCode is an Amazon Affiliate. Purchases made through some links on this site help support the site at no extra cost to you. Read the full disclosure here.

Read this: Airbnb’s Excellent JavaScript style guide

Today I learned… that Airbnb has a fantastic JavaScript “style guide” available for free on github. The guide is light on long-winded explanations and big on DO and DON’T examples. Check it out, it’s a 15 min read at most.

Here are just a few of the things I learned from it:

Declaring multiple variables

A long list of variable declarations should be done with the unassigned variables last, and all declarations can share one use of var.

// multiple var declarations like so:
var items = getItems(),
    daytime = true,
    length,
    i;

I’m definitely guilty of var var var var var… but I’m not sure how I feel about this particular style. I like the clarity and editability of beginning each line with var, but for declaring lots of like items, I can see the usefulness of this style.

Shortcuts for the win

Instead of writing “if this thing is greater than zero”, you can just write “if this thing”.

Here’s an example:

// bad
if (cars.length > 0) {
  // ... code here
}

// good
if (cars.length) {
  // ... code here
}

Easy enough.

Comment with good style

Oops, I’ve definitely been getting this one wrong. Comments belong on their own line, not off to the right of the line the comment explains.

// bad
var active = true;  // is current tab

// good
// is current tab
var active = true;

Guilty. I’ll quit doing this, as tempting as it is for the sake of shorter files…

Saving a reference to “this”

Oops, here’s another mea culpa. I’ve been saving reference to “this” as “self”, but the style guide suggests _this as a better alternative.

I’m inclined to agree – I found “self” confusing the first time I encountered it, and its relation to “this” wasn’t immediately apparent.

// bad
function() {
  var self = this;
  return function() {
    console.log(self);
  };
}

// bad
function() {
  var that = this;
  return function() {
    console.log(that);
  };
}

// good
function() {
  var _this = this;
  return function() {
    console.log(_this);
  };
}

Those are just a handful of the discoveries I made while exploring this guide.

Be sure to check it out yourself and see what you could be doing better, and don’t miss the giant list of resources at the bottom of the page!

Declaring a variable as a number before adding to it with +=

Today I learned… that you have to explicitly declare a number variable as a number before you can increment it with += in JavaScript.

This is probably a boneheaded newbie mistake, but it had me stumped for several minutes. I declared a variable, var total; and then tried to add to it by writing total +=5.  And then I scratched my head as my code returned NaN.

1
2
3
4
var total;
 
total += 5;
console.log(total); //prints "NaN"

This happens because “undefined” and zero are not equivalent in JavaScript! 

Even though JavaScript isn’t “strongly typed”, you can’t add numbers to something that isn’t a number yet.

Declaring total by setting it to an actual number, ie: var total = 0, fixed my “NaN” problem.

1
2
3
4
var total = 0;
 
total += 5;
console.log(total); //prints a 5

Add a screenshot to your Github repo README.md

Today I learned… that you can add images to a Github repository README.md file! I’m now drunk with power and the desire to decorate all my repos with screenshots.

In README.md:

![alt text](screenshots/filename.png "Description goes here")

This approach (with a relative filepath to screenshots/filename.png) assumes your screenshot is part of your repo. For student projects, personal work, and other small stuff, including screenshots in your repo is no biggie.

If you don’t want the screenshot in your repo, you can upload it somewhere else and link to it directly like so:

![alt tag](http://domain.com/path/to/img.png "Description goes here")

.png is the preferred file format.

To take a screenshot on a Mac, press COMMAND + SHIFT + 4 at the same time. By default, the screenshot is saved as a .png to your desktop.

Reasons why repo screenshots rule:

  • screenshots illustrate what the project does
  • they help distinguish your repos from one another
  • they can help you remember projects you worked on a while ago
  • they show off your ability to document your work*
  • save you from having to clone in a project and start up a server to remember what it looked like
  • make a pretty portfolio of your work

* Documenting your stuff helps future-you and everyone else you might ever work with (including maybe your manager or boss). The people who do well in their careers are often those who take the time to record what they did, how they did it, why they did it that way, and share it with others. The ability to document one’s work is something I always looked for when making a hiring decision.

Screenshot action shot:

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 10.16.02 AM

I don’t expect to win any graphic design awards here, but I can surf my own repos and remember what I did at a glance, which is pretty sweet.

Quickly add lines to .gitignore using echo in the command line

Today I learned… that you don’t have to open .gitignore in your editor, add a line(s) to it, save it, and close it. You can do all that in one step from the command line using echo!

Here’s a preview:

$ echo '.DS_Store' >> .gitignore

How it works

Here’s a common scenario. You do git status on your working folder and discover git wants to add some file you don’t want added to your remote repository, like the pesky .DS_Store file.

Thanks, but no thanks, git. I don't want that .DS_Store file in my git repository.
Thanks, but no thanks, git. I don’t want that .DS_Store file in my git repository.

If your git project doesn’t already have a .gitignore file, create one in one step by typing this while in your project’s root directory:

$ touch .gitignore

From here, you could open that .gitignore file in an editor and add lines to it, save it and close it, but that’s rather cumbersome if all you need to add is one or a few lines.

Here’s a faster way, using “echo” to push some new data into the file.

$ echo '.DS_Store' >> .gitignore

The double >> is important. If you type just one >, you’ll overwrite the existing contents. Using >> appends your echo string to the end.

For a sanity check, open up .gitignore and you’ll see that .DS_Store has been added.

Once you’re more accustomed to using .gitignore you’ll probably come up with a “boilerplate” .gitignore to copy and paste into all your projects, but you’ll probably never reach a point where you aren’t occasionally surprised by an unwanted file showing up in your git status.