Adventures at Cleveland GiveCamp 2012

This past weekend, I had the fun experience of participating in Cleveland GiveCamp.  This was my 5th GiveCamp overall, 3rd in Cleveland, and 2nd as a project manager.

Why I Love Cleveland GiveCamp

Growing up, my parents raised me to put my skills to work and help others when I can.  Besides being able to put my developer skills to use, I can also take advantage of my abilities to translate tech into plain English by taking on a project manager role, which I enjoy a lot more than developing because it has me dealing with the client more.  While I like writing code, I get more satisfaction in knowing that the big picture is taken care of and that the client’s needs are getting met.  What I love most about Cleveland GiveCamp is that it’s here in Cleveland, my hometown.  It takes place both on a boat and in an airport – no other GiveCamp can claim that.  (Special thanks to LeanDog and Burke Lakefront Airport for giving us space to work.)  The last thing I truly love seeing is that the non-profits here are extremely appreciative of the work and some come back and pay it forward.

Paying It Forward

I have to admit it – I love when previous years’ non-profit representatives come back and volunteer at GiveCamp.  In 2011, we had Sherrie Zagorc from Kiddie City (my project from 2010) helping with the food.  This year, we had three different non-profits from last year come help this year – Tim Smith of Community Greenhouse Partners and Kathy & Rich Wickens of Euclid Beach Park Now and Cleveland’s Euclid Beach Carousel Society.  For non-profit reps to  come back and help out – this is a great thing!  It’s good to see that they not only appreciate the work that was done for them while at the GiveCamp but they remember what was done and come out a year later to again show their appreciation.  I love that they come back like that!

My Team – New Avenues to Independence/Buckeye Industries

I had the privilege of being the project manager for 1 project this year – Buckeye Industries, a business enterprise of New Avenues to Independence, Inc.  They needed a website and were on a Microsoft-based host.

After getting our team together on Friday, we talked about what was out there.  I had recommended that the team get WebMatrix to see what options are out there.  We originally were considering either mojoPortal or Orchard, as that’s what a couple of us on the team were familiar with.  However, since we needed to set up a storefront and wanted something easy to work with, we ended up using DotNetNuke with the NBStore module.  We also used the helferlein_Form extension for creating contact forms.  I’ll update this post with our final site once DNS propagates.  Special thanks to Joe Brinkman for getting us set up with Applied Innovations hosting.  Here’s our team:


Buckeye Industries - Cleveland GiveCamp 2012

Etsuko Dunham, Ryan Marinoff, Karen Knavel (our non-profit contact), me, Matt Lucas, and Toby MacKenzie

This team worked really hard and put together an amazing site over the weekend!  I’m proud to have worked with such a talented team!

The Recap Video

Once again, my awesome husband Kevin volunteered at GiveCamp and took pictures.  You can see most of his pictures on the Cleveland GiveCamp Facebook page.  He also created another recap video.  Check it out:

If the video doesn’t appear above, check it out on YouTube.


I had a wonderful time at GiveCamp this weekend – working with a talented team and helping such a wonderful non-profit.  While it’s an exhausting weekend, it was also quite enjoyable!  I look forward to Cleveland GiveCamp 2013!

The (Unnecessary) Education Requirement in Software Development

Last weekend, I was at a gathering with a bunch of my friends when the topic of needing a degree came up.  This topic is one that really gets me thinking.

For the record, I do have a degree in a computer-related topic and happen to be the odd one in my group of friends.  I have a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science & Engineering Technology from the University of Toledo.

Do you need a degree in a computer-related topic to be a successful software developer?

Honestly, no.  Some of my great developer friends have different backgrounds.  There are those with theater, music, or other arts degrees.  Some have science degrees – chemistry, biology… those kinds of sciences.  Some have degrees along the lines of journalism, English, or psychology.  And yes, some have non-computer engineering degrees – such as chemical engineering and mechanical engineering.

Each of these degrees, while not computer-focused, have different elements of their expertises that in reality could be applied to computer-related stuff, even if we never pictured it.  With a psychology background, you may be able to understand your end users a bit better and use that to develop better user experiences.  With the engineering degrees, there’s the engineering element of taking things apart and putting them back together – writing a program is pretty much taking a broken problem a part and putting it back together.  With journalism or English backgrounds, you may find those handy when writing documentation and error messages.

Do you really need a degree to be a successful software developer?

In my opinion, I don’t believe you need to have a degree – or even certifications – to be a successful software developer.  I know many high school students who are mentored by people in the industry who can write code much better than some college-educated folks.  College degrees and certifications – to me – show that you can set a goal of completing a program and actually earning that piece of paper.  Unfortunately, many employers are looking for degrees and certifications because they see value in them.  However, the smart employers know that if a candidate shows great potential for success – be it through code challenges, discussions of a person’s side jobs, or even someone’s hobby – then their education background really doesn’t make a difference.

So what do you think it takes to be a successful software developer?

If you treat your software development job/side job/hobby as a craft,  that’s a great sign that you’re on the road to success.  Accepting that you aren’t the only developer out there trying to be successful and learning from other developers who’ve achieved the success you’re looking for are great steps as well.  To me, one of the key things you should have in order to be a successful software developer is an understanding not just of the front end, back end, or middle tier but the big picture – if you can explain the front end and why the user experience is the way it is as well as understand how it talks to the back end via a middle tier, then you’re doing something right.

What do you suggest employers look for then if not for a degree in a computer related topic?

The things I tell my manager friends to keep an eye out for include:

  • Past jobs experience
  • Hobby or side jobs experience
  • Code samples
  • Portfolio of work/well done resume

If you see something in those and are still uncertain of the candidate’s software development skills’ levels, then try a code challenge and have potential teammates or managers review the code challenge.

My call to employers is this – understand that while someone has a piece of paper saying they’re good working with a technology, it doesn’t mean that the other candidate without that piece of paper is any less of a candidate.