Exciting Adventures at CodeMash – Part 1, Precompilers

Every year, CodeMash sells out quicker than the last.  It’s growing in size and popularity beyond belief, which is a good thing.  Overall, it’s been a great adventure.  As I mentioned in my past precompiler selection article, it was tough to choose precompilers, as there were so many great ones to choose from that seemed relevant to me.

Speaker Workshop with Leon Gersing

As I suspected, this was a wonderful Precompiler for me to start with.  The room was filled with some familiar faces (such as Cori) and a lot of new faces (including Kevin N., Sharon, DustyJohn, and Evan).  We had a brief eyes forward session on tips and tricks to use while presenting.  Once that was done, then Leon got us involved in group activities.

The first activity involved dividing the room in half.  One half of the room had to stand up in front of the other half of the room.  The seated half was supposed to observe the standing half.  Being up there, I either stood with my arms crossed (as I hate standing up in front of a quiet room where all eyes are on me and the audience has blank expressions on their face) or tried to make them laugh (did I mention that I don’t like standing up in front of blank faces).  For me, when I’m standing in front of a crowd and being observed, I’m typically presenting.  While presenting, I’m also reading my audience and trying to keep them engaged.  So standing still and trying to be quiet up there… not a comfortable thing for me.

Then there was the activity of lining up in groups and then coming to the center and introducing ourselves.  Some people introduced themselves with a question tone – so along the lines of “I’m Sarah Dutkiewicz?”  I knew not to come out with the question tone, but I’ve had practice speaking and had a speech class in college where the speech instructor taught me the tricks and helped me channel the self confidence to get away from that.  However, I started with a long introduction (that I ended up doing 3 or 4 times, so much so that I’m sure most of the people there could repeat it) and then ended with a “I’m Sarah Dutkiewicz!”.    Now I have to admit… doing the introduction a ton of times, I heard a lot of “Hey, Sadukie!” throughout the conference – so I knew my introduction style was effective.  But man, having to introduce myself so many times… I knew why, but I just had to do it.  That, and Leon is my friend and knows that he can put me through that and that I could handle it.

Overall, I really enjoyed observing others and how they carry themselves and then listen to Leon’s critique and suggestions.  Reading body language was quite an interesting exercise as well.  I look forward to putting the experiences in there towards becoming a better speaker.

Creative Problem Solving with Jessie Shternshus

This was the precompiler I really wanted to get into.  Jessie Shternshus of The Improv Effect led this session. They limit the session to 40 participants, so I skipped breakfast (other than peanut butter filled pretzels) so that I’d get a spot.  Well worth it!  Learning how to solve problems creatively by using improv exercises really turned out to be an effective session.  Starting out the session cheering “I FAILED!” and celebrating that set a fun tone for the session.  These are just some (but not all) of the exercises we did.

Defining Randomness

In this exercise, we got into two circles.  As we went around the circle, one person would make up a word and the person next to them would define the word, as if they were an expert on that word.  It was great to see how random the words really sounded and who got really creative with their answers (and how close they could tie to the sounds of the word).  It really flowed well for the group I was in.

Completing Words

In this exercise, we were still in two circles.  As we went around the circle, one person would start a word and the next person would finish the word.  Then, the two of them would have to say their word together.  To give you an idea of how our group went, we had these scenarios:

Person 1: For

Person 2: Play

Person 1 & 2: Foreplay!

Person 1: Shh

Person 2: It

Person 1 & 2: Shit!

Group Telephone

In this exercise, we were in a large circle.  Jessie would start by making an action at Jim (another one of the improv guys), and then he’d repeat it to the person next to him, who’d repeat it and so on around the circle.

Colossa… mama!

Suh, suh… hmm?!?

Oh the phrases and actions we passed around as a group telephone experience!  You learn about people’s different personalities and ways of conveying a message, and you can see how things change over time.  The second phrase started more as a saunter and the “hmmm?!?” was a slower, in-your-face experience.  However, this message travelled twice around the circle and sped up and turned almost into a tribal dance.  It was awesome to watch the evolution of the message!

No, but… Yes, but… and Yes, and…

This was an exercise between two people.  You had to try to carry on a conversation first with starting sentences with “No, but…”.  In the second part of the exercise, you have to try to carry on a conversation starting sentences with “Yes, but…”.  Finally, you had to try to carry on a conversation with “Yes, and…”.  We found ourselves sometimes struggling with the “but” part of the sentence, and when we both agreed on things, it was easy for the conversation to fall flat.  Honestly, I find it hard to carry on a conversation with only one of these.  I tend to employ each of these multiple times in conversations rather than sticking with one.  But that’s just me.

Tear Apart a Commonly Used Object

In this exercise, we got into groups and had to find all the faults in a commonly used object.  I was in a group that tore apart (no pun intended) 2-ply toilet paper.  It sticks to shoes.  It doesn’t make good crime scene tape. It’s a bad raincoat.  These were just some of the things we had to say.  This exercise was helpful in that we can apply it to tearing apart a business’s (or even competitor’s) product and see ways of how to improve the product.

Creative Uses of an Office Object

We had to suggest an office object and then 3 people would be at the front of the room and making suggestions of how else the items could be used.  The first object was a stapler, which the group came up with all sorts of creative ways to use it and the staples inside.  Then, there was the group that had to come up with uses for a pencil.  Let’s just say that the 3 of them seemed to assume it was a wooden pencil and they all tended to stick with a morbid, grotesque theme until the end when it was suggested to use the metal piece as a warmer for food.  This reminded me in a way of the props skits done on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”  This exercise helps us realize that if we think outside the box, we can use our tools to solve all sorts of problems.

Sentences with the Last Letter of the Previous Sentence

This was absolutely maddening to me!  I would rather have a conversation with someone without having  to think about the letters of the words being used.  I think this is because I’d rather listen to what people have to say and then play off of it.  I learned about Jean from Pittsburgh’s little boy and how his name came from somewhere in the family tree.   It was great talking with her!

3 Words, 5 Words

For awhile, someone would say 3 words and then the other person would follow with 5 words.  Trying to have a conversation while counting words is also maddening!  I opened with “Cards Against Humanity”, which led to a fun discussion – my intuition told me that Jean probably played it too!  But we found ourselves counting words a lot more, which, to me, interrupts the flow of the conversation.


There were quite a few more exercises going on throughout this session – it’s jam packed with interaction and thinking outside of the box.  I loved participating in these and learning how to apply them to our day-to-day dealings.  I am so glad I was able to get into this session, as it was well worth it!

Thoughts on the Precompilers

Overall, I chose wisely as to which precompilers I felt I would benefit from the most.  It was great to be in sessions that had participation other than sitting and writing code.  It forced me to be a little out of my comfort zone and really taught me some things about myself that I never realized.  I look forward to channeling the skills that I’ve learned in these sessions in future presentations.

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