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Learning Along the Way

18 August 2009
Written by

It was like any other work day, the music of Outkast beating loudly against my ear drums and my blank face staring at the computer screen. When I got a message from Clint, my supervisor in San Diego, whom I like to think is a Clint Eastwood look alike, asking if I wanted to work on making a search widget. I replied my typical reply, "cool." I had no idea what a widget was or what working on one would entail. This was my first internship and my first run in with web development, but I figured if I googled enough and used what I had learned from my higher education, I would be successful...

Two Days Later:

"How the heck am I gonna do this?" I asked myself. I had searched the definition of widget and learned nothing from it. I had a starting point which was a 2008 presidential election widget of which I didn't understand 88.5% of the code, and my stomach was grumbling. I gave a sigh and did what I do best: tinker. As I assembled and reassembled the jargon, which was my base, I began to understand more and more: 22%, 30%, 35%, 27%, 32%. Yes, the 27% happened after the 35% and before the 32% because as many of you might know, when you tinker like an beast, in my case a coding beast, you usually end up thinking something does something for a while until you find out that that something doesn't do the something you thought it did. I coded and coded, and googled and googled, and pop tart after pop tart, I found myself learning more and more about html, css, javascript and most importantly jquery. I had avoided javascript for the whole of my internship and was now forced to understand it. It was harsh. I was building something I didn't quite understand or didn't know how to build. I felt just like I felt when we had to make Kachina dolls in second grade all over again: confused and intrigued. The first thing I did was find out how to query the api. I found that to be lovely and fairly simple. What followed was two weeks and 707 lines of code with ifs, elses, functions, images, and my broken logic. When I finished one part, another broke; when I created one, I realized I needed another. When I reworked a function, I needed to delete some that weren't so useful anymore, and when I reloaded the page, I often thought to myself, "hmm... maybe I still needed that function" or "why isn't this working?" But as the days progressed and my spirit fractured, it started coming together, and at the first sight of any success, I would duct tape my spirit and keep on trekking. Oh, by the way, I managed to break my ankle 4 days into this. Completely irrelevant, but it adds something to this short anecdote. As I put the pieces of the puzzle together and saw an image, or the search widget, I found some parts ugly and changed them, and when I didn't find anything ugly, either Clint or Shultz would and made me change them once again. When I found something slow, I made it faster. When it was finally done, though, I felt accomplished and smarter in the way I feel after I eat a hearty meal with a literacola. If you wish to check it out, the url is, and I admit it doesn't look like much, but it is pretty cool and totally free to add to your website. I feel like a kid who learned that drawing a cloud on a piece of paper isn't that hard. The End.

-Hector Hernandez (University of Arizona graduate, Computer Science major, from Tucson, AZ) Informational Technology Intern

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