Welcome

Welcome! This site is a bunch of lists.

  • Below is a list of my recent writings, on this blog and elsewhere. I’ll also throw in press every now and then. I hope you enjoy it.
  • Here’s a list of some stuff I do.
  • Here’s a list of tools I use as a startup founder.
  • And if you need a speaker at your next education or technology event I do that too.

Connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or G+.

If you find a typo, have an formatting fix or want to help make this site less hacky, the code is on Github. I welcome contributions, especially from those new to open source!

How to Code Like A Girl: An Interview with Author Miriam Peskowitz

“Author Miriam Peskowitz’s new book Code Like A Girl is a fresh take on learning to code, starting with Scratch, running through Python (via Trinket!), and ending with Raspberry Pi computers. Miriam first contacted us a few years ago about her project, and it’s been fun to get some glimpses behind the scenes as she’s worked to make her vision a reality.”

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Creating Images With Java

"”Java is a powerful language that’s been popular in education for many years. Like all programming languages, it’s often helpful for learners to work with images. The visual feedback that images give can be more engaging and more intuitive than text alone. Yet, many instructors don’t know that you can use Java’s built-in libraries to easily make your own images!

“In this quick post I’ll use the Java Trinket to create a simple image, a version of the Trinket logo. The code is based on an excellent example by Byron Kiourtzoglou over on Java Code Geeks.”

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Success Doesn't Always Feel Successful

“Just like how spending money makes you feel rich but is actually making you poor, so the things that make you feel productive, like clearing out your inbox or having coffee with investors, are actually often doing little to get your startup where it needs to be.”

Read more on medium.com
Life Is Long

“I’m advocating for a view of life as a very very long period of time, or perhaps a series of long periods punctuated by periods where we’re not paying as close attention or our brains aren’t moving as fast. But still, I arrive at the same conclusion Graham does: we should ruthlessly edit out things that don’t matter, actively seek out and do the things that do matter, and, perhaps most of all, be present and savor the moment. There’s more possibility and excitement in the instantaneous moments we have direct access to each second than we realize during the day-to-day.”

Read more on medium.com
Travelhacks for Startup Founders

“The median two bedroom apartment rent is now $5,000 a month in SF. The good news is that there’s an amazing hack to living in Silicon Valley: don’t. Instead, live in your current, cheaper, location and commute once a month for way less.”

Read more on medium.com
Beware the Tutorial to Nowhere

“Increasingly I encounter students who’ve been through dozens of tutorials but are unable to code their own projects. I call this phenomenon the Tutorial to Nowhere and it’s the major challenge for Coding Education: how do we equip students with real skills, not just access to content?”

Read more on medium.com
Python Game Development for Beginners

A video I recorded for O’Reilly, using Trinket. Users will build several interactive game ‘sketches’, all the while learning concepts like functions, classes, methods, and variables.

Thanks to Trinket this can be completed enitrely in the browser. Hope you enjoy!

Read more on shop.oreilly.com
The Programs I Will Never Write

“We are collectively poorer every time someone doesn’t solve an important problem because of lack access to the skills and support to do so with code.

Fighting for diversity in programming is fighting for the minds that one day will write programs I never could. If coding is a basic literacy, let’s work for an enriched authorship and a more varied literature than we have today.”

Read more on medium.com
The Power of Exactly One Serious Hobby

“Pick your serious hobby deliberately and it will round out your skill set while providing balance to a demanding schedule. Peter Thiel divides personalities into Athletes, who are natural competitors, and Nerds, who are creative explorers. We all fall somewhere along this spectrum but most endevors require a blend of these traits. Serious hobbies are perfectly suited for helping you blend.”

Read more on medium.com
Life During Wartime

“The first rule of wartime is to accept you’re at war. The early stages of a business where you’re developing technology, acquiring new users, and refining the idea, can feel like peacetime. But this is a false sense of security. Many of the failures I’ve seen at startups stem from the founders never developing an urgency about their situation as a small company that no one has heard of and therefore no one cares about.”

Read more on www.exitevent.com
A Nerd, Playing to Win

“You’ve probably heard before from Athletes that the primary determinant of the outcome of a game is often something like ‘mental toughness’. This is absolutely true for Netrunner. Especially in a tournament setting, where you’ll play 6 or more hour+ games in a row, keeping a competitive edge is crucial. This is the most pervasive benefit I’ve derived from playing Netrunner, and playing it to win: familiarity with the must-win moment.”

Read more on medium.com
Playing Cards with Grandma

“As I’ve grown up I’ve gotten a bit of a different perspective on the role that cards played in her life. I can now see that what seemed like a simple pastime was a force for gender equality, religious temperance, and intellectual stimulation for a woman who had precious little of each during her lifetime.”

Read more on medium.com
The Myth of Serious Code

“I see too many beginning coders apologizing for ‘just’ learning Ruby or Python or Javascript, as if they were cheating the system somehow. It’s as if there’s some ‘Serious’ coding that they’re not doing. The idea that some coding languages are more Serious than others is a myth that needs to be disproven.”

Read more on medium.com
Fundraising? Get the 'no'

“Why? Getting ‘no’s requires you to do three key things that will help you get ‘yes’s over time:

  • Get lots of meetings
  • Have a clear ask
  • Keep up momentum

This may sound like a dumb idea, since the point of pitching someone is to get ‘yes’s. Let’s dig in and look at the benefits in more detail.”

Read more on medium.com
Breadth and Depth in Startup Metrics

“Geoff Ralston recently wrote a post on his brilliant (b * d) / c formula for prioritizing product development features. You should definitely read his post if you haven’t. I call it Ralston’s Unified Theorem of Product Development.

As he notes in his post, though, the key to success with this formula is picking the right metric to use with it. Are there any more specific guidelines we can use to pick these metrics? I think so.”

Read more on medium.com
Soylent Freegan, Diet of Champions

“If I were rich I suppose I could use Doordash, Postmates, or other delivery services to bring great food to me any time I wanted it. But there’s still a lot of distraction and cognitive overhead in choosing food and I think I might still choose this diet if I were a billionaire. Like wearing the same thing every day, it’s a strategy for keeping focused on what matters.”

Read more on medium.com
Envy is Your Enemy

“Progress down the path towards excellence means being surrounded by the success of others. This can induce natural feelings of desire to experience others’ success ourselves. Combined with the illusion that others must fail for us to succeed, this generates envy. To avoid the destructive, isolating effects of envy, it’s important to consciously identify your own success with that of those around you.”

Read more on medium.com
Fried OKRA, A Management Framework

“I know that management frameworks are good for me and my team, but they’re just not very appetizing. So here’s an experiment in deep fried management.”

Read more on medium.com
Building a Humble Brand for Your Edtech Startup

“To be sure, great products can overcome mediocre brands and great brands will certainly not overcome inadequate products. But if you’re founding a company, launching a product, or considering rebranding you have the opportunity to create a lasting advantage if your brand can capture your unique positioning in the marketplace.”

A shortened version has been pubished on Edsurge and the full version is scheduled to be included in Jessie Aurora’s Edtech Handbook.

Read more on medium.com
Humility in Edtech

“Humble companies know their place is to augment and amplify their customers, not replace them. Their products equip teachers and students to better do things in the classroom, rather than consume materials. More and more of the most exciting young companies are focusing on building tools for teacher and student success instead of hawking pre-packaged consumables. This isn’t just a coincidence, it’s also a recipe for success in the industry.”

Read more on www.edsurge.com
Brad Miller's Search for Interactive Teaching Tools

“Luther College computer science professor Brad Miller is a true innovator and one of our inspirations here at Trinket. He’s the core maintainer for the Skulpt project, which we use in our Python trinkets, and has built one of the best free online computer science textbook collections around at interactivepython.org.

In this interview, we hear about how he got into teaching, his search for better, more interactive resources, and how he uses interactive tools (many of which he created!) in his own classroom. One of the themes that comes through is how his projects, like all software projects, are embedded within communities of contributors working to solve shared problems. We’re excited and honored to be a part of some of the exciting work he’s doing!”

Read more on blog.trinket.io
We Should Teach Code Like We Teach Languages

“There’s a deeper insight here that I think most people miss. Code is a human language. We invented it! Yes, code tells computers what to do but it’s also how we communicate with each other about computers doing things. This has huge implications for teaching it and the kinds of tools we need to do so effectively.”

Read more on blog.trinket.io
PyGotham 2014: Finding your Teaching Stack

This talk is about finding and selecting the right tools for teaching code (esp. Python), for student levels from Beginner to Expert. I describe and rate several teaching stacks and do a hands-on demo. Hope you enjoy!

Interested in having me speak at your event? Get in touch!

Read more on www.youtube.com
Walt Gurley is Teaching Code at a Science Museum

Elliott: How does teaching programming fit with the rest of the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ education?

Walt: A key concept incorporated into the museum’s educational program is to provide science for a changing world. There are multiple facets of the educational program, but the VisLab is one of three Investigate Labs in the museum, hands-on interactive spaces where the public can engage in scientific methods and use tools employed by scientists. In the VisLab, we focus on data visualization, where we demonstrate multiple ways scientists use computer-based visualization techniques to understand data from various realms of science, and making with electronics, robotics, and 3D printing. Programming is the the unifying theme: the lab is a great example of the application of programming to varied subjects.

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Panel: The Power of Python: Insights from the Leaders

I was invited to be part of a panel on Python by Thinkful. Tons of fun and I enjoyed learning about the other panelists as well as sharing the Trinket story!

Read more on www.youtube.com
Mike Molony is Solving Project Euler, Interactively

Elliott: We’ve been very excited to see you using our Python trinkets in ways we hadn’t imagined. Your blog does a great job of teaching both Python and computational thinking. What reactions have you gotten from visitors on the new interactive solutions you’ve added?

Mike: The response has been outstanding and I am moving all my solutions to trinkets. Live interaction with Python programs allows anyone to experiment with the results by changing a few parameters, and helps them discover new methods they hadn’t thought of before. My site’s traffic has doubled so far and is breaking records every month since installing trinkets. This has been a very exciting improvement in both exposure and blog usability.

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Let's be Catalysts for Coding Education

“Teachers need to know that they can and should be part of the change that’s coming to education.”

How to Host a Teacher Coding Event

“An instructor is, believe it or not, optional. It’s much more important to have someone who’s taught kids in your target age group than someone who knows a lot about programming.”

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Beginning Coders need Visual Examples

“When I’ve brought visual examples like this into classrooms, kids are instantly engaged. They can see that there’s something ‘in there’: the turtle. I’ve personified the variable, so they can realize that her name is ‘Tina’ and she’s the Turtle shape on the canvas. Their minds immediately leap to what else Tina could do. I’ve got their attention and we’re ready to dig into the example, change some of the code, and really understand what’s going on.”

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Writing Poetry in Python

“Python has been called a poetic programming language, so I thought why not try writing poetry with it? This is a bit of a departure, but my background in Art History always helps me look for the artistic applications of what we’re doing at Trinket. So here’s a generative poem I wrote in Python.”

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Open Teaching Stacks help us teach at scale

“Well-developed tools for teaching are crucial to the spread of open source software and programming languages. Stacks like those used by the Young Coders Tutorial and Mozilla Software Carpentry are having national and international impact by enabling more people to teach more often.”

Read more on radar.oreilly.com
Find What You're Best At and Double Down.

“This is the in-progress story of our new embeddable Python Trinkets and how we realized that making our best technology more accessible for our users can be a way to turn our competition into allies.”

How Pat Counts Teaches Physics with Python

An interview with Physics teacher Pat Counts.

“Pat: For years the printed textbook has typically been a central component of physics courses. But physics is a science of change, and static textbook pages don’t convey change very effectively. Computers have the potential to provide a much more dynamic environment for modeling change than do ink and paper, and the best learning takes place when students interact with the concepts they are studying.”

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Interactive Python On Trinket

We just released interactive Python, embeddable anywhere on the web. Check it out below and create your own!

Hands-On Teaching Technology: An Interview with Greg Garner

“Most students find a tool, write a piece of code, and at the moment that their programming becomes a real thing (a website, a robot program, a game), they’re hooked.”

- Greg Garner

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Interactive Tools For Teaching Python

Here are my three favorite interactive tools for teaching Python to students of all levels:*

  1. Beginner: Turtle (using Skulpt)
  2. Intermediate: IPython Notebooks
  3. Advanced: Nitrous.io cloud development environment </em>
Read more on blog.trinket.io
Why Python Is The Best First Language

5 things students need from a 1st language:

  • A great experience on Day 1. Much like the first page of a book, students need to be ‘hooked’ early on to have the excitement and curiosity to persevere in the face of the inevitable frustrations of learning something new. This can be especially important for those who haven’t been exposed to programming from a young age.
  • The ability to (eventually) program on the Web. Increasingly, the Web is critical to the profession and craft of programming and students should have Web frameworks available when they’re ready.
  • The ability to program desktop applications. While trends are moving more of what we do onto the web, there’s nothing like the immediacy of making and running your first local program.
  • An eventually marketable professional skill. While academic or recreational programming is excellent, the skills we teach should also be usable in a professional context should students choose to use them in that way.
  • A supportive and welcoming community surrounding the language. Once again this is crucial for those who haven’t had exposure to coding from a young age. </em>
Read more on blog.trinket.io
Art History And Teaching Programming Part 3

An active culture of studio visits amongst artists has been central to the development of artistic movements. Programming meetups can serve a similar purpose and are important tools for educators, especially those of us teaching in higher education.

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Art History Major Teaching Programming Part 2

Public displays of art have been essential to developing artistic communities throughout history. But at various points in history, groups such as Academies or Guilds controlled when exhibitions happened, who could show work, and what kind of work could be shown. In 19th century Paris, a group of artists organized a series of alternative exhibitions called the Salon des Indépendants that gave artists a direct outlet to the public and other artists, with no mediating Academic jury. Open source code has played a similar role in freedom of expression for programmers over the past few decades, and forms an invaluable tool for those of use who teach code.

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Become A Source Of Dealflow

It’s easy to get caught up thinking you’re trying to get something from an investor. This is a trap. My test of a good investor is whether they add value in the first meeting though their questions, analysis or advice. So why not return the favor? Find out what—or who—investors are looking for when you meet them and then keep an ear out. It’s that easy.

Art History Major Teaching Programming Part 1

The best art history class I ever took was about Dutch art, taught on-site in museums and cathedrals in Belgium and the Netherlands. This process of cultural immersion is too-seldom replicated in programming courses. Yet it’s much easier to do with programming than with art history- the culture in question is still operating in the present! Later on in this series I’ll describe how Meetups and Hackathons are the perfect cultural immersion tool for teaching programming, especially to those with relatively little experience.

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Families And Startup Missions That Matter

The overarching message here is that everything you are - your familial status, your race, your gender, your nationality, your professional background, your first language - feeds deeply into the kind of vision you can set for your company. The world needs more companies with more big, powerful, benevolent visions.

In Search Of A Middle Path For Ed Tech

Finding, let alone keeping on, this middle path isn’t easy. When I talk with Venture Capitalists, most of their eyes twinkle when discussing technology changing education at scale. Fewer understand how learning takes place. When I talk with instructors, they’re obsessed with being better in the classroom. Few care to think about the mechanism whereby they learn of these improvements. Both groups are key parts of the equation we’re solving here. Our job is to integrate them.

Read more on blog.trinket.io
Why Teachers Won't Be Replaced By Software

Software is spreading into every industry, changing how established players must play and even what the rules of the game are. But while many in Silicon Valley and Educational Technology think that software will “eat” teachers, replacing many of them, at trinket we believe software’s role is to create openness, making teachers better and more connected. Far from there being less teachers in the future, we think openness will enable and encourage more people than ever to teach.

Read more on blog.trinket.io
How We Got From Coursefork To Trinket

Today we announced that our forthcoming beta will include a new brand: trinket. This is a story of how our team has helped draw this renewed vision, new brand, and new product out of us by asking us important questions and challenging our decisions. It’s a story of needing to shake out of our comfort zone, and for me, personally, it’s required a shift from visionary to true leader. I hope it’s a story that other founders will find useful.

Startups And Living Life Deliberately

A conversation with ExitEvent founder Joe Procopio.

Joe:

The Startup Giveback idea came up at an event back in September. Elliott brought it up, and it had obviously been on his mind, during a conversation with me and Adam Klein over drinks. The idea is for the Triangle entrepreneurial community to create its own charitable fund, in the form of an endowment that will benefit local charities perpetually. It’s a big goal, which is why I like it and why I’m betting other entrepreneurs will like it.

Three Pillars For Open Education

*Despite the ambitious title, I can’t claim I know for sure how we’ll build education’s open future. But by examining the history of open source, I think we can see what shape the answer will take. And so this is the approach we’re taking with Coursefork: the hypothesis that the future of education looks a lot like the present of software and that both are inexorably becoming open.

There are three areas that we believe educators must develop if we are to make this future a reality: Community, Leadership, and Technology.*

Read more on www.hastac.org
Four Startup Lessons In Four Months

“My original plan with Coursefork was to take the summer, go into a room with lots of Red Bull, and code a prototype. I’m not an amazing coder, so I estimated it would take me 2-3 months to get an alpha. In that alternate reality, I wouldn’t be writing this essay, I’d be trying to test out my prototype in front of users.

By building a team and giving the idea away to them, I was able to see a proof of concept built in a weekend, deploy an alpha in June, raise angel funding, and end up here at The Startup Factory.”

Don't Sweat the Medium Stuff

*What occupies the rarefied space of the 20% most important things for your startup? Things like understanding your customer, having a killer idea, and choosing the right investors are crucial to your success; you can’t win without them. So it might seem like you should prioritize things on a great big list and just work your way down from there.

A strategy that has worked for me has been to attack my Great Big List from the top AND the bottom simultaneously.*

Coursefork

coursefork-brand

I've started a startup called Coursefork with cofounders Eric Martindale and Brian Marks.  We're an open education startup looking to become the foundation for education's open future, where educators of all types can create, share, and modify course materials for anything from a workshop to a university course.  I'll be open-sourcing my materials for the graduate level programming course I'll be teaching at UNC in the fall on Coursefork.  In the meantime, check us out!

Pitching Your Pre Seed Startup Part 2

*What are YOUR goals? This is the first question you should ask yourself when looking for investors. It’s the question I’ll leave you with, because it’ll take some time to think through.

You need to know what your goal is so that you can effectively communicate that goal. Plenty of investors will not be a good fit for you to achieve your goal, and that’s OK. Just make sure you keep the conversation focused on goals so that all parties can quickly evaluate whether a deal makes sense.*

How To Pitch Your Pre Seed Startup Part 1

Fun aside: this was published on the day we officially registered the business with the Delaware Secretary of State. We got our first term sheet a few days later.

Coursefork is in the midst of pitching to angel investors and we’ve learned a ton, so I thought I’d take the time write a post that can hopefully save you time and/or effort. There was a distinct shift for us a few months ago when investors started taking meetings instead of giving us the “keep me updated.” This is how we got there.

Raspberry Pi
My wonderful wife Erin bought me a Raspberry Pi for my birthday in November 2012.  It's changed the way I think about computers and coding education.  I wrote a long form post about my latest ideas on HASTAC.org.  You can read more by checking out my G+ feed, and below are some selected posts from it.   I started Comp-core.org, the Computational Core Curriculum, to collect and collaborate on course materials (and code, via our github repos) for those of us who teach this material.  It's small now  I first got this idea from a panel I moderated in the Fall at UNC called Code in the Classroom.  A little wrap-up of that event, which featured profs from Duke and UNC, is here.   So check it out and shoot me an email or  join comp-core's open google group if you want to contribute!   Some G+ Posts I've written about the Pi:
VNC running into my Pi from my iMac:

Finally,  see also this post on HASTAC, which is a longer case study of how my VNC project was enabled by the modern Internet.

How I Use Hastac

Basically, HASTAC is a sounding board and sketchpad for ideas. Pretty much all of the posts I’ve written have felt experemental, tests of ideas. The reponses I get are always energizing, as I hope my comments are to others’ posts. Here is a case study in how posting some experemental ideas on HASTAC has blossomed into real-world expereinces, virtual connections, and tangible improvements to my ideas.

Read more on www.hastac.org
Three Aspirations For 2013

Read more on www.hastac.org