Tie And Jeans

Building Institutional Expertise

“Never hire anyone to do a job until you’ve tried to do it yourself first.”

via How to hire a programmer when youre not a programmer – 37signals.

Finding this quote made my day.

I’ve spent at least two hours a day working on “simple” code projects for my school. Of course, they’re not simple to me – they’re all pushing me past the boundary of what I know, or what I would feel comfortable to teach – but they’re not otherworldy. Using the Google Apps Script system to build an automated workflow for some recurring collaborative documents. Automated mailings from Form data. A system to bind together our attendance data with our transportation rosters ins a way that the people standing by the door of the bus can account for each kids who walks on, and see at a glance who’s missing because of absence/sports/clubs/etc. Tracking student representation in our publications, so the same 12 kids don’t appear on 80% of yearbook pages and news posts.

It’s the basic level of computational thinking, knowing that if you’re working with data that a person could smush together, you could probably code something up to do it faster and on a schedule.

So one of those projects happened, got noticed, and turned into another. And then another. And then two more. On some level, it’s an incredibly satisfying, challenging and personally rewarding new aspect to this amorphous blob I call “work.” On the other, it’s not “curricular integration.” It’s not even “IT support,” which is normally the biggest time-draw outside of my assigned responsibilities. I was frustrated because as much as I might enjoy it, I didn’t see these programing tasks directly contributing to the vision and values of our school in a way I could articulate. Importantly, I was spending X hours researching, practicing, hacking and futzing with code, when a better programmer could actually design and implement a solution, probably in X/5 hours. (Thanks again to Emmanuel from the Bootstrap Project for reframing my thinking about those terms this summer).

My angst came from “why am *I* doing this, when it’s not my job and not really my skillset? Does being the best coder at a school mean I should actually *do* the coding for the school?” The 37 Signals quote above was a nice reminder that this can all be groundwork – hacking out a working model means that when we’re ready to finalize this, we’ll be far more capable hire a coder on contract for a more refined version of these tools or any others.


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2 thoughts on “Building Institutional Expertise

  1. Physics for Poets.
    Google Apps Script for Teachers.


    Not sure if you know, but Google hosted few webinars that covered Google Apps Scripting. You can find the video recordings on Google’s youtube channel:

    Automating school processes with Apps Scripts webinar
    Google Apps Scripts Tutorial webinar
    Javascript for Teachers webinar


  2. tieandjeans on said:

    Thanks for those links Saqib! I’m looking forward to watching those extended webinars. It will nice to follow a single sustained presentation, rather than piecing together the methods and syntax from a hundred different forum posts and reference sheets.

    I dove into the Google Apps Scripting stuff when I grokked the ungainly nature of a client/desktop based solution, but without having any JS experience. Heading in to Javascript with an all C/Python background has been a great reminder of how much the positive motivation of a good idea dominates the difficulties of working in a new language.

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