blog.davemo.comthoughts on software, music, art, and meaning.

On Work, Macs, Python, Google App Engine & Django

I’ve been at VendAsta for a week now and I’m happy to say that my initial impressions haven’t changed all that much. It’s really fulfilling to go in every day and feel totally engaged and encouraged by the work you’re doing and the people you’re working with.

I’ve heard some people say negative things about VendAsta; things like “they won’t be around longer than 8 months” or “they’re just a start up, how can they hope to accomplish anything”. I find most of the people saying these things are either uninformed about what it is we’re working on or just spiteful for some reason.

On Work

VendAsta is about building quality software. VendAsta is about empowering people by allowing them to work on the things they are passionate about. Right now the team I’m working on is building a social marketing tool that will enable homeowners and home industry service providers to share their experiences on whatever social network they happen to be using.

There is a lot of room for movement in this area of the social networking sphere, particularly because nobody else has really taken advantage of the online experience as it relates to our homes and home experiences. Rennovations, improvements, parties, appliances you purchased, decorating tips… the list of things people can share about their homes goes on and on. So when I hear people predicting the downfall of VendAsta I really think they have no clue about how much potential there is in the market segment we’re working in. Oh and did I mention, that’s only 1/2 of what we do?

On Macs

I made the switch to working on a Mac at home about 8 months ago. It was more of a novelty at the time, but I needed a change and was tired of “*tweaking”*my PC when I got home from work. I did manage to learn some important tricks about OS X and get a glimpse of what actually “working“ on one would be like. Flash forward some 9 months and I work full time on a MacBook Pro developing with some of the most intriguing technologies out there.

The only thing holding me back to Windows for the longest time was the games, and I find now that most of my gaming plays better on my iMac anyways. The keyboard shortcuts are kind of a pain to get used to, but once you realize you actually have an additional modifier key to work with things just kind of click.

On Python

Python is neat. It’s kind of like JavaScript with less of the syntax cruft (hooray for no more semicolons). It’s also kind of like C (I think some of the base libraries are actually written in C) and while I don’t have a lot of C experience, the one class I did take was very enjoyable. It’s like you get all the power in the lower level like C but without all the syntax nightmares; you also have access to a lot of libraries. Writing python is kind of like writing pseudo code, which is a good fit for me because I always thought I was better at coming up with pseudo code algorithms than actually programming.

If you’re interested in learning I can’t recommend this book enough: Dive Into Python. The best part is, you can download a full PDF of the book entirely free! I’m only about half way through so far but it’s written in a very easy to understand style and comes with many code examples in the zip file. If you’re following along using the examples on a Mac it’s even better because Leopard comes already installed with Python 2.5. Yes, working with Python is good stuff.

On Google App Engine (GAE)

Google App Engine is an interesting beast. I’ve read some articles already about how it’s changing development paradigms and forcing developers to think about scalability and data access in a completely different way. I don’t purport to be a database expert but from what I’ve read GAE uses a storage system called BigTable that differs radically from typical RDBS (Relational Database Systems).

While this doesn’t affect me directly (yet) I find it interesting to read about problems like scalability. The GAE DataStore API is really simple yet effective, and so far the documentation has been really easy to read and the code examples really easy to follow. A few posts in the Google Groups section for GAE have some further detail on performance testing and the results are intriguing. My only beef so far with GAE is with running Django on it and the fact that there seems to be a few established ways of running it but no “standard” way:

  1. Google Code - Running Django on Google App Engine
  2. GC Project - Google-AppEngine-Django
  3. Guido van Rossum - Rietveld (sample django on GAE project)

I’ve been working hard to try and figure out some of the best practices for running Django on GAE but I suppose a lot of this is subject to potential change considering GAE is still in PREVIEW RELEASE mode and the Django 1.0 release is still a few weeks away. I don’t anticipate too much change though as there is quite a bit of the API already established. I guess it’s a good thing we’re using the latest SVN releases of Django instead of the default 0.96, 0.97 releases GAE comes with by default.

On Django

I tried doing some tutorials on the Django website a few months back and while it was really cool seeing all the “magic” stuff that you got for free with things like the admin interface, ORM layer etc… I don’t think I really appreciated the power of what it can do until I started reading Dive Into Python.

Since Django is written in Python it really helps to have an understanding of the language at a more rudimentary level to see exactly how Django works and to avoid the *”wtf?! how did it do that?”*questions I was having previously. It seems to me that the guys who built Django really understand what’s tedious about building web applications and they’ve created this set of tools to make web application development much more enjoyable.

I personally enjoy working on backend stuff like configuration, deployment, ORM setup and working with Django + GAE is really nice for all of that, but at the same time part of me really enjoys constructing the CSS, XHTML templates, implementing jQuery and YUI for effects and interface widgets, and actually designing the graphics… all of the more frontend type work.

I consider myself a Sweeper (read the first paragraph), although more of a frontend leaning Sweeper, but working with the tools and technologies I am able to work with here at VendAsta has really empowered me to *”sweep”*from frontend to backend and picking up all kinds of knowledge everywhere in between. Just one more thing that makes me really feel like I’ve finally found a job that fits with my never ending thirst to work in both worlds.

Did I mention, we’re hiring?