Hackathon Timesavers

I’ve been looking at tools to speed along the development process for hackathons and hackdays. When you’ve only got 24 hours to turn out a presentable project, any of these can help save precious hours. I’ve included some of my favourite tools below.

Trello: If you already have a team and idea picked going into your hackathon, you might as well be ready to hash out the features of your MVP with your teammates. Trello makes collaborating (near) painless by letting you plot your course without taking off your headphones to argue with teammates.

Gitter: Chat is a great way to pass ideas back and forth. Chat that works with Github to let you pass ideas and code back and forth in-chat and speed things along.

Bootstrap: Need to make a website? Bootstrap. A popular front end framework, Bootstrap is one of the fastest and most popular ways to get your front end sorted.

Semantic UI: Like Bootstrap but want more copying and pasting? Semantic UI does the same thing with a different workflow. Get a beautiful looking front end

Python Anywhere: If you’re developing in Python, this tool lets you skip all the environment setup and get each of your team members working with the same setup in-browser in moments.

DreamFactory: What Bootstrap and Semantic UI do for simplifying your front end, DreamFactory does for your back end. Throw your data at it (SQL, noSQL, file storage) and DreamFactory will let you create RESTful APIs to plug into your project with no fuss.

Feel free to add your own hackathon timesavers in the comments below.

12 in ’15

Everyone has a different way of coping with professional fears and insecurities. When I feel under pressure, I submit proposals for conference talks. While it’s not as glamorous as other vices, it’s far more productive than my past methods for coping with stress*.

Between starting a rewarding role last December and starting some exciting side projects, 2015 has been a bit more challenging than previous years. This has led to an increase in stress and predictably, also an increase in speaking engagements. Noticing that I’ve booked several so far, I’ve decided to see if I can keep the momentum going and do a dozen talks this year.


I’ve already been hosted by some amazing events and conferences this year (Mix-It was especially lovely!) bringing me to 4 talks for 2015. I’ll also be at PHP Tek next month, WordPress Cologne in June and Topconf Tallinn in November will bring me up to 7. If you know of any confrences coming up that need the sort of talks I give do give me a shout!

*Cake. Lots of cake.

Practical Steps to a More Diverse Meetup

I’ve just had a great series of meetings with some Birmingham based orgs and Meetups looking at ways they can make their membership more representative of the local technology community. The meetings were very different but shared some of the same items on the to-do lists I suggested. I’ve posted those points here.

  • Frame and articulate your diversity goals properly

It’s temping to want to get a community looking more diverse quickly, especially if you’ve been critiqued for having an all white male group. Be careful to work towards creating meaningful, engaged contacts who can benefit from group membership instead of trying to shoehorn members in for diversity’s sake.

I encourage people interested in running groups that better represent their community to talk about their desires and efforts. Just be sure that you’re starting a conversation around your sincere desire to run a meetup that better represents and serves the community. If you’re clumsily looking for token diversity, the conversation is unlikely to go well.

  • Get a wider perspective

We tend to limit outreach to people we already know. To be sure that you’re not limiting your group’s outreach efforts, take some time to explore who shows up to other events and why. Be sure to check out a range of events at different venues to get the best survey of what level of representation already exists in the local scene.

  • Think about venues

Venues where the focus is alcohol based can limit the ability or willingness of attendees to get to your event. Pubs and bars are great for many events but may prevent under 18s, non-drinkers and those wary of the higher risk of alcohol fuelled interactions. Getting feedback from current and potential attendees can be a great way to find out if your venue is holding you back.

  • Meet with people outside your circle and talk about their projects

If you’re already doing research into other groups and your local tech scene to better gauge how you’re doing re: relative representation, you might as well start making some contacts with some of the great people you’re meeting. Reach out to potential community members to talk about their interests and projects to create contacts who might want to hear more about your projects and events.

  • Partner with folks who are doing it right

If you have common interests and functionality, partnering with groups specifically serving groups underrepresented in tech is the easiest way to make your events available to a more representative pool of attendees.

  • CoC/Culture

If you’re aiming to have a more diverse group of attendees, be sure that your events can offer them a safe space where they feel comfortable. A clear, visible and enforced code of conduct is a great way to demonstrate to new members that their needs are being valued while letting the existing members know what is expected of them.

  • If you can’t find it, make it

You can’t present diversity when it isn’t present. If you’ve surveyed the tech scene in your area and found it lacking, think about filling the pipeline yourself. Programs like Codebar or mentoring could be great ways to start moving things in the right direction.


Having recently (and justifiably) been fussed at for ignoring my blog, I thought it was time to pop by and explain what’s been keeping me so busy.

I’m delighted to announce that Naomi Ceder and I (alongside some exceptional sponsors and partners) will be running a one day workshop and hackday combo aimed at the transgender community in London on March 28th. We’re hoping to add an install party and social for the evening of Friday the 27th.TransCode_transparent

We’re looking forward to welcoming a host of transgender participants and allies but are especially eager to welcome those who will be working with code for the first time through the event. We’re running a smaller event, with a maximum of 50 attendees to better provide mentorship for those new to programming. While we’ve aimed to make this as welcoming as possible for code newbies, folks of all skill levels are welcome.

We’re polishing up a Code of Conduct and schedule and look forward to meeting participants and mentors on March 28th at the GoCardless office in central London. Many thanks to our sponsors, GitHub and GoCardless who have been incredibly warm and supportive.

Full details about the event are at trans-code.org and tickets are available via EventBrite. You can follow Trans*Code on Twitter at @trans_code or tweet about us with the hashtag trans_code. We’re also on Lanyrd. We’re just all over the place.


Tables in HTML

In past tutorials we’ve looked at ways to present text, images and create links in HTML. In this tutorial we’ll look at how to create a simple table to use in your web projects.

What tables look like

This is a table. It has two rows.
It has two cells in each row. We’ll look at how to create this.

Table tag

The first thing we need to do to create a table is create a table tag. Tables in HTML are elements that need to have closing tags for each opened tag, so be careful. With the table tag, we’re just telling the browser that we’re going to be starting a table when we open it and ending a table when we close it.

   <!--We need to add more tags here to make our table work--!>

This code won’t display anything yet, we’ll need to specify the number of rows and cells (data) and add content to our cells to have a proper table. The text in the middle of our table tags is a comment. We’ll be looking at HTML comments in greater detail in our next HTML Basics tutorial.


Once we have our table tags, we’ll need to nest tags to specify the number of rows we want in our table. Luckily the tags are tr, for table row, and easy to remember.

      <!--We'll add cells here--!>
      <!--We'll add cells here--!>


Now we just need to add the cells into the rows of our tables and we’ll be ready to go. We’ll be nesting the table data tags inside the row tags in our table to create a working table.

      <td>Here's their first cell in the first row</td>
      <td>The second cell in the first row</td>
      <td>Here's their first cell in the second row</td>
      <td>The second cell in the second row</td>

Once we add the cells in, our table looks like this:

Here’s their first cell in the first row The second cell in the first row
Here’s their first cell in the second row The second cell in the second row

Common problems

Don’t forget that you’ll need to close each of the tags you use to create your table. The tags also have to be nested within each other in the right order. Data tags sit inside row tags which rest inside the table tags.

Have questions about tables in HTML? Ask in the comments below or find me on Twitter.

Easy, Lazy SEO

Last Saturday I joined some incredibly talented speakers, dedicated organizers and lovely WordPressers for WordCamp Manchester. The event was hosted at Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, which is one of my favorite venues for medium sized conferences. I gave a talk on Easy, Lazy SEO.

For attendes who wanted information on blocking the referral spammer Semalt, I recommend Logorrhoea‘s how to blog post.

I’ve got to admit that this talk was a bit too basic for the WordCamp audience. I had planned for an audience of SEO newbies and was delighted to find a really intelligent audience that was well informed on SEO. I think I’m going to start bringing both my introductory level and intermediate level slides with me if I give this talk in the future. Luckily a well informed audience allowed for a really robust discussion session following the quick race through the slides.

Many thanks to organizer Jenny Wong, all the volunteers and the participants that made this event such a smashing success.

Ignite Liverpool

Last night I gave a short talk on imposter syndrome at Ignite Liverpool. They’ve got a really great group of volunteers, speakers and attendees and I can’t recommend enough that folks in the area make time for their quarterly events. I’ve included slides from my talk and a list of resources and recommended reading.

Images from Mourge File free stock images, Redditor Gabryelx created the Nyan pug and I’ve included the uncited meme image “I have no idea what I’m doing”. If anyone knows where who created this image, please do let me know.

Valarie Young’s advice on combating imposter syndrome comes from her 2010 Forbes interview.

The study first capturing the Dunning-Kreuger effect, “Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.” is available through PyschNET.

I’ll be adding the video of this talk as soon as it’s made available through the Ignite Liverpool YouTube account.

Ladies Who Code Birmingham

Monthly events aimed at programmers who identify as female are now being held in Birmingham. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional developer or looking to learn to write your first line of code, Ladies Who Code Birmingham is open to all skill levels.

We’ll be supplying cake and good company, we’re looking for some brilliant women to provide the great ideas to make Ladies Who Code a valuable resource here in the West Midlands.


The next Ladies Who Code Birmingham event will be Monday the 19th of May from 6:30pm at the Innovation Birmingham Campus. We’ll be asking for short lightning talks from participants so if you have a great project, pitch or tool you want to share with us, we’re happy to give you the stage. Don’t worry if you’re shy, we’re not planning on bullying anyone into speaking. This is only our second meeting, so we’ll also be looking for direction on what kind of events you would like to see in the future. Further details available at Meetup.com.

Have questions? Need directions? Want to request specific pastries? Drop me an email at jessica(at)closetoclever.com or shout at me on Twitter.

Can’t attend? Let us know how we can make the event more accessible in the comments below.

Transitioning into a Technical Role

On April 29 Innovation Birmingham hosted their first Women in Tech event. I was honored to have been asked to present and look forward to a successful series of similar events to follow. I have included my slides from my talk on moving into a technical role from a non-technical background below.

For anyone who had been interested in attending some of the events I had mentioned in my talk, I’ve listed these below:

Open Code
Ladies Who Code Birmingham
Silicon Canal
West Midlands Ruby User Group
Tech Wednesday
Hackfrence Brum

Interview with Semalt.com

Yesterday I posted about Semalt.com’s crawler and their unusual choice not to have their crawlers identify themselves as web crawlers or obey robots.txt, causing heartaches for analytics loving webmasters across the web. Semalt’s manager Alex Andrianov reached out through twitter and offered to answer some of my questions via email. The exchange is included in whole below.

Hi, thanks for taking the time to chat with me in a bit more detail about Semalt. Happy to update my blog post with factual corrections you’re able to provide.You’ve mentioned on twitter that Semalt does not obey robots.txt, further saying that “can’t change it”. Could you explain in a bit more detail what keeps Semalt’s bots from identifying themselves as bots or obeying robots.txt? Is this a talent issue, where your developers haven’t been able to discover the processes to undertake this, or is this part of a business decision on Semalt’s part?Are there plans in the future to have Semalt’s bots identify themselves properly as crawlers and to obey robots.txt?

You also claimed that my comments at http://www.closetoclever.com/semalt-com/ were incorrect, as I was not a Semalt client. Were there any specific factual errors that you would like to address?

Thanks again for taking the time to answer these,

Jessica Rose


Hello Jessica RoseThanks for your email.First of all I would like to bring apology on behalf of my company if our bots caused you some difficulties. I can assure you, all the visits on your website were accidental. At this moment our specialists are taking drastic actions to prevent these visits. Thank you for pointing to our service drawbacks. We appreciate your help and it is very important to us.

Our service has been launched quite recently and unfortunately there are still some bugs and shortcomings. Please, respect this fact. We are working hard trying to fix the existing errors and I hope soon our users won’t have any claims.

As you might notice, every user can manually remove their URLs from the Semalt database using Semalt Crawler. Furthermore, our Support center specialists are ready to come to the aid and remove URLs from the base once the website owner submits a request. We consider every single request and guarantee that every user will get a proper respond.

We realize this may bring some inconveniences, but unfortunately at the moment we can’t offer another way of solving this issue.

As for the comment posted on your blog, I believe it’s impossible to evaluate all the pros and cons unless you have the complete picture of the service. Probably once you try to use Semalt features you will change your mind.

Anyway, we thank you for your feedback, since we appreciate every opinion relating Semalt.

Sincerely yours,

Semalt LLC manager , Alex Andrianov


Thanks for the response, but would it be possible to have you address my specific questions more directly?1. Are you claiming that your bots’ failure to identify themselves as web crawlers is due to a technical failure?
2. Are you claiming that your bots not obeying robots.txt is due to a technical failure?
3. Do you have plans to make your bots identify themselves as web crawlers?
4. Do you have plans to have your bots comply with robots.txt?Jessie


Dear Jessica,I will try to give the most definite answers to your questions. As I mentioned before our service has recently appeared on the web which causes some technical unavailability. Today we upgrade the web scanning process and adjust our robots. Unfortunately sometimes Semalt bots visit random websites, but we do all our best to solve this problem in the shortest possible time.Thank you for your email and interest to Semalt.com service. Your opinion is very important to us.

Sincerely yours,

Semalt LLC manager, Alex Andrianov

I’m not sure that’s answering much. I’m really looking to find out:1. Will your crawlers be respecting robots.txt after your upgrade?
2. Will your crawlers be identifying themselves as web crawlers after your upgrade?Jessie

He hasn’t yet replied to this email, but responded to tweets on the subject:

What we learned from this exchange:

Nothing, really. There were some vague claims that the problems I’ve listed were “bugs” but no specific addressing of the problems of Semalt bots ignoring robots.txt or failing to properly identify themselves as web crawlers. Apparently several weeks of visits to sites across the web were “accidental”.

Why this is nonsense:

Given how easy creating robots.txt compliant crawlers are, failure of bots to identify themselves as web crawlers or obey robots.txt can only be viewed as a deliberate choice of the designer or gross incompetence. While my technical skills are also substandard, I’m confident that I would be able to put together a simple webcrawler that obeys robots.txt over the weekend (check in on Tuesday, I’ll be posting the results of my efforts). For a professional enterprise who sources data through crawling the web to claim following industry conventions is beyond their technical ability leaves me wondering if they’re fools or liars.