Hackathons are more than just t-shirts

I already showcased a gallery of Hackathon t-shirts I designed for our Flatiron Health hacks a few posts back. Of course, Hackathons are much more than just t-shirts, so earlier this year my fellow engineer Ovadia and I wrote up a 2-part series of blog posts about Hackathons.

Let me know what you think and/or give me some Medium clappy-claps!

What the hell is ‘Crisis Driven Development’?

After a couple of major production fires on our analytics pipelines that required us to drop everything and push through several migrations, my fellow engineer Zach and I looked at each other and admitted that “this was terrible, but things are actually much better now” – and so, the term “Crisis Driven Development” was born. We shaped up our ideas around the concept enough to talk about it at an engineering all-hands at Flatiron Health, and followed up with a couple of blog posts.

Zach’s post (the first part of the saga) focuses on how to be in a good spot to actually keep pushing forward during production fires instead of rolling everything back, and emerge on the other side in a better state.

The second part that I wrote then takes a step back and thinks through what makes ‘Crisis Driven Development’ so successful, and how we can apply those principles to a regular development cycle instead of a crisis – a controlled burn, so to say. And while none of this is entirely new, I do like how it can introduce a slightly different way of interacting and working together than the go-to mode of agile sprints and tickets. Let me know what you think – feel free to comment here, on Medium, or hit me up on Twitter.

Hackers gonna hack… and wear t-shirts.

Within my first six months at Flatiron I started helping out, and then later running, our company Hackathons: two days every quarter where the entire team (engineers and non-engineers) is encouraged to get (even more) creative and spin up new product prototypes, try out technologies, liberally fix bugs, or dig deep into our data.

An important part of our Hackathon tradition, along with the Thursday night pizza, are the t-shirts, which I’ve been designing almost every time for the past two years. What started out as a necessity has now become one of my favorite parts about the Hackathon – I get to play around with design tools and see people wearing the shirts I designed almost every day! I’m quite pleased with them, so I thought I’d share them with the world. Here are some of the most recent t-shirts I put together for our Hackathons.

hack7 hack9 hack10 hack11

PyGotham 2015: When Python met the Cookie Monster

Thanks to the NYC Women in Machine Learning & Data Science meetup group, I was able to attend this year’s PyGotham conference on a weekend in late August. With PyGotham being a fairly young conference (it was started in 2011 as an “eclectic Py-centric tech conference”), I had not heard of it before and did not quite know what to expect – and I was positively surprised by the breadth of inspiring talks and the number of enthusiastic Pythonistas I met that weekend.

Day One started bright and early with a 9am keynote by Nick Coghlan of Red Hat, who gave an insightful talk about the challenges of making open source development sustainable. He pointed out that a number of open source projects were handed over to the community where contributors would be happy to add new exciting features, but maintenance and bug fixes were expected to be carried out by “magic internet pixies”. His mention of the importance of work-life balance for open source contributors in particular struck a note with me, since this is something that is often overlooked when talking about getting involved in the open source community.

After a short break to rearrange the rooms, the day continued with a series of thirty minute talks. As a data insights engineer, I was particularly interested in learning more about the tools of the trade, and potentially also hear about some relevant technologies and frameworks that I might not come in touch with on a daily basis. I attended a presentation by Jeff Uthaichai and Chris Becker, who gave an excellent introduction to Docker, a tool that  supports software deployment by allowing users to create a “container” which contains an application along with all its dependencies. The main focus of the talk was a series of recorded demos that showed how easy (or not…) it is to deploy a Docker container to different cloud hosting services. After a short break, the morning session continued with a talk by another excellent speaker, Jeremiah Malina of ChatID, who demonstrated how to set up a real-time analytics services using InfluxDB, a distributed time series database, using an easy to understand example of counting site visits associated with a referral ID.

Of course, attending talks at conferences is only half of the fun – the other half is meeting new people with similar interests, and so I spent most of the breaks in the breakout area outside the conference rooms, filling up on coffee, snacking on cookies, chatting with other attendees, and swapping business cards. One of my highlights of the weekend was my attempt to roll around the breakout area on a self-balancing scooter – think small Segway without anything to hold on to! – which the team from SinglePlatform had brought along.

After lunch, I attended a non-Python talk, which happened to be one of my favorites of the day. Thomas Ballinger, also known as the “Terminal Whisperer”, gave us a whirlwind tour of everything you’ve never thought of doing with your terminal, but you wouldn’t want to miss now that you know how to do it – from replacing existing text and changing text colors to blinking text and advice on how to create blinking git commit messages, Thomas’ talk provided plenty of inspiration on how to make command line interfaces more user-friendly. My final talk of the day was Jarret Petrillo’s excellent introduction to building a data aggregation app in Flask, a Python web framework, or self-proclaimed “microframework”, that can be seen as a lightweight alternative to the popular Django framework.

Day Two of PyGotham started with an engaging keynote talk by Jessica McKellar, a former Director for the Python Software Foundation, who asked us to imagine the Python community as a company which faces issues of sustainability and accessibility. She highlighted a few problems, such as the difficulties of running Python on Windows computers, which basically prohibits its uptake in schools that make heavy use of Windows PCs, and will continue to do so in the near future. Jessica concluded her talk with a very specific call to action to address Python’s accessibility for beginners as a first step to improving the position of “Python, Inc”.

Jessica’s keynote was followed by talk on code reviews by Amy Hanlon, a Hacker School (now Recurse Center) graduate and software engineer at Venmo who I had known since she gave a brilliant demo on overwriting builtin Python functions with Harry Potter spells at a PyLadies meetup in 2014. Amy gave another excellent and insightful presentation, listing some guidelines for code authors and reviewers, and explaining how reducing the amount of ground work a reviewer needs to do (understanding the code, spotting bugs, …) frees up time to get more valuable feedback on your code. After an extended break, I managed to catch the end of Sven Kreiss’ talk on pysparkling, a Python implementation of Spark’s Resilient Distributed Dataset (RDD) interface, had some exciting conversations with attendees from as far as the Dominican Republic over lunch, and met fellow female Pythonistas at the PyLadies NYC mingling session.

The next talk turned out to be another highlight of the weekend: SQLAlchemy ORM as demonstrated through the power of cookies. Jason Myers presented a wonderfully humorous step-by-step demo of setting up a cookie ordering system with SQLAlchemy ORM, a SQL abstraction toolkit that allows users to interacts with relational data as objects by abstracting from the underlying database layer. Jason’s talk was followed by an interesting, though mildly worrying, presentation by Ashwini Oruganti, an Eventbrite engineer and director of the Python Software Foundation, who gave an introduction to HTTPS and pointed out some of the common security flaws in OpenSSL. The final session of this afternoon block was yet another excellent live demo by A. Jesse Jiryu Davis of MongoDB, who walked us through the setup of an application using asynchronous node.js style “coroutines” in Python’s asyncio module.

And with that, my weekend at PyGotham came to a close – a great little conference full of passionate Pythonistas and enthusiastic newcomers, which I will happily attend again in 2016.

Check out my Storify collection of my tweets from the conference!


PEOPLES. After 5 1/2 years in Manchester, a few weeks in Barcelona, and four months in Germany (living with my parents… oh the glamour!) I’ve somehow ended up working in New York. Yes, I have a job. I pay taxes. I’ve signed a lease for an apartment. I pay bills. I tried to apply for a credit card and got rejected. I’m a proper adult now, me. Life has been pretty crazy as you can possibly imagine, but here’s some pictures to keep you entertained while I’m gearing up for another round of mightaswell.


With the completion of my PhD in September, my time in Manchester has most likely come to an end. While I’m still officially a resident, I’ve been moving around Germany (with a quick stint in Barcelona) for the past couple of months, visiting friends and family, and there’s some more holidays planned. I’m not quite certain what my next stop will be, and whether I’ll be continuing to write on mightaswell, start a new blog, or leave the writing and ranting to others.

For now, I’ll leave this site up as an archive of my five years in Mancland (I keep referring people to blog posts… quite handy!) and then I’ll see what I’ll do with it once I’ve got a fixed address again. Exciting times.

Chorlton Water Park to Dunham Massey along the Bridgewater Canal

“We were lucky this year – summer fell on a bank holiday”.

(someone on Twitter)

I was going to write an elaborate blog post about how we cycled down to Dunham Massey (a large country park south of Manchester) where we had a picnic in the gardens and saw deer and baby rabbits, but all you need to know is this: Start at Chorlton Water Park, carry on to Sale Water Park, keep going until you’re at the point where it says “Overflow River Channel” on the map snippet below. You’ll be going under a bridge, follow the bend of the path just up onto the “bridge” which turns out to be the canal. Then follow along the canal for about an hour or so until you get to the exit off the tow path that’s closest to Dunham Massey (GPS/Google Maps is your friend). The surface is quite good in most places except for some bumpy bits when you get closer to Dunham Massey, but I managed well with my fairly thin hybrid wheels. If you get off at the right spot, you’ll go under a bridge again and end up almost outside the park. Say hi to the baby rabbits.


[Photo by David Jones]

Upcoming exhibition: Typographic, Urban and Americana Art by Patrick Macauly

I don’t usually announce events on this blog, but I would like to recommend this exhibition to all of you:

Typographic, Urban and Americana Art by Patrick Macauly
Exhibition at 2022NQ, Manchester October 4th – 10th 2013. Opening night on 4th October by invitation only.

Patrick’s art combines typography, colour, and wood such as reclaimed timber into pieces which remind of deserted houses and factories and… tumbleweeds. Besides the beautiful art, Patrick and his wife Linda are also rather awesome people: I’ve known them since we did the “Beards of Manchester” calendar (Pat was our “Mr December”), and Linda has been a core member of Manchester Girl Geeks for quite a while – I can’t thank her enough for the time she dedicated to helping out at our workshops and “Digital Skills for Women” IT courses.

So, if you want to see lovely art and meet lovely people, get down to 2022NQ in October!

South Manchester to Macclesfield cycle, via Lyme Park and the Middlewood Way

Middlewood Way

Awesome weather = time to get on yer bikes! I’ve been meaning to visit Lyme Park for ages, so we used the opportunity last weekend and set off south towards the park. From our front door to the station in Macclesfield the ride took us about 6 hours, which included quite a few stops for map reading and route changes, and a couple of longer breaks for food and drinks. The route is mostly flat, with very few hills. Regarding the road surface, I managed well with my 7 gear hybrid bike with tyres that are on the thin side, although I did push on some paths that might be manageable with mountain bike tyres. We used a Cycle GM cycle map number 7 (Stockport).

We started our trip in South Manchester and followed the 62 cycle route down to Stockport. This part is a bit tricky and depending on where you’re coming from, it’s probably best to just read the map and aim for Vernon Park to get through Stockport city centre.

Our initial plan was to simply follow New Bridge Lane/Stockport Road/Osborne Street until we got to the 55 cycle route, but when we cycled past Vernon Park we decided to have a quick wander round the park (which is lovely, by the way!). We had a look at the park map and figured we could hit the 55 if we just went along the footpath by the River Goyt until we got to Jim Fearnley bridge which is marked on the cycle map. This plan turned out to be rather adventurous, as for the first stretch along the river we had to carry our bikes up and down steps, planks, and over a few fallen trees. However, once the initial climbing was done, the footpath along the river was wide and suitable for cycling, and the views were marvellous.

Once we got closer to the bridge, there were a few more steps up and down, but again nothing too bad. We went past a cricket club (which appeared to be in the middle of the woods, with no access roads…), crossed over the bridge (dodging the kids racing their bmx bikes down the steep hill) and turned left onto the path to finally get onto the 55. Just shortly after that the 55 leads to a main road, where we did not follow the 55 signs pointing to the left but took a short cut, turning right onto the main road which wasn’t too busy and had a off-road cycle path for a short bit as well. The road took us directly to the Railway pub in Marple, where we had a short pit stop before getting back onto our bikes.

The 55 cycle route starts again just next to the Railway pub, so from there on it was plain sailing/cycling, as we only had to follow the path and signposts down the Middlewood Way. We left the path when we got to the “Nelson Pit Visitor Centre” signs, crossed over the cycle path and the canal, down Lyme Road (a private road that is marked as a public footpath) which took us up a bumpy hill (more pushing) to the gates of Lyme Park. A little further up the hill (past some overheated sheep) the views were brilliant, as we could see all the way down to Manchester. We followed down the path to get onto a paved road, which took us directly to the Lyme Park car park. The hall and gardens close quite early, so we decided to save the visit for another day and have lunch/tea at the pond instead.

The White Nancy near Bollington

Originally, our plan was a round trip to Lyme Park and back up to Manchester, but since it was already quite late and the sun had worn us out, we decided to cycle on down to Macclesfield and take the train back instead. We left Lyme Park the same way we came and went back onto the Middlewood Way (55) cycle path. The ride to Macclesfield was easygoing, taking us past the White Nancy near Bollington and some rather interesting solutions for bridging height differences. The Middlewood Way seems to lead directly to Macclesfield train station, although I think we took the wrong turn somewhere and had to do a few right-left combos past a Tesco’s to get to the station. The trains to Manchester run every 15 to 20 minutes, and finding a train that would take our bikes wasn’t a problem.

The trip was absolutely brilliant, and there’s plenty to see – lush woodland, a river, wild flowers, old mills, a cricket club in the middle of the woods, quite a few pubs… Get on your bikes!

[Photos: Middlewood Way by Terry Wha. White Nancy by Alice Rosen]

Peel the top off a hottie” – ad campaign by Pot Noodle

“Peel the top off a hottie”, complete with pot noodle lid boobs. I was greeted by this display (alternative title: “sexual harassment is HOT”) at Piccadilly Gardens where  several women (presumably the “hotties”) were handing out free pot noodle samples. Turns out this is the current Pot Noodle advertising campaign, which is also paraded round their Facebook page.

In addition to filing a complaint with the Advertising Standard Authority (breach of item 4.1 – offence on grounds of gender – and 4.4 – condoning violent behaviour – of the Advertising Code, or CAP code), I also emailed Manchester City Council and asked them to enforce stricter rules for promotional stalls in public spaces. Given that the ASA recently ruled that one of the “Pussy drink” ads was in breach of the CAP Code, I very much hope that this one gets banned, too. We really don’t need any more objectification of women (“a hottie”), incitement of non-consensual sexual activities, and reinforcement of “lad culture”. Especially not from a bloody pot noodle.

UPDATE (16/05/2013)

I just received an email from Councillors Suzanne Richards and Rosa Battle who kindly looked into this. It seems the advertiser didn’t provide enough information about the stall for anyone to flag this as an issue (if I were trying to promote a product using this kind of imagery I’d probably keep it quiet as well…), but they stated

“I think we are all in agreement that this type of  material is unacceptable and should not be promoted in our City.”

and are planning to do “more stringent checks” in the future. Awesome. I really appreciate the council’s quick reply and their clear position on this kind of advertising. Now waiting for further information from the ASA…