I recently made a project to list the languages a GitHub user has in all of their repositories. You can find it at This is just the thoughts I wrote down while making it organized in a moderately presentable way.


I’ve never been more intimidated in my life than when I try to learn something and don’t know where to start. I’ve felt this feeling when learning a programming language completely different than one I already know, when trying to study quantitative finance, and whenever I try to learn web or mobile development.

I had a couple motivations for learning web development which can be separated cleanly into an actual desire to make this code and inspiration I’ve received from the wider community. First among my intrinsic motivations, is an actual desire to have a tool to show the language breakdown among all of my GitHub repos, so I can use it myself. I tried asking Stack Exchange, if they knew someone who already did it a couple months ago, but none of the similar work out there met my needs so I did it myself. Second, I feel I’ve reached the point in my career as a computer scientist where my skills need to be broad enough that I am able to do web development when called upon and this project was of a good scope for learning AngularJS. My third intrinsic motivation came from my interest in comparative programming languages, the event-based models common to web programming are substantially different from the functional, imperative, and object-oriented paradigms I’ve experienced in other languages.

Extrinsic motivation for this project came from a few sources. I’ve recently started showing off my work on Hacker News and think if I had some more visually appealing work it would be well received. I was also inspired by this passage from a blog about always doing whatever you least like to do which also inspired the title. Lastly, I was inspired by this blog post. The idea of “doing cool things and telling people” isn’t specific to web development or even computer science, but it was a good kick to get me to actually do it.

All in all, I had a project idea and sufficient motivation to finally sit down and learn some web development. Getting started was a bit of a challenge and I lost some internet points by asking noobish questions on Stack Overflow, but I feel pretty good now and expect to finish this project before New York. I swear that I will not rest until I get a star on my JavaScript GitHub repos, because after all worthless internet points are the most valuable thing in the universe.


Like all software projects, this one faced setbacks and delays. I originally started working on a node.js app and got everything but the pretty pictures done before finding out that you can’t run server-side code on GitHub pages. At this point, I decided to switch to a d3js and angular app. I knew absolutely nothing about these, but I worked through the “Intro to JavaScript” and “AngularJS” tutorials on Codecademy. I’m definitely not the target audience for the “Intro to JavaScript” tutorial, but it did expand my knowledge of JavaScript’s OOP support. The “AngularJS” tutorial was much more interesting. The idea of binding actions directly to pieces of html seems extremely powerful and I’d really like to know both what kind of black magic is done to actually implement it and what the practical limitations of it are. I eventually ended up using uvCharts (which is built on d3) for my charts because I saw an example “StackedBar” chart that was exactly what I wanted to do. There was one problem with it that took some time for me to discover, the dataset needs to have a value specified for each category(not actually the category) and they need to be in the same order for each category. There’s still one bug in the project that is a huge pain, where because we’re not logged into GitHub it will throttle our GitHub requests after the third or fourth person. The solution to that one is to just have the user log into GitHub when they want to use it, this would overcome the throttling issues and we’d be able to show them their own repos (instead of mine) by default which would be better. I had some difficulty catching the errors that we receive when we’re being throttled, but I choose to blame that on inadequate documentation.


From my previous experience as a teaching assistant, I don’t have a very good opinion of people who want to look at working code while writing their own similar code. For most of my life, I’ve thought these people are at worst plagiarists and at best cargo cultists. Neither option being associated with competence, but at least in this project I saw the value of having a few working examples from Codecademy which I could reference when I didn’t know why something wasn’t working, but couldn’t make that confusion isn’t a question worthy of Stack Overflow. I also spent a couple hours on Skillport which is a tutorial service provided by my employer, but it was nowhere near as helpful as Codecademy and Google. I think the value of looking at working code depends on the subject matter, in areas like computer vision and AI coming up with the idea behind the code takes 95% of the thought and reading someone else’s code is less useful than picking up a textbook. In something extremely visual like web programming the actual implementation of a beautiful website is of much more importance than the ability to sketch one out on paper.

This project also made me install and setup a LAMP server which I use to debug JavaScript in the browser and was a learning experience to set it up correctly.

One thing that was also interesting about JavaScript was that there’s a lot of asynchronous functions that take callbacks. The reason for this is that waiting for a response from a server takes forever compared to running any reasonable amount of code and waiting for someone who may be on the other side of the globe to respond to you when you could be doing something productive is a guaranteed way to kill performance. A language that only did asynchronous callbacks would be pretty mind-warping, what are the odds Erlang is like that?

I’d be surprised if there’s anyone actually reading this, but I have a message for them: If you learn anything from this blog post, you should learn to find whatever challenge you find most intimidating, even, especially in fact, if it’s not programming and just tackle it now, immediately, and head on. Especially, if it’s commenting on this post.

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