What’s it like to be a student at General Assembly?

Photo by General Assembly

Since January, the DC tech/start-up community has been abuzz about General Assembly, an educational institution that offers courses, classes, and workshops in web development, product management, and user experience design, to name a few. Here’s the big question — what do you actually get out of these courses, and are they worth the price? I recently completed GA’s Front-End Web Development course, and I’m here to give my perspective as a student.

In my opinion, you get two things out of a GA course: 1) a set of hard skills that you can’t get from a traditional academic institution, and 2) a network and community of people invested in the tech/start-up scene. I enrolled in the front-end course after a frustrating experience trying to teach myself coding and programming using various online tools/courses.

Photo by General Assembly

GA’s classroom environment supports collaborative learning; you don’t feel like you’re the only one struggling with the material because you have the support of your classmates. We’d often break out into groups of 2-3 people to work on a challenging assignment, or meet up for coffee and code sessions to tackle homework over the weekends.  You also have knowledgeable instructors, who are available 24/7 inside and outside of class. And finally, you’ll be surrounded by passionate, creative, and tech-savvy classmates who share your interests and are also looking to learn new skills. The community of people you meet is indispensable.

If you’re curious, go to an info session, scope out the scene, and see if one of their classes is right for you!


Photos by General Assembly.

Mac Pro-Tips for Power Users


If you read my last post on the value of upgrading your Mac to an SSD to push the performance of your computer to Ludicrous Speed and you’ve “gone plaid,” then you’re ready for the next step in your quest to become one of the greatest power users of our time. Alright, I’ve undoubtedly oversold the tips below, but I can tell you I’m an experienced user and these tips will bring you to a new level of efficiency.

Leveraging Spaces:

It’s been known for some time now that when deployed properly, using multiple monitors has a positive impact on user productivity. It’s also known that too much screen real-estate, when deployed improperly, will start to reduce these gains in productivity. Enter Spaces, a feature of OSX that allows you to leverage nearly infinite desktop space without the hassle of daisy-chaining an absurd number of monitors, and adds the functions necessary to protect against screen real-estate overload.

To start using Spaces, press control + up; from that shortcut, you’ll be in “Mission Control” which is essentially an overview of your current spaces and open windows. To add more spaces, mouse over to the top right corner of your screen and hit the “+” icon that slides into view. Congratulations! You’ve just doubled your desktop area. My recommendation is to try 4 separate spaces, which is 8 desktops when used with a second monitor. To become a master of Spaces, check out this post from If you’ve used Spaces in the past, but were not totally sold, try it again but this time make sure each desktop is housing a full screen app; you’ll likely find this is a much more efficient setup than stacking countless windows on top of each other.

Desktop Zero:

This is the zen art of never storing even a single file on your desktop, at least whenever possible. Desktop Zero is probably both the easiest tip to execute and possibly the most difficult, depending on how much of slob you are when it comes to file management. This practice will force you to create a deliberate and well-organized file structure for all of your most important working files, which increases your efficiency across the board.

My approach to Desktop Zero is simple: Anything I’m actively working on for a period of time can live on my desktop, but as soon as it becomes disposable it’s trashed, or if it’s finished it is filed away safely. There are instances where a project can span weeks or even months; in those cases, I pack up my files at the end of the day and remove them from my desktop and then work out of that project folder and continue to use my desktop as a temporary holding area for working files that are currently being use to augment the unfinished final documents. You’ll become a better, more focused user and your computer will thank you by booting faster and responding more quickly because you’ll have freed up a good portion of its active memory.


For ZERO dollars you can have a personal butler that responds to your commands using simple key strokes; Alfred can execute files, open applications, open web pages, and do just about anything you can imagine. Gone are the days of hunting through app folders or even Apple’s new Launch Pad. Simply tap two keys and tell Alfred what to do. It’s difficult to describe the value that Alfred can bring to you because it can do so much and it can be easily customized depending on the user’s needs. Check out Alfred in the App Store to learn more.

Siri… Learn to Love her/him/it

I’m the first to admit that Siri is not exactly the “amazing” digital assistant Apple thinks SHE is, but she’s always getting better. Within the next decade, Siri will become smart enough to actively monitor your habits and make decisions without requiring input from you. Because of this, you better learn how to leverage your relationship with her, otherwise you may end up becoming her human play thing. Perhaps that prediction is not totally accurate, but the point is that Siri is just a small taste of what our interactions with computers will be like. That being said, here are a few input commands that Siri is competent enough to carry out now that iOS 6 is out. For now, I’ll use her to keep tabs on football’s greatest quarterback, Drew Brees.

How To Increase Your Macbook Pro Performance by +600%


The vast majority of end-users at iStrategyLabs fall into the “power users” category; a Power User is someone that requires the most output a computer can feasibly muster to complete their daily work. The best/worst thing about Power Users is that any additional power you give them will be immediately used… and then they’ll ask you for more. The point is, when I give my team the best tools possible, they’ll utilize them to their fullest potential, right to the point of near failure.

Recently, the Ops team and I gave our Power Users a massive leap in overall performance, and all it took was a simple upgrade to Crucial M4 128 GB Solid State Drives combined with optical conversion kits to maintain acceptable levels of storage. We saw disk write speeds go from 80 MB/s to as high as 540 MB/s — an increase of over 600%. The total dollars invested per end-user was around $120.00, and the performance gains have been described as, “mind-blowing,” “easily 80% faster,” and “How the hell did you do that?” The results speak for themselves; it’s not easy to make a developer smile, but sometimes even us hardware jockeys can get them to grin with approval. This time all it took was an SSD.

If you’re planning to attempt this upgrade, check out my Random Nerds posts below. The first will help you through the SSD/Optical Kit upgrade process and the second one will give you some tips to running a small business powered by Apple. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment here or hit me up on Twitter @joecorbett.

SSD Upgrade Process
Don’t Buy the MacBook Pro with Retina Display… Upgrade Your Current Rig

Powering your Business with Apple
Making Apple The Engine that Drives Your Small Business