Chrome Extensions and a Return to Meetups!

Well, I missed my "blog post a month" by a week or so, but I finally got an idea for a blog post! A few weeks ago, I finally made it back to Arlington Ruby (as a part of me trying VERY hard to start going back to meetups and getting re-acquainted with the community I love so much) and learned about making chrome extension from Casey Watts. Nope, it has nothing to do with Ruby but it was really interesting to learn about. There were two components of this presentation that I enjoyed. The first was the actual technical content of learning how to do a chrome extension and the second was the presenter's teaching methodology.

Let's start with the technical content. Did you know that making chrome extensions is super easy?! In about 30 minutes, we already created like 3 chrome extensions. There are 2 things we learned... bookmarklets and actual chrome extensions. According to the presentation, a bookmarklet is "a bookmark that runs javascript on the current page instead of taking you to a new page" (like a regular bookmark would).The basic premise of both bookmarks and chrome extensions is altering the "location" field on the "add page" form in order to execute the javascript.

An extension is only slightly more complicated than a bookmarklet... at least the examples we did during the meetup, but i'm sure that this is where it can get really complex with more sophisticated ideas. An extension has a manifest.json file which outlines the name, version, description, javascript files (or html or css) you want to pull in, and where you want the extension to work.

Finally, we spent a little bit of time talking about examples of chrome extensions people might want to build, how to distribute and deploy a chrome extension, and some security things to keep in mind when either downloading or deploying an extension.

As I mentioned earlier, I still assume that making a more complex extension is more difficult. It seems like it could potentially involve a significant amount of code and because of how the code is pulled into a chrome extension, could be complicated to mentally keep it all straight and organized. All in all though, I had no idea that building an extension was so straightforward and I can't wait to think more critically about extensions I use or actions that might make sense to make an extension for.

The second part of this presentation that I liked was how it was taught! It is really difficult to teach something technical without really knowing the group of people you are teaching. It is even more difficult to do this when you know that there will be a pretty diverse level of skills in attendance as well. Casey did a great job! He started by framing what we were doing and what the end goal of the "lesson" was. He then had us pair up, which enabled everyone to work with someone on the parts of lesson that were self-guided. It was great to bounce ideas off of someone else and, we all know that often at technical meetups it can be difficult to meet other people. The guide that he walked us through was really clear and easy to understand. You could move through it faster if you were more experienced or slower if you were less so. It was a lesson but felt very laid back, informal, and fun. Finally, we worked independently in small chunks of time but then came together in between those times. When we came together as a group, Casey made sure we were all paying attention and as a result I think there was much more group participation than if he had just hoped that everyone was engaged instead of really enforcing that they do so. I feel like everyone left having met/spoken to someone AND actually having learned a bit more about chrome extensions.
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