The Practical Home Lab

Every future engineer needs a lab at home. Most I know have two or three for different purposes. Usually, one is for experimenting and the other is for work. Engineers at the outset are also incredibly fickle, almost like artists. If left to their own devices, the beginnings of a home lab will turn into a mess of different libraries and towers destroyed by schizophrenic configurations. There are a few basic steps one can take to getting their lab up and running in a day.

Have a Goal
Most engineering postings want someone who knows LAMP, which is Linux, Apache Tomcat, MySQL, and PHP. However, most engineering jobs only require you to know two of them at any particular time. For front-end engineers, it’s MySQL and PHP. As a Java Engineer, that helps very little. Now, contrary to what many would make you think, there are still a lot of jobs for Java Engineers. But to keep up as a programmer, it’s best to learn a new language once every few years. As a side note, as a front-end engineer, it’s also good to at least be familiar with Apache web services. That does make having a LAMP stack a pretty useful thing to have at home.

Know your Comfort Zone
I’m an Unapologetic Microsoft Girl. My household runs Windows exclusively. Because of this, I tend to catch a lot of teasing at work. Thankfully, I am not easily pushed around. I will continue using Windows even though most Start-up Engineers use Linux. When I decided to build my lab, I knew it had to be on Windows. Through very little research, namely web searches for ‘Windows’ and ‘PHP’, I found very good resources for running WAMP.

Have a Project
Books are helpful, but no book will follow your particular train of thought. The way most engineers learn is through practice and the best use for most engineers have for books are for reference. It’s very typical for someone who has programmed before to get bored when variables are still being explained by Chapter 3. It’s best to have a separate project, either through Sourceforge or your own personal web space. Again, as a front-end engineer, I am opting for the web space, but that will be further down the road. At least this way, you have a design and you have a chance to truly think about what it is you want your experiment to do. This approach produces two good things: A Portfolio and an End Point. Any future employer will want to see what you can do, and it’s best if they can see it without you having to boot it up for them. And if you keep going on any project without any sort of milestone, you end up back in that mess of code and configurations.

As for the WAMP stack, I highly recommend the tutorials on ricocheting.com and php.net. It’s spectacularly easy. Finally, the best thing about building your own Lab at home? It’s a disproportionate ego boost. You feel great for rediculous reasons.

I think that should be my new Tag Line: Unrepentant Microsoft Girl. Nice.