To My Ball: Going Digitally and Educationally Rogue

To My Ball: A Mi Bola

To go one’s own way, to do something different from everyone else.

“No me gusta viajar en grupos grandes, voy a mi bola.” “I don’t like traveling with big groups, I do my own thing.”

It can also be used negatively to talk about someone who only cares about their own business or problems or is a selfish person.

Seeing how I’m an only child and have spent my adult life traipsing around everywhere but home, I’m sure this would be what my family say about me (if they were Spanish, of course). I have no problem going off on my own to do things, or even to travel. Traveling alone is actually very satisfying – once you’re there, you realize you’re never really alone. I’ve had some amazing conversations with fellow solo travelers at hostels and on city walking tours.

salzburg solo travel

Solo travelin’ in Austria (2014)

I didn’t come here to write about traveling alone – there are more than enough listicles on the internet to tell you how to do this. I’m here to talk about digitally going a mi bola. By digital, I mean online university and social media.


First of all, I’d like to share a bit about the choice I’ve recently made to not continue my current degree program – at least for now. Backing up to about a year ago, I found out about UOC (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) as a somewhat hip and cutting-edge alternative to UNED (Spain’s traditional online university). I had been interested for some time in gaining some new skills in tech – front-end development and UX were what interested me most. Programming seemed like this fascinating and nerdy world that I might want to be part of too. So I finally bit the bullet and decided it was time. You’ve already read about this in other posts, so I’ll spare the details, but I moved forward with the plan and enrolled over the summer.


Fast forward to now. I’m one semester down and I’ve got enough experience with the school to give it a way-less-than-five-star review. I enjoyed one of my four courses – HTML and CSS – quite a bit, but the rest left a lot to be desired. From the PDF books that didn’t have very many pages at all (or the course that didn’t have actual materials at all, just links to a few guides from around the internet), to the projects that seemed a little dubious in their usefulness, I’m not convinced this school and this program could take me in the right direction. I’m also not convinced I’d make a good programmer. 😉


So am I quitting this upskill process? Ni de coña, I decided to go a mi bola and study on my own! Yay! I signed up for Udacity’s Front End Developer “nanodegree” program, a four-month course that has the goal of helping me push out some useful portfolio projects. First, I signed up for Intro to Javascript, a free introductory course (and where I got the following donut video from) that got me up to speed on things I wasn’t grasping in the master’s program. Then I decided to take a leap and sign up for the four-month front-end course.

Now that I’m almost two months in, here are a few things I like about Udacity.

    • Interactive lessons with quizzes sprinkled throughout each one.
    • Lots of video content with real people explaining tough concepts. (Or DONUTS explaining tough concepts. Yes please.) Some reading, but it’s not the bulk of the course materials at all.
    • Projects due throughout the course that are reviewed in a short time (unlike UOC where you have to wait weeks sometimes to get feedback).
    • I just finished my second project, which is using Javascript to manipulate elements on a page to create the game Memory. (It’s fully functional and you can go play it right now if you want a distraction. I’ll wait.)
    • I feel proud of being able to figure out how to write certain functions on my own and debug issues using the Inspect browser tool. So far I’m enjoying this experience a lot more than the university track.


udacity learning donuts

Learning with donuts.

In other news, I’m attempting to go a mi bola digitally as well… which might seem a bit ironic given that I’m learning to build digital things. I recently finished the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, which gave me some interesting ideas about how to manage my digital life. Last year I took some time off from social media after reading another of his books, and I found the time deeply productive and satisfying – I read so many books! Well, I’m back at it this year, trying to pry the phone out of my hands once again, because my attachment to it creeps up on me gradually, until one day I realize I’ve been staring blankly at the screen and swiping around with no purpose whatsoever for who knows how long.


Phone addiction has become quite a hot topic this past year, with online articles popping up everywhere about “why your smartphone is destroying your life” and “cure your smartphone addiction.” People (or at least social scientists) are realizing that the constant attachment and distraction is unhealthy. There are great things about mobile phones of course – for example, the Headspace app helps me develop a balanced perspective by quieting my mind every day. But I think we could all do with a little disconnection. I personally work MUCH better when I leave the phone in my desk drawer in the mornings.


One great idea I got from the book is to implement Conversation Office Hours, which is a time set aside specifically for face-to-face or voice conversation. Newport suggests that text conversations are actually a poor experience because our brains are wired for in-person social interaction and interpreting body language, voice cues, and facial expressions. Since I adore this idea, I’ve decided to open up some time every weekday between 9PM and 10:30PM Madrid time (CEST) – which is 3-4:30PM EST and 12-1:30PM PST. If you’d like a voice or Skype chat, those are the hours I’ll be free during the week specifically for that purpose.

Along those lines, I’ll be unplugging quite a bit from social media, in case you don’t see my likes and comments – I don’t dislike you and your awesome life, I just prefer to hear about it. I realize that I’m replacing social media with conversation time, so it’s basically the same, but the goal is to have a richer and deeper connection with people in my life.

I hope to fill the time not using my phone by improving my skills in the following areas –

      • Front-end development
      • Writing
      • Photography
      • Violin
      • Creating “analog weekends” connecting with friends and nature


sunset in getxo bizkaia

Photo from an “analog walk” with my friend Ainara last weekend. Photography: check. Catching up face to face: check.

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