Hello, world!

My name is Alex Dao.

Every aspiring programmer writes these lines. It’s a powerful declaration, telling the world that you exist and are ready to face it. Some take (or used to, anyways) the bumpy path of

mov    ah,9
mov dx,offset hello_message
int 21h

hello_message db 'Hello, world!$'

Others take the paved path of

print(“Hello, World!”). 

It doesn't matter how you do it. Nor does it matter how many fancy tricks you know or how much time you spend to transform that “Hello, world!” statement into the next “beautiful and responsive” second coming of Bootstrapped design. What really matters is that you are demonstrating that you can bend those 1's and 0's to your will.

Just as there is beauty in math, there is beauty in code. I can appreciate elegance in a proof or algorithm as much as the next person (and maybe more if you've ever seen me get excited about one). But I’ve just recently realized that I'm not actually interested in spending my life working on things like these. I spent the past several years pretending otherwise, hopping from one research topic to the next. Microbiology to materials science to biomedical engineering to bioinformatics to protein design. Lab to lab, trying to apply my computer science skills towards something that I could get passionate about.

Sure, these are all super cool subjects that I have a passing interest in. But something was always missing. I never felt that sense of urgency, that excitement, that came with doing something I love.

It still felt like work.

I reached a turning point as I began my sophomore year at Duke. The chair professor of the Biology department sent out an email, looking for an Android developer to port an app from iOS. He taught a genetics class (also available as a MOOC on Coursera) and used the app as a supplemental teaching resource. I had dabbled in Android before, but nothing substantial. At best, I could claim familiarity, and certainly not proficiency. So, in true college fashion, I was confident I could easily deliver on what he was asking for.

I recruited a friend and we sent the professor an email, promising on delivering complete functionality (of which we were confident we could do) and design (of which we were a little less confident). A few back-and-forths and an in-person meeting later, and we had agreed on a price: $50 per hour of development for an estimated 80 total hours, meaning $4000 total. We were hired!

Fast forward several months, and we finished the app. Graphing biological functions, genetic problem solvers and generators, practice exam questions, modeling cross simulations — all the features were there. My one regret was that the app didn't look very visually appealing. But hey, our client was happy, which meant so were we. Best of all, people actually used the app to help them learn.

It was after this experience that I knew. I wanted to build things that people could actually use. Earlier today I stumbled upon another Duke student’s blog where he separated people into workers and creators. Workers — doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants — make sure that everything ran smoothly and didn't fall apart. Creators pushed the envelope and moved the world forward. They were the ones who made progress in society.

— humanity doesn't need creators. Without the workers, it would flail about meaninglessly for a bit and then die, but it could exist indefinitely with no creators. One could thus argue that to work is a more noble calling than to create, and I may not disagree.

I agree. There is nothing wrong with being a worker. That’s just not who I am. I want to create. I want to change things. Will they be good changes? Maybe. Hopefully. I still haven't found my focus, whether it be in health care, politics, a dating site for dog owners, I don't know. All I know is that I'm interested in pushing progress just a little bit, in the little time I have in my life.

This will be my blog where I share the things that matter to me. I can't guarantee that everything I write will be strictly-speaking software engineering related. What I can guarantee is that everything will be deeply personal. I'll write about the next shiny toy that catches my attention. I'll write about my challenges, failures, and successes.

Hello, world! My name is Alex Dao.