What I learned from high school students

and the importance of “Hello world”

Ayaka Nonaka
Mar 10, 2014 · 3 min read

Hello world.

This past weekend, I attended HSHacks (High School Hackathon) as a rep for Venmo. I thought that I would swing by and maybe help a few kids with their iOS projects, because that’s what mentors do right? And yes, I did end up helping a few groups with iOS and Objective-C, but what I didn’t expect was how much I would learn from them. Here are some takeaways.

It’s not about taking the easiest path to win.

The team that built Paychecks, having gone through the MakeGamesWithUs summer academy, was already comfortable with Objective-C. So what did they do? They built their app in JavaScript using Titanium, because they wanted to try something new.

Some of the teams that I talked to had very ambitious projects. I was tempted to say, “Hey, this is really cool, but maybe you want to scope it down a little if you want to demo a working product.” That was my “#shipit” mind thinking about “minimum viable products”, which is fairly important when you need to get something out there as a company or product.

But really? Who cares!

We were at a hackathon. Some startup isn’t going to start sinking because they didn’t ship an MVP quickly enough. We’re here to learn and have fun.

Plus, by being told that something “seems unfeasible”, that thing suddenly becomes unfeasible. When you find your limit, that’s when you have a limit. It really is a strange Schrödinger-esque phenomenon. It wouldn’t have been fair to impose my idea of a limit on them. That limit is for them to not find out.

Don’t pigeonhole yourself.

I write Objective-C pretty much all day, everyday. Developers who aren’t familiar with it tell me that it’s a horrifying looking language. It looks completely normal to me. You know what looks funky to me? Java.

When I came back on Sunday morning, Alexey, as he peaced out from his nightshift, volunteered me to help out a group of students who were running into Android (read: Java) problems. The last time I really learned Java was my freshman year of college, and I’ve tried to stay away from it since then, so I prefixed my introduction with “I usually do iOS dev, but I can try to help you.” We went through the Eclipse debugger, fixed an Android threading issue, then an internet permissions issue, and bushwhacked through some JSON Javadocs.

Finally, it worked. High five. And a silent sigh of relief.

OK I guess that wasn’t that bad. It definitely felt like I activated parts of my brain that I hadn’t used in a while. So thank you, Jason who wanted help with JSON (pun completely intended).


Anyway, Cogito ergo sum? How about: Disco ergo sum?

That being said, I ordered a Pebble this weekend. Looking forward to writing my n-th “Hello world” app.

Major props & thank you’s to Shrav and the rest of the team for organizing such an inspiring event. Congrats to all the participants, regardless of whether you demoed or not, because I’m sure you learned something new. ☺

    Ayaka Nonaka

    Written by

    iOS Engineer @ Workflow

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