I’m willing to bet that many of you have stumbled upon this question at least once during your career. Perhaps during a job interview or maybe while filling out a job application. Whatever the occasion, if you stop to think about what you've built, it’s hard to decide on whether or not others will think it’s cool.
The Coolness Factor
So how do we measure cool? Is the coolness factor something that can be quantified? Is it something that can be measured by value? Some people can say that the coolest thing they've built is an iPhone app that has been downloaded by millions of people around the world, while others can only say the coolest thing they've built is a simple website to showcase their portfolio or persona. While some might think the first example is definitely cool, others might argue the second example is also cool in it’s own way.
I believe the focus shouldn't be on how cool something is, but rather, how important this thing is to the person who built it. I say this because we all have our different opinions and our own definitions of what constitutes something being cool.
One might argue that the real reason behind this question is to find out how passionate the engineer really is about what they've built, whether big or small, quantified or not.
Next time you come across this question, don’t think about whether or not others will think what you've built is cool, but rather, think about why this thing you've built is important to you. Write passionately about it, and that way, convince the reader to think it’s also cool!
What’s the coolest thing you've built?
The reason for writing this blog post is because I came across this question while filling out the YC Hacks application. My response was the following: (I added images to this medium blog post to try and make the explanation somewhat clearer to the reader.)
This question takes me back to one year ago when I was a summer intern at Microsoft. I got the opportunity to write C++ code as a Software Engineer in the Browser team for Windows Phone. During my summer internship I was tasked with building a feature that would make the experience of pinning websites from the browser to your home screen a lot more enjoyable.
At the time, the functionality of pinning websites to the home screen consisted of taking a screenshot of your browser screen upon pressing the “Pin to Start” button, and then, using that screenshot as the display image on the pinned tile on the home screen.
Below is an example of what the YCombinator.com tile looks like when pinning it to the home screen of your Windows Phone. We can all agree it looks a bit clunky and doesn't fit with the overall Windows Phone “Modern UI” feel.
The feature I built allows web developers to include an XML file on their website’s root directory which points to the images they would like to use for the different sized tiles that are pinned to the Windows Phone home screen.
The code I wrote in C++ simply checks the website’s html source code for Microsoft proprietary meta tags, or checks the root directory for a browserconfig.xml file and then parses it to find the images it should use for the tiles being pinned to the start screen.
Below is what it would look like if YCombinator.com had this feature implemented.
Much better wouldn't you say? This way, Windows Phone users have a much nicer looking Pinned Tile that gives them faster access to Hacker News and YCombinator on their mobile phone, rather than having to type it out every time they go on their mobile browser.
Why do I think this is cool?
One reason might be that it’s a feature that millions of people will use as the next release of Windows Phone (8.1) starts landing into the hands of consumers.
The real reason I think it’s cool is because I was a part of something bigger while I was building this feature. I was in an environment where my ideas were being heard and my contributions were considered meaningful. Even though I had never written a single line of C++ code before in my life, I was surrounded by a team that was ready to help me at a moment’s notice. I wasn't just another intern fetching coffee for my superiors, I was treated as a fellow co-worker, contributing to the overall goal of making Windows Phone a better platform.
If you would like your website to make use of this feature that I helped create, check out this link: http://www.buildmypinnedsite.com/en It shouldn't take you longer than 2 minutes. All you do is upload an image or logo and it automatically creates all the files you need to add to your website’s root directory for this feature to work on both Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 Desktop.
Thanks for reading!