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The Journey of a Self-Taught Teen Developer

Meet Khaleel Gibran, A 14-year-old school student from Kottayam

I’m a huge fan of Marvel and the MCU. Phil Coulson, an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, would be my most favorite character in the entire MCU and Tom Holland's version of Spider-Man is my favorite superhero!

— Khaleel Gibran

This month, on the TinkerHub story, we’re featuring a 14-year-old developer, shaking up the coding space with unique apps & projects of his design.

While coding for kids seems like an impossible endeavor, Khaleel’s story is a testament to the fact that learning culture has nothing to do with age!

Hola! Khaleel here 😄

Read our previous story :

Meet Khaleel Gibran — The young genius loves to share his knowledge with other developers and is quite active on social media answering everyone’s questions. Join us at TinkerHub as we sit down and have a chat with the exceptionally bright future of the tech community!

Hi Khaleel! 😄 Tell us a little more about you

Heyy. I’m a 14-year-old school student from Kottayam, Kerala. I’m a web developer, mainly focussing on the front-end part of things including UI design. I often also work with databases, API, and other backend technologies.

I’m currently working on GlitchyPastenPen and other side projects! You can see some of my works here.

💥 Fun fact: I have a tumblr blog filled with my 3D artwork!

How did a young boy like you get into web development, what led you to take an interest in it?

Honestly, I don’t think people of my age becoming programmers is weird at all. I see a lot of kids in communities like kuttycoders doing amazing work and that inspires me to improve my coding skills and learn so many new technologies. Look at all the frameworks and libraries on the internet, who wouldn’t give it a try?

I’ve always loved the internet and technology in general. It was my dad, introducing me to the computer systems that first sparked this interest. I can always remember the feeling of wanting to know just how computers worked, why they worked, and what else they could do. I spent hours playing games like Minesweeper, pinball, solitaire, all the classic windows games ( Only recently I started playing actual games 😆). I liked using Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint!

I was 9 years old (I think) when I started a little serious investment in my tech journey. I studied at Merryland International School Abu Dhabi. We had an interschool Scratch tournament that year, and participating in the event was the most fun experience for me.

SCRATCH teaches students about computer programing in a visual, entertaining & engaging way, and is used by top schools all over the world. The overall goal of SCRATCH is to encourage students to learn essential programming and coding basics from an early age through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education.

I’m a DIY enthusiast and have always been deeply interested in robotics. My father often gifted me Robot Kits, which helped me build games, program robots, and experiment with circuits & electronic components.

That’s part of the Lego Mindstorm EV3 kit

This fellow’s name is EV3RSTORM

He can walk

He can’t talk

He can move his arms

He can detect obstacles

With an infrared sensor 😀 ⚡️

Fast forward to five years later and I am now studying at Mar Thoma Residential School Thiruvalla, Kerala. I spent more time learning outside of the school syllabus and devoted time to learn programming languages.

This website helped me a lot: Khan Academy!

Khan Academy is by far one of the most amazing websites on the whole internet to learn HTML, CSS & JavaScript. I completed the course, built cool stuff, gained more knowledge, and my interest in developing grew! But that was it — I didn’t know what to do next. I browsed through anything and everything I could find on the internet.

Google Chrome has a feature called DevTools which allows you to inspect the code and content of a website. While following a YouTube tutorial on Chrome’s YouTube channel, on how to use DevTools, they used a website called Glitch.com to create a demo site for the tutorial. I found Glitch.com to be a really useful tool because it helped me create websites easily.

I even created my first personal website, https://khaleelgibran-old.glitch.me. (The website is really broken considering the fact that I made it when I was twelve! 😆)

My very first personal website 😋

Compare it with https://khaleelgibran.com/ and I’m proud of how far I’ve come!

I attempted to create a clone of a popular transcribing website called oTranscribe, in which I was successful. I built the clone in Glitch.com so that I could directly start coding without having to worry about hosting and other problems. The forum had a category called “The Gallery” where you could post projects you made using Glitch. Some of them even started getting the attention of the Glitch staff who tweeted it and basically gave my projects a boost!

Glitch has a forum, similar to StackOverflow, where I started asking my doubts and people helped me by answering them.

Glitch has a template for NodeJS which allows you to quickly start coding in it and so I was motivated to learn up NodeJS. I also learned about reading documentations, using basic databases like SQLite and MongoDB. Using whatever I had learned up to this point, I started building cool applications. Later on, I learned the Vue framework, which is a front-end framework.

When I started with NodeJS, I built Discord bots using Discord’s easy-to-use npm package, with various functionalities. I moved on from that and later on started building full-stack Node applications!

What are some of the challenges you faced when starting to learn different technologies and frameworks?

One of the main challenges I had was not knowing any other developers personally. Although there’s a lot of online resources, it’s tough trying to learn on your own — sometimes you’ll spend hours trying to find the answer to something that another developer might be able to answer straight away. It can also be difficult to find direction and know exactly what you should be studying. 😫

Then again that’s the best part. I google my queries, most often check out other related StackOverflow queries (I tried asking a question once but let’s just say the experience wasn’t very good 🐵), and simply keep on trying until I find a solution. Yes, it’s a roller-coaster ride 🎢 but I feel so damn happy when my code finally works!

When you code and still go to school you almost always lack the time or the energy to code anything relevant. But thanks to the lockdown that started at the beginning of last year, I can actually find time to spend on things I love!

What programming project have you felt the proudest about completing?

Hmm…that feeling is there for almost every project I’ve made.

But one particular project was Jsoning. It is an npm package that allows you to store data in JSON format without having to worry about JSON corruption. I really worked hard on it and fun fact: I also spent a long time on the documentation!

What are some of your favorite learning resources?

Khan Academy has some great courses and useful videos covering a variety of subjects. It’s simple and easily comprehensible for beginners.

Frontend Masters is really good. The instructors are masters in their field. They have various topics of JS, Node, etc. I learned the Vue framework there. Their monthly subscription is super costly but you can get a free membership for 6 months if you have the GitHub Student Pack.

One of the best learning resources I’ve found is Scrimba. They have a unique way of teaching you where you can tinker around with the instructor's code!

My Hacktoberfest 2020 swag stickers from the other side of the globe! 📦

What is a misconception about programming that you’d like to clear up?

Programming, in general, is not “hacking” and anyone can learn whatever I am doing if they have the motivation and will!

It’s not a must that every child HAS to learn coding. Parents should never force their children into programming. It should be their decision. Parents need to make them understand how to work with tools and components, how to use math and logic to build things; how to give shape to an idea.

How did you get to know about TinkerHub?

There is a program called ml2en, which is basically a Malayalam to English transliteration [not to be mistaken with translation] tool. I noticed it didn’t have an npm package, so I made an npm package for it. I emailed Kailash Nadh, CTO Zerodha, with the details of the package. Seeing my mad skills 😂, he put me in touch with Mehar MP and that was basically how I got into TinkerHub.

I joined the TinkerHub Discord server and absolutely loved it! You can find me in TinkerHub voice channels all the time! 🙌

I also started working on a few of TinkerHub’s frontend projects. Hoping to be part of some more cool projects in the future!

What Next?

I’m currently learning React, Typescript, Go and GraphQL.

I’m concentrating more on my 10th board exams as well. I’d like to finish my school education on a good note.

I’m fascinated by physics and mathematics. I want to study engineering but haven’t decided what exactly just yet. I love airspace engineering. I’m also really excited about learning cybersecurity and I just l love creating 3D art! I’ll probably explore all areas and will choose a field guided by my interests.

My family & friends have always been my loudest cheerleaders! My dad provides a lot of useful ideas for projects and a useful second pair of eyes while testing my applications, and my mom supports me in all possible ways in everything I do!

Also a huge shout out to the folks at TinkerHub Foundation! Thanks to Kailash Nadh for getting me into TinkerHub and Mehar MP for allowing me to join a community of fantastic people. Last but not the least, thanks to Gopikrishnan Sasikumar for giving me a lot of opportunities in the developer community for various events and always supporting me in my career.

Do you have any advice for other teens who are interested in learning how to code?

Give it a try. You may like it. You may not. But, coding is worth a shot.

Getting hands-on experience is a really important thing, and it helps you see what you can build. But also, being part of a supportive community of peers and establishing relationships with good mentors are very helpful.

Always give your 100% whenever you can, and show the world what you’re capable of by getting your name out there.

Everybody has a place in tech. I hope to inspire some people to also get involved in the tech world, it’s really not as scary as it seems.

Feel free to ask me questions by sending me a message on my Discord, or send me an email at hey@khaleelgibran.com!

Thankyou Khaleel! We are SO proud of the person you have grown to be and will continue to love watching you grow. Can’t wait to follow your career journey! 😄

You heard him, tinkerers. Anything is possible. Now is a perfect time to explore opportunities & learn new skills in this wide-ranging field. So take the leap, embrace the challenge & surprise yourself! 😉

If you loved reading this post, show your appreciation by clapping below! Stay tuned to us for more reads on learning, building, and collaborating.

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TinkerHub Foundation is a not for profit organisation that is working to enable people to learn and create new technology. We work with campus communities to create a talent pool that can work with disruptive technologies for the common good.

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