A High School Senior's Journey Towards A New Superpower

The past few weeks, I noticed that Gabriel Oladipo, a High School senior enrolled in our Frontend course, had been highly engaged in our student community. I thought I’d reach out to learn more about his motivations for taking the course. What followed was an incredible conversation highlighting his journey into programming, his Thinkful experience and some advice for kids learning to code.

So what got you interested in programming?

I remember in 7th grade, I used to play lots of video games.  It made me want to be a game designer or developer. When I got in Whitney Young, I saw they offered an “Intro to CS” class. I thought this was exactly what I needed. It was terrible. Teacher wasn’t great. It was boring. I had to learn “binary”. I couldn’t show something to anyone. My friends didn’t care that I debugged something in a terminal. You also needed a CD to download the Java compiler, I lost the CD, and couldn’t install it on my laptop. So I had to do all my work at school. Looking back, I realize that my school was required to teach Java as part of the AP CS requirement, but it was not a fun experience.

Oh man that’s rough. What happened after?

Well I was still interested in the tech community. I loved following all the new gadgets and apps. It wasn’t easy to get back into programming with the bad memory of CS in 7th grade, but I tried anyway after seeing all the cool things people were doing. I went on Codecademy and did the whole HTML track. I got confused and frustrated by CSS positioning. Felt like I was just typing stuff in instead of just learning it. So I stopped again.

Last year, I watched the Hour of Code video, the long 9 minute one, which motivated me a lot. It was cool seeing all those celebrities talking about coding.  So I went back again and created a new account. I did the track again but this time I was working on a project for a gaming site. They had just released a new feature where you could use HTML/CSS to make your room intro. There was only guy in that room that knew how to do it and his image was ugly. That time I did get through both tracks but was still unsure on CSS. 

I could tell that what really motivated me was that project. The first time on Codecademy, I would take a break for a few days and come back with no idea of what I worked on. But with the room intro I kept going, I wanted to show off to everyone on that forum…and my friends.

Ha! I actually started learning Photoshop in 10th grade to make a signature for a basketball forum.  When did you decide to join us at Thinkful? 

Well, I heard about you guys from the Thiel Fellowship, I read through every single person’s bio and saw the Thinkful one. I liked that idea because I had been looking for something more project-focused. I also needed a mentor.

But I didn’t have the money. It had always been something I remembered but didn’t want to do it yet. Later that year, I started getting excited about my summer job. I knew that by the end of the summer, I’d have enough money to buy a Surface Pro 3 but I had Thinkful at the back of my mind the whole time. I thought it’d be the better option because it would help me build projects, it would also look good on college applications, and maybe help me decide if I wanted to study CS in college. I went for it. 

Wow. I don’t think 17-year old Bhaumik would’ve made that decision. So how was your experience?

It’s so empowering to take ideas and build them. My mentor was really nice. When I needed help, he had a great way of explaining a concept by focusing on best practices. When I was working on the Small Business Website,  I tried absolute positioning for everything. He explained to me why that was wrong - he even spent time looking for another article that might better explain it to me.  

As for the Community, at first I didn’t like it when it was on G+. I’m a huge fan of online forums and chatrooms so the switch to Slack was awesome. I remember the first day it was set up, I read all 200 messages. That become my routine - I’d come home from work everyday and read every single message. It was cool to have that feeling where there were other people going through the same experience - both the struggles and joy. This may sound weird but it was fun seeing people freak out about the same questions that I had once gone through. I liked being able to help people through their own roadblocks, I was like a mentor!

I’m so happy to hear that. So what are you learning now? What’s next for you after high school?

Right now, I’m learning how to make my webpages interactive with AJAX and then I’ll start working on the API Hacks. That’s probably what I was most excited about when I started the course! After that, I’m going to spend time getting more in-depth into JavaScript to understand the fundamentals and harder concepts.

In college, I’m going to take more CS courses and hopefully double major in English and Computer Science. English is my favorite subject and I’m learning how to become a better writer everyday. [Side note: we’re both reading the same book on the topic :)] 

DO IT!! Anyways, let’s take a step back. What kind of advice would you give for kids getting into programming?

The #1 advice I have for anybody is to be patient. Don’t try to cut corners. If you don’t know something and skip it, it will come back to haunt you. You’ll thank yourself later if you learn to do it properly now. There’s a lot of ways to do really simple things, it might not cause any problems at the moment but on a larger scale the bugs will pop out and your website won’t work the right way. You might have a lot of pressure to write something flashy but that will come later. Right now you need to focus on laying the groundwork.

Preach, brother. It sounds like you’ve seen all these “learn to code” campaigns.  Do you think this skill is important for everyone?

Yeah. Like I said before, it’s an empowering thing. To have an idea and build it. Everybody says that so much but I do think its true. I made a blackjack game in the curriculum, I made it all in the console, just sat down for 2 hours. I showed it to other people, identified bugs, and fixed them. 

People treat me like I have superpowers. It’s not that complicated. Everyone’s always on computers and iPhones, now you can understand how they actually work. You don’t have to ask someone else. Everyone doesn’t have to become a programmer but they should have a basic understanding of the process. They should understand how to break down a problem, how to automate a task. I remember reading a story about a guy who had to implement things into an Excel file. There was a whole team that was involved in this. The guy learned a simple Visual Basic script and just sat back and let it run. He basically automated his whole job!

This year, we’ve partnered with Code.org to help bring programming literacy to millions of students. For every new student that enrolls in a Thinkful course, we’ll donate $25 in their name to the Hour of Code campaign.