Two months into his web development journey, Tim completed Lookitup: a website that allows you to search words and phrases in their full context using the dictionary, Wikipedia, and YouTube. It got quite popular with the Thinkful community!

Learning to program isn’t easy, let alone starting an app from scratch. So we thought we’d ask Tim about his approach and motivation behind building Looktiup.

What motivated you to do this particular project? Were there any real life experiences that informed the features you built?

Well, I teach advanced level academic English (reading and writing) to international students at UCLA. We try to provide our students with university-level academic articles as reading & discussion material to prepare them for undergraduate and graduate level academics here in the US, so many of the course reader articles have field-specific jargon or technical terms related to topics like culture, communication, consumer psychology, gender, and education. Whenever students come across difficult terminology that can’t really be explained sufficiently in a one-sentence definition, my advice has always been to look for the word in context and used in action: Google the word, and rather than jumping straight to the dictionary links and calling it quits, try reading the Wiki page for starters, watch some informative YouTube clips about it, so on and so forth… So I decided to build just that for my capstone project: a word search app that goes beyond the dictionary definition.

How did you plan your project prior to actually coding? Any sketching, wireframing, or pseudocode involved?

I first started looking into the API manuals of the three sources I wanted to use for the app. I checked to see if Wikipedia and Longman’s Dictionary had open APIs because those two I personally gravitate towards when I’m looking up terminology. YouTube I had already worked with in a previous assignment, so that was a sure thing. I played around with both APIs and tweaked the parameters to get it to display the results I want. In terms of the visual elements of the app, frankly, I kind of dived right into building the look and feel of the app as soon as I was finished tweaking the API parameters. I had a vague idea of what I wanted it to look like and what it should do, so I started writing the HTML right after creating responsive grids. The app itself, in theory, wasn’t terribly complicated to build because it basically does one thing: make AJAX calls and display results.

What was the biggest challenge you faced throughout the process?

The biggest challenge was when I expected something to work, and for whatever reason it wouldn’t! Sometimes, it would be silly little things like typos or forgetting to close a bracket, while in other instances, it would be a more fatal error related to API documentations, etc. In either case, I discovered that console logging is your best friend! It gives you an idea about where to start looking, which is tremendously helpful when debugging!

What aspect of building this project are you most proud of?

First and foremost, what it does. It’s nothing fancy at all if you really think about it. The results from a Lookitup search is available anywhere online, just not all on one page. It’s something I’d use and recommend to my students (even if I didn’t build it), so I think that’s a good thing. I also love how it ended up looking after hours spent on design because I think the visual elements and UX is what makes today’s reluctant users give your app a try.

What lessons have you taken away for your next project?

Gotta get into it. Build something you want to build. Don’t rush it. Ask people for feedback!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Tim! Check out other awesome apps and projects from Thinkful students here.

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