Copywriting Practice

Bonus essay today! I’ll be looking at some good marketing copy, dissecting it, and then creating a design of my own based on that.

Here’s an awesome example of great copy: Basecamp.

In the first line, they say “We’ve been expecting you.” makes it about the customer. Customer-oriented copy is always great. They then relate to the customer, and simultaneously imply who their customer base is: people in “growing businesses”. And lastly, they offer a solution to the problem they just called to your mind, and offer you a free trial right there and then. Within a single paragraph, they’ve made their pitch and they’re ready to have you get their thing.

Basically, they’re saying “Hey you, person in a growing business! You’ve got these problems, right? Let us solve ’em for you. Here’s how to get started.”

Let’s keep going. Here’s the next section’s heading:

3,562 businesses signed up last week to get results like these…

They follow this with their customer reviews. Isn’t this a much better heading than something generic like “Just look at what these satisfied customers had to say”? Statistics are always awesome. People like seeing big numbers.

After this, they’ve got a slightly longer pitch containing more specifics about what they do and how they do it, then another free trial link. You always want to make it as easy as possible for your prospect to do what you want them to, which in a web context means don’t make your prospect scroll to find the download/purchase/trial link. They should have to do approximately zero work to find the place to get your product once they decide they want to. Basecamp knows this, and does it perfectly.

That said…

I used what I learned from Basecamp to create a landing page mockup for a local skating program.

It’s meh from a design standpoint, but the basic elements are there: customer-oriented slogan, signup button easily accessible, followed by more pitch.

I know this isn’t anywhere near perfect copy, but just knowing what makes good copy and good design is immensely useful.

Portfolio Project: Week 4

Hey all! So for the very last update of my portfolio project month, I’ll be doing something a little different. I wanted to elaborate more on exactly what it is I’ve been doing, and I also I wanted to talk about the lessons I’ve learned overall. For all of these reasons, this is going to be a little bit of a longer post than my other updates.

What I got done

I passed my MTA JavaScript and added it to my website. This is the last MTA I wanted to get this month: I’ve now got them for almost all my major marketable skills: HTML/CSS, JavaScript, and Java. The reason I wanted to get these certifications is that they are externally recognized demonstrations of my skill. They communicate to potential employers that not only do I say I know how to program in Java, a third party recognized me for that knowledge.

I coded three brand-new pages on skills—SQL, Java, and HTML/CSS—thus completing my goal for this project. Honestly, once I stopped trying to make my skills more impressive and just decided to put them out there, it felt nice. And beyond just feeling nice, having these pages on my site gives more detail to potential employers about what I’ve done and how. My next step here is probably to ask some friends and family to read my content and give me feedback so I can add detail, improve explanations, and consolidate information. A website is really never finished, so though this project is properly done, I’m going to continue improving the pages I’ve created as well as adding new ones.

I continued to work on the drop-down menu, but I pushed it onto the back burner so I could complete my stated project goal. Actually, I talked to a fellow developer early in the week and ended up completely scrapping my previous code and starting over. The reason for this is that my previous code was in JavaScript, and there are a lot of people who don’t have JavaScript enabled. A crucial piece of my website should not rely on something that not everyone has enabled. As such, I will be programming my drop-downs in CSS from here on out. (Later, I’ll make a post talking about this decision in more detail. For now, here’s a post explaining what both of those things are and what they do.) Overall, while having this drop-down will be nice, I’ve linked all my content on my main Skills page, so it’s not at all necessary.

Also on my back-burner, I began creating a simple website for a local organization that my family has volunteered with for many years (called Schenley Park Learn to Skate). The main goal of this website is to allow people to sign up for the learn-to-skate program online, thus cutting down substantially on physical paper-pushing. Because of this objective, the project will be a good opportunity to learn how to integrate a SQL database with PHP – or in layman’s terms, to figure out how to gather information from many customers and store it all in one place.

Over the course of this month, I’ve passed three MTA exams, programmed four webpages, and made a number of miscellaneous fixes and improvements to my personal website, including improving mobile usability.

What I learned

Throughout this project, and especially in the last two weeks, I learned how easy it can be to fall prey to “scope creep”, or the natural way that humans accidentally allow themselves to work on a part of a project beyond its initially stated scope. For example, instead of learning skills and programming pages, I allowed myself to spend a lot of time on trying to code complicated features. It’s human nature to be distracted by shiny objects, but it’s human necessity to avoid that tendency, especially in the context of projects on deadlines.

I also learned the importance of work-arounds. If you’ve got a crucial piece of a project that’s not working, the appropriate response is not to put the entire project on hold to fix it; the appropriate response is to find a suitable work-around (there is nearly always a work-around, though it may be less efficient or elegant), continue with the main goal, and work on the piece you originally intended in the background.

Lastly, I learned more solidly than I ever did in school how much I know and how much I don’t. The school system (both high school and college) is based on levels and labels, but the real world is based on tasks. Someone who’s in school says “I’ve taken five classes in web development”. Someone who’s working in the real world says “I can program a responsively-designed website which conforms to XHTML specifications and which utilizes JavaScript, PHP, and SQL”. Within the span of a few months, I’ve transformed from the first person into the second.

I think this is a very good thing. It’s all well and good to say “I took a class in X”, but if your audience doesn’t know a lot about the specifics of the class and what it taught, they can’t translate that statement into what you can do. And for employers, who are looking at your website with a question (implicit or explicit) of “can this person do X thing I need”, a list of concrete skills is infinitely more useful than names of courses.

workflow for the week and the month

For this week, I honestly spent the vast majority of the time I didn’t spend working for money on writing content and coding. I really had no free time between those two things. It was kind of a throwback to my yearly cramming that I used to do every April in high school: every AP test, otherwise known as literally the only test that matters when taking an AP class, happens in May, so April is cram time for literally all of those classes. This past week was like that.

Still, this week there were no major setbacks, and I mostly got the opportunity to just focus on what I needed to do and Get Shit Done.

If I look back over the entire month on a day-by-day basis, it was sporadic due to a variety of internal and external factors. But I’ve noticed that all humans seem to be like this. Look at a human on a daily basis, they’re all over the place. One day is spent working incessantly and the next is spent getting almost nothing productive done at all. Or maybe one week is productive, but the next week is in shambles. The thing is, to understand any human you need to zoom out and look at trends. Look on a monthly or yearly basis instead of a daily one, and that will tell you how you’re doing.

Was I more productive today than yesterday? No. But it also doesn’t matter. The question should be, was I more productive today than last year? And the answer to that question is, yes, by leaps and bounds. Because on the whole, I’m trending upward. I’m allowed to have bad days. I’m even allowed to fall deathly ill and basically cease to exist on Earth for a week. The goal isn’t to be perfect every day, the goal is to look at where you are right now and compare it to where you were a year ago and see substantial improvement.

Did I meet my project goals?

Simple answer, yes. When I started this project, I had a very specific and achievable goal, and despite the setbacks of being sick and getting distracted, I achieved it. For four different skills,  I improved at a certain skill, and I also wrote content about that skill and added information about the skill to my website.

I decided on this goal in the first place because I knew I needed more content out there for employers to look at. Without a lot of job history in my chosen field, projects and certifications are all I’ve got to go on, so my main goal this month was really to get more of those.

And furthermore, viewing this in the context of the Praxis program I’m a part of now, every section (or “module”) is designed as an intensive exercise in one very specific thing. In the spirit of this, I chose my goal as an intensive exercise in one very specific thing: demonstrating my skills. I knew it needed to get done, so I took this month, I set specific goals, and I got it done.

What am I doing next?

The next month of the Praxis program is a 30-day blogging challenge, in which I write a blog post on some topic every single day. Honestly, I’m excited. I love to write, but I haven’t had as much time as I would like to do it. Being able to add more content to this page and discuss interesting topics on this blog is going to be amazing.

See you then!

Portfolio Project: Week 3

Hey all, I’m back! So it turns out the Mega Cold I had was actually pneumonia. Yeah. I was diagnosed and promptly put on a full course of antibiotics, plus some additional palliative pills for the general misery. I’m feeling a lot better now! And as such, I got a lot more done this week.

  • Worked on adding my project to my JavaScript page
  • Dramatically improved the readability and usability of my mobile site (enlarged buttons and lists, changed font sizes, etc.)
  • Worked on creating drop-down menus
  • Also generally got my life together overall: got back to working out, job hunting, working, learning more coding skills, etc.

Here’s a breakdown of what I did and when:

  • At the beginning of this week, I went to the doctor’s and got prescribed antibiotics. For the first few days my main goals were things like “walk around” and “take a shower”. Super simple being-a-human stuff.
  • As I got better, I could work on coding in bits and pieces. I did research for my dropdown menus and looked at how other people had done it. As soon as I was well enough to code, I worked on improving the usability of my mobile site, since it was really just a bunch of fiddling with CSS.
  • Through yesterday, I did a lot more: I worked extensively on adding my project to my JavaScript page and I wrote a ton of code for my dropdown menus. However, I felt a bit overwhelmed, and I definitely felt like I was fighting an uphill battle. That was around the time I realized something, which brings me to my next point.

Here’s what I learned this week.

When I started this project, my stated goal was to create four pages to showcase my skills. Somewhere in the process, I realized that I had gotten sidetracked into trying to improve my skills, so I could showcase what I wish my skills were, not what they actually are. The problem was, I thought I was showcasing my skills, but I just kept thinking “oh, I could make this little thing better, it won’t take long”. I started working on the thing, and a few hours passed. I had part of the thing, but not this other part. I figured out how to make that other part, but then it wouldn’t work the way I wanted and I had to debug it. Before I knew it, a week had passed.

It was like I had started walking toward a huge mountain early in the day. Because it was so big I figured it was pretty close, and I could get there by that evening, no biggie. But by that evening, the mountain was still huge, and still very far away, and I began to realize that what I had thought would take a day could take a month.

So the biggest thing that I’ve learned this week is that I’ve gotten off track with my goals for this project.

Here’s how I’m going to fix that next week.

  • Rather than trying to learn more in order to make my projects better, I’ll focus on trying to showcase what I do know. I can always work on making my projects better in the future, but that wasn’t the goal for this month.
  • I’ll collate information and create my last three pages. If I can’t embed the actual code for a project (which I frequently can’t, because it frequently involves learning an entirely separate programming language/concept; looking at you AJAX), I’ll just create a video of it running and embed that, or I’ll take screenshots and embed those.

I’m very determined to finish this project and to achieve the goals I set out at the beginning, so I’ll do whatever it takes next week to make that happen.

Portfolio Project: Week 2

Hey guys, so this week is exceedingly anticlimactic in terms of progress. On Tuesday, I was struck with The Cold To End All Colds, and I’ve been nearly bedridden since then.

Here’s what I got done anyways:

  • Worked on improving my site’s mobile readability/usability
  • Learned about AJAX
  • Learned about creating nested drop-downs such as these

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • AJAX is a combination of JavaScript and XHTML (a flavor of HTML, the language of webpage structure). It allows the page to be interactive without reloading.
  • As you try to create more and more powerful code, there are less and less examples readily available. There are a million “learn to make a website” guides that will teach you how to use <h1>, <a>, <img>, and almost nothing else. Learning how to make a real, simple site with a repeating image background, that is responsively designed, that uses complicated CSS and JavaScript (like I’ve done so far), is much harder. I learned recently that I need to keep working hard if I want to create the kind of website I want.
  • When you’re sick, the most important thing to do is not to worry. Focus on getting better, and doing anything you can to remedy what you’ve got. If you let yourself feel like a failure, that doesn’t make you any more productive, it just makes you less effective at combatting your illness.

And here’s what’s going to happen next week:

  • I’ll do everything I was going to do last week
  • I’ll start learning SQL via Udemy and create a page for SQL on my website in addition to the page for Java

Alright, that’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and I’ll try to feel better so I can have more for you next Friday. Stay tuned!

Portfolio Project: Week 1

Hey all! So, it’s the end of week 1 of my portfolio project month! Here’s what I got done:

Here’s a breakdown of what I did and when:

  • At the very beginning of the week I passed my MTA Java.
  • I learned JavaScript with this course. It’s pretty good: concise, clear explanations, lots of exercises, both audio and visual resources. I’m using Udemy for both web development and SQL.
  • In the middle of the week, I took and passed my MTA HTML/CSS.
  • Then I coded the JavaScript page, though I didn’t have time to integrate the page with the rest of the site, since I was trying to find the optimal organization for pages.
  • Today, completely by accident, I realized that the mobile version of my website needs some serious reworking, so I put that into next week’s plan (below).
  • And lastly, I wrote this blog post!

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • I did a bunch of research and conducted a few surveys of the optimal way to organize drop-downs on a mobile website, given limited screen space.
  • I learned that to make a website read well on a phone, not only do you need to reorganize layout, you need to make everything obnoxiously big. This is why it’s important to test mobile layouts on a real phone, not just by resizing your browser window.

And here’s what’s gonna happen next week:

  • I’ll create another drop-down menu for the Skills link on the nav bar. On mobile, this will create a nested drop-down (aka, when you hover over the Skills link in the first drop-down, another will pop out on the right-hand side which displays pages for each skill I have). These individual skill pages are where I’ll be documenting my progress through this project.
  • I’ll create another page documenting my knowledge of Java, and I’ll try to learn some AJAX so I can put the actual Java app onto the site. (I don’t know how hard a goal that is, so if it’s too hard for one week, I’ll just put up screenshots for now and keep working on it in the background. But I want to set the goal, just in case I can do it.)
  • I’ll fix the mobile version of my website to make everything bigger and more readable.

That’s it for this week! I’ll have another update next Friday; stay tuned!

Announcement: The Next Big Thing

Hey all! So I’ve got an announcement to make today. For some time, I’ve been moving along with my Associate’s degree, learning computer skills at every available opportunity. By now, I’m a decent coder – but my degree is nearly done, and I’m certainly not! As such, I’m taking a new project for the month of September: I’m going to systematically and at a high pace learn new coding skills, create projects, and post about them here!

I’ve found a few resources (such as those on W3Schools) and classes (such as some on Udemy) to help me out with this, but for the most part, it’s just going to be an extended exercise in improving my programming skills, mainly in the areas of web development (like CSS, PHP, jQuery, and SQL). It’ll be a ton of fun!

Here’s a breakdown of what I’ll be doing for my portfolio project (that’s what I’m calling it, since it’s a project that expands my portfolio) each week:

  • Developing a certain technical skill (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, SQL, etc.)
  • Creating a page on my website which contains information on:
    • The projects I’ve created using that skill
    • The resources I used to learn the skill
    • Any certifications or other achievements related to the skill
  • Writing a blog post about what I’ve accomplished that week

In addition to this, I’ll also be taking a number of MTA exams and adding those certifications to my LinkedIn and website.

If you have questions, suggestions, or anything else, please leave me a comment – I’d love to hear from you!

Cheers!!

How I Work

Everybody has a certain way they work, and I’ve noticed that the number of distinct ways people work are nearly as numerous as the people themselves. I’ve also noticed that how someone works tells a lot about them. So, to be a bit more informative about who I am, I’ll tell you a bit more about how I work.

  • Location: Pittsburgh, PA
  • Current gigs: I’m presently working on searching for an entry-level tech job. Before I get it, I’ve been working for a few of my mother’s various businesses, doing everything from delivering tenant statements to developing Ellis Wyatt’s website.
  • Current mobile device: iPhone (5 or 6, I don’t remember. It’s old.)
  • Current computer: MacBook Air (2014. Also old.)
  • One word that best describes how you work: “Cheerful”. My family can attest to this: if I’m having a rough time with something, I don’t grumble or complain, I smile and exclaim enthusiastically, “This is awful!” Even when I’m in over my head I’m cheerful about my work.
  • What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Google Chrome: best web browser for a number of reasons, one of the main ones being their Developer Tools that let me look at the code of any website I want. My current IDE is CodeLobster, because it has PHP support on top of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and it runs on Mac. However, I’d more say that I care about having an IDE, not this IDE.
  • What’s your workspace like? I don’t have one specific workspace. If I have my laptop, notebook, and pencil, I’m happy anywhere, and I move around often. Currently, I’m sitting in my library, but earlier today I was on my porch, and yesterday I was at my desk. As to my desk, it’s covered in stuff, but less in a messy way and more in an I-have-lots-of-stuff way.
  • What’s your best time-saving trick? Be on a deadline. You have no idea how much you can get done in one hour until you only have one hour. The key to using this one effectively is to not rely only on other peoples’ deadlines: make them yourself. Set yourself a crazy tight timeframe for something and see if you can do it. I gave myself ten days to program a website from scratch, and I made it. (This was my personal website, as a matter of fact.) If you don’t make the deadline, don’t sweat it: it was arbitrary, and you’ve learned something about how quickly you can possibly work in the process.
  • What’s your favorite to-do list manager? Good old-fashioned notebook. I experimented with a number of softwares, including DoIt, but they didn’t work out for me. I have no clue why—perhaps it has something to do with my artistic need to have a pencil in my hand?—but a physical notebook I write in with a physical writing implement helps me track my work better. In addition to to-do lists and notes, I use my notebook to create database diagrams, make website wireframes, create task lists for projects, and record thoughts and ideas.
  • Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without? If you count headphones as a “gadget” separate from my computer, I’d definitely say those. I can’t work without music on, and given the amount of time I spend working, I need comfortable headphones I can wear for 14+ hours a day. I currently have V-Moda Crossfade LP2s, which are perfect. Crazy high quality for a moderate price! If you don’t count headphones as a gadget, I’d say my notebook.
  • What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else? Eloquence. I can come up with a pithy way to say or explain something in a split second.
  • What are you currently reading? Well, I was intending to start reading either Turtles All the Way Down by John Green or The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mosquita and Alastair Smith (I’d heard good things about, read snippets of, and already bought both). But before I could properly start either, my good pals at Praxis sent me another book: Niche Down by Christopher Lochhead and Heather Clancy. So that’s what I’m reading right now.
  • What do you listen to while you work? It depends on how focus-intensive my work is. If it’s difficult, I listen to classical. If it’s less so, I can listen to something with words, though I sometimes end up listening to classical anyway because Beethoven is my homeboy.
  • Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? It depends on the day. Personality tests peg me around the 50/50 mark. I can spend all day with people I know and be happy, but spending even twenty minutes with a complete stranger is tiring and stressful.
  • What’s your sleep routine like? I have a very difficult time getting to bed before 11pm. Even when I was a kid and I had to get up at 5 to go to practice, I couldn’t get to bed early. I just took a nap in mid-afternoon. Nowadays, I just schedule my athletics to happen in the afternoon, and I get up at 7.
  • What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? “What is true is already so, and owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.” -Eliezer Yudkowsky

My Top 3 Soft Skills

Through my past few years both working and attending school, I’ve learned quite a few things about myself. It’s difficult to wrap your brain around at first, because you don’t consider that things that are easy for you aren’t also easy for everyone else, but there are always things you’re good at that very few people are: humans are cool and unique that way.

Here are three things I noticed I’m good at that few others are.

1.  Artistry

This one might seem a bit odd. Art isn’t an uncommon skill, and I’m certainly not the best artist I know. But this is the reason I said “artistry” and not “art”. I’m talking not just about drawing, but about making anything and everything as efficient, easy-to-use, and aesthetically pleasing as possible.

I’ve been good at aesthetics my whole life, and it’s always been something that mattered a lot to me. At first it manifested in art: I started drawing seriously when I was very young, and I’ve been told by a number of people that I have a distinctive artistic style that is vibrant, colorful, and elegant. By the time I was 13, I had enough of a following in art that I was selling my work at conventions.

But then I learned enough about myself to realize that this creativity and artistry is not just liking to draw, or drawing well. It permeates many aspects of how I do work. I like making things elegant, efficient, and pleasant to work with, and this applies just as much to designing a user interface as it does to drawing a portrait.

When I was first learning to code (I started in Python around age 8), I went out of my way to comment it, format it, and indent it in a way that was very easy to read and follow. I did this even though, at that point, nobody had told me I should. I just wanted it to look clean and aesthetically pleasing; I needed no other reason.

As I progressed as a programmer, I continued to find new ways to make code both easy for a human to read and easy for a computer to run. I could never understand paying a programmer by the line of code: a good programmer, to me, was someone who could solve a complicated problem in as little code as possible. Good code, to me, was efficient code, and still is.

2. Analysis and problem solving

My best examples of analysis and problem solving come from situations where the existing ways of doing things didn’t satisfy my artistic need for elegance and efficiency, and as such I created new and better methods.

For just shy of three years, from age 14 to 17, I worked for a local Eat n’ Park as a prep cook. At the beginning, I had a supervisor by the name of Mike, who was focused on effectiveness and was always looking for ways to improve our processes, and he encouraged me to do the same. Only a month or two after I started, however, he left, and the prep department, for all intents and purposes, became mine.

One of the big changes I made was this. We had these massive ovens into which we put full size (26×18 inch) baking trays. We cooked a lot of things in these ovens, but one of the things was bacon. It came to us in big cardboard boxes, maybe 30 pounds each. Each box contained two ~15 pound plastic-wrapped containers, called cases. (I cooked around three cases every day. Americans love their bacon.) Each case contained over a hundred wax paper sheets with bacon on them.

In the manuals, we were told that we should lay out these sheets in a certain way on the trays, but after the manuals were written and published, management had changed the ovens and trays, but the manuals weren’t updated. As such, the method described in the manuals was inefficient, and so I created a new one. My method maximized the surface area of the bacon that was exposed to the air, so that it would cook thoroughly, while also minimizing the total cook time for each case by putting as much bacon as was reasonable on each tray.

Another example of problem solving came from a situation which there was no formal, documented procedure, but the informal procedure was also inefficient.

If you’ve ever been to an Eat n’ Park, you know the trademarked “smiley” cookies. In order to create those colorful smiles, we had to pipe an awful lot of icing, and in order to do that, we had to refill piping bags on a very regular basis. The problem was, the icing came in 5-gallon buckets, and we had no reasonable transfer mechanism. It was worse than trying to pour from a gallon of juice into a thimble.

The existing, informal procedure was to use an ice cream scoop to transfer some icing from the 5-gallon bucket into a smaller plastic container. Then, holding the icing bag open with the other hand, you’d pour the icing from the plastic container into the bag. This was messy and kind of difficult, but it got the job done. Even so, the artistic part of me was unhappy, and so I went about fixing it.

The biggest problem with the existing system was that holding an icing bag open is really hard, and holding it open with one hand is even harder. To fix this problem, I tried a number of methods to try and hold it open; after much trial and error, my best option was some to-go soup containers: I’d fold the bag into the bottom and wrap the top of the bag around the container’s top. Even so, I found myself thinking, “This is too wide and not tall enough. Where do we have something similar that’s taller and narrower?” One day I realized: we had steel milkshake mixer cups that were the perfect dimensions! This worked much better, and the icing bags were easier to fit over the narrower lip. Additionally, I didn’t need to hold the icing bag up anymore, so if I wanted to not bother wasting a container and an ice cream scoop, I could pour the icing directly from the 5-gallon bucket. Soon, other people saw me doing it this way and my method became the de facto standard.

Overall, I think my biggest strength here comes from the combination of this skill with the previous one. While each skill is uncommon and useful by itself, in combination they create an interesting hybrid which thinks objectively and analytically about aesthetics and beauty.

3. Drive

This was a skill I didn’t even know I had until recently, but to explain why requires a short story.

Growing up homeschooled, I always had a lot of choice in what I did with my time. If I so chose, I could have bare-minimum graduated from high school and worked as a prep cook for the rest of my life: my parents were never the sort to push their kids. But I didn’t want to do that; I knew I could do better, could make a difference in the world in a way that mattered to me, and I decided to pursue it.

At first I didn’t know the best way to do that. I thought that blowing the top off all my academics would work, and as such, I chose to seek out challenging classes and activities, and I chose to work as hard as I could at them. Because of this, I have a host of academic achievements under my belt: many high scores on AP tests, the AP Scholar with Distinction award, the Maureen O’Donnell Award for four consecutive National Latin Exam gold medals (one for each year of Latin I took), and National Merit Commended Scholar status. I did these things because I wanted to, not because a school or parent was pushing me.

Sometime last fall, though, as I was getting ready to apply for college (and as Yale was mailing me a letter a week, like seriously, tone it down maybe?), I had to consider whether it made sense to continue down that path. Was the opportunity cost of four whole years of my life, during which I wouldn’t be pursuing my career, worth it for the degree? After a lot of careful deliberation, I decided that no, it wasn’t. My goals were to make a meaningful difference in the world, and a degree wasn’t necessary to do that. I dropped the entire college application process in favor of going full-dive into my career.

The first thing I had to do was finish up the classes I’d already signed up for. I completed my spring and summer coursework and made a plan for what needed to happen to get my career started, which included a career prep program called Praxis. For the first two weeks after summer classes, I ate, slept, and breathed code as I did nearly nothing but web programming, creating the site you’re on right now. The school system is very bad at giving students any hands-on work, so this was one of my first major coding projects, even though I’d technically been programming since age 8.

This headstrong attitude, drive to improve, and complete lack of consideration of the potential for failure is the kind of attitude I bring to anything I do. I brought it to my schoolwork, I brought it to my previous jobs, and I’ll bring it to my future career. Stay tuned to see how that turns out!

5 People Exercise

“You are the five people you spend the most time around.” It’s a common saying we’ve all heard, but there is still a lot of truth to it. So it makes sense that if you want to improve at something, you should spend a lot of time around someone who is good at it. As a starting point, I catalogued the five things I want to get better at along with the five people I spend the most time around.

List of things I want to improve the most at:

  1. Pushing myself
  2. Focus
  3. Organization
  4. Teamwork
  5. Work ethic

List of people I spend the most time around:

  1. My mom
  2. My sister Ana
  3. My fiancé, Tyler
  4. My good friend, Cole
  5. My brother, Ben

And finally, here are some words on if, and how much, these people correlate with the things I want to improve at.

There are very few people in my life at the moment who I would say have better focus and work ethic than my mother. Right now, on top of working a highly-skilled full-time job, she owns and operates three small businesses and does all of the household’s financial upkeep. Even despite all this, she has no home office: instead, she sits in the middle of the living room, with her children working or talking or playing around her and intermittently asking questions. The reason for this is that on top of everything else she does, she also homeschools her four children, and as such being available to help us is important to her. In order to accomplish all these things, she needs absolutely amazing work ethic and focus.

Another prime example of focus is my brother Ben. He sits in the living room studying flashcards for Greek, or Arabic, or Spanish, completely oblivious to the world in a way I’ve only ever seen on other people when they have noise-cancelling headphones on. He’s not very introspective, so I can’t really get a constructive answer if I ask how he does this, but at least he’s a good role model. Ben also pushes himself very hard: he decided very early on that he wanted to get into a top-tier college, and between being dual-enrolled at our local community college, getting a crazy high SAT score, and recently taking an immersion Arabic course at the University of Pittsburgh, he’s well on his way to achieving that goal.

Another person I know who pushes himself to achieve difficult goals is my friend Cole. He lives and works on a farm in The Middle of Nowhere, South Dakota, where the only classes taught at his school are about how to use farm equipment, and even despite this he decided he would find himself a liberal arts education. Almost exclusively through self-study, he’s acquired what I would, from experience, consider to be an AP-level understanding of math, physics, chemistry, psychology, and English, among others. I highly doubt that if I lived somewhere where the nearest drug store is four hundred miles away (I visited him once so I know. There are billboards), I wouldn’t be able to learn what he has.

There are a relatively small number of things I’m actively bad at that I want to improve, but two of them are teamwork and organization. Naturally, I’m a messy loner. But fortunately, I have pretty good role models for both.

My sister Ana, who is five years my senior on all levels except physical, has always been an excellent team player. When a group she’s in is given a daunting task, she steps up and coordinates everyone so that not only does the work get done, but everyone on the team (including her) is happy while doing it. I contrast this with my current approach to being in a group given a daunting task, which is to take the whole thing over myself and work day and night to get it finished. Ana is an inspiration to me in a lot of ways, but her ability to make a team more than the sum of its people is definitely one of the major ones.

In addition to being kind of a sub-par team player by nature, I’m also kind of a mess. Fortunately for me, though, my fiancé Tyler is essentially the poster-child for organization. Our bedroom, in which he keeps his many books and figurines, is meticulously put together to make optimal use of limited space. On his PC are schemas and schematics for everything, from where things go on his coffee table to the structure of the shelf he’s building. Icons on his desktop are arranged to best go with his background, and files are meticulously and hierarchically ordered. Not only are his physical and electronic spaces organized, so are his explanations. If he can’t articulate a vision purely in words, he whips out a pen and, with the steadiest hand I’ve ever seen, draws visually elegant diagrams and charts.

So it seems, if you do become the five people you spend the most time around, I seem to be becoming an absolutely amazing person.