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Q & A with Josh Pullen

Lauren Vanden Bosch and Simon Lafleur

Q: How did you get your start in coding?

A: I started in third grade with Scratch which is just drag and drop coding so you don’t have to worry about typos or mistakes, and I actually stuck with that for a really long time, longer than any reasonable person would, but then eventually moved on to web development. And this is actually the first project I’ve done that has a backend, which means you’re saving information about users. So, that’s where I started.

Q: What did Scratch teach you?

A: Scratch is really good for learning the ideas behind programming but it’s not great for making real stuff. So like if you wanted to publish a game on steam, you wouldn’t be making it with Scratch. But, it does teach you how to sort of think in coding and think about variables and about information and how you can use code to manipulate it.

Q: Have you used other programs like Gamemaker?

A: I’ve tried a little bit of everything but at the end of the day just typing out your own code is generally the best way to get the full customization that you want. So, I wrote the code for this rather than using some kind of specialized editor.

Q: What is the website written in?

A: So the backend is written in Python with a framework called JeDango and then the front-end is HTML CSS and JavaScript and I think that’s everything.

Q: How many programming languages do you know?

A: Well it depends on what you mean “know.” I do Scratch and Snap, which are just the for fun ones. And then HTML CSS and JavaScript, well HTML and CSS aren’t technically programming languages but you use them to make programs and they’re languages. I don’t know, it’s kind of a grey area. But then also Python. Those are really what I work a lot with.

Q: What is the hardest part of coding a website/coding in general?

A: I always have an idea and I get started and a tenth of the way in I’ve thought through what I’m going to do so it gets boring to actually execute them. So I tend to start ideas and never finish them. So Rocket Spelling was pretty tricky because about a tenth of the way in I went y’know what? I’ve kinda thought this through and I kinda know what this site is going to be, and I’m bored now. But, you keep on pushing through it and you encounter some interesting challenges which can actually make it more fun. But that’s the hardest part, actually. An overwhelming amount of ideas. I actually have a google doc filled with ideas I want to make. So it’s hard to sit down and actually finish one of them because I’ve got 25 other things I want to start. Then the other thing is, some said is when you’re programming the first 90% takes 50% of the time and the other 10% takes the other 50% of the time. Because you’re never done and it always takes longer than you think it’s going to.

Q: What projects are you most proud of?

A: well Rocket Spelling is the most difficult project I’ve done. But, there are a couple little fun games I’ve made on Scratch and stuff that I really enjoy and a lot of people have played and liked. But Rocket Spelling is by far the most useful and was the most challenging to create.

Q: Should everyone know how to code?

A: Y’know, everyone should try it. But it’s not necessarily going to be for everybody. Like, I would never get into painting. Like I’ve tried it, and I’m glad I did, but it’s not something I would love. So I do think it’s a cool thing for particular people and if you do enjoy it go for it. And I do like the idea of having a programming class for everybody. But not to push it on everyone as something you must learn like reading or writing.

Q: What are your plans for future projects?

A: One project I thought would be really cool is a site that teaches HTML, CSS, and JavaScript so you could make your own websites online because there aren’t a ton of great resources for that. Like there’s a lot of stuff for people who already sort of know what they’re doing then there are a lot of tutorials to help you extend your knowledge but there’s not a lot for complete beginners. I started out by just googling around and it took a while to be able to do anything interesting so I think it would be cool to make a website sort of like Scratch where it’s got a community of people as well as a built in editor for HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to help ease that process in as well as including tutorials built into the editor. There are already online editors but there isn’t really a community. It’s just for developers to share little snippets of bugs or to share cool ideas. But it’s sort of for people who are already seasoned professionals. There aren’t a lot of communities to help people learn. So that’s something I’d like to try. But I’m running into the 10% issue again. One of the tricky things about frontend development is there is so much to memorize. Once you’ve done it for long enough you naturally memorize. It’s like the English language where if you use it enough it’s automatic. But for a beginner, it’s tricky because you have to memorize all the syntax. So I’d like to make something that can coach you along and let you quickly create the ideas you’ve got in your mind.

Q: What do you want to do in the future?

A: Definitely something with computer science. But everything related to programming moves so quickly that it’s impossible to predict what will be the next big thing. Like how 10 years ago smartphones were hardly even a thing and now if you’re an app developer you’re late to the game. So for me to try to predict what I want to do as a job down the road is just not really something you can attempt to do. One thing in the near future that I’d like to learn about that I haven’t gotten into yet would be artificial intelligence and machine learning and trying to get a computer to learn things on its own based on data that you feed it. The only thing is I don’t have any practical application for that yet. So I’m waiting for something to come along.

Q: How have you helped others online?

A: So I’ve made a lot of different programs that help people to learn. I’ve made and and a couple other games and thing. A lot of those are used in elementary school classrooms to teach students. And then I’ve also done some videos and tutorials and just talked to people online about how to actually program. So I’ve done some of both; teaching math and teaching spelling and teaching programming.

Q: Most significant way you’ve helped someone?

A: It was interesting, there’s one teacher in South Carolina who actually contacted me and said that as a second grade teacher he’s using to teach his students. I thought that was really cool because he contacted me to say that this is awesome and I’ve had my students look at your code before, and see how that works and also play the games to learn some math. I thought that was a really neat story.

Q: What other online communities are you a part of?

A: To be honest, as crazy as it sounds most of what I do happens on Scratch because even though it’s a simple place for children, there are a lot of super intelligent people in there. But there are also some people I know who moved from there to other places so we’ve got our own little spots that we chat and plan out projects and things.

Q: How many users are on Rocket Spelling?

A: Right now we have 590 teachers signed up and 6890 students. So, it’s going well.

Q: How widespread is the userbase?

A: Everyone who uses it is in the United States.

Q: Is there a way to translate the website?

A: The thing about translation is the words are really particular to American English. We would need to completely redesign the website, and even then it probably wouldn’t work all that well.

Read our Focus article on Josh here.

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Q & A with Josh Pullen