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Student spotlight

Building Something for the World with Josh Archer

January 22, 2018

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Josh Archer discovered Make School’s Product College the way that many students do―frustrated with his current school and looking for something different, something better.

“I️ first saw Make School on Product Hunt my second year of college while studying for finals,” Josh said, “and it’s mission immediately aligned with my frustrations with the university education I️ was getting. I️ was learning lots of theoretical material without learning how to apply the theory to real-world applications. At Make School, the curriculum was designed to always be building something for the world to see. That’s what I wanted to do.”

But Josh wasn’t at any two-bit college. He was a Cognitive Science major at UCLA, and his parents weren’t very excited about the idea of him leaving such a prestigious university. So Josh made a deal. “The deal with my parents was that I would do the Product College for one year and treat it as a gap year, then go back to UCLA.”

During that year, Josh got the opportunity to work on a four-person team in conjunction with the Obama administration with the goal of building a digital literacy tool. Josh said, “The product was less of a technical problem and more of a user experience problem. How do you build a website to teach people how to use the internet when they’ve never been comfortable with a website before? Our team of developers was tasked with building something to further tackle the digital divide, but before we wrote our first line of code, we did what everyone in Silicon Valley does―we talked to those who were experiencing the problem first hand.”

Josh added, “Following the lean startup method, we met with our future users in person and tried to understand the most difficult problems they were facing. We were surprised and humbled to learn about the digital divide and the current state of internet usage in the US. We reflected on how our lives would be different if we didn’t have the privilege of internet access. We wanted to help bridge the tech knowledge gap for those less fortunate.”

In keeping with his desire to build things for the world, the classes that Josh found most impactful at the Product College weren’t tech classes at all but classes on user experience research and presentation skills.

Josh recalled, “For presentation skills, the repetitiveness was really helpful. We got feedback from our peers and the instructor, and we did multiple rounds of that. Practice makes perfect. Being on stage in front of people all the time will make you more comfortable. That was a great advantage of presenting so frequently.”

Looking back at his year, Josh declared, “The best thing about Make School was the tight-knit community of students all trying to do the same thing: build products that users love. We would obsess over projects and pull all-nighters coding together just for fun. Half the time the all-nighters weren’t intentional―they just happened! You sit down in front of a computer screen and see the end in sight, then time goes out the window and all of a sudden it’s five AM, and everyone in the room is doing the same thing. Everyone was very passionate.”

Josh appreciated just how supportive the Make School community was. “One of the hardest things about learning how to code,” he said, “is not being able to unblock yourself when your code isn’t compiling. At Make School there was always a student or an instructor more knowledgeable than you who could quickly unblock you.”

After his year at the Product College, Josh didn’t quite follow through on his promise to his parents. “After a year at Make School, I saw that I could jump into the working world, so that’s what I did. I started working at Life360 as an iOS engineer. But after about a year in the working world, I missed classes and wanted to get back to that environment, so I decided to keep my promise after all and finish my Cognitive Science degree at UCLA. My plan is to use my coding ability combined with my psychology education to develop new ways for humans to interact with computers.”

To learn more about Josh’s current and upcoming projects, follow him on Twitter or GitHub.