When Alirie Gray heard about Make School's Product College at a hackathon, she was immediately intrigued. "I was halfway to a Bachelor's in physics, but I applied anyway on a whim. I thought it was a great learning model and I especially liked the focus on creating real-world products."
Alirie still wanted to finish her physics degree, but she'd been taking a lot more computer science courses than physics courses at her university. "Then last year, a friend approached me about making a prototype for a 3D game. I recruited a couple of my coding friends and we spent the summer creating the game, staying up until 4am more days than not, and I realized this was what I wanted to spend my time doing. I knew the Product College would be perfect for me."
She went on, "After I got accepted that summer, I withdrew from university to attend the Product College, and I haven't regretted it once." Throughout the course of her first year, Alirie took several courses that she loved, but her favorite was the Tweet Generator course with instructor Alan Davis. She said, "It's hard to overstate Alan's skill as a teacher. He's absolutely the best teacher I've had to date, in any subject."
"In that class there's just one project -- the Tweet generator," Alirie continued, "but through that project you're learning best practices in software development and data structures. We had a lot of code reviews, so we learned how to structure code really well, and we wrote a Python program that used probability to generate semi-grammatical sentences. I used BuzzFeed article titles and some of the works of Karl Marx as my body of text to create a Marxist Clickbait Generator."
But the thing that excited Alirie most during her time at Make School was an app she developed called Activize. "It's a cross-platform mobile app to help activists organize safely and effectively. I made a basic prototype last term, and I'm currently recruiting other developers to help me bring it to life. I'm really passionate about Activize because I think it has a real chance of doing some good for our society."
The idea for Activize came to Alirie through an activist group in her hometown. She said, "They saw a need for efficient communication at protests, which can often be chaotic and disorganized, as well as a need to get the word out about activism that is happening around the country. I met with them several times to find out exactly what format and features the app should have. After that, I started going to more protests to better gauge how an app could be useful to the effort."
Alirie has big plans for Activize. Major features she'd like to incorporate include being able to search for protests in your area; a live updating map like Waze when you're at protests so you can figure out the route, find bathrooms, and find first aid; the ability to report hazards and police problems; and push notifications from the protest organizers.
Alirie noted, "One of the best things about the Product College was that we had a few hours every day dedicated to working on our software development projects. The structure and the support from instructors really helped me get a lot done during the day." She added, "The classes weren't just broadcast lectures, either. They involved a mix of lecturing, code reviews, pair programming, and free time to work on our projects. I find that this structure is much better than the typical college broadcast lecture. It allowed me to take on extra challenges based on my interests. It also kept the classroom alive and engaged."
That engagement may be what Alirie likes best about Make School. "I loved being surrounded by peers who are passionate about making things and instructors who are willing to go above and beyond to help us succeed. It's difficult to be unmotivated when everyone around you is so excited about what they are doing and bringing so much energy to the table every day. I also loved the opportunity to work on projects that I'm passionate about as a part of the curriculum."
She added, "In college, I had to choose between my passion projects and my schoolwork. At the Product College, they are the same thing. And I learned more coding there than I ever did in any college class."
Alirie has since taken her Make School education and transformed it into a full-time position at InfluxData, a Y-Combinator backed company that provides clients with a database engine that makes it easier to analyze time-based data. To learn more about Alirie and to follow her projects, check out her website, aliriegray.com, and follow her on GitHub.
Applications for Fall 2018 are still open. Learn more about the Product College here.