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Making What People Want with Alex Reilly

Student spotlight

Making What People Want with Alex Reilly

December 6, 2017

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During his time at the Product College, Alex Reilly was inspired to create products that he wanted to try out himself. “One of the primary philosophies that Make School espouses originates with Y-Combinator,” Alex said. “Make something people want.”

That simple idea led Alex to the ideas for two projects from his time at the Product College that he’s proudest of, LightHouse and PARKR. “LightHouse is a smart-home automation system that allows a homeowner’s lights to automatically turn on and off as they move around their house. It was super fun to demo―seeing how excited people got as they walked between lights and saw them turn off and on.”

PARKR is an app to help people find street parking in San Francisco. Alex noted, “It was my first real foray into backend development. I got to try out a bleeding-edge web framework called Vapor. I learned a lot from PARKR. I learned that real world data is very messy, and dealing with it can be challenging and rewarding.”

The idea of making something people want is at the heart of Make School. It guides the projects that students create as well as the curriculum they receive, because it is a principal that is both practical and motivational. Making something you would want to use beats out memorizing theory every time.

Frustrations with his traditional, theory-based education were part of what led Alex to the more student-centered, modern approach to learning at the Product College. He wanted the opportunity to make his education what he wanted it to be, and Make School offered that opportunity.

“I grew up in South San Jose and discovered programming when I unearthed ‘AppleScript’ on my first laptop,” Alex explained, “and I fell in love almost immediately. But I didn’t really get serious until I took my first CS class at De Anza College,” a community college in the Bay Area.

“I had a friend in the first two-year cohort of the Product College, so that gave me the opportunity to get to know many of the students and hear what Make School was all about. It sounded like the thing for me almost right off, but the real turning point was when I went to a hackathon after a year and a half of CS classes at De Anza and I didn’t know how to build anything with what I’d learned.”

Alex continued, “I ended up learning JS at the hackathon and left feeling like I’d gotten more experience there than I had in any of my classes. That’s when I knew something had to change. So I enrolled.”

When he arrived at the Product College, Alex was a bit wary about the idea of not having any more grades or tests and instead being expected to take feedback and meet benchmarks, much like a real-world software developer. “I thought that might be a problem, because grades were a major motivator for myself and my peers in college and high school, but it turned out great. It turns out that grades and tests were a huge stressor in my life, and I was actually more motivated once I didn’t have them. And it helped that I was doing something I loved.”

Of all the classes Alex took at the Product College, his favorites were Backend Web: API Services with Python & Flask, Advanced Data Structures and Algorithms, and End-to-End App Development. “This was a hard choice to make, because there were more than three courses that I thought were really good. But for the first part of Make School I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and these classes were the most impactful.”

Alex added, “From Backend Web, I found out that I really enjoy backend stuff. Advanced Data and Algorithms was very fun but also incredibly useful for getting the job I have right now. And App Development was important because everyone had some part of app development they were good at, so we all had to work together under time constraints, and that class gave us a lot of good, deep experience.”

Working together to make something useful in a supportive, business-like environment was an important part of the Make School experience for Alex. “The students in the Product College were a really tight-knit bunch. I was at a community college with an enrollment of 24,000 people, and I got to know maybe three people. But at Make School where there were fifty of us, we were in such close contact all the time that I got to know nearly everyone well.”

Alex went on, “When I first started programming, I took pride in being the person that knew everything, but then of course you reach a point where you don’t know anything anymore. At that point you have to look for help and ask questions. The Product College instilled in me that it’s ok to ask for help and look for answers―it’s not ok to continue not knowing things. Before Make School I wasted a lot of time trying to figures things out on my own instead of just asking for help.”

Currently, Alex is carrying the collaborative, practical principles he learned at the Product College into his internship at Redbooth in Palo Alto as an iOS developer. “They’re giving me the opportunity to float around to different teams, so I plan to try my hand at backend when I can.” Before his internship, Alex spent the summer teaching in Beijing, and now he’s teaching himself guitar and hanging out with his friends as much as possible. Undoubtedly, Alex will continue to make what people want wherever his career takes him.

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

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