What attracted me to software design

As a kid, I became obsessed with this idea that the world is not simply as you receive it, but that it can be what you make it. That what is shown to me as “official” was designed by people just like me. And that I could take something that I thought could be designed better; something that could function better, or be clearer, and I could build that better, clearer thing, and then give that to the world. And software is the most inexpensive way to do this: I could come up with a better solution and build it in a day or a few days, and then have it to use.

A perfect example of this is Hungry Hokie. When I started at Virginia Tech, I loved the dining halls, but couldn’t keep track of the seemingly random hours for all 16 or so halls, particularly at nights, or on weekends and breaks. The hours calendar online was atrocious — requiring north of 40 clicks just to find out what dining centers were open at any given moment (serious).

I think that’s 45 clicks. I know what you’re thinking, “just use the left and right arrows, Alex!” You would think that. But those go forward and back by days on the same dining hall. When would you ever need that?

I figured there should be an app that showed just the dining halls that are open right now. I built exactly that in two days, and it went on to be used thousands of times a day, and even got coverage from the New York Times and the Washington Post — for some little app! But its impact was big: It was a better tool to allow us to live our lives more easily.

I’m obsessed with improving things and solving problems. Software is the most maximized path to do that: it’s the least expensive on resources of time and money, and its impact can be multipled nearly infinitely — any one action can provide a huge result.