Working well past midnight on a weeknight, Austin Chan ’13, typed a long series of symbols and letters into his Mac laptop.
His heart was beating fast with the Red Bull pumping through his body, but the website he had been building tirelessly for months was inching toward completion.
Within a few days, the newly redesigned Harvard-Westlake Chronicle website was launched, and Chan caught up on sleep.
Chan has been learning to write computer code since he took AP Computer Science in the 10th grade, and since then has designed several applications and websites, recently landing a summer job at Yahoo! His most demanding and time-consuming endeavor yet was working on the new website for the Chronicle, he said.
In the summer of 2012, Chronicle Editor-in-Chief David Lim ’13 recruited Chan to help code for the newspaper’s redesigned website.
“Lim just came to me and said, ‘you’ve got to make our website for us.’ A lot of other people asked me to do their websites, but I had to turn them down,” Chan said.
Chan, who had no previous background in news design, had to quickly teach himself some new coding techniques to accommodate programming some of the website’s features.
“This whole journalism thing has been totally different [than other projects],” Chan said. “The thing I had to learn most,” Chan said, “was how to be serious. I got David Lim and myself in trouble because of humorous placeholder text while designing the website.”
“Working with Austin has by far been the most traumatic experience of my life,” Lim joked.
After listening to a lecture by computer science engineers from Yahoo, Chan discussed the technology industry with one of the engineers. He then showed off some of his past work to the engineer.
“He was actually friends with one of the recruiters at Yahoo!,” Chan said. “He was really, really impressed, and put in a good word with me at Yahoo.”
“That developed into a formal case for an internship, so I went through all the steps. I also had to write a resume and field some technical questions about coding.”
One rigorous phone interview later, he got an eight-week internship at Yahoo headquarters in Sunnyvale, near San Francisco.
“Most likely, I will be working on a mobile application or something in web development,” Chan said. “One of them I might be working on is the iPhone app for weather, which is powered by Yahoo! I might be working on something that everyone at school and millions of others are using.”
Chan first encountered programming and computer science in 8th grade when he took a programming class.
“It was so elementary that it didn’t really draw me in. We didn’t learn much,” Chan said. “Then, in 10th grade, I took AP Computer Science, and that really captivated my imagination and I got really into it.”
Within the first month of taking AP Computer Science, Chan researched programming on his own to supplement what he was learning at school.
Eventually, Chan used the small arsenal of different programming languages and techniques he had learned through his research and classes to code simple commands.
“I made a script that ‘liked’ everything on someone’s wall on Facebook,” Chan said. “I showed some of my friends and they used it. We thought it was funny. Then I moved on to another project.”
Chan said he has undertaken more serious projects in the past year that involve web design and iPhone application development.
“I love how applications are pretty much limitless,” Chan said.
“For example, Ebay has improved so many people’s lives who are handicapped and cannot walk or who do not have the full range of motion that other people have, but they can still have businesses.”