Ollie Wilson (Section B) talks about getting back into coding, even as a full-time consultant
What got you interested in CS?
I played a lot of video games as a teenager, and always enjoyed tinkering, and making small mods / levels for them. Later on, when I was working full-time, I got back into coding initially to automate and speed up some of the more tedious tasks I had to perform as an analyst.
Tell us about the coding projects you did as an analyst.
When I was a consultant I built an app to visualize the various data trends and insights we’d analyzed on the European economy, which our team then used in meetings with policy advisors and partners. We had very similar datasets for 28 different countries in the EU. When we met with politicians or policymakers, they only cared about their own country’s data. So for each of the meetings we had to spend a ton of time regenerating new charts and infographics. So I made an iPad app that automated the task for each country.
What about this project motivated you to get back into code?
At a lot of professional services firms, you can find yourself doing some tedious tasks, such as data entry and visualization. When they end up taking more than an hour of your time, you know there is probably a better way to do this. Given how busy things get, sometimes pausing and trying to automate a task feels like too much extra work, but it might not be. The big thing to keep in mind is despite the upfront investment of automating, it will be worth it in the long run.
It’s not easy to just pick up coding, how did you stay focused and motivated?
I believe it is possible to learn how to code even if you have a day job. As to motivation, like with anything you want to learn, set a very clear end goal. In this case, set a really clear goal of what you want to build. For example: build a simple app and publish it on the app store in the next three months. Make the goal functional – in the pursuit of something concrete. Doing this will make the process more manageable. Also, break your goal down into chunks, and accomplish smaller goals every day.
What parts of software development are most interesting to you and why?
The possibilities for artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing (NLP) – I think the capabilities in these areas are going to change rapidly over the next few years, which is very exciting. In particular, I think some of the new APIs that let developers use AI and NLP will be exciting. They will open up creativity and applications of AI/NLP in ways we have not even thought about yet.
Tech evolves rapidly — what do you read to stay on top of it?
Recode.net, Hacker News, TechCrunch, The Verge, Arstechnica, Quartz, Fast Company. I also read a lot of science fiction (still love the Foundation series).
What are you working on right now?
I’m building my FIELD3 team’s iOS app – it’s called Sqgl (can be found on the app store) – users can design a postcard on their phone or iPad, and we send a physical copy to their recipient.
How are you spending the summer? What’s next for you?
Still deciding between working on my own projects, or joining an early-stage startup.
Anything else you want to share?
Always happy to chat with other people at HBS interested in coding, especially iOS and / or web development.
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