Senior Project Snapshots
During the month of May, seniors engage in off-campus pre-professional projects. Students gain hands-on experience and receive an introduction to the professional world. At the conclusion of their Senior Project, students present reports to faculty and their classmates.
Senior Project: BaseCamp Ventures
- Alex Knowlton – Johns Hopkins University
- Adam Mohsen-Breen – Harvard University
- Katie Teitelbaum – Lehigh University
- David Golden – Emory University
How would you explain your internship at BaseCamp Ventures?
David: This is a venture capital firm that invests in companies, and for the past five years, MFS students have come here and done an internship where they build their own company. Seniors come up with an idea, or, in our case, work to extend last year’s idea. And we have to do everything. We have to market it, we have to come up with logos, and we have to build the actual product and make it work. We have to test our product (an app) with real people.
Adam: David and Alex are the coding people. They do the programming to build the app, and Katie and I design the aesthetics like color schemes, how everything looks, and how it moves.
How would you describe the app you’re working on?
Adam: With this app, each student could go into a document and make notes. Then the teacher would be able to see all of the students’ notes and be able to grade their work right from the app, without students being able to view one another’s work. We are also providing a function where teachers will be able to assign students to work in groups, in which case they would be able to see each other’s annotations.
What is one interesting thing you’ve learned about startup methodology?
Adam: Constant iteration. You have an idea, and you test it to see if the market really wants it, so you’re always testing each stage of the product with real people and then coming back to develop the function that people want. There is a constant cycle: talking to real people and then developing your own ideas and seeing how they fit in the market.
Did you have any interaction with the students who worked on the project last year?
David: Yes, we talked to all of them on Google Hangout, and just last week, Abhay Aradhya ’14 came in for a little bit to help us answer some questions. They’re happy to help, and we’ll be helping the next group, presumably, when they reach out to us. Last year’s group made an effort to make sure the next year’s group would be able to understand the project through documentation. I think that’s generally good practice when you’re making things. So we’re going to leave it clear enough for the next group to understand as well, and to continue the work even further.
What are your biggest takeaways so far?
Alex: Definitely working in a group setting. We get along pretty well, and we’re able to efficiently complete tasks. When we come across a challenge, we can always reach out to someone, find help, and beat it.
Katie: I also think that patience was something that I learned, because everything takes longer than you think. Sometimes it takes a long time to do one thing, so then you get behind on another thing. I think, as a group, we have all learned that if you come across some kind of obstacle, you just have to step back, take a deep breath, and then see what you can do from there.
What are some of the concrete skills you’ve acquired during this month?
Alex: I knew how to code to some extent before, but I’ve never actually worked on a full-blown project. This really gave me a sense for how complex and how in-depth you have to go when you’re building a complete application. Instead of one line of code, this is a bunch of different packages working together. It’s cool how you can have these different modules that can all interact together and make something that’s as big and complex as this.
You may have heard that Moorestown Friends is adding a Lower School Coding program to the curriculum. Do you think it’s important to pick up that skill set at such an early age?
David: I think it’s a great idea. I started programming when I was 6 or 7. I used drag and drop coding programs, and then when I was 10 or 11, I started coding my first real programs. I gained a lot of experience from that, and those experiences actually led to what I wrote my college essay about: writing programs on my own, interning, and other things I’ve done through programming. And I think that the earlier you start, the easier it is to learn. It’s important that you learn how to think about computer programming. It’s a way to think about problem solving.
Katie: I think starting early helps with fluency, just like any other language. I started early too, and I think that’s been helpful.
David: People talk about the liberal arts providing the necessary information you need to be an informed citizen, and I think computer coding is part of that now. You need to be fluent and understand it.
Katie: Even just learning one language is really helpful, because then you can collaborate with other people who know a different language. And you can create a better program, or whatever you want to make, because you have knowledge of different languages that are better for different things. Like, we’re using HTML and CSS for the design, and they’re using AngularJS for the actual functionality of the program.
Is there anything else you would like to share about what you’ve learned?
Katie: Adam and I both read Google’s design materials and about how responsive design is really important for the user experience. If you create a great responsive design site, then people will be a lot more likely to use it. So we completed a lot of mockups for different color combinations and what would be the most appealing to the human eye. I feel like I learned a lot about trial and error based on Google Material Design.
Adam: Going off what Katie said, I remember the first day we learned about Google’s specifications for what a website should look like. It was about 40 pages, and it blew my mind. Everything looked different to me after that, and Katie and I couldn’t look at websites without seeing these things. We had made an initial website the first day, and we basically had to scrap it completely because it wasn’t according to Google’s specifications. So I think learning how to design clean interfaces, having the user experience be the most important thing, has been helpful for me in learning how to design pretty much anything in life, including a business. I think it has been a really helpful experience.