Can 9th Graders Build Web Apps with Wakanda?

January 31, 2013 — 7 Comments

IMPORTANT: This is a fictitious memo. I’m not the owner of Wakanda or even an employee. These are only my opinions and daydreams.

Strategically, Wakanda should strive ‘to enable the average 9th grader to design, develop and deploy a non-trivial, public, secure, data-driven web application within a semester’. I mean this literally.

In any organization, we can divide its members into 2 distinct groups—those who think and act as owners; those who don’t. I’m going to put my owner-minded hat on and make several rather opinionated statements about Wakanda’s business strategy. This is done out of admiration for the platform and with great respect for the Wakanda Team.

Wakanda’s intention to target professional developers as its key market was revealed in a recent interview.

And now for my bold proclamation: It is wrong-headed to target professional developers.

Fear not, I’m a benevolent dictator and no one is getting fired. Except for Donald Trump. Sorry Donald…you’re fired!

In this make believe world, where I’m the owner of Wakanda, we will place our strategic focus squarely upon this 9th grade user story: ‘to enable the average 9th grader to design, develop and deploy a non-trivial, public, secure, data-driven web application within a semester’. It will be our constant mantra, read aloud every morning and at the beginning of every meeting, whether internal or with vendors or customers.

Upon the release of every-other version of Wakanda, we will seed a local 9th grade classroom with everything students need to create Wakanda web apps, everything but the real world problems they wish to solve. A Wakanda product team member and platform expert will attend each 50 minute, daily classroom session and meticulously track feedback from these 20 students.

To be clear, we will no longer focus on converting existing programmers to adopt Wakanda. We are now in the business of creating users. We create users by training 9th graders. In turn, their success will inspire and motivate the general population to solve real-world challenges with Wakanda.

As a direct result of the ‘9th Grade’ strategy, within 3 years, our users will include teachers, college students, office workers, administrators, bloggers, and designers—millions of them. Naturally, the efficacy of the platform will attract many professional developers, but this is an effortless byproduct of our focus. We incorporate reasonable feedback from all our users, including professionals, but their needs can usually be answered by extending Wakanda with existing JavaScript libraries or modules. 9th graders require Wakanda’s built-in features to be improved and simplified to meet their needs and are our first and utmost priority.

Professionals also like to tinker with every new language that comes along and will quickly move on to the next shiny new thing. Right now, that thing is Node.js. 3 years ago it was Ruby on Rails. 3 years from now, amateur programmers will still be dependent on Wakanda to remain highly productive. It may sound as though we’re playing favorites. In reality, what is good for 9th graders is good for all developers.

What Microsoft Excel was for spreadsheets, Wakanda will be for web apps!

As the semantic web takes form, Wakanda will be uniquely positioned to enable the lay person to create data-driven web 3.0 applications that interact not only with their computers and mobile devices, but with their refrigerator, ensuring they have enough eggs to last the week. Eggs that will feed 9th graders, who learned algebra last year, and are waiting for someone to engage their abilities.

We must work wisely to rise to this challenge: ‘to enable the average 9th grader to design, develop and deploy a non-trivial, public, secure, data-driven web application within a semester’. I know the task is daunting, but remember this—you’re here because you’re the best of the best at what you do. Buck up, take heart, serve our clients (9th Graders) with a smile on your face and be proud of the difference we’re making in the lives of ordinary people, everywhere!

All my best,

Jay

Jay

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7 responses to Can 9th Graders Build Web Apps with Wakanda?

  1. In order to empower our 9th graders and help make this more realistic, let’s impose a pre-requisite semester comprising JavaScript, HTML, and CSS basics.

  2. It’s an interesting post Jay. I would have to review the actual audio of the interview to see if this message was conveyed properly, but I can tell you the “spirit” of the answer. If I were to put a phrase on the goals it breaks down into two sections:

    1) Deployment capability
    2) Developer Interaction

    The goal is similar for both though… that being to make the experienced more effective and to make the less experienced more capable.

    With this in mind, your ideas above are included in the vision. A 9th grader would fall in the category of less experienced. The goal of studio would be to enable them to be more capable, building applications etc. I realize right now that building an enterprise grade web app with Wakanda is not trivial. But it is easier than a lot of other platforms. So studio will continue to improve… not only studio, but training and even potentially “base” applications. Imagine a project with the structure of security, permissions and user/group logic in place for you to then build from.

    On the other side, they want to allow experienced developers to customize their work flow and really make them more productive. This is done through different mechanisms – code hinting, flexible architecture and the ability to tweak source code.

    I would say it’s a difficult task to accomplish both at the same time. For my real estate application I have designed it in such a way that I have different views entirely for advanced users and basic users. I assume much more automation in some views while I open all the options in the advanced view.

    Maybe this is the way they should consider going? Have entirely different faces for beginners or hobbyists and a more nitty gritty look for advanced users. The less complex view would make a lot more assumptions and build a lot more of the app automatically. It would utilize things like wizards etc.

    In the end, you can never provide the same level of customization in a purely GUI interface, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be productive for people.

    On the topic of them being a future market… I’m curious what they are using now and if that technology has seen an uptake in industry as a result. I tend to think it works from industry back down to schools more than the other way around. But it would be an interesting topic to research.

    • Greg,

      Thank you, your reply helped me better understand the direction of the platform. Admittedly, I’m not sure my original post was well thought out. From now on, I’ll mull over my posts for at least 3 days before publishing them.

      I can see how meeting the needs of both professional and amateur developers is good for the platform and challenging to achieve. I share your vision of pre-baked templates that include components that are common to most web apps. I would also strive to keep the platform open (standards-based) and never want to favor convenience by locking professionals in to proprietary solutions. We shouldn’t cater to amateurs at the expense of professionals. This is probably easier said than done. Kudos to the Team for striving for this high bar!

      Nevertheless, at some point in the future it would be fascinating to see the different apps produced by an enthusiastic classroom of young minds and to discover what we can learn from their experience with the platform.

      Personally, I have high hopes for Wakanda and have great confidence in the Wakanda Team. Building web apps isn’t easy, but its getting easier with every major advance of this great platform.

      I hope this article, even with its exaggerated approach, helps to articulate one possible means of establishing a highly effective strategic focus. It was inspired by the presence of Apple Macintosh computers in my own school labs. These helped me accomplish many important tasks and created a lasting positive impression upon my psyche.

      Also, I hope it reminds us of the distinct possibility that instead of finding customers, we might just have to create them.

      All my best

      • Jay, blogs are supposed to be opinionated and edgy… so you’re perfectly fine in the original article. I have spent a lot of time myself looking for just the solution you described.

        I looked at LiveCode (www.runrev.com) – an interesting product, actually, it’s what Hypercard became. They always tout “easy development”… but when I dug into it, as soon as you went off the beaten path, it was hard. Granted, probably easier than C++.

        I used 4D back in the mid 90’s… again, easier than C++, but complicated to really get something going.

        Google even tried it with the Android App Builder (or something like that) now defunct.

        I’m reading a book right now titled “Eloquent Javascript”… and in the intro, the author says “programming is inherently hard”. I’m starting to feel that is the case. Some day I’m sure your dream will be a reality… it’s just a matter of time. As time goes on machines are able to interpret our creativity more and more accurately.

        • Thanks for the encouragement, Greg!

          My first programming language was Logo, which was a pleasure to learn and use.

          How can we create such a positive experience for new Wakanda learners? I believe that first we need a vision, which this blog post made a clumsy attempt at. Next, we need to do something different than the status quo, something beyond just good documentation.

          Recently, I’ve been deeply inspired by the ideas of Bret Victor. His recent writing on learnable programming provides us with a specific list of design principles to guide our way. Wakanda, due to its visual design tools, is a natural fit for exactly this kind of pursuit.

          I see a need for Wakanda to take full responsibility for the learning experience of its users. This is something that is absent from the industry as a whole and therefore appears ‘normal’. The result is wasted time and energy, and unnecessary frustration, multiplied by each new learner. We can do better.

          I’m encouraged by Ricardo Mello’s post where he hints about a new approach for training users to use Wakanda widgets.

          If we stay open to new ideas and are willing to experiment, then surely we’ll get there!

          • Great post Jay, I share the same idea 🙂

          • Thank you Saad! I’m glad to hear we have similar ideas about Wakanda’s potential for a learning platform. Thank you for your comment.

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