Junior Landon Stobaugh missed the first week of school not because of a beach vacation, but because he was studying Japanese in Vermont. Stobaugh, who has been teaching himself Japanese for the past year and a half, decided to attend an immersion language program.
“I spent eight weeks in Vermont at the Middlebury [University] Japanese language program,” Stobaugh said. “At that program, I was not allowed to speak English the whole time. I used only Japanese for eight weeks.”
Japanese isn’t Stobaugh’s only self-taught skill. In middle school, Stobaugh decided to teach himself how to code.
“It was the first year of middle school where I got serious into [programming],” Stobaugh said. “I got a book, and it was a book about C++. I started reading that C++ book, and it made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. But I read it over like, five, six times and eventually it clicked.”
Following his passion, he began to invest more time into coding after attending a programming camp.
“I found that I really liked computer science, and engineering in general,” Stobaugh said. “It made me want to keep on diving deeper and deeper into subjects like computer security, AI, robotics and a lot of other subtopics.”
With endless open-source projects at his fingertips, Stobaugh had no shortage of practice. In his free time, he would download older video games and try to find exploits in its code to hack the game. This experience sparked Stobaugh’s interest in cybersecurity and white hat, or ethical security hacking, which are areas he currently focuses on.
Like many students, senior Isaac Ruben has a part-time job. But it’s not at a restaurant — it’s on his computer. Ruben works for himself as a freelance web designer. And unbeknownst to most of his clientele, he is younger than your average freelancer.
“I’ve been doing web freelance on and off for a few years, and that’s actually really lucrative. It’s great. There’s no real qualifications. You know, no one knows that I’m the 17-year-old kid doing their website,” Ruben said. “They’re paying by the hour, and they’re happy with their results. They leave me good reviews.”
As a freelancer, Ruben makes more money than the average high school student as a freelancer with the added benefit of getting to work on his own time.
“I’m in high school, so most freelancers are worried about health care, paying rent, and there’s no danger for me,” said Ruben. “The most recent freelance thing I did was probably $40 an hour, but it’s difficult to say. I spent probably 10 hours doing revisions because they changed their mind about a specification, and with that, maybe it’s $30 an hour, but it’s still it’s very good rates.”
Before Ruben started freelancing, he had another smaller-scale venture creating bots for Discord, a social networking platform.
“When I was younger, people paid me to make Discord bots, like small YouTubers, so they’d have the ‘YouTuber discord bot,’ and it could answer questions and stuff,” Ruben said.
As a kid, Ruben would code on and off using Scratch, a free and easy-to-use block-coding online software, But when the pandemic forced students into their houses and onto their computers, Ruben saw an opportunity to get back into coding.
“During Covid I was super bored, super lonely. I had to [attend] school for like an hour, so I just started making games,” Ruben said. “I think it’s a great way to learn to code because there’s such set goals step-by-step. Get something on the screen, get it to move… I had 12 hours a day, every day for over a year to just code.”
Ruben also joined the Iron Panthers, Burlingame’s robotics team, during the pandemic. Programming the robot code gave him valuable experience in a more professional setting.
“Robotics was the first time I really collaborated with other people on coding, in an environment where not only [was] my code used and the results mattered, but people cared about the speed and the maintainability,” Ruben said. “My experience with coding was all hobby projects, games, little tools for myself, so robotics was really influential in terms of getting better.”
Currently, Ruben is working on a side project for the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Ruben, who has been playing D&D for around six years, decided to create a search engine for the D&D item database, a tool that did not yet exist.
“I like playing D&D. It happens to be an area where there is room for technical improvements,” Ruben said. “The data exists for everything in the game, but there isn’t a great search engine that would do fuzzy text search over all of that. So if you wanted to find an ability or a spell based on description, there’s not a good way to do that.”
Ruben is in his senior year and in the midst of applying to colleges, where he hopes to explore a future computer science field.
“There’s kind of like two diverging paths,” Ruben said. “I can get a bachelor’s in [computer science] to understand more theory or go into industry… so I could go either way. But there also is like the academia track, I could go on to get a PhD and do research, and I might like that more. I’m going to find out.”
Junior Deniel Mirzoian, who grew up in Russia and moved to the United States at ten years old, has always been the entrepreneurial type. At 12, Mirzoian started to teach himself to code, far ahead of most kids his age.
“Up until the age of 12, I was a quite dedicated Minecraft gamer. I played pretty consistently, until I realized that I suck at it,” Mirzoian said. “That’s when I transitioned into learning gradually more and more about code through trial and error, and eventually learning my first programming language, which was PHP.”
Mirzoian’s first programs added modifications to Minecraft, leading him to continue coding. Since then, Mirzoian has improved quite a bit and decided to co-found a Minecraft server.
“I partnered with a guy who had a lot of connections with other people [in the Minecraft community], so we united our powers with me doing the technical end,” Mirzoian said. “It’s a very long process [to create a server], and it’s really not easy when you’re starting off. You need experience and connections with others in order to actually be able to publish things properly.”
Since then, Mirzoian has gone on to create complex open-source applications such as JasonDB. JasonDB is a program that allows users to communicate to a database in a more user-friendly way.
“I made some libraries for other developers to use like Jason dB, which is basically a wrapper around a Mongo database,” Mirzoian said. “[It’s] a more convenient way and other different libraries for people to use those were some of my public projects.”
In Principles of Computer Science during his freshman year, Mirzoian’s final project allowed him to create Snap — a block coding language — projects with his own new programming language.
“My favorite project was Anti Snap Script. I was really proud of that one,” said Mirzoian. “In normal computer science, I was already quite experienced, and they were forcing people to use block code,” Mirzoian said. “For the final project, we had the option of whatever we wanted to make, and I was really tired of [Snap], so I decided to make my own transpiler programming language, which was called Anti Snap Script.”
Over the summer, Mirzoian took on many new projects, including working on a Minecraft server in partnership with Mojang, the company behind Minecraft and a subsidiary of Microsoft. Mirzoian is also interested in applying his programming and development skills to new fields in the future.
“I want to learn more about other fields, including web development and app development because I see a lot of potential in that space,” Mirzoian said. “Also VR development, because that space is also growing a lot of the metaverse and all those other trends popping up. And there’s just a lot of potential new use cases and they seem very fascinating to me, and I want to learn more about them.”
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