Noah Finer @noah

A developer, designer, and photographer at the University of Michigan

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Hey Noah! Tell us a bit about yourself.

What’s up! I’m a sophomore at the University of Michigan studying CS. I grew up in Colorado around a bunch of mountains and great people.

I’ve been programming since around 8th grade, mostly focusing on web development. I’ve made a couple dozen websites, webgames, and other cool products (I’ll talk about them soon!).

I’m an avid skier, hiker, and photographer and have captured the stars and Milky Way, sunsets over mountains, and portraits of people. You can check out my Instagram for more!

I’ve also done rapping, journalism, and dabbled in acting.

What are you working on?

My current project is WeWord, a way for the Internet to crowdsource stories in real-time. Anyone can go onto the website and add a word to any story on it, or create a story of their own that anyone else can add to.

I also help manage Shift Creator Space, a unique place at the University of Michigan where students with passions in creating, from apps to websites to art, come together to work on their own personal projects and help out on everyone else’s throughout the year.

And in the past, I’ve done everything from a failed food delivery startup called RollOut, a half-dozen web games such as a multitasking one (my favorite!), one about surveys, and a cursor puzzle game. I’ve also done, some physics simulations, freelanced websites, and much more.

I also had a chance to build the core venn diagram feature at Productiv, a SaaS management startup over the summer.

You can see the full list at my website.

I also do professional landscape and portrait photography!

What motivated you to work on these projects?

While it is important to listen to your users, I believe that I am the most important user. My projects always are something fun or useful that I want to see in the world, regardless of how useless it is. I’d rather have something that I absolutely loved building receiving a little traction over something that pains me to continue working on.

Ideally, my projects fit the following criteria:

  • i like it
  • it looks clean and professional
  • it has some aspect of originality
  • other people like it (hopefully)

Nothing can perfectly fit the guidelines above, but I try my best.

How have you attracted users?

For my games back in high school, I time posts on smaller, niche subreddits (like /r/webgames), which got me 1,000-5,000 unique users. On top of that, I post on my own personal Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc accounts with nice-looking ads.

Physical business cards and posters are super handy for businesses focused on people I physically interact with (like my high school senior portrait company), usually with links to external social media accounts and landing pages.

For my more recent projects, such as WeWord, I’ve stuck with the social media strategies but have also expanded into other platforms like ProductHunt to get a more outreach.

What do you believe helped bring you to where you are today?

I got introduced to programming through Python in middle school and caught onto making scrappy projects quickly, from square root calculators to a terrible flappy-bird ripoff. After enjoying the experience, I quickly wanted to expand into more areas and set my eyes on Java.

But for the better, I accidentally went through a JavaScript tutorial.

Learning JavaScript and later the rest of web development was actually a perfect progression. I used Codecademy to learn HTML/CSS, JavaScript, and jQuery, and within a couple weeks I was on my way making dozens of messy, slow websites, and later games using these limited tools.

Learning more advanced tools and frameworks actually took multiple years. I learn best by creating projects and exploring new tools at my own pace and applying them as soon as possible.

With React Native, I went through 2-3 tutorials on YouTube on Medium for a couple weeks, but did not consider myself proficient until I was a couple months into making an app. With VueJS, I went through a couple video tutorials before my internship but again did not consider myself proficient until a spent a couple months working with it on a project totally outside of a tutorial.

If you’re interested in learning more, I wrote a blog post about the topic of classes vs. personal projects.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced?

I worked on a failed startup back in freshman year of college. I spent around six months writing 20,000+ lines of code of React Native for a student-focused food delivery app.

Unfortunately, the team broke apart pre-launch and the app never actually got released. All of my work is stuck on a GitHub repository, a landing page, and some demo videos.

But from the project, on top of learning a nearly incomprehensible amount of React Native, I realized how important it was to get something in front of users as quickly as possible. I learned that I lost motivation and patience extremely quickly working single-handedly on a product that was never used in the end with largely unattainable milestones.

After this experience, I worked on projects I could get in front of users quickly and iterate on. For instance, WeWord got released to a small crowd as soon as I got three basic features done – writing words, creating books, and adding users – and I’ve prioritized future changes based on feedback.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Doing something awesome but with autonomy in what I’m doing and how I’m doing it! This might be in the form of being the CEO of a startup (which would be awesome), or even just building something great on my own time. I’m definitely not sure where I want to go yet, but regardless of where I am, I want to be making something that I feel responsible for.

What advice would you give to new makers?

Every single day, I write down 3 good things that happened on a sticky note and put it on a wall, because you can choose to either remember what sucked or what was great. I choose to remember what was awesome about my life. Also fun as hell to look back on!

Also meditation with Headspace changed my life. Do that.

Books:

  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

Podcasts:

  • Reply All by Gimlet

Finally, making projects > doing tutorials >>> classes, but all three aspects are still essential.

Where can we go to learn more?

Hit me up on twitter @finerflame or check out my website noahfiner.com.