• An Interview with Jay Henderson: Product Prototyping on Tessel

    Monday, February 23, 2015

    2/23/15– Kelsey Breseman

    Jay Henderson spills over with excitement, ideas, and passion. He’s building a code school and a hardware startup both from the ground up right now, trying to improve drought conditions in north Texas, working to bring together his community, and working to teach himself ever more about technology and programming.

    Just home from his day job, Jay sat on the couch to Skype me, all smiles and enthusiasm. His girlfriend’s dog, Dylan, jumped up more than once to try to join the call.

    Kelsey: What are the main things you’re working on right now?

    Jay: The main thing that I’m working on right now is a water barrel app. It was part of the North Texas Apps Challenge. During the summer months, there’s water restrictions in Dallas County. We wanted to create a rain barrel app that tracked how much water you got from your roof, and then how much water you started to dispense on your yard.

    The other thing I’m working on is, I’m trying to start a learning lab that teaches people how to do software, and then eventually, blend that into hardware.

    Kelsey: Can you tell me more about your water barrel app?

    Jay: We met with an environmentalist at the University of North Texas, and he told us about how he made these products for people who wanted them in their home. He said, if there was a way to calculate how much water they’re using, and have an app that displaces the water out as they use it, that would be cool. So we made Barrl.

    I went on Adafruit and bought a liquid flow meter, a soil / moisture temperature sensor, and a brass solenoid valve, which we plan to use with to tell us how much water is going into the barrel.

    We’re trying to work on that as our first product as a startup, as Intelliflux Labs. We’re hoping to bootstrap it. That’s why we love Tessel, because I have a frontend development background, so the JavaScript makes it quite easy for me.

    Kelsey: You said you have a frontend development background?

    Jay: My background is in front-end: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, user interface; user experience is my forte. In the last year, I have really immersed myself in full-stack development. Experimenting with that has been fun.

    The reason why I want to learn as much as I can is so that I can teach other people who are unaware of what’s going on with JavaScript, and see what they can make it do with physical computing.

    Kelsey: Can you tell me more about your learning lab plans?

    Jay: About three years ago, I was going to school and working at the Apple store, but courses became really expensive. I couldn’t go to school anymore, and then I lost my job. But then I started to teach myself during my unemployment. I created a Personal Learning Environment, a PLE, started navigating content, learning things that I was personally interested in for programming, and started to get an understanding.

    I’d started to see different code schools pop up, and I decided to have a trial run of a code school here.

    Eight people paid for it, and then we got ten scholarships from a company. It was really exciting meeting the different personalities. I had a gentleman who was developing in C#, who wanted to learn more about HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I had a school teacher who knew nothing about programming or anything like that.

    I started the course with an introduction to PLEs; I asked each person, what do you want to build? What is it you’re passionate about every day? Your learning is going to grow based on your personal learning environment. I’m teaching you how to go out and find these tools, but in the end it’s going to be up to you. When you’re faced with a problem, you’ll need to reach out to others in the community to get answers.

    One gentleman was doing graphic design, and he loved the job, but it was so demanding, and he wasn’t getting a lot of compensation for the work he was doing. During the course, I had a speaker series where I had professionals come up. They spent most of their time answering questions and engaging with the students. One speaker came in and talked about the Myo, different human interactions that are coming out, and that really engaged him [the graphic designer]. He started prototyping UI with some of his graphic UI knowledge, and he just landed a job at the Dallas Morning newspaper here just from interacting with the course.

    I helped teach a man who was homeless, in the course. He took it on quite well, and now he’s working in a coworking space, and developing clients with a unique support system.

    The testimonials and success stories are starting to come out, and we only did just a trial course.

    Kelsey: That’s amazing. What are you planning to do differently with your next course?

    Jay: I think I condensed too much into five weeks. We covered a lot of UI and frontend, but I didn’t go into detail with programming logic. I think that the concept of doing something physical for that will be easier to grasp, because you’re dealing with physical components. You can actually see physical objects come to life coding physical elements, such as, if this is true, then have a led blink.

    I’m hoping to do more– from surveying students from the course, participants were more on the marketing side, more graphic artists and designers, and I’m starting to brainstorm about how I can help bridge the visual with the programming.

    Kelsey: Are you planning to use the Tessel for that?

    Jay: One of the things that I want to do with Tessel is to take two or three projects from the projects board and teach that to the class in workshops. Once they get a foundation with JavaScript, introduce them to the things that they can do outside of JavaScript. In which we’ll open up the possibility of creating products.

    [Tessel] is actually making it a whole lot easier for software developers to create real products with only a little bit of knowledge of hardware. That’s one thing that I’m trying to do, is give frontend developers and software developers a chance to interface with hardware.

    After you teach the foundational tools and introduce the projects, you can expand your creativity and your imagination. I’m excited to teach people that you can start making your own products and start making a profit from just an idea.

    #jay henderson #kelsey breseman #interview #tessel #technical machine #code school #barrl #education

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