Austen Ito (B.S. ICS 2005), discusses his recent software adventures. (Interview from April, 2012)

I hear that you have just moved to Washington, D.C. for an opportunity at Living Social. Tell us about that.

 austenitoI’m currently enrolled in a program called Hungry Academy, http://hungryacademy.com/. It’s a 5 month bootcamp where they teach you Ruby on Rails with the expectation that at the end of the program (assuming you make it through) you will be ready to jump onto the Living Social development team. Hungry Academy was created because recruiters at LivingSocial were having trouble finding college graduates with the skills needed to work on applications in production. The Academy is a proof of concept testing if people can become developers without traditional computer science backgrounds. This is an interesting opportunity because out of the 24 people in the program, 16 qualified themselves as “non-developers”. At the end of this program, I can see a lot of companies moving towards this model.

Before your recent move, you were working at Referentia. Was that a good experience?

Yes! I loved working at Referentia. The people were amazing and the work was exciting. I worked on LiveAction!, http://actionpacked.com/, a network monitoring and configuration tool. It is a Java desktop application with a client-server architecture. I enjoyed working with desktop applications, however I have a passion for web development, which is the reason why I applied to Hungry Academy.

I know you were also involved with the makerspace community in Honolulu. What is that all about?

The idea behind HI Capacity, the Honolulu Makerspace, started at the 2011 Unconferez http://unconferenz.com/. Hackerspaces, synonymous with Makerspaces, are physical places where people with similar interests get together to socialize and be creative. HI Capacity’s goal is to foster Hawaii’s creative community in a member-funded physical location. We envision our community having both technical and non-technical people. We want to be a place where anyone can go and be passionate about anything they want to create. Our current focus is on the technical side of HI Capacity. This has proven to be easier to jumpstart a Makerspace. Our ultimate goal is for our space to support people of all backgrounds. I discovered HI Capacity in March of 2011 at a Git tech talk. I had no idea there was a collection of geeks and nerds starting a tech movement in Hawaii. I was instantly hooked on weekly programming meetups, technical talks, community projects, hardware nights and hackathons. I eventually took a larger role and became a founding member and President of HI Capacity. At the time we didn’t have a dedicated place to meet and in October 2011, we opened an interim Makerspace at The Box Jelly, http://www.theboxjelly.com/. HI Capacity is currently working extremely hard to search for a permanent home.

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How did your experiences in the ICS Department help prepare you for what came after?

Without a doubt, being a part of the Collaborative Software Development Laboratory (CSDL) was an experience that pushed me to be the developer I am today. I experienced real-world application development by working on a Hackystat, a framework analyzing software product and process data. I learned and practiced basic software engineering concepts like version control, unit testing, continuous integration, code reviews, agile programming practices, and bug tracking. I was able to work on a small team, which is the current trend of agile software shops. I also was able to read a lot of great code. Everything I learned at the CSDL and Dr. Philip Johnson’s Software Engineering courses were applied immediately at Referentia.

What advice do you have for current ICS undergraduates?

I have two very simple suggestions for undergraduates.

  1. Be passionate. I believe that you will have an extremely hard time being successful if you don’t love, love, love developing software. If you aren’t pursuing development internships, writing a lot of code, reading even more code, reading hacker news everyday, constantly checking out Github, you’re doing it wrong. If you want to be great, you need to immerse yourself. I’m not claiming to be great, but these are the steps that others have taken to greatness. I’m merely copying them. Don’t worry if that sounds overwhelming. There is a reason why software developers have the #1 occupation in the country. It’s so fun it’s mind blowing.
  2. Be social. Get out of your comfy little box. If you intend to code by yourself, you’re limiting how much you can improve. Get out into the tech community. HI Capacity is a great place to meet other developers as is aloha.rb. Participate in coding activities at your school. If they don’t exist, start one. Being around other developers is addicting. They push you to become better and you will do the same. It’s hard to count how many times another developer has shown me something that made me go “woah”.

Anything else fun or unusual happening in your life these days?

I just visited NYC and I’m going skydiving in May! Super excited 😀