While working at Newzwag, we created an iPhone app that helped you learn what was happening in the world through full-screen photo sets that editors culled from the news wire.
I built it along with Daniel Lockhart. Neither of us had ever written in Objective-C, or built an iPhone app before. We taught ourselves and released the app to the iTunes store within 4 months of starting to learn iOS development.
We also built a full backend for our editorial staff to create and publish photo sets in Rails.
Time to take the way back machine to 1997: the first website I built, at age 13. I created it with a friend of mine, Levi Reddig, as part of an international educational website competition called ThinkQuest.
As part of the contest we had to create a site that taught kids about a topic of our choice - at that point we were shooting off model rockets, so naturally we chose space exploration.
When we started we didn't know any HTML. We did our own research and writing, finding images and sound clips, and included some fancy animated gifs for flair (which have ironically made a comeback!).
This was what got me hooked on web development, and opened my eyes to the possibility of the internet as a source of knowledge, as a vehicle for education by sharing stories and insights not covered in traditional media.
I went on to compete in this challenge twice more, working with my close friend Max Masnick:
1999: A Mystery of Space: STARS Max and I created an interactive learning experience for teachers to use when educating kids about space and stars. We taught ourselves Flash and built interactive animations, wrote content, and designed lesson plans.
I worked again with my friend Max Masnick, and we did our own research, including video interviews with landowners and loggers to capture and convey their experiences. We also built community components (hacking CGI/Perl scripts), to encourage online discussion, since fire is such a personal topic among many people who live in the mountains.
We tried to work remotely with a Bolivian teammate, but a few months into the project he just disappeared. Oh early internet collaboration...
In parallel, I also designed my own scientific research project that year to test my hypothesis that fire spread at different rates among different species of conifer trees. I collected samples and created an apparatus to test the flash point across species. I presented my research, Flammability of the Needles and Scales of Seven Species of Western Montana Conifers, which proved my original hypothesis with statistically significant results. I presented at regional and state fairs, and won an invitation to the Intel ISEF science fair. There I placed 2nd in Botany and garnered a US Army award (for achievement in the field of excellence :p), which I thought was pretty awesome for completely self-designed and self-led research.