Modding Calculators and Ping Pong (Startup Stories 17.04)

 Nick Thomas, SU2 Systems, HF 2017

Nick Thomas, SU2 Systems, HF 2017

My path to programming is not exactly unique. I always had an interest in math, and had planned on becoming a numbers theorist until around sophomore year of high school. I had a love for calculators, and I was actually excited about getting TI-Nspire that was required my freshman year. While in class, you were not allowed to have your phones out, in just about any situation. However, there were many times in which a calculator was allowed to be used.  I had found a loophole in the system. 

 

 Photo of TI-Nspire via Reddit

Photo of TI-Nspire via Reddit

I instantly looked online for games that could be played on my beloved calculator. Unfortunately, I found that the TI-Nspire was very locked down, and you would need to jailbreak your calculator to be able to run programs outside of the extremely basic programming language that they had. 

After furious searching, I found that there was a whole online community devoted to calculator programming, and they were working on a jailbreak for the newest operating system.  I decided to join it, and my love for programming grew from there. I got a Casio Prizm calculator for my birthday the next year (a calculator less locked down, with more possibilities in programming). It had a built-in language on it, which I used to make games during my classes.  The simplicity of the language was a blessing, as it forced me to get creative with what I made.  The processor was also slower than the Nspire, so it forced me to optimize code to prevent the games from running slowly. 

 Photo of Casio Prizm via  scSlick.net

Photo of Casio Prizm via scSlick.net

I do not regret my choice at all, and had a fantastic experience with Hacker Fellows. At the beginning of the training bootcamp in June, I had been told by a company that I would be receiving an offer letter from a company in the next few days. However, the offer did not come.  The Hacker Fellows team worked tirelessly to make sure that I ended up with a company, and I ended up at SU2 Systems.

 Photo of Chris Berger

Photo of Chris Berger

While in the bootcamp, I made a lot of like-minded friends in a very short time, and got along very well with my dorm-mate Chris (working for Nutshell). Along with friends, there were learning and connection overloads in a 5-weeks’ time.

After going through the bootcamp, I realized that web development probably wasn’t for me, or at least my first choice. SU2 ended up being a great fit, as I get to utilize my experience in C++ and SU2 also requires a relatively strong math background.

 SU2's Ping Pong Table

SU2's Ping Pong Table

Also, a ping pong table takes up almost half of the office area, which was a big plus for me. I didn’t originally consider SU2 as Lansing is about an hour and a half drive. Fortunately, I am able to work from home about half of the time, which makes it a lot better. Originally, I struggled a little bit to stay focused while working from home, but after setting up an office area in my room, I am much more productive.

Overall, I am very happy with my decision to join Hacker Fellows, and I cannot thank the Hacker Fellows team enough for working so hard to make sure that I would have a job once I left the training bootcamp. But as I have learned, you don’t ever leave something special behind, as you keep the all the friends and connections that you made along the way.


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Nick Thomas is a 2017 Hacker Fellow who studied Software Engineering at Michigan Technological University. He is currently working with SU2 Systems in Lansing.