James Wu

UCLA CS, Facebook SWE, SF Gentrifier

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To Boldly Fuck

Let me tell you a story.

In the 1967 movie The Graduate, a man tells our main character “one word: plastics.” In the year of our lord two thousand and fourteen, that word is replaced by two: “growth hack.”

In addition to being the emptiest buzzwords since “the cloud,” growth hacking refers—for the uninitiated—to helping your startup gain popularity through whatever methods necessary.

I want to tell you about a man. Well, “man” is probably a bit strong of a word. This man created a website, a startup. Popular these days. And he wanted to help it grow.

Growth hacking is not wrong, of course. Everyone does it, much like eating and showering (I hope).

What is wrong is how he chose to approach it. Take Exhibit A:Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 1.29.09 PM.png

Now this man seems like a trustworthy, earnest bastion of truth bringing the heart-throbbing news of an acquisition—his...

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Continental Swift

How the latest Programming Language is going to change the world, cure cancer, and maybe look good on your resume.

1 year ago I would have never guessed that I could get so excited about a new programming language

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Swift, Apple’s latest Programming Language. But what really is Swift? Is it webscale? Is it fun? Is it worth 20% equity? To all these questions I answer with a resounding…maybe!

A brief history of programming languages

Apple started out as a fruit, but rebranded itself as a popular software company somewhere around the late 1970s. During this time, it began to popularize Objective-C, a Programming Language used on iPhones to this day.

While Objective-C is a good Programming Language (P.L.), it is by no means the first. As programmers, we build off the work of those before us, and Objective-C is no different. Precursors...

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Boresquare

I like Foursquare. No, really. I think it’s a legitimately good product—well, used to be, anyway. But a week or two ago they made the momentous decision to split their app in two, which I’d be fine with if it retained functionality. Instead, they played into the unsettling trend of discarding old users in favor of the new.

Gamifying going out

What made Foursquare so addicting was the gamification of “checking in” to places. They did an uncannily good job of it too. New users were given a ton of otherwise worthless points, points that became harder and harder to accumulate as time went on.

The first checkin is always the hardest.

It’s a gateway drug, if you will. You start off earning tens of points, plenty of badges, but then you realize checking in at the same places isn’t rewarded nearly as much as going to new places. Sure, there are prizes for...

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Turning hackathon ideas into startups

It’s been a few weeks since my team and I attended LA Hacks, the Hackathon of the West Coast. This is the story of how we turned a 24 hour project into the Next Big Thing.

Deciding to attend

I’ll be honest—it was a difficult decision. Should I really walk all the way to Pauley from my apartment? and other such questions filled my head. Eventually, three friends and I decided to bite the bullet and go for it, even if we wouldn’t get any travel reimbursement (like, seriously?). We were set on building the Next Big Thing without any idea of what that would be, but other than that, the only thing that mattered to us was having fun and getting bought out by a larger company eventually as we hacked away.

The team consisted of four CS students from UCLA: Calvin Chan, Daniel Duan, Aman Agarwal, and myself. Little did we know that after this weekend, the four of us would...

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LA Hacks: Too Big to (Not) Fail?

This post is best enjoyed while listening to the LA Hacks OST (feat. LA Hacks) by LA Hacks

I’ll be honest: I didn’t expect much out of LA Hacks. The period leading up to the event made it seem like it was floating on a bubble of pure hype, a bubble that would be sure to burst, much like the Bitcoin one.

I was wrong.

That is, of course, not to say the event was perfect—far from it. But it was probably as good as it could have been.

Economies of #webscale

LA Hacks had been held before, but with far fewer attendees than the over 1000 people who showed up at Pauley Pavilion over the weekend. And regrettably, it failed to scale. A bit ironic for an event so focused on startups and the like.

As any seasoned hackathon attendee will tell you, internet is a huge issue at hackathons. So too was it for LA Hacks. Turns out, a bunch of computer science nerds gathering in one room are...

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On the Commercialization of Hackathons

I remember my first hackathon like it was yesterday. Roughly ten people, plus organizers and mentors, crammed in a single room of UCLA’s Boelter Hall. Fueled by pizza, coffee, and In-N-Out, the two teams (there were too few people to form any more) hammered out some of the worst code that has ever had the misfortune to grace the earth.

But hey, it worked.

As time went on, the hackathons I attended grew increasingly extravagant. Sponsorship went from a few pieces of swag distributed at the event’s conclusion to all-out massive gatherings of tech companies, each trying to get hackers to use their respective APIs. So too did the names of those companies grow more prominent: Riot, Venmo, Bloomberg, Facebook.

PennApps was an incomprehensibly massive affair compared to SS12 so long ago, with more than a hundred times the number of attendees.

Hackathons grew, and so too did...

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PennApps: a postmortem

Hackathons have always been somewhat of an interesting thing for me. I willingly deprive myself of sleep for anytime between twelve to forty-eight hours to ship second-rate code. They’re figurative roller coasters of emotions, as the saying goes—from the initial excitement, to the long slog of misery through hour twenty, to the eventual relief upon its completion. On the surface, it sounds like I’m crazy for going to these things. And in truth, maybe I am, but so too are all the other similar-minded hackers at each successive hackathon I attend.

Before I discuss PennApps, I should first touch upon an entirely different event: LA Hacks. An up-and-coming hackathon on the other side of the United States, LA Hacks strives to be the Next Big Thing, attracting hackers from all over the west coast to make apps with real wow factor and meet recruiters. Leaving aside the logistics of the...

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