In January of 2020, Hello World was nothing more than stickie notes and whiteboard doodles.
It started as a question: How can we discover and develop overlooked talent in teens around the world? Soon, that question became an idea: a digital platform where teens could find opportunities by sharing their talents and stories in a portfolio of sorts. Eventually, that idea became an app: Hello World.
Over the past year, our small, mighty, (and growing!) engineering team has moved mountains to get our app off the ground. Given some of the unique goals we set out to accomplish, our engineers have taken a rather nontraditional approach. That approach has had great success thus far: as of today, more than 65,000 people in over 160 countries have logged onto Hello World and completed challenges.
Here’s how we make it happen.
Hello World aims to identify and develop talent all around the world that otherwise wouldn’t be found. So our app doesn’t just have to work — it has to work everywhere, on every device.
We build where connections are unreliable.
Hello World exists to reduce the barriers that keep teens from living up to their potential. For about half of the world, one of those barriers is undependable and expensive internet access.
We can’t give every teen a high-quality internet connection, but we can build our app to be as reliable as possible in unreliable contexts. One of our mantras is that anything lost in an error should be recoverable and resumable. In other words, we engineer the app so that when teens do experience connectivity issues — in the middle of uploading a video, for example — they can pick up right where they left off.
We build where data is expensive.
Building a resilient, data-efficient app is especially important for teens on metered internet connections. When data is limited or expensive, uploading a video is no small investment. If the video is lost while uploading, teens who have to pay per Megabyte may not be able to start over from scratch. So we do everything possible to minimize data loss in the event of errors and dropped requests.
We built a tool called Clutzy Monkey (a take on Netflix’s Chaos Monkey), which we use during testing to hold ourselves accountable to this goal. Clutzy Monkey randomly drops requests and abandons data uploads, which helps us empathize with (and build for) teens who access Hello World from a poor connection.
Our app also must work on the lowest-cost devices on the market, which impacts many of our engineering decisions. On older and cheaper phones, a single animation could be the difference between an app working and crashing when opened. So, we often make intentional design trade-offs to ensure the app runs smoothly and quickly on all types of phones, not just the latest iPhone. Of course, security and privacy are major exceptions where we never make trade-offs.
We move quickly with a small team. Our engineering crew consists of two people who split their time between design, engineering, and strategic planning. So, we’ve developed a streamlined process that allows us to release updates every week.
Our engineers have high autonomy.
Normally, when a product manager wants to develop a new feature or improve functionality of an existing one, they’ll work with a product designer to create a design spec. Then, the spec is passed to an engineer, who codes the prescribed solution.
At Hello World, engineers are empowered to oversee this process from end to end. Shyan, our senior software engineer, might spend the morning on design, whether that’s fixing a bug, building push notifications into the app, or developing some other feature. That very afternoon, he might dive straight into React to start coding it into a reality.
Whenever possible, we build internal tools with Retool to minimize the time spent on repetitive busywork and free up the engineering team to focus on building a better experience for the teens who use Hello World.
We trust one another.
Before releasing an update, every member of the Hello World team fires up a test version of the app and crawls around, looking for anything that can go wrong. It’s a great opportunity for all of us to catch bugs, become more familiar with the app, and bond as a remote team.
The goal isn’t perfection. Quite frankly, it can’t be with the size of our team and the scope of our work. We’ve done our best to adopt a growth mindset, avoid pointing fingers, and keep an unwavering focus on building a slightly better app, one week at a time. The progress we’ve made with this approach is significant. The week we launched, 25% of support queries were related to video issues within the app. Now, just a few months later, that number is less than 1%.
At the end of the day, what fuels us is knowing that this app enables kids around the world to find opportunities that could change their lives.
Our target audience is teens full of potential, enthusiasm, and nerves. During this period in their lives, they are trying to decide what to do with their lives and searching for opportunities to become the best versions of themselves.
The way I see it, our app is like a door to those opportunities. If it’s heavy and clunky, kids won’t be motivated to open the door and access those opportunities. The (incredibly important) job of our engineering team is to make that door easier to open, bit by bit. So long as we’re doing that, we’re heading in the right direction.
We are currently looking to add another talented software engineer to our crew. If you’re interested in building a platform to discover and develop overlooked talent, please check out our open position.
And if you are not an engineer but share in our mission, please, say hello! We're always eager to connect with individuals and organizations that can share ideas and opportunities to unlock potential in more teens.