Know This Nerd? Meet Aaron Free

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Aaron Free is a freelance mobile app developer on the market in Minnesota.

What initially sparked your interest in technology?

I’ve always been interested in the creative potential of technology. With software, there is almost no limit to what you can make. When I was a kid, I would play a lot of video games and be amazed at the digital worlds that game developers could create. Then when I was in high school I got my first computer of my very own, a Macbook, I started making electronic music in Ableton Live.

When I started thinking about the near infinite sonic possibilities that a computer is capable of vs. traditional, physical instruments, I started to get more interested in building my own software and becoming a programmer.

What was the first programming language you learned?

Java. I started programming in my first Computer Science course at the University of Minnesota around 4 1/2 years ago.

What do you do now?

I’m a little all over the map, but lately I have been doing iOS application development with Swift, and Python for backend work when I need to. I do other frontend work in HTML/CSS/Javascript occasionally too with Bootstrap or Polymer.

How did you develop the skillsets to get to where you are today?

I built my skillset through a combination of my Computer Science coursework as well as a lot of out of class exploration. I learned the basics like algorithms and data structures in my classes and I took quite a few courses on UI/UX design as well. Outside of my coursework, I taught myself Python in order to build natural language processing scripts for a research lab I worked in. I also taught myself how to do iOS development by practicing with a few books and online lectures. I really love learning new skills so I try to always stay fresh by trying new languages and tools.

What tools do you use on a daily basis?

I use Atom, Xcode, Bash, and Git.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love seeing the end result of a project. Programming work is kind of a never ending challenge, but once something is finished, I usually feel incredibly proud of what I have accomplished.

What is your biggest programming pet peeve?

When code isn’t well documented. Having code that is easy for others to understand as well as easy to come back to is super important. It can be so easy to waste time getting lost in a code base if it isn’t documented properly.

Any advice for people considering a career in programming?

I think it’s a great career path. It is a really exciting time to start programming too! There are a lot of great resources out there now via the internet, even more than when I started programming. Sites like Codecademy, Coursera, or even YouTube videos can be really informative and are a great starting point. So I’d definitely recommend it.

Where do you think technology will be as it relates to you in five years?

I think it is pretty hard to say with how quickly everything moves, but I’m very interested in seeing where both alternate reality and machine learning go as disruptive technologies. In my spare time I’ve been playing around with TensorFlow, and I think the pace that everything is moving now in the artificial intelligence space is fascinating. Things are moving from machine learning research papers to usable software at a really fast pace right now. With alternate reality, I think programmers will have opportunities to design computing experiences and user interfaces that we can barely imagine right now. I’m really excited to work in either of these emerging areas in the near future.

What was the coolest, but most useless bit of programming you’ve seen lately?

I really like this project called neokanji which is a Twitter bot built using TensorFlow that generates fake Chinese characters by looking at a database of real Chinese characters. There are some really cool ones and really funny ones.

What are some things you’re into outside of tech?

I like to create vector art in Sketch for my Instagram, as well as listen to music and good podcasts. I also like going to see films at the St Anthony Main Theatre, and going to events at the Walker Art Center when I can.

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