How I went from 0 to hacking in SF as a high-schooler


Dec 29, 2022

6 min read

As we journey through life, we are constantly confronted with expectations and societal norms that dictate how we should behave and what we should aspire to be.

For many, this starts early, in middle school or high school, a formative period during which we are expected to not only excel academically, but also conform to certain social standards and "prepare ourselves" for the future. I've decided to take an alternative path.

Hey! I'm Dylan, a high schooler in Houston, Texas, and this is my story.

Structure of this note

  1. TL;DR on who I am, where I’ve been, and what I’m all about

  2. The origin story lol, how all this started

  3. How I found out about buildspace and started to hack

  4. How I got accepted to N&W S1 + application tips

  5. Shipping consistently during N&W & graduating

  6. SF!!

  7. Looking ahead

A short background

I was born in Houston, Texas in 2004 and was obsessed with science & tech right of the bat. I was the kid that would sketch the evolution of the iPhone in my free time.

I actually wanted to be an inventor when I was in elementary school and would tinker with stuff. I wanted to advance technology and civilization.

This was around the same time my family and I moved to Saudi Arabia. Over time, my ambition became more concrete.

I found myself learning to build software so I could make something people want.

How random productivity led to real momentum

I lived in Saudi for over 5 years, but this came to an end after my dad was laid off in June 2020. We moved back to Houston and I ended up being in online school for my entire sophomore year of high school.

There was so much free time to just think.

I began to feel restless and literally tried to figure out the meaning of life.

I may not have figured that out but I did come up with a simple idea: don’t waste time.

I started to fill my day with things that felt productive.

This is what an average school day would look like:

At first glance this may seem like a lot - which it was.

In reality though, this wasn’t pushing me towards any concrete goal. It was more just doing things that made me feel like I was being productive.

However, doing these kinds of things every day did give me something important. Momentum.

Being able to check off these tasks made me more likely to build on those tasks the next day.

Over time I started to divide my time between learning about startups and becoming a better builder.

In the past, this goal had felt like a far-off idea. Gaining momentum by doing a lot each day, helped me start to see it as a reality.

There were a few pivotal moments throughout this year that led to really concrete progress.


Insight #1

If you don’t know the ‘optimal’ path to work towards a certain goal, just start doing things, even if they don’t immediately seem like they would do anything, just do whatever pushes you towards trying something bigger the next day, and you will build your path.

Building to find what’s personally motivating

I discovered buildspace after getting excited by web3 development. I had tried out a few courses on Udemy but I found it difficult to learn to code without having it transfer to a concrete project or build. Also, it was boring af.

buildspace’s learning style was just fun and always centered around building something I actually liked.

You could literally be at novice-level programming knowledge at the beginning and then instantly be building something you never thought you’d be able to make.

Plus I got an NFT at the end of every project — and who doesn’t want an NFT. I jumped into their most popular build, Intro to Solidity: Ship an Ethereum dApp.

It was fun, and I got so excited seeing my name on the web app.

Still, I quickly became frustrated with the fact that I had never learned basic web development. It made it really difficult to customize my app the way I wanted to.

I could have drowned myself in documentation every time I tried to ship a new update to the app myself but I really wanted to know how the fundamentals worked.

I really wanted to be able to customize what I was building so I decided to learn HTML, CSS, JS, and React.

Then I jumped back into buildspace, and it was so much more fun. I built several of the projects that I found interesting and deployed with Vercel for the first time.

Hitting deploy and being able to give anyone a link to see your project was so cool. Now I could customize the builds to my liking and give them a personal touch.

For example, this is the app I made for the build Create and Deploy your first Solana dApp (I love HP lol).

At this point I was starting to feel more confident and had found pretty specific things I was interested in building.


Insight #2

Even if you don’t think it matters to other people, if it truly matters to you, anything you ship counts. It will be respected.

Launching art.sol during N&W

During N&W S1 I built art.sol, an app that lets artists post their work and get tipped in SOL (Solana blockchain cryptocurrency).

It was sort of a middle ground between web2 artists and NFT artists, where they could still monetize their work but without creating NFTs.

I loved the structure of N&W. It was basically this:

It felt like I was actually making progress each week.

Every week I made concrete progress and shared it via a 60-second Loom on twitter and as part of the weekly update.

A lot of unexpected challenges popped up – my app actually broke right before the demo day when I was going to show it off! I worked nonstop to fix it right to the last minute.

During demo day, there were more people coming to my booth than I expected.

I met a lot of cool people that were interested in what I was building—most notably a guy named Richard that was starting a company called Baro Capital.

(Spoiler: Baro Capital and I have teamed up and joined Season 2 of N&W’s)!

In order to graduate from N&W’s you have to ship all your updates. I pulled it off and was given the opportunity to go to Founders, Inc. in San Francisco for three days to hack with other N&W builders and meet the buildspace team.

I pleaded with my parents to let me go and we ended up all going together.


Insight #3

GTFOL. plz.

Hacking in SF

Those three days in SF are probably a top 5 life experience for me.

The vibes of IRL were immaculate and I got to meet the coolest people.

It was my first time being in an environment like this, and I felt like it was where I belonged.

I didn’t reach the goal I had set for art.sol in those three days, but SF was a force multiplier for my growth not only as a builder but as a person in general.

I felt a lot closer to my dream of starting a successful company after going to SF because I saw people that did/are doing this with my own eyes.


Insight #4

Surround yourself with other incredible, like-minded individuals. You'll be surprised how much of an energy boost it is.

What I’m doing now and looking ahead

I loved N&W so much that I convinced the Baro Capital team to join for S2, so now we’re shipping our product as part of the accelerator.

I want to ship as much as I can to maintain momentum and find my killer product.

I’ve been building fun side projects such as productivity machine (new ships soon 👀) and have revamped the landing page for and written their docs.

After I feel satisfied with productivity machine — I have a couple ideas for products that are less localized to a specific vertical that I’m excited to build.

productivity machine 👇 landing page 👇

It’s all just a cycle of building → failing → learning → succeeding → building something more ambitious → failing…

If you’re ever feeling demoralized just remember the concept of momentum and that has made all the difference to me:


Final Insight

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” - Arthur C. Clarke

Thanks to buildspace for bringing us all together.

Thank you, the reader, for taking the time to read this note.

I hope I was able to motivate you and get you thinking more intentionally about your own goals.



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