In the wild: Jocelyn Leavitt + Samantha John
Jocelyn Leavitt + Samantha John are imaginative innovators. Co-Founders of the app Hopscotch, they give kids the opportunity to learn coding for free. Venture into the wild with Jocelyn and her Nimbus Large in Chai and Samantha and her Studio 2 Large in Gunmetal Hardware.
How did you both get into tech?
(Samantha) I never thought I would get into programming--I had the sense that computers were for boys and geeks, certainly not for me! During my last year of college, I found myself working on a website for a student group, and I was hooked. It was empowering to make something and put it out in the world for other people to use. I realized that coding was a super creative activity, and I've been spreading the word ever since.
(Jocelyn) I got into tech initially because I saw a niche in the market for a product I wish existed around travel. That idea didn't go anywhere but I developed a deep interest in technology and a love especially for NYC's burgeoning tech community.
Tell us a bit about Hopscotch Technologies…
(Samantha) Hopscotch is a mobile app and community for children to learn to code and build their own apps. Our mission is to create a programming environment that lets kids explore powerful ideas while making real software. Over 20 million children have downloaded our apps, and they've created over 33 million projects.
How it works: Hopscotch a visual coding language that we built ourselves. That way, kids learn the concepts of coding and can program without getting bogged down in typing and syntax. Once they're done programming, they can share their project for their friends and family to play. (Jocelyn) We wanted to make programming accessible to kids. With Hopscotch, you don't need to know how to type a bunch of arcane symbols with a keyboard on a black computer terminal screen. It's all drag and drop shapes that makes working with the most powerful ideas in programming (variables, abstraction, etc) really fun for kids. Kids have invented thousands of amazing games, played by other kids! We're introducing a feature that will now allow kids to actually make money off the games they build.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
(Samantha) It's definitely seeing the ingenuity of the kids who use the platform. It's so inspiring when we add a new feature, or even update the documentation and immediately see an explosion of creativity on the Hopscotch community. (Jocelyn) It's truly inspiring to be working on a tool and getting to see the amazing things that other people create with it. Kids really fall in love with the ability to make their own ideas come to life, and we get a lot of fan mail about how we have changed their lives.
What’s the best advice you've ever received?
(Samantha) Planning and doing require different types of brains. Spend time just planning before diving into execution, and your life will be better. (Jocelyn) Know thyself. Who you are changes based on how you grow, and how your context/environment grows. Your path will be different than everyone else's, because you are different, and the world is different too. Get good at adapting!
What is your biggest fear and how do you overcome it?
(Samantha) I'm a control freak, which I think is a good thing for a founder. The downside is that I find it really hard to let go of my to-do list for any amount of time. I haven't completely overcome this, but yoga helps--the structure of a class and a teacher helps me relax and be in the moment. (Jocelyn) Oh wow. I think my biggest fears right now are existential ones about climate change and also the polarization of our country. I am listening to a good podcast right now, called How to Save A Planet, where they talk about solutions people are trying. And I also joined a group called Braver Angels, which basically tries to use a marriage therapy approach to getting Democrats and Republicans to see humanity in each other.
What is one piece of advice you would both tell your younger selves?
(Samantha) Nobody knows your business as well as you do. We've spent a lot of time and money hiring "professionals" who we thought knew better than us. But they would often do things wrong because they didn't understand Hopscotch, and we'd end up redoing their work ourselves.
(Jocelyn) Invest in the stock market with a roboadvisor and put in money every month, even and especially when the market is down.
5 things that are always in your bag?
(Samantha) Citi Bike key: I have a bike of my own, but there's incredible freedom in picking up a bike and not having to worry about getting it home. Lumos bike helmet: Safety first! The best thing is it has lights, so I am visible even in the dark Airpods: I realize this contradicts my safety-first approach, but I love listening to audiobooks while I ride. Plus, I contain multitudes. A notebook: In case I need to write stuff down or just doodle. I love that Muji lets you stamp random stuff all over the cover. The Tao Te Ching: I keep a book in my bag in case I have a spare moment. You can open up the Tao to any page and are pretty much guaranteed some wisdom. (Jocelyn) Besides the obvious (phone, wallet, keys, face mask etc)-- I have a little 16 oz plastic nalgene mini water bottle that I absolutely adore. It's lightweight but durable and perfect for schlepping in a bag. I usually leave it empty so it's not too heavy. A lot of times you just want a sip of water but it feels so bad to throw away a cup after just a single use. I also carry around a titanium spork--pretty dorky I know but it makes me feel less bad about using disposable utensils when I get takeout.
What podcast are you listening to/book are you reading at the moment?
(Samantha) I've recently been listening to a podcast called Feeling Asian. It's hosted by two Asian comedians, and it's very raw and honest. I'm half Chinese, so I identify with the struggle to express your emotions when coming from a very stoic culture. (Jocelyn) How to Save a Planet. It's by a former This American Life producer and a scientist, and it's very nicely produced and good to listen to. I'm reading an excellent book called Thinking In Systems, by Donella Meadows. Just a different framework for understanding the world.
How do you unwind?
(Samantha) I've been drawing a lot lately. A colleague and I have a challenge where each post a drawing to our company slack channel every day, which keeps me motivated. I love that I get to use a completely different, non-verbal part of my brain. (Jocelyn) I read cookbooks. Isn't that crazy?
What’s something every tech-minded woman needs out of a handbag?
(Samantha) A safely padded laptop sleeve. (Jocelyn) You want something that's lightweight but durable and looks good--and my gorgeous Caraa nimbus tote totally does the job!
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