Reach for the Stars

An astronomy major pivots to coding. The results are stellar.

Kuixi Song didn’t start coding until he was in college, but the 22-year-old student at China’s Nanjing University already has four apps to his name.

He created a Japanese workbook while learning the language, a to-do list, and a basic utility to let students log in to his school’s Wi-Fi network with a single tap; plus, to mark his first year as an astronomy major, he built an app to display NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day.

A singular purpose has driven his relatively short career: “I want to make life easier for people,” he says. “That’s why all these apps exist, not just mine.”

We spoke to Song about getting up to speed in such a short time, and the most important strategy for first-time developers.

APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day) presents a stellar selection of NASA images.

What got you into coding?
In my first year of college, I was studying astronomy and we had to take a basic programming course. You could type words and it would have some result—at first it was patterns or images, but later on you could build your own software or website. It gave me a sense of accomplishment.

What has been most challenging for you?
When I transferred to the software department, all of the other students already had a year of training. It’s taken me longer to learn the elements, like data structures or basic theorems. But I just read more books.

I want to make life easier for people. That’s why all these apps exist, not just mine.

What advice do you have for students who are just getting into coding?
Figure out what you are most interested in. I’m not very interested in web development—I do it because some courses require it. But if you really like web development, building a website is very cool. And don’t limit yourself to one area. You might find something you are even more interested in.

What do you find most rewarding?
I started iOS development a half year after I transferred majors. At first my apps were very simple, with only a few functions. But some users gave me feedback about what they wanted, and after I made those improvements it was better. If you listen to suggestions, you’ll have loyal users who support you. Even when you’re depressed, they’ll say, “Come on, it’s very good! We’re waiting for new features!” There are people relying on you.

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