With a desire to make an impact and a clear passion for his work, Han Wang ‘22 has worked to create apps that help Cornell students. He believes that coding exists to solve a problem, no matter what it may be.
The most recent problem he’s solved? Overcoming the difficulty of naturally meeting new people in a time where meeting anyone, new or old, is nearly impossible.
As students quickly left campus in spring 2020 and Han watched Cornell slowly empty, he was driven to create an app with Rebecca Fu ‘21 to combat the isolation that came when running into someone and starting a conversation was no longer an option. Their most recent project, Taro Chat, aims to help Cornell students create these newfound connections and has been successful in helping both incoming and returning students set up chats with new friends.
Q: Where did the spark for Taro Chat come from?
When the whole shutdown happened and everyone was going back to their homes, I stayed at Cornell for a solid two months after everything happened. Being on West Campus and feeling that Cornell is completely empty is quite daunting.
The biggest part that I missed was that students couldn’t meet each other. The randomness of hitting someone up wherever you meet people or bumping into them and striking up conversation was just completely gone because of what happened. That, to me, was probably one of the most important parts of Cornell and college in general, and losing that was quite devastating. So Taro began as an idea to solve that and molded into what it is today.
Q: How has this piece changed from your original vision for it?
Taro now is a little different from what I imagined in the beginning. Talking to people and seeing how they interact with the platform is probably what changed our perspective. Before, I thought of Taro as this thing that’s supposed to connect college students on campus together, have Cornell students talk to Cornell students with different interests.
However, I’ve noticed much more recently that people would rather talk to a community that is built around them, whether that be through a club or their graduating class. They care a lot about that, so we’re in the process of pivoting the app to focus more towards groups and organizations.
Here’s an in-app view of Taro Chat. Download the app and try it out yourself!
Q: Who are the biggest supporters and biggest critics of Taro?
Rebecca, who’s worked with me since the beginning of Taro was the best partner I could’ve asked for. There were many instances when I was like “You know what, I don’t think this is worth building or scaling,” and then she talked me through the fact that it is, while showing promising designs that she worked on. Literally there were times when I was like “I’m so tired, I have other stuff to do, I don’t think I could finish this,” and she was like “No, come on, are you kidding me?” I’m really glad I listened to her.
In terms of critics, the biggest critic is probably myself. I’m pretty doubtful of my own work to be completely honest. I’m not sure if something I do is good enough or if it’s solving a problem, and that thought is always tugging on the back of my head. But, it’s always about overcoming that and making sure you believe in yourself.
Q: What have you learned about yourself as a result of being a programmer?
I learned that I’m a pretty boring person! The thing about coding is that it means you’re just sitting in front of a laptop for so many hours, doing nothing but typing into a keyboard. So even now, I find that my day to day is just...wake up, look at my computer, type stuff down, then go to sleep, and repeat for like a month or so...which is, objectively, not the greatest lifestyle, but it’s something I’m okay with now. So I guess that’s something I learned!
Q: Do you want your creative pursuit to become your full-time job? Why or why not?
I mean, yeah. I love what I do. I’m doing it now for my internship, and I do it all the time. I consider myself, quite honestly, to be lucky to have this--because I know that’s not the case with every creative person--that the thing I really like tinkering with, which happens to be creative, is also something that is in demand right now. There’s the boom for tech, and even before I could really grasp that when I was young, I just always gravitated towards it.
Q: How do you overcome when you’re “stuck” on a piece of code?
I love this question because it happens on a daily basis. There’s nothing you really can do. The thing about coding is, if I’m quite honest, it kind of teaches you about perseverance in a way that most people don’t really realize. This will happen to you constantly--you will have things where you have no idea what to do, but it’s kind of your job to figure it out and overcome this challenge of basically not understanding anything. You have to have this attitude of, “If something’s not working and you don’t even know how to do it, you have to believe that you will persevere through it and, eventually, you always do.” I’ve never had a situation where I just absolutely never figured it out. It’ll take days or weeks, but you’ll eventually get through it.
Q: To all the aspiring student creatives reading this, what would you like to say? Do you have any advice or tips to share?
I don’t think I’m a great person to learn from if I’m being completely honest. There’s a lot of other inspiring people at Cornell who are doing a lot of good for the world, especially in these times. I think if there’s anything people want to hear from me, it’s just “Do what you really love.” I can’t emphasize that enough.
People should follow passions. No matter what’s down the line, it’s not something you’ll blame yourself for.
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