Chronicles of Summer Startup Accelerator Experience, Insights, and Projects

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Day 1: Programming for Non-Programmers & Fireside Chat

The first day was FILLED with productivity.

I woke up eager and open for class. The commute was a brisk 20 minutes. A mix of walking and short subway ride. The entire weekend I had tried to visit the office only to realize I was going through the wrong entrance. This morning I hedged my bets and walked into the “5th ave” entrance, and I succeeded! Finally the fourth floor. The journey had begun as I took my initial steps into the still being renovated space. While still under construction, the space still had the same vibrancy and character of the other space if you’ve ever been to General Assembly’s 902 address.

Amidst the constructive chaos by Jordan Hepner greeted me. Jordan has facilitated and organized the entire summer program. Finally I could put a face to a name. He was friendly and led me to the room where I met Andrew Byrk and Darren Hakimi. Andrew is a board member of TechatNYU, which is the largest student-run tech organization. Darren is a high-school student, who impressed me with his youth and his questions throughout the day.

By far my most high fidelity relationship so far has been with my new friend Dean Cooney, a student of the University of Chicago. We spoke a little earlier about what to do on the Friday’s we have off. Aside from tech cocktails and free lunch, we thought we scramble together a few meetups and events for all the students to enjoy. So far the list is: IDEO, Frog Design, RG/A, Dumbo in Brooklyn, Creative Morning Breakfast Lecture, Protege Party, Parson New School of Design, Betaworks, and many other tech, design, or startup offices we wouldn’t get a chance to otherwise.

It really is a proud moment to wear the badge as a member and intern of General Assembly. There’s real pride that comes with being a part of such a successful organization and one that really helps the community.


Our teacher Christopher Castiglione, who created the website, thrust us into the world of front-end web development.

First, he told us the most important part of this introductory class was learning how to communicate our idea. How do you boil down your idea into the fewest words possible that give the listener the most resonance. Can they “get it”. He finds that most of the time people have an idea, but when he asks them to explain it, it comes out very unappealing. So the basics of programming for non-programmers was to parse our idea and boil it down to a simple story and value statement.

Second, We began the process of UX Design and the iterative design process by brainstorming current pros and cons of the current General Assembly website. Some comments were that the simplicity made the website very useful, and the color scheme was friendly, and the video really resonated with new viewers. However, many more negatives arose from those who know GA quite well. GA has a lot of content posted online, but there no link to access it from the home page or for any page in the information architecture of the current website. Additionally, Olivia, who has designed websites before suggested using a landing page/portal versus a home page that could be scrolled.

Third, We walked through the basics of programming languages and the dominant advantages and connections of them all. Additionally, Chris led us through the proper vocabulary used by front-end and back-end programmers so that we could better communicate more clearly in the future.

More specifically I learned my first CSS code, which has a lot of {}. At this point we are learning the 20% that makes a lot of the internet including how <h1> tags help Search Engine Optimization and how Google reads your website versus a basic viewer. Also I learned how to edit links which I didn’t know before. 1) How to open in new tab 2) How to edit visually

1) You make a typical link say <a href=”” target=”_blank”> /* target=”_blank” opens the link in a new tab*/

2) Using CSS you type in:

color: #35C0F2;
text-decoration: none;

The color element changes the font color and the text-decoration takes out the underline.


The last two hours were the most fun. We finally got to get our hands dirty with a little basic HTML and CSS code. We were led in baby steps through the entire process. What was great about the teaching pedagogy, is that Chris just wanted us to type code in and play with it. The content he gave us was already there, but along the way he challenged us with mini-exercises to test our organization and competency. /* I also got to clean up my entire desktop thanks to his rant on organization…not to mention writing text like code */

By the end of the day we ended up with a website that looked like this , but it was about the Cookie Monster. We learned a few advanced methods thanks to some prying and good questions as well.

All in all it was a GREAT day of learning. I learned with more clarity in this 4 hour span than I have in  my time at UT Austin.


Taking advantage of the free classes, I attended the Fireside chat with Ed Gilligan, Vice-Chairman of American Express who oversees 85% of all the revenue generated by AmEx. He has also been the lead on many of the partnership initiatives such as the one with Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter, and the creation of Small Business Saturday.

He had tons and tons to say about big business and their steady reinvention over the 162 year history. The focus was also on how big, giant, clunky, slow-moving big businesses have a place in the fast, chaotic startup world where people tend to break things. I want to post the notes, but there’s so much. If you’re interested, please feel free to email me at or if I get enough comments I’ll post them up.

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