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My Life So Far: Tobias “HTML” Shapinsky


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BY RACHEL PAGE, FEATURES EDITOR

*This article appeared in the February edition of the print issue 

Most Wilson students spent their winter breaks catching up with family or enjoying the cold weather, but junior Tobias Shapinsky had greater goals in mind: a worldwide coding contest hosted by Google.

Shapinsky was one of the 36 finalists in this year’s Google Code-in, an annual contest in which students between the ages of 13 and 17 compete against each other to complete tasks for participating organizations. Contestants choose between 12 open-source organizations, including Wikimedia and Apertium, and are then assigned specific jobs that can range from designing a logo to writing a blog post. The students who complete the most tasks within the seven-week period win the competition.

Shapinsky chose to work for Copyleft Games, a company which supports and promotes entertainment software products. Throughout the course of the contest, he hosted Google Hangouts, wrote code on the company’s game engine, and designed logos. At the end of the seven weeks, Shapinsky had completed a total of 13 tasks, beating out the vast majority of the 668 participants in the contest.

As one of the five finalists named for Copyleft Games, Shapinsky received a certificate and a Google Code-in sweatshirt. The grand prize winners for each organization won a trip to Google’s California headquarters and the chance to talk to Google engineers and company mentors.tobias.web

Coding has been one of Shapinsky’s hobbies for a long time: he first wrote a program at the age of nine after learning the basics from an older cousin. “In middle school I would  write basic programs to do things like the quadratic formula for me,” he says. At Wilson, he “fulfilled the role of tech support” by fixing teachers’ computers when they were not  operating correctly. But this was his first year participating in the Google Code-in.

Despite the time-consuming nature of many coding projects– he spent between three to five hours on each individual task in the contest – Shapinsky still finds the time to pursue other interests. He is the lead programmer, driver, and co-captain of the Wilson Robotics team, was part of the cast of this year’s fall musical, and plays on Wilson’s ultimate frisbee team.

The success of the Internet and organizations like Google in the past few decades means that there are a growing number of resources available for students who are interested in learning how to code.

“Mr. Jacoby’s AP Computer Science class is great, and it gets better every year,” Shapinsky says. Websites like Khan Academy, code.org, and Codecademy also offer free lessons on beginning coding geared towards high school students.

The most important thing an aspiring coder can do, says Shapinsky, is to learn how to use Google. “I know it may sound silly, but knowing how to Google problems that you are getting when you start coding can alleviate a lot of frustration.”

Shapinsky sees coding as a real career possibility in his future. “I wouldn’t want to work for Facebook or any of those social media companies,” he says. “I’d much rather be working on code for spacecraft and robots.”

Though he may be just a junior in high school, Shapinsky is already shooting for the stars.

PHOTO BY LUC NIKIEMA

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My Life So Far: Tobias “HTML” Shapinsky