Joshua Tabakhoff

Waking up as a student maker

2020-01-13 – 7 minutes

I’m an 19-year-old guy with 10 years of programming experience and 5 years of project management. When I talk to people about my experience and how I’ve come here, they often feel surprised. Sounds crazy, right? I know you may be able to relate to this as well because we all share a different path but our uniqueness gathers us.

We say everybody’s unique and to be truly unique you have to be different. Be, Think, Handle differently. How? You simply need to find yourself, don’t force it, it’s gonna come with your different actions and experiences. Do you feel like you’re thinking as <Insert name>’s PoV? This is the way to build your unique and global vision over a problem.

Back to my past: I’ve grown mainly in the countryside and who says countryside says gap between the latest news and current life. Let’s say I’ve lived in a big city before but I was really really young so it doesn’t count. My mother taught us how to use computers because she knew it was going to be mainstream, nothing too complicated: only how it works like moving a mouse, opening a text document… What almost everybody should master today. She always taught us the Internet is not the kindest place to be but she never acted like it was the worst thing the world invented and where people reveal their darkest side. She taught us it was an awesome tool that could lead to dramatic events.

Moving to the event I want to share: back in school at 4th grade, other children knew I was playing with computers, and as they don’t know how it works and what it is, plus I was starting to program, they thought I was a black-hat hacker doing bad things online. Once, a so-called friend of mine told the school principal that I tried to hack their email address (remember this anecdote from October’s post?). This was the first time I understood I was different and that people fear difference. That’s also the first time I understood people can be harsh.

Fast forward to the totally opposite event of my life where you’ll see how the Internet is powerful: back in 2011-2012, I joined a forum of game makers where I met Samuel, long-time friend now. He was making a game that I found really awesome and then we talked in 1:1 chat. We both discovered we were the same age, what a coincidence! Since then, we played together, we learned together, we built things together. In short, we’ve grown together by sharing our different experience.

Now what?

I want to show to the youngest one that being and feeling different is the best strength you can have early on. I know how difficult it is to not be like others in the playground, that doesn’t mean you’re sad, unassociable or anything. You’re just too early in the process. Look, I’m on Twitter since 2011 (yes, I shouldn’t say this but let’s say I wanted to be a youtuber during a part of my life and well let’s forget this). Back then it was not the place we know today with memes and anything: it was really really professional. I was like a boat sailing on the sea with fog everywhere going to the closest island. It’s not being lost, it’s feeling like you’re the only one being like this.

Hopefully, 3-4 years ago I discovered I was not alone. In fact, we all are not alone. I discovered the maker community: Product Hunt, Makerlog, Telegram & Twitter groups… And inside this big community, there is the student makers. It’s like finding your tribe, all over the world! What’s wonderful in this community is that we don’t judge the other, quite the opposite: we all help and support each other. You can finally show this part you had to hide because people around you used to not understand. You can finally meet awesome people that will be there when you need them.

Also, I’m sure in your life you faced people yelling “you’re too young to understand, to do this, to have the gut to handle everything”. I met them, you may have encountered them.

Being different and building your uniqueness early on

This is the part I dedicated to young people that has the ambition to build the next unicorn. This is a list I made for you, with the lessons I learned from my experience.

Dream big, keep being enthusiast — The bigger you dream, the more you’ll want to have success. Define what success means to you and don’t let other people's noise take over you. Is it money, acknowledgement, family, happiness, doing what you love? Find your macro goal, your life dream and then find how to get there and climb the steps?

Be realistic with your expectations — It takes a lot of time to be the next Steve Jobs, you can’t be there in two weeks. Just like sports, it takes some time before being world-known. Keep your enthusiast to consume it bit by bit and take shots of it when hitting launch day and small success to never run out of it. Also, it’s fine to feel the project you’re working on doesn’t make sense anymore. Just don’t create a vicious circle. Share your achievements every time.

Never drop — You’ll be disappointed, something being too difficult, something not turning well, feeling anxious and ragged… It’s fine to take breaks, it can be days, weeks or months long. It doesn’t matter how long it is as long as you take care of your health and well-being. Don’t be broke or at least to stay in that zone. My advice here is to move to something else when you’re running out of motivation: learn a new thing that is far from your current area, this is good for you and your brain as you keep it learning new things.

Entrepreneur? Learn to be independent — Learn. Learn to code or no-code (coding may sound hard but as a student, it won’t cost you a penny to host it while no-code can rapidly be expensive), learn design (UI/UX), learn communication and marketing (master social medias for instance). Learn to write, it will always be a skill that matters in every area. Learn to be accountable, if it goes wrong you are the only one in charge of it. Don’t be afraid, most people are kind when it comes to makers. As I said, nowadays most things can be done for free if you do some research, don’t spend money when it’s not needed.

Meet people — Being alone doesn’t make sense in a world where we now are all connected. Send emails, DMs, mentions, call… You can’t be auto-sufficient, at some point you need other people’s insights to move forward. You may be shy, so you have two choices from now: find someone that will unlock you or find the momentum you say fuck-it-i’ve-nothing-to-lose. It can IVL reach or IRL even if IRL is much harder, it can bring much more value. Take the leverage of virtual to reach to everybody around the world. Be kind, don’t be an asshole and ask for feedback and meaningful contact, not unilateral things.

Build your personal brand — I’ve learned this only lately but it will be a powerful tool for you so that when you multiply projects people will then think “Oh it’s from X, I remember he/she did this and that and once I talked with him/her”. It doesn’t have to be too complicated: just set up a website, an almost-identical profile on every platform you’re on and you’re ready to go.

It’s never too late — I’ve heard people telling me “it was easier back then when nothing existed” Yes, and back then everything was way more difficult to master and way more costly. You can always find excuses but if you can’t beat the leader now, be the must-see that will be the leader in the future. Maybe change the scope of your project to focus on one feature that will be so better than your concurrent you will trigger their focus.

You are early in the process — It’s time to share your creations (Dribbble, Behance, SoundCloud, GitHub, Instagram…). We are in a world where we need evidence to show your journey so don’t be afraid to share everything. Even if it looks ugly in 6 months, leave it here so people will see your progress and you will be happy to see from how far you’ve come.


Now you get my point, I want to tell you this: if something makes you curious, even just a bit, go all in and discover, learn, share it. This is going to make you happy!

I hope this helped you get started in the maker journey because that’s what I would have loved to hear back then. Good luck in being yourself! Feel free to contact me if you have anything you would like to ask, it’s a pleasure to answer!

Thanks to Minal C. and Romain Penchenat for proofreading this article.