Coding makes this 18 year-old leave a secure job at one word messaging app ‘Yo’
Zach Latta had already seasoned out of his Los Angeles, California public high school by the time he as 16 and was working at Yo – a one-word messaging app that came to fame in 2014 – as an engineer and lead backend developer.
Now, Latta at 18 is residing in San Francisco and working on his quickly expanding coding organization called Hack Club.
“I’ve always found myself able to learn the most when I can completely throw myself at something,” Latta told Business Insider.
Latta has surely thrown himself strongly into his work as co-founder and executive director of Hack Club. The organization has grown to 54 schools across 12 states and five countries in just one year after founding it.
Hack Club is a non-profit organization with four full-time employees including Latta. The organization’s 2014 tax filings indicate the majority of its funding resulted from grants and contributions.
A 2015 Thiel Fellow, Latta has become one of 20 people selected to receive $100,000 and mentorship, on a condition that they skip or withdraw from college for two years. When Latta was 17, he was awarded the fellowship last June and had no plans of attending college.
The thought behind Hack Club is simple, even if the coding behind it is not. Coding classes or clubs may be offered by a few high schools, they generally teach students dated coding standards. According to Latta, coders working in the industry in reality use software written in the past six months.
Using up-to-date standards, Hack Club works with high school students to start and lead programming clubs at their schools. It offers software tools, baseline coding curriculum and community-building training.
The education category saw Latta, and his co-founder Jonathan Leung, 25, earn a spot on Forbes’ 2016 30 under 30 list due to the innovation and success of Hack Club. Latta was one of the youngest honourees on the list.
“Our whole philosophy is that what’s cool about coding is that it lets you do what you want to do and it lets you build real things,” Latta said. “You don’t have to have a college degree, you don’t have to have years of training. As long as you have internet access you can do whatever you want to.”
Many of the apps or websites that Hack Clubs members have built are on display on its site.
For example, there is Kenko, which is funded by Goldman Sachs that labels itself as “shazam for food,” where you take a photo of any food and receive health insights. It definitely seems targeted at challenging the status quo, even though not all of the coding at Hack Club involves “hacking” per se.
Latta stated that one group of students in one of his clubs is working to “kill Slack” and build a better app for communications in workplace. Many companies including Business Insider, use Slack, a real-time messaging service to communicate around their offices.
Some of that “establishment-killing attitude” is intrinsic in hacking subculture, with its documented distaste for authority. But some of that approach within Hack Club is likely a by-product of Latta’s own attitudes about coding.
“Before I started focusing on programming, I felt really stuck,” he said. “I thought the way the world was put together is the way the world was put together, and it’s always going to be that way. Programming really changed that mindset for me.”
Latta started coding in middle school. His interest grew into a love of programming by the time he got to high school. He started a coding club with about 15 students, as Latta did not know anyone at school he could write code with.
“It wasn’t the greatest club, but just having anything at all made such a profound impact on what I got out of high school,” he said.
In order to dedicate all of his time to programming, Latta started concentrating on seasoning out of school early. He designed his own home-schooling program sophomore year and tested out that same year.
While he was thrilled for the chance to pursue programming, his parents, both social workers, were not very sure of his decision, especially when he made a decision to skip college and jump right into the industry.
When Latta’s parents saw the success he was finding in the workforce, their unwillingness gave way to support.
He was a 16-year-old without a college degree making market rate as an engineer says Latta when he started working at Yo. While he did not spill how much Yo paid him, a search of Glassdoor indicated that software engineers in San Francisco make an average salary of $103,000.
“I think to them at the time that was a ridiculous concept,” Latta said.
He considers a college degree isn’t that important to employers anymore, for which the internet should be thanked in part.
“I think the fundamental idea is that a college degree is a ‘vote,’ and so many other things can provide the same value as that vote can,” Latta said.
During the upcoming year, he plans to concentrate on expanding his Hack Club. Currently, there are clubs in Indonesia, Zimbabwe, and Hong Kong. He plans to expand his reach domestically and internationally.
But at its root, his inspiration is to continue to empower students through coding.
“The reason why programming is so special to me is that I think programming shows you that you have power, and that you can do things, that you are your own person,” he said.