JonChan

Let's get to know you first. Tell us about yourself.

My name is Jon Chan, and I'm the creator of Bento. Like a lot of developers I know around my age, I learned to code on my own. I probably started when I was around 10 years old and started fiddling around with Xanga, Myspace, and Geocities. It started out with the basics: HTML, CSS, Javascript, then eventually to LAMP, and now things like Angular, Python, and Mongo.

I only ever took one computer science course in college (iOS Programming) and even helped teach the class the next semester. I was actually a philosophy major at NYU after I moved from Los Angeles to New York - it's funny how things turn out. Tech, startups, and programming has always been something I did for fun - I'm just really lucky that I got to turn that hobby into a career. Now, I work full time as a developer at Stack Overflow. Bento is part of how I ended up where I am now - and it's still my biggest personal project.

Cool, so what's the story behind your website and its design?

Bento was actually something I pulled together in about an hour to help me help others pick up web development. People constantly ask me how to code and I had this one email that I would keep forwarding to people (there's too many on there to count now) with links to resources I thought were useful. Eventually, I thought I should just put it all together in one place on the web, and design a UI that would show someone what to learn after they were finished with one topic. Even better, I thought I should just open source it to let others contribute. That's how Bento got started.

What I absolutely did not expect was the firestorm that came after I put it up on Hacker News and Reddit. On the same day, it hit the front pages of both sites and traffic on Bento exploded. You can read more about that whole episode on my blog. Now the number of resources has more than tripled, with over 200 contributors on the GitHub page, and visitors from every country in the world. It's been a crazy experience.

What part of your website is your favourite, and why?

I think my favorite part of the site is that it's community driven. As I mentioned before, the content on Bento is open source: anyone can contribute links, put up their own content, and rearrange boxes as they wish - they just need to follow a few rules to maintain the quality of the site. In addition to that, there's also a "study group" that lets people discuss what and how they're learning at all different stages. I think that community focus is what sets Bento apart from a lot of other learning resources out on the web.

Is there anything you wish you knew when you first started building your website?

I wish I knew more languages (as in spoken and written languages). I got a lot of tweets in Polish and Japanese I just couldn't respond to about Bento - go figure! Internationalization is something I'd really like to look into.

Technologies, languages, frameworks, or libraries?

Bento actually started running on a free Heroku dyno running Python on Tornado, but I quickly switched over to GitHub Pages since it was only a static site. The front-end is pretty much Bootstrap and Angular.

Any upcoming changes we should look out for?

A lot - especially in the next month or so: people can expect a major redesign soon. The ultimate vision for Bento is to become the first point of contact when someone wants to learn something, kind of the same way Google is the first point of contact for answers to our questions. Back when I was learning to code, there weren't many resources to learn - pretty much just w3schools (oh boy) and a few reference books. Now, it's almost the exact opposite problem: the quality has gone up but the quantity is too high to make sense of what's useful what what's not.

I know I'd have done something great with Bento when someone looks at it the same way I did when I was learning. The most satisfying thing in the world ​​would be to have a 10 year old kid come around and say he learned to love coding because of Bento.

Interview date: 03 Mar 2014Permalink