Greenhouse: Who has Donated, and How Much? Teenager’s Politican-Finance App

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Right-click on a politician’s name, and you get a popup that lists their donors. Screenshot by Decoded Science, all rights reserved.

How much have special interests donated to your government representatives? An app, written by teenager Nick Rubin, can tell you.

Greenhouse: ‘All are Green’

The Greenhouse app explores the donations that go into our political process by accessing data from Open Secrets, which lists all donations political figures report.

When you put in the name of a political figure, the app accesses that person’s data, and displays it in a popup.

As the app says, ‘Some are red. Some are blue. All are green.’

What Makes Programming Challenging?

This feat of programming may sound simple, but this app came from a self-taught teenage programmer- which makes it a little unusual. What makes programming difficult?

Learning to program is like learning to speak a very complex language which only works when you use it properly – which can be difficult without someone to guide you through the tips and tricks.

Imagine trying to ask for directions to the train station in a language you’re unfamiliar with. In real life, you could stop someone for directions, and probably make them understand what you need through a series of pantomime, sound effects, and poor use of the language.

In programming, however, it would be as though the person you stop for directions refuses to answer unless you figure out how to ask properly, with appropriate pronunciation and grammar, and all words in their proper order. Frustrating, yes – but challenging and fun as well, if you have the aptitude.

Nick Rubin’s Self-taught Programming

Decoded Science spoke with Nick, who is 16 years old and attends a high school in Seattle Washington, to ask a few questions.

Decoded Science: “You’re self-taught when it comes to code – did you learn from books, online tutorials, etc, or a combination of the above? Any mentors helping you with the basics when you started?”

Nick: “I learned from a combination of books and online tutorials. These days, there are so many great resources available for programmers to learn and receive help, so a mentorship was not necessary. But, moving forward, a mentorship is something I am looking for.”

Mentoring can be a huge service to young up-and-coming technology professionals. Nick says he’s been coding since middle school, and although his school offers computer science classes, he tells us that he hasn’t “had the chance to take them yet.

Coding, Programming, Languages and Puzzles

Coding can be difficult, but it can also be something like a complex puzzle. Entertaining for some, mind-numbing for others. If you’ve got an affinity for programming, Nick has some advice for you:

“...even the simplest of projects can be the most effective. I’m not saying Greenhouse was easy to make. I’ve spent the past 10 months working on it. But, in terms of the coding involved, it was relatively simple. I was able to teach myself, and learn as I went on – which is really something that everyone can do.”

If you’re working on a project, don’t get discouraged if you can’t get something to work just the way you envision it. Get involved in coding communities and forums, and ask others for help if you can’t find the answer in a book or already-written tutorial. As Nick mentioned above, there are many resources available via the Internet.

According to Nick, the most difficult part of Greenhouse was the pop-up design. He says, “I could get the data there, but I spent a long time thinking about how to organize and present it in a clear, straightforward way.

Programming Projects and Free Apps

Greenhouse is a free app, and Nick tells Decoded Science that it will, “always be free and available to everyone.” He also mentions that costs associated with the app are adding up.
Programming can be profitable, but in this case, the app is there for the benefit of anyone who’s interested in the money trail around his or her politician, and Nick’s main profit appears to be the visibility of the app and his instant notoriety as a self-taught programmer.

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