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The Discoverers: Joseph Rotella, Computer Programming

When freshman Joseph Rotella talks about his fascination with computer programming, it’s easy to sense his quiet intensity as he thoughtfully explains his reasons. But what takes a while to discern is that he also has a big heart — for helping his peers learn how to control computers, too.

“I’ve always had an interest in math and science,” Joseph said. “Computer programming and computer science, in general, is a good amalgamation of them both. There is an abstract, theoretical component to it as well as a very practical, hands-on aspect, where you can make whatever you want. You are limited only by what you can think up.”

He is attracted, too, to the analysis required.

“How do I go about solving this problem?” he said he asks himself. “What is the most efficient way, the cleanest way, the most elegant way to accomplish this task? That kind of analytical thinking really drew me in.”

He tries to make applications that simplify tasks, like an app he created that stops a computer from falling asleep before the user wants it to.

“More than anything, at this point, it’s about experimenting. It’s about discovering new applications of programming,” he said.

Joseph’s interest in computers goes back to second or third grade, when he began making movies in iMovie. Around fifth grade, he began developing an interest in programming and started writing code in JavaScript. Then, a new programming language from Apple called Swift was released and it opened a whole new world for him.

“That was the moment when I saw an approachable programming language that didn’t look scary, but had all these rich features that let me explore advanced programming topics,” he said.

From there, he learned a third language, Java, which is what he and others on the Upper School Roobotics team use to guide their robot in competitions. As a Middle Schooler, he could help out on a spot basis, but now, as a freshman, he is a full-fledged team member.

“It’s been very exciting,” he said, “with lots of opportunities to learn about programming” as he works in collaboration with other team members. Until then, most of his learning about programming had taken place on his own, as he studied online tutorials and documentation.

“Getting to be a part of the robotics team and working with people like Henry Pitcairn, who knows so much more about this than I do, is something that really helped me and was a unique way to learn,” he said.

Last winter, Joseph gave back to his community when he and Social Studies Teacher Mark Smith ran a Middle School Programming Club. He enjoyed the opportunity to introduce his peers into the world of programming.

“To be able to instruct somebody in a way that’s easy to follow and just teach other people something was an experience that helped me grow,” he said. “I do enjoy helping people to do it. I think it’s just such an important yet underrated skill in this day and age. Being able to control computers is as fundamental as being able to read or write.”

The hallways at Abington Friends are brimming with students who are on a journey, exploring fresh ideas and pursuing deep interests as they search to find their places in the world. Their eyes shine as they talk fervently about wanting to learn all they can in a field of academics, athletics or the arts.

Read more about “The Discoverers” in the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Oak Leaves

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