Michael Wald
June 28, 2021

Why You Should Pursue Impossibly Huge Projects

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As I kid I loved video games. I would lie in my bed at night thinking about them. I was addicted to role playing games where you controlled a character during a long journey, and had to buy supplies, chat with villagers, and organize your inventory. These tedious things took hours. What was I thinking? As I lay in bed, my thinking eventually shifted, to a new idea: what if instead of gaming, I had a huge project I could slowly chip away at. When I completed it, how good would it feel?

Two years ago, looking for my adult version of a role playing game, I Googled “How to make a social network.” I came across a Udemy course by a brilliant young Microsoft engineer named Reece Kenney. I bought his course for ten dollars and sure enough, it was a step-by-step video tutorial on how to code and build a social network — complete with profiles, a wall, chatting, and all the basic functionality of a modern social platform.

I thought, here is my impossibly huge project. I will follow Reece’s Udemy course until I learn how to code and complete building my own social network. So I got to work.

The problem was I hated coding. I gave it a good try too. For months, I spent hours each day learning php, html and CSS — following each of my instructor’s video modules. In the end, even his charming British accent wasn’t enough to ease the pain of learning to code.

I knew I could accelerate the whole process if I knew someone who could code. So I sent the course to a software engineer friend, and she built the entire course within a day. Boom, I had my own social network!

But somehow that felt way too easy. So we started discussing new features that could help a group of people. We decided to do away with the Udemy course (sorry Reese!) and build our own platform from scratch.

With the project scope getting bigger, we needed to expand the team — a UI/UX designer, a frontend developer, then a backend developer. Before I knew it, I was managing a full development team on a major web project.

There’s already a Facebook for everyone and their mother (literally), and there’s already a LinkedIn for cubicle warriors. How about a social network for people who like to travel and live abroad? Bingo.

But what do travelers and expats like me need, besides Ambien?

Information. The word “abroad” is synonymous with “black hole of uncertainty”. You can only glimpse through to the other side from watching movies, receiving postcards, and reading blogs. How about a platform that lets users ask people who have been abroad the questions that make living and travel abroad more transparent?

So the platform’s Q&A homepage was born

We created a homepage where users can login, and ask detailed questions and send them to other members who’ve been to one country. What about a profile page? Not a boring one with my resume on it, but a profile that’s like a passport, with a timeline of countries I’ve visited. Then members could show off all the awesome places they’ve been. And friends and other members could ask questions, discuss, and learn about those places from someone who’s been there and done that.

And how about a way to comment so we can all join in on the discussion, even if we don’t have the answer? And a panic button — so when you have an urgent question about a visa about to expire, or how to survive if you run out of gas driving through the Australian outback, you can dig yourself out of that hole. Meanwhile, someone else who had the answer can feel like Spider Man saving the day.

Then questions and answers organized by topics so you can get the latest info on retiring in Mexico, or where to eat spicy ma-la hot pot in Western China.

So there you have it. This is my impossible project. Two years later the platform is almost done. We are now looking for beta testers here.

When it’s done, I’ll be able to say I made a thing (with more than a little help from some friends), and the it can help a group of people who love to travel. You could use it to feel like Spider Man after sending a helpful answer to someone stranded in the Outback.

Throughout the whole process, I’ve realized that impossible projects ARE like playing role playing games in a way. You keep leveling up by building better features, new teammates join the journey, and together you defeat harder and harder bosses. In between you need to chat with villagers and collect supplies — all with the goal of playing until you beat the game.

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