Meet Josh Ternyak:

Ironically Josh and his friend Roman went viral with a game called COVID INVADERS πŸ‘Ύ.

After a modest launch among friends, Josh earned the attention of local news stations. COVID INVADERS went from a few hundred players to a few thousand. It was an overnight hit!

On the topic of hits, Josh performed a freestyle rap to accompany the game. He even rapped about Scrimba in our interview since it was the Frontend Developer Career Path that helped him build the game!

In this interview, I spoke to Josh about:

  • Actionable tips Josh used to get freelance clients at 15
  • Why Josh doesn't care about a Computer Science degree
  • Do young people have an unfair advantage when learning to code?
  • How a can-do attitude and a knack for marketing earned Josh such an exciting opportunity
  • - How Josh went viral by identifying a trend, making the game work on all platforms (think Fortnite), and promoting the fact he was young to his advantage πŸ‘!

Want to learn frontend development and build your own project like Josh did? Enroll in the Scrimba Frontend Developer Career Path πŸŽ‰


In case you'd prefer to read, we've transcribed and lightly edited our favourite parts of the interview here as well:

Alex from Scrimba:
Hey, Josh. Welcome to Stories By Scrimba. It's so good to have you here.

Josh:
Thank you for having me.

Alex from Scrimba:
We were blown away when we saw your COVID Invaders game went viral and you told us that you learned how to build parts of it using Scrimba.

Josh:
Yeah. I learned a lot by using The Frontend Developer Career Path and I ended up building COVID Invaders using those courses.

Alex from Scrimba:
That's amazing. I want to go right to the beginning and ask, where did the idea for COVID Invaders even come from? And for people who are listening and perhaps haven't had a chance to check it out, firstly, check it out, it's awesome. There's even a great rap song that, Josh, I can't believe you made a song to go with the game. It's a banger, I love it. But it's a super fun game, a little bit like a Space Invaders maybe, where you use a needle to inject the vaccine into oncoming enemies or something. It's a super creative idea and it's executed brilliantly. From a technical point of view, like a polished game. It's insane to think you built it at 16. So, where did the idea come from?

Josh:
So, I founded idea COVID Invaders a few months ago when the vaccine was just about to roll out. And I thought to myself, when I was taking The Frontend Developer Career Path course by Scrimba, why don't I build a game just to practice JavaScript and CSS and just to practice what I've learned? And then, I ended up realizing that I should actually build a game related to the vaccine. And I also talked to my friend Roman, he's on one of the creators of the game on the website and he told me to build something related to cleaning and vaccine related, so I decided, why don't I build COVID Invaders where you can shoot the vaccine at the virus?

Alex from Scrimba:
That's amazing. It's such a clever idea. And, I guess, there's a little message behind it as well, you are promoting the vaccine. And I think it makes sense then, that a lot of news stations even picked it up to share the game and the story.

Josh:
I think the main reason why the news stations liked it is because they thought it was really relevant and just help illustrated what the vaccine is and what it does to the virus. And my goal with the rap song especially was, to make it funny and just to illustrate what the game is and how you can play the game. And in the song, I talk about how you can actually shoot the vaccine with the virus. And every time you shoot the vaccine, you can also hear a little noise, it explodes.

Alex from Scrimba:
That's amazing. And so, how did you approach building it? Because I know you're following The Frontend Developer Career Path, Ania Kabow has some modules on building games like Pac-Man but as far as I can tell, you've had to do quite a lot of work to get this to the level it's are. How did you approach it from choosing a technology stack to hosting the game? There's a lot of really nice graphics in the game too, I'm curious how they came to life.

Josh:
So, when I started building this game, I thought to myself, well, first, how is it going to look like? So, I actually worked with a professional designer. Maybe you've heard of him, he's on Indie Hackers called Design Joy. It's this design agency but it's actually just this one person working really hard. And I worked with him just to make the designs and give him some ideas and he implemented them in Figma. And then, I looked at the designs and at first, it looked a little bit different than it does now on COVID Invaders but I gave them some feedback and I wanted to tell him it should be really easy to play. And he also designed it so you can play it on your phone but still on the website, so it's not like an app.

Josh:
And then, after he designed it for about two or three weeks of iterations, I started implementing it. And the tech stack I chose was jQuery, which funny because it's this really old... And I used jQuery and just regular CSS, nothing was SASS or BEM but just used regular CSS [inaudible 00:03:35] and used HTML, obviously. And then, also at the end of the game, if you play for 30 seconds, you can see a leaderboard, so you can actually type in your name and save it. And so, for that, I used Python Flask, just simple Python backend. And then, I connected the different languages and frameworks and boom, COVID Invaders was alive.

Alex from Scrimba:
Sick Josh, that's so cool. And I think, honestly... You're 16, right?

Josh:
Yeah. I'm 16 years old.

Alex from Scrimba:
I just want to take a moment to acknowledge that because I think that's impressive, firstly. But also, I know there are going to be quite a few people listening who probably a little bit envious of your ability and how capable you are of building an app from scratch. And I think it was really smart, by the way, bringing in a designer to level up the game because not all developers feel like they want to do both, design and development. So, finding help when you need it, I think, is a great practical tip. How did your coding journey began?

Josh:
So, I started learning how to code when I was around 11 years old. My older brother, he started teaching me because he was already an experienced software developer at that time. And that was five years ago, so I was much younger and just immature and I didn't really want to learn, I didn't know the benefits of learning coding. And so, I gave up. And after that, around two years later, when I came back from school, I still remember, it was the first day of summer break. And I think I was finishing sixth or seventh grade, I can't remember, I think sixth grade and my brother welcomed me in the door in my house and he said, hey, now that you have more time, maybe you should start learning how to code.

Josh:
And so, I still remember that because it was very memorable. And after that, I started teaching myself how to code. At first, I remember, I was sitting in my bedroom for five hours on the floor and you'd never guess what I was stuck on, I was stuck on adding padding 0 to the body because this did have some padding, so I was just confused. But that was the old days when I was just a beginner but ever since then, I've been teaching myself with different courses. And I found Scrimba around a few months ago and I really enjoy it because you can actually click on the video and code, that's crazy. I don't even know how you built that or how the developers built it. But I really want to learn from the Scrimba courses and other courses that I found online.

Josh:
I really enjoy Tyler McGinnis as well, he has many courses. I just have a variety because different people have different methods of teaching, so I like having a variety. But ever since then, I've just been building apps. And I actually had few paid clients and I did some CSS work for them and implemented landing pages. And I've also learned some no-code tools like Webflow, I really like Webflow because you can just easily build, even an app, even a beginner version of an app and just been learning some design. But with COVID Invaders, I worked with a professional designer and just combining all the skills I've had to build it.

Alex from Scrimba:
There's one thing which I'm hearing that I'm really keen to dig into. And it sounds to me like you have a very pragmatic approach and you always shoot for a destination, whether it's getting a freelance client, completing a game or something else, for example. I know you're working on something new with your brother, we'll get to that a bit later. I want to dig into all that but first, I think a lot of people wonder if it's easier to learn to code when they're younger and I don't expect you can compare both because you're still young and it's impossible to know the other side. But I'm just curious, what's your take on it? Do you think it's easier to learn to code when you're young?

Josh:
I actually think it is easier because you don't really have any responsibilities, like a family or just your house, you have to pay rent or anything like that. So, I think it's really easy because I just have more time. I just have to do a few homework assignments and just do online school and I can just start coding right away. And I really think it's also great because if you start young, you can just have fun with it and you don't have to rush to learn. But if you're in your 20s or 30s even, then you have to rush to learn and you don't really enjoy it because you have to start making money as fast as possible. But, for me, obviously, my goal is to make money and I actually do make money from coding but my goal is also to learn and have fun and build games like COVID Invaders.

Alex from Scrimba:
I like that a lot. I think when you're having fun, it's the ultimate productivity hack, that's when the time flies by and when you put your head up, you've actually made some really cool projects and learned some nice things. It's also very encouraging to hear the resources you've used to learn how to code, it wasn't through school, it was largely what you found online, whether it's Scrimba. I agree, Tyler McGinnis is great and those resources are available to everybody, so that's really encouraging to hear, at least. And so, regarding COVID Invaders, one more time and I want to bring this back to this idea of coding to achieve a specific objective. What was the objective with COVID Invaders? And did you go to these news stations and ask them to cover it? How did it get discovered?

Josh:
So, at first, when I was building it, I just wanted to build a game and my goal was really to go viral just because I thought it would be literally fun and no pun intended with the virus. But with COVID Invaders, I just decided, why don't I just try getting on the news? Because I actually got on the news in Minnesota, where I live, for building a sleep tool where you can just type in what time do you want to go to bed or what time you have to wake up and it tells you when you should go to sleep that night, based on run cycles but just basically just this form of timing of sleep. But when I built that I got on the news because I reached out to the news reporters and they covered it.

Josh:
So, I decided, why don't I use the same technique to get on the news? And I'll share that in a bit. To get on the news for COVID Invaders and I knew it was much more relevant, so I knew I had to do some efforts with press and just get lots of attention to COVID Invaders.

Alex from Scrimba:
Did you say you'd get to that in a minute?

Josh:
Yeah. So, that's what I want to share now. So, I guess, my strategy with COVID Invaders was, to just have an email script and find the right news stations. And the way I did that was to make sure that they don't really have any interesting things going on. So, I realized that, if you find new stations that don't have any interesting things going on, they definitely want to cover you because you've given them a story that's relevant. And also, if you're young, it even helps you more. And that's what I did. I just came up with an email script and, I guess, the title of each post is mainly, 16 year old builds COVID Invaders game that goes viral. And it actually did go viral, I saw on Google Analytics, it showed 100 people the first day of playing, on Indie Hackers, I posted it. And I think that's what came from it.

Josh:
And then, the next day it was 700 and I was like, wow, this is crazy. And then, when I started getting on the news, it became more like 1,000 every day and then 2,000 and I was like, wow, this is amazing. So then, that's a strategy. It was really just fine news stations that don't have any interesting things going on and reach out to them with an email script.

Alex from Scrimba:
That was clever, man. I like that a lot. And it speaks to the fact that, well, I think at Stories by Scrimba and a lot of people in the Scrimba community, they are perhaps a little bit older but also focused on getting that first job role. And okay, so they learned to code just like you but where I think a lot of people struggle and somebody like you excel actually is in that, almost marketing side of things, both marketing yourself, knocking on doors. But also, I think you have a knack, of course, when you build something like COVID Invaders, there's a brand there, with the graphics and the music and that kind of stuff. It might be a difficult question to answer, to be fair, but I am super curious about your perspective, nonetheless.

Alex from Scrimba:
What do you think would be a good strategy for someone to get a job if they, maybe, have similar coding skills to you? Because as you mentioned, you're employable in that, you've earned some money writing code on a freelance basis. Perhaps you'd like to speak about freelancing because you have more experience with it but if you wouldn't mind also adding, how you might end up looking for a job. And I appreciate you're super young and it's something you maybe haven't thought about yet but I'm just curious to hear what you'll say and I think other people might be too.

Josh:
So, I think the main tip I would give is, to have a specific skillset that you're really good at. For example, for me, it's CSS, I'm really confident in writing CSS. And then, to build a portfolio of projects [inaudible 00:11:36] to CSS and to showcase it on your portfolio and to also build a really nice website. And even if you have to work with a designer to make the website, that's fine because your skillset is CSS. For example, for other people it'd be JavaScript, so then you can build, maybe, a game, like cookie clicker, where every time you click it increases and you could just add upgrades and showcase your skills. So, I think the main thing is to have a main skillset, a language you're really good at and then after that, branch out and start teaching yourself JavaScript and Python or whatever it is, just to get familiar with other languages and then you can get hired.

Alex from Scrimba:
How did you go about getting your first freelance client Josh?

Josh:
It was actually funny, the story of how I got them. So, I had a few friends, I think I was 14 at the time, I think 14 or 15. So, I just reached out to them and said, hey, let me know if anyone you know needs a website. I was just willing to do it for free, at that time. I just wanted to get the word out and share my web development knowledge with other people. And so, my friend told me that his dad actually wanted a website for his photography business and he has a photography... he basically takes really good pictures of birds and of animals but he doesn't really sell them because he doesn't know how. So, he wanted a website where he could sell them.

Josh:
So, I decided to build a simple portfolio with a header, it says his name, it says you can buy photos. And then, there was a gallery of photos that he's made. And I actually just designed them myself, I think I had got some inspiration but I think I designed them myself. It's not amazing but it's decent. And so, I built a website for him. And after that, I did the same thing with other people, they maybe needed a website, just for fun and I charged 50 bucks, I think, nothing crazy. But now, you can't really charge 50 bucks, you can't make a living off of it but that's how I started. I just reached out to my friends and at school and I just said, do you know if anyone needs a website and they connected me.

Alex from Scrimba:
I love this fresh perspective. I think a lot of people have a tendency to... Perhaps when you're older, you do have other obligations and stuff like that, maybe can't pay your bills, whether it might be on just a few small freelance clients. But I think your attitude is spot on where you just knock on doors and provide value to people and you don't go and say, hey, I can code. You go to them and say, hey, I can show you how to sell what you're creating and make money, so therefore, this is a good investment in me. And it also sounds like you recognize that... I'm not sure how much you might pay a designer for the COVID Invaders graphics and stuff like that but presumably it's a very good investment. If at the end of the day, you're building a product which is going to go viral, put your name out there. Compared to a salary in the future or revenue from a product, wherever it might be, it's small, right?

Josh:
Yeah. I think it's definitely worth the investment, just to get the word out. But then once you have a little bit of an audience, you can just show your projects and you might even get hired just from the audience because someone might like your story or projects that you'd built.

Alex from Scrimba:
Absolutely. And so, like I might've mentioned, a lot of people at Scrimba they're looking for freelance roles or their full-time developer role. I definitely get the vibe from you, Josh, that you're more likely to go down that entrepreneurial route.

Josh:
Yeah. That's that's correct. I think I like being an entrepreneur because you can be more creative and you're less, assigned tasks and more, you get to create your own tasks. And so, for example, COVID Invaders, you can't really tell someone, hey, I want to hire you for COVID Invaders because then they can just steal your idea and market it if they're good at it. But if you just come up with yourself, with an idea and you can market it as well as build it, then you're set.

Alex from Scrimba:
You're total control. Anything you imagine you can create and you get to the final say in where it's going to go and what it's going to look like.

Josh:
Yeah.

Alex from Scrimba:
What's more important Josh, marketing or coding?

Josh:
I think marketing because if you build something and it's even decent, then you have to market in a way that shows people why it's actually good and worth buying. But if you just build something and you're really good at building it and you've been building it for two years but no one hears about it or your pricing is wrong and you just, either charge too little or too much, then no one's going to buy it. And I think the main thing I learned with one of the products I built around a year and a half ago was this HTML theme website, it's called loveyourlanding.com. It's nothing amazing but it's decent HTML themes that I made and I only got one customer but that wasn't even from my marketing efforts.

Josh:
And I think it's because there's so many HTML themes. So, I didn't know what marketing was, at that point, around a year and a half ago. So, I just built it and I took about a month to build it but then when I launched it, it got lots of detention. I didn't need any hackers and I actually didn't get any customers, so I was bummed out. But I think the main reason why I didn't get any customers is because there's already thousands of other HTML themes and you can buy them for the same price but they're much better and that's a problem. I didn't choose a very niche product to build, I just built something that everyone else already has and they didn't buy mine because it's, why would they?

Alex from Scrimba:
Absolutely. I agree completely. I can't say it because I have a British accent but I think it's the American phrase, riches and niches kind of thing. And then, I think in 2021, there are more people on the internet than ever and therefore, things are quite saturated. And if you you're listening and you feel as though perhaps the job market is also saturated, firstly, that's probably not true because for every new person on the web, there's a need for another app that needs a developer to build it, so you're probably doing the absolute best thing by learning to code. But also, to your point earlier, Josh, about honing in on those core skills and doing them really well to solve a specific problem. I think finding a niche and expanding is a very appealing strategy in 2021, whether it's building your skills as a developer or building a product, for example or an audience for that matter, if you're looking to influence people on social media and stuff like that.

Alex from Scrimba:
I think you're really tuned in Josh. It's really refreshing to hear. Again, I'm just going to reiterate, when I was a bit younger, I hated when people used to bring up my age and stuff like that, so I'm reluctant but equally, you're only 16 right now. What's next for you? What's coming up?

Josh:
So, right now, I guess, I'll just show what I'm working on but I'm not going to name what it is, it's just because it's not done yet. But I'm working on this startup with my brother and basically what it is, let's say you go on a website and you have a question, you can just type into this little chat box and you can ask them a question. Usually they use Intercom or Drift, those are the popular live chat bots. But what we're building is a video call version of that. So, instead of someone typing into the box, hey, I have a question about this product you sell, you can actually just have a video call with them on your website. So, that's what we're working on now and it's really fun to build it because I've learned a lot about CSS and just JavaScript in general.

Josh:
But the way my brother built it, at first, the idea was, let's say someone fills out a form on your website and they type in their phone number and they have a question, let's say it's a cleaning site and they just want to get cleaning services. That's in the case for my brother, that's what he was. And my brother built this product where the instant they type in their phone number and submit the form, this Twilio, that's what my brother used to build it, it calls both the sales person at the cleaning company and the customer who filled out the form and it combines their, I guess, call together and they start talking to each other. So, the second you fill out the form, you don't expect someone to call you back right away but it actually does and it does it in an automated way. And that's the original version of this product we're building.

Josh:
But now, it's more like, let's say you have a question about this really expensive product, like on gucci.com for example and you want to buy this good handbag for your friend but you're not sure if you want to buy it, you can just ring the bell on the site and you can actually talk to the salesperson and you can ask them any questions.

Alex from Scrimba:
I like it a lot, I think it's timely. People are more willing to jump on a video call now more than ever. Maybe just a year ago, people might've been more reluctant but a Gucci bag, a Louis Vuitton scarf or even a car or something. In the UK, people are just buying cars on click and collect. Probably a big purchase to make without speaking to someone and if they are buying high ticket items, that means there's probably a good value proposition there for your product. So, it sounds like you're onto something exciting.

Alex from Scrimba:
For anybody who doesn't know, Twilio is a API/SDK that enables SMS messaging as well as voice calls by telephone numbers, essentially. When you make an account, you get assigned a phone number, you can buy phone numbers unique to your business and stuff like that. And like Josh described, you can create group calls and that kind of thing. It sounds like you're moving away from traditional telephone numbers to an online based solution. From a technical point of view, I think people might be curious, how are you approaching video calls as a feature of your app?

Josh:
So, I would say, I can just talk about what I built on their project and I think I have a high level understanding but my brother mainly worked on the backend and actually making a work at first. So, I think he mainly used Twilio and he used WebRTC, I'm not really familiar with those languages or frameworks because I actually didn't use them to build it. But that's what he used and, I guess, that's all I can talk about it. But he just built it at first, he worked with the same designer, Design Joy, and he got an initial mock-up of it. And it's like this little bell on your website and basically, instead of an Intercom chat it's just this bell and you can hit the bell and then it just calls the agent. And what the sees is this dashboard, which we also are working on and there's this little card that pops up every time there's a new user on your website.

Josh:
And so, two things can happen. You can either click on the card and turn on your video and actually call them, so then you can start talking right away. But they don't see and you can't see them. But the other way is, they ring the bell on the site and then you get notified in the dashboard and then, you can actually join the call and start talking to them. So, that's the high level of what it is. But what I contributed to the project and I'm still doing right now, is the CSS part of it and some of the React as well, we're using React and we're using lots of Python Flask and WebRTC. We're also using, I think, just general, React, CSS, we're using lots of BEM. BEM is really important for this project. And I think BEM is one of the things that I learned recently, it just makes your project more organized. Even though you don't need it for any application, you don't actually need to use BEM conventions, you can still use it, I highly recommend it for anyone.

Alex from Scrimba:
BEM is one of those words, I think, when if you haven't heard it before, like what did he say? But it's an acronym, B-E-M and it's Block Element Modifier and it describes a convention for naming your elements when you assign a class to a element in HTML, so that you can style it in a scalable manner.

Josh:
I completely agree. I think it's such a good convention to use and there are other conventions but I just haven't looked into them.

Alex from Scrimba:
For sure. That's sick Josh. And aside from this, do you have plans to go to university or continue freelancing, maybe get a full-time job or do you think you're going to stick to the entrepreneurial route for the time being?

Josh:
I think I'll definitely stick to the entrepreneurship route, I don't plan on going to college and I plan on taking a GED for high school when I turn 17, so in about nine or 10 months. And I think it just, to be honest, I think school is not really a good use of time because you can just teach yourself how to code and not only code but also digital marketing. And you can just teach yourself how to design. There's so many skills you can learn online, just from YouTube even and you don't even need to worry about school or someone teaching you.

Alex from Scrimba:
What's your opinion on computer science degrees?

Josh:
I don't really know if it's good to learn computer science in college but I just know that you can teach yourself faster online, so why would you even go to college when you can just teach us online the same skillset but at your own pace? And also, it's just less stressful because you don't really get grades necessarily. And even computer science you can learn online. I saw a few months ago there was this website where they just put out this whole course on computer science and you can just teach yourself.

Alex from Scrimba:
Computer science is more about earning a piece of paper and you work towards that certificate. Whereas, when you teach yourself, you're actually aiming for employable skills that can create outcomes for employers or for customers or for yourself, if you're building your own product.

Josh:
I agree.

Alex from Scrimba:
So Josh, is there anything else you want to share or talk about before we wrap up?

Josh:
I would say just, I guess, some tips that I learned along the way of teaching myself how to code. The first mistake I made was, not being productive and getting distracted by social media. And I think for some people that need social media because they have a business but there's many ways to reduce it and you can just delete it on your phone. And I think the main lesson I've learned was deleting social media and also not playing any video games. So, even though I build video games, I don't play any and I do play COVID Invaders but it's not addicting and that's one thing I was going to talk about was, how I built COVID Invaders with the 30 second time limit. So, you can only play it for 30 seconds and you're not really going to get addicted to it.

Alex from Scrimba:
That's a very interesting decision because a lot of business people will actually say is against driving engagement on the app. What was your thought process there?

Josh:
I just thought, if anyone really likes the game and they just heard about it on the news or somewhere else, they're going to restart and play it again because you can play it again, you can just tap, play again. But I think I didn't want anyone to get addicted to it because my whole philosophy and my whole mindset is to not get addicted to things and just to not waste your time on games. And before, about a year and a half ago or maybe even two years ago, it was the summer and I didn't have any school and school ended and I was about to start playing Fortnite, this popular game, Fortnite, and I was about to start playing and buying some skins, maybe, and just playing with my friends.

Josh:
Then my older brother told me, why are you playing? You should be learning coding, you could be learning coding. And I thought to myself, yeah, you're right. Why am I playing? Because I could be actually making a game, instead of playing a game. And that's where my mindset changed on being productive. And I also started writing on my blog, on joshternyak.com, about productivity and what I learned. And it's actually really interesting. I don't even think that you have to be an adult to be productive, I think that teenagers have so much time but they're wasting it.

Alex from Scrimba:
Well, if Fortnite's anything to go by, then I couldn't agree more.

Josh:
It was a fun game while it lasted.

Alex from Scrimba:
All right, Josh, I think we could wrap up the interview there. I just wanted to give you the opportunity to plug any call to action. Is there anything in particular you want people to check out? We're going to link COVID Invaders, we're going to link your blog, of course. Is there anything else you want people to check out before they drop off?

Josh:
I would say, I publish lots of videos on my YouTube channel, so you can just check out my YouTube channel. I'm sure there'll be a link but it's just Josh Ternyak, my name. And there, I published videos on how to be productive, I publish some interviews with other developers and other entrepreneurs. And I also just talk about my story of becoming a full-time web developer at the age of 16 and that's what I wanted to plug.

Alex from Scrimba:
And I just looked it up and I can see the kill the virus official audio is on the YouTube channel. So, if you want to bop to that tune then you can.

Josh:
I also publish some songs.

Alex from Scrimba:
You told me you could freestyle rap, that was sick.

Josh:
I can try freestyling right now even, about Scrimba, if that's okay. I can try with a little- [crosstalk 00:27:11].

Alex from Scrimba:
Yeah. Absolutely. I wasn't going to ask even but definitely.

Josh:
Okay. So let's see. I started learning how to code when I was 11. My brother told me you're acting like a seven. I didn't know the acronyms for HTML and CSS but then I taught myself BEM conventions and my brother got impressed.

Alex from Scrimba:
Yes. Love it, Josh. What a beautiful note. Literally, a note to end on. Thank you one more time, Josh. Good luck with everything in the future.

Josh:
Thank you so much for having me.