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MIT staff blogger Mikey Yang '05

I have such cool friends! by Mikey Yang '05

A guest post by a good friend of mine from my undergrad days.

Hi folks,

I know it’s been forever since I’ve posted anything; I’ve been insanely busy reading thousands of applications – probably many of yours, in fact! But I did want to write briefly about something really cool that I just heard about recently…

One of my very good friends, Justin ’08, is actually being featured on inc.com (along with his co-founder, Chris ’09, and one of my other friends, Scot ’08). They founded a start-up to help make learning foreign languages easier in foreign-language classrooms.

Go to http://www.inc.com/college to check them out and vote! You can also check out the Lingt website at http://lingtlanguage.com.

I asked Justin to write a little guest entry too, so he wrote a really nice piece for y’all about his journey here at MIT. Enjoy!


When I applied to MIT, I wanted to build robots. My heroes were Rodney Brooks and Marvin Minsky, and my future image of myself was in a white coat tinkering with the wired brain of some android. So, of course, I did what any MIT freshman hopped up on idealism and tech-romanticism does: I got a UROP. In Brooks’ Humanoid Robotics Lab, no less. I was going to publish fifteen papers, file three patents, and invent machine consciousness in my four years at MIT, I was sure of it. I just needed to learn Linux first.

Building robots turned out to be harder than I had anticipated. I had built a little line-follower from tupperware, a comparator, and two photosensors in high school, but this was nothing like that. Instead of soldering together the guts of a robot, anticipating the moment when a dozen blinking LEDs would declare it alive, I was researching communications protocols and circuit compatibilities. When my grad student finally gave me an interesting project – to build a sound localization device (ears) for her robot – my initial burst of energy quickly fizzled when I found myself knee-deep in MATLAB dealing with microphone noise and trying to figure out what the hell a cross correlation was supposed to do. The whole thing was immensely educational, but I slowly discovered that I simply didn’t have that white-coated future-self in me.

It wasn’t much of an identity crisis since I had three years of MIT left to figure out what I wanted to do. I was a Course 6 major from the start, fairly confident that I wanted to work with computers. About two years in, though, I started missing my old pals in the Liberal Arts: namely language, literature, and politics – so much so that I skipped out on engineering altogether one semester and took Chinese, World Music, and two political science courses. I enjoyed this so much that I nearly dropped Course 6 for 17, before my adviser gave me some very good (and probably debatable) advice: an adeptness in technology would be more precious after graduation than a liberal arts education. I could read a lot and think hard to maintain an engaged interest in writing and analyzing world events, but I was unlikely to ever will myself to learn a programming language or systems architecture if I hadn’t developed an intuition for technology in undergrad.

So graduation finally rolled around and I was thrust into the job market, delaying the inevitable by spending that summer setting up a computer lab for a primary school in Malawi. I hadn’t applied and been accepted to any software firms or investment banks like most of my friends had five months ago, remembering well the misery of pounding out code in a cubicle during a sophomore internship. I had decided instead to apply to a handful of web start-up companies in Boston and the Bay area. Two of my earliest friends at MIT had dropped out to start companies and were doing quite well – the pace and challenge of start-ups seemed tantalizing, technically and creatively. When I got back from Africa, I flew straight to San Francisco, where I crashed on the couch of an MIT dropout and spent my days solving programming puzzles and interviewing with founders no older than myself. The passion and drive of all these entrepreneurial faces was deeply inspiring – I suddenly felt that overwhelming charisma that I had worn when applying for that first UROP at the robotics lab. In the same way that I had wanted to solder wires and create intelligence, I wanted to start my own venture that would consume my energy, combine my interests, and grow to be something bigger than cubicled code.

And so Lingt, a start-up focusing on building online technologies for foreign language classrooms, was born. I spent two summers in China during my MIT career – and it took all six of those months in addition to MIT’s language classes to reach a point where I could really speak Mandarin. I saw an opportunity to leverage web technologies to help language students pick up the spoken language more rapidly in the setting that I thought learning occurred best – the classroom.

Contrary to the fleeting half-life of my interest in robotics, my passion for entrepreneurship is proving more sticky. Making sure you find your job interesting is good, but combining your interests (in my case technology and foreign language) to create your job is heaven. Business meetings, marketing strategy, and even the occasional art design keep the right side of my brain very much alive, which is perhaps the greatest benefit of choosing entrepreneurship over grad school or a “real job.” Whether my co-founder Chris and I succeed or fail is besides the point (so far so good); by putting together a business that was able to secure a few partners and make technology that people wanted to use, we have escaped our destiny of being pigeon-holed as the “tech guys” for the rest of our lives. So, don’t ride college like an assembly line conveyor belt. Abandon those things that don’t interest you and figure out a way to combine those things that do. You’ll be much happier and better for it on the other side.

20 responses to “I have such cool friends!”

  1. Carmen says:

    This is really inspiring. It makes me want to go to MIT even more!

  2. Narce says:

    Loved the entry ^.^

  3. Carmen says:

    Did you guys get emails informing you about the decision time? Because I did not. I found out decisions were delivered on Pi day through the blog.

  4. Dago says:

    Great post! and yes Mandarin IS complicated. 你好!

  5. TorffickA says:

    Amazing…
    what a storyy….
    what a program….

    Great entry!!
    Truly motivational.

    Do you have a Lingt in Japanese?!!!! :-D
    That would be aweeesoommee, because I want to learn the language as best as possible.

  6. Narce says:

    Wow, Kevin, that’s quite an… extravagant website you made for yourself there.

    But compared to me, I really doubt you’re a Pokemon master. Unless you’re secretly Hasire or Bosgoed on GameFAQs O.o (which you aren’t)

  7. Aditya says:

    “an adeptness in technology would be more precious after graduation than a liberal arts education.”

    Thank god.

  8. HeDL says:

    Wow, seems that the Lingt system is quite popular that I have to wait to get a demo! Just wanted to check out what is special in this program from others. really hope this works and relieve the burden of foreign language education. I will wait to see smile

  9. Troy ('13??) says:

    Justin, you are absolutely right. That’s my main reason why I applied to MIT: because of the tremendous opportunities to not only pursue your passions, but to discover new ones, and then to combine them into something truly meaningful. After all, college is about learning–learning new things, learning about yourself. Thanks for the post Mikey.

    To all RA applicants, good luck to everyone!

  10. Fouad says:

    Wow, a wonderful and inspiring story! This is why I love MIT, because it helps you find out who you truly are

  11. Huzaifa says:

    @ Mikey:

    You have just defined the real purpose of education: Fun and Success

  12. Anonymous says:

    Wow, you’re my hero. I want to be unique, just like you.

  13. DOS says:

    When Life give you lemons
    you make lemonade

    Props to your friend for following their dream and doing something I probably would not do. (dropping out of MIT)

  14. Unix says:

    this story reminds me of William Gate’s story to riches. A Harvard drop out, look where he turn out.

    Great Journey, Truly motivational!

  15. bexy says:

    very nice work..
    really inspiring

  16. @ Carmen, yeah I got an e-mail, you might want to make sure you have a current e-mail address registered with the admissions office. Or maybe your e-mail got lost in cyberspace?? just goes to show that haunting the blogs is NOT a waste of time that could be spend studying….lol =D

    I have no entreprenual desires whatsoever, but i think it is really awesome that you are following your dream and really doing what you love. I hope to be able to make a pathway like that of my own in four years…hopefully with MIT being a stop on that path! i guess i’ll find out in approximately 64 hours……

  17. Steph says:

    Very nice entry. Great advice too. I’m glad to see that you found something you really enjoy doing. smile

  18. AjUdNis says:

    now this is what I had in mind!
    Kicking out something unique, original and productive in life…and who knows maybe it might become the next biggest invention!!
    I like Lingt’s idea a lot!
    People who come to MIT rock!