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Jocelyn Leavitt

For turning kids into game designers.

Jocelyn Leavitt
[Illustration: Toshihiro Mori]

Tired of watching children “mindlessly consuming” games, former teacher Jocelyn Leavitt teamed up in 2011 with software engineer Samantha John to launch Hopscotch, a build-your-own-games app featuring a first-of-its-kind mobile programming language that empowers anyone–kid or adult–to produce an original game, solo. The key to the iPad-compatible Hopscotch is its drag-and-drop interface, which allows users to grab blocks of code from presorted categories (movement, appearance, etc.) and assemble them to determine how gameplay should go (e.g., “When robot is tapped, rotate 180 degrees”), all while learning basic programming concepts and creating a project they can share with friends. In Hopscotch’s first year, users published more than a million of their self-created games, and more than 50,000 new games are now published each week. When asked about her app’s popularity, Leavitt demurs. “There’s a strong desire on kids’–and adults’–part to create,” she says. “People have ideas all the time.”

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Bonus Round

Where or how do you seek out creative inspiration?

From talking to a lot of different people and hearing the variety of their experiences and perspectives. Creativity needs inspiration from views unfamiliar to your own. You can learn from anyone if you’re patient and can figure out in a conversation the right questions to ask, quickly cut off dead ends, and surface valuable perspectives.

What is one thing about your job that you think would surprise people?

Emojis changed the course of our community!

What’s your favorite Twitter or Instagram account and why?

Well that changes every week. Marc Andreessen’s account (@pmarca) is a perennial favorite: he has a good mix of startup strategy, big-picture tech ideas, and interesting world issues.

How do you keep track of everything you have to do?

There’s a concept called maker’s schedule versus manager’s schedule. A long to-do list is indicative of a manager’s schedule, and it’s hard to get into a creative flow if you know you only have an hour or two before you’ll be distracted by a meeting or an appointment. Unfortunately, a lot of my time is spent on a manager schedule (heavy to-do list, day chopped into little chunks) rather than the maker schedule these days.

What are some things you do to refresh your mind when you’re in a rut?

Put it aside, come back to it later. Ask friends and other people for ideas. Often other people are less invested and can take a step back and give you outside perspective.

Who outside of your field inspires you the most and why?

Oh, there are so many. This fall I got to see Stephen Sondheim speak at The New Yorker festival. I admire his work tremendously. His work to continue to communicate the human condition is deeply inspiring. Neil deGrasse Tyson is another one. If more of our scientists felt as strong of an obligation to communicate their work to the larger public in addition to just being heads down doing their work, this country would be in a better place.

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