Becoming a lusted-after internet heartthrob was never part of Ben Awad’s career plan — but more than 800,000 TikTok followers and 53 million likes later, that’s what happened to the 24-year-old software consultant. “I was not expecting this whatsoever,” he says.
Ben started a TikTok account in September 2020 for “pure tech content,” like explaining coding memes and talking about startup culture, he says. He catered to a very specific audience of other software engineers, and didn’t think his jokes would land with non-programmers.
Things escalated when one of Ben’s TikToks involving a pun about back-ends went viral. These days, his comments are flooded with enamored fans expressing their love, asking him to teach them to code, and even vowing to change their college majors to computer science.
As a self-proclaimed nerd, the thirst is surprising: “I'm literally just talking deadpan about coding; there's nothing spicy about that,” Ben says. “But that just happened to strike a chord with some people, which is great. I'm glad they enjoyed the content.”
Despite all the attention, coding is still Ben’s true love. When he’s not making content for TikTok and YouTube, Ben is working on a project called Voidpet, a game about mental health that’s “like a Pokemon-esque Neopet,” he says.
Here, Ben shares his advice for finding a language you love, impressing people with your coding skills, and coping with rejection:
Why did you start learning to code?
“The O.G. thing that got me into programming was an AP computer science course I took when I was 16. I was homeschooled, so I was able to pick different classes that I was interested in. My dad was a software engineer, and he was like, ‘Yeah, you should try coding.’ It just clicked right away.
After that, they taught me Java, and right away, I was like, ‘What can I build with Java?’ Printing to the screen, ‘hello world’ is cool, but I want a thing I can actually use. You can build Android apps with Java — at the time, that was the main language, now it's Kotlin. I started with some really basic stuff, like a to-do list and a shopping list. The best thing I created was a League of Legends tracker, because I was really into that game at the time. After I made those Android apps, I was like, ‘Let’s keep making stuff, because this is fun.’”
What do you love about coding?
“I'm a big fan of problem-solving. I just really enjoy crunching on a problem and thinking, ‘How are we going to actually go through this and get it done?’ I have a very logical brain, and coding is very logical. It's not like art where it's very subjective; your code runs or doesn't. My brain was able to wrap around that really well.
I also like being able to actually make things that I can use. So that's also why I like web dev programming and app development more than some other parts. It actually feels like I have a superpower that I can just build a thing and now other people can use it.”
Do you have a favorite programming language?
“TypeScript is absolutely my favorite language right now. I can use it pretty much for anything: I can build the front-end of the website, make it look pretty, or I can go to the back-end and build servers and whatnot. I am a big fan of statically-typed languages: When the compiler checks on me, I absolutely love that. I love spell checkers; I need that every time I code.”
What’s the best TikTok comment you’ve received?
“My favorite comments that I see are comments like, ‘I decided to try computer science because of you!’ Some of those are jokes — like, you don't know how many people are learning for funsies — but at least I know some amount of the comments are people actually giving comp sci a chance because of something they saw, which is just great.”
What advice do you have for a beginner who just started coding?
“The first thing you need to ask yourself is, ‘Am I enjoying these programming basics to some degree?’ It’s okay if you didn't like some of the things. Try some different programming: try web dev, try making a CLI application, do some data science, Python — try a bunch of different things until you see something you actually like.
Make sure you get started on a project that you're interested in very early. For me, it was making Android apps. The number one thing people ask is, ‘Ben, what project should I build for my resume?’ What you should do is go ask your friend, or your parents who are not coders, because they have billion-dollar startup ideas that you can code.”
What’s your biggest coding flex?
“I feel like I can do an entire project now. Well, there's one part I can't do, and it's just never going to get there, that’s design. I cannot make things look pretty. If you give me a picture, I can make it look like the picture, but I can't tell you, ‘Alright, we're going to line this button up here. And this is going to be this color.’ I can't do that. I'm terrible at that.
But besides that, if you ask me to build a certain type of website, I can figure out how to orient the database, set up the servers, and build the website or the app. I think my biggest flex is I can do all those parts, which took a lot of learning. But I cannot design — that's my kryptonite.”
Do you have pointers for going on job interviews in the tech world?
“For the most part, it sucks. What helped me when I was applying for internships was knowing it's just a numbers game: The more you do, the better you're going to get. I noticed I was really bad at interviewing at first, but they kind of ask you the same thing over and over. By the tenth interview, I kind of got it down.
Don’t get too hurt if you get rejected, because you might get rejected by companies for reasons that are kind of arbitrary — they didn't look at your resume or they didn't pick it up in their automatic keyword picker. It feels really random sometimes, and it just kind of be like that. The thing that's reassuring is, if you actually put in the effort, you can easily switch jobs in tech and get to the place you want to be.”