Seth Raphael was in middle school when the pandemic hit, sending millions of students from the classroom to Zoom practically overnight.
As virtual schooling carried on from one month to the next, Seth and his friends found themselves facing a surprisingly common problem: being frequently late to Zoom class. That’s because, during this period of adjustment, teachers stored links to their classes in what felt to Seth like a jumbled cascade of Google docs and spreadsheets.
“All my teachers were pretty understanding,” Seth, now 14, says. “It was a hectic system, and it was really hard to find Zoom links.”
A burgeoning coder, Seth devised a tech-driven solution to his problem. His idea has evolved into LinkJoin, a web app that stores and automatically opens Zoom links to deliver on its promise of helping users “never be late again” to a virtual meeting. Now he aims to turn that concept into a bonafide business.
“I could not find anything else that exists like this to automatically join meetings at the right times,” says Seth, a high school freshman based in Walnut Creek, Calif. “Reminders are just really easy to ignore. I’ll get a notification maybe five minutes before my meeting, and it’ll just sit there and not do anything. [LinkJoin] interrupts whatever you’re doing and says, ‘Join this meeting. In fact it’s already opening, so better get on it.’”
Cracking the Code
Being at home during the pandemic as an eighth grader gave Seth time to explore his interest in coding, he says. He wrote the original code for LinkJoin in Python and shared the file with his friends, each one running the program locally on their computers.
“I thought, why not use this prior programming knowledge that I’ve never used?” Seth recalls, adding that he asked his mom to sign him up for a proper Python class in the summer of 2020. “I finished it super fast and really took a liking to it. In a way, the pandemic really fostered my coding skills, and I’m glad to have the time to dedicate to it that summer and the months leading up to it.”
Seth has added more features since then. Users can disable links from opening automatically, sort them and add notes to meetings. His next plans include adding premium features, like text or email reminders, for a monthly fee and licensing the service to schools.
His age hasn’t been a barrier so far, Seth says, even to his plans to present a poster on LinkJoin at the EDUCAUSE higher education IT conference in October. He had already been accepted when he realized presenters had to be at least 16 years old.
“They made an exception for me, which was really nice,” Seth says.
While schools are reopening for in-person classes, Seth still sees a use for his app一even beyond students.
“I’m anticipating that with all the COVID things that are going on, there’s going to be a lot of virtual school, so I’m probably going to talk to my school about adopting LinkJoin,” he says. “The outcome that I’m hoping for is for people to start using it, and to be a gold standard not only for schools but for all meetings as well. To help people be more productive and on time…and make a little bit of profit along the way, but as a side note.”