This 55-year-old stockbroker learned to code his first app in 5 minutes -- on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange

Twilio code jam kenny polcari rob spectre leah culverTwilioTwilio’s Rob Spectre (left) and Dropbox’s Leah Culver (right) teach broker Kenny Polcari (center) how to code straight from the NYSE.

When cloud communications service Twilio held its mega-hot IPO in late June, it did something a little unusual.

It held a “Code Jam” on the New York Stock Exchange floor, which was basically a jam session for coders. A trio of developers set up shop and programmed whatever struck their fancy, app after app, and streamed it all live to the internet via Amazon’s Twitch.

But Kenny Polcari, a 55-year-old stockbroker who’s been with the NYSE for the past 35 years, didn’t know any of that, he tells Business Insider. He just knew that there was some kind of tech IPO that day, and that three people were setting up computers on the trading floor for some reason. 

“What’s the investment thesis, what [does Twilio] even do?” Polcari remembers wondering.

Before the opening bell rang, Polcari decided to indulge his curiosity, and wandered over to the trio to investigate. Twilio developer evangelist Rob Spectre explained that they were there to show off the company’s voice and text technology  — and, seeing Polcari’s interest, offered to teach him how to code, once the Code Jam was officially underway. 

“I laughed at him,” Polcari says, and told him, “‘I’m old enough to be your father.'”

Once trading started, and the Twilio IPO was officially underway, though, Spectre and Dropbox’s Leah Culver found him and brought him back to the Code Jam. They set him up at a computer and told him he was going to learn how to code.

And even though, at age 55, he had never consciously seen a line of real programming code, he did. In around 6 minutes, he’d learned the basics of how an app comes together.

“It was a very, very different experience,” Polcari says.

An educational experience

At first, Polcari didn’t really want to take time out of his day to learn code. He says he uses apps on his smartphone, but he was “still wondering an app is,” in the sense that he’s “not really sure what goes into them.” Furthermore, Polcari’s a busy guy. So he told them he didn’t have all day.

And yet, under five minutes later, and with the guidance of Spectre and Culver, Polcari had made his first “simple app” using a simple language of Twilio’s design. A few minutes later, he had written his second. 

The first app let people watching the Code Jam via Twitch send text messages to Polcari (not his real phone number, presumably, but a virtual one set up by Twilio). “All of a sudden, I was getting messages from all over the world,” Polcari says. The second app let him hop on a conference call party line with Twitch viewers, all “live from the floor of the Exchange.”

“It was thrilling, in a sense,” Polcari says, “not only doing it, but doing it live.” 

You can watch a video of Kenny learning to code here:

Ultimately, Polcari came out of it with a new appreciation not only for the creation of software, but for how surprisingly not-scary it was to get started with coding, even though he’s not in the “millennial generation.”

“It was really kind of an eye-opening, educational experience,” Polcari says. 

Polcari says that he has an interest in furthering his formal coding education, but that he tends to be “old school, old fashioned,” and he’d rather have a classroom with a teacher than use the kinds of self-driven online coding class offered by services like Coursera or Udacity

Still, he wants to keep learning. If nothing else, he says, he has 35 years of experience in the capital markets that he feels could be put to good use in some kind of app. And he’s very grateful to Twilio for the chance to learn that building software doesn’t have to be a young man’s game.

“At the end of the day, I was like, how can I now jump on that bandwagon?” Polcari says.

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