The theme was Single Board Computers, so everyone who spoke had to talk about them. That includes the world renown Raspberry Pi, but also other less known things like an Intel Edison chip and so on. All very geeky and so interesting to an outsider like me.
What left the strongest impression on me was the presentation by two secondary school students. They showed that they’re conversant in computer and engineering speak as they presented two of their projects — both drones.
They’re just in secondary school… this fact is really profound. I was busy chasing after my current wife when I was their age, occasionally studying because I (think I) knew in some fuzzy way that it’d affect my future. That was my grasp of the life then, and this is their grasp of life now. They’re building drones and have an understanding of technology like it’s their mother tongue.
While I’m doubtful that they have as great an understanding of the applications of the things they’re building as professional engineers, the fact that they understand how to put technologies together into a useful project is amazing. Just think about what they’ll do when they’re in university, and what they can do when they’re done!
So at the end of today’s session, I moved one seat over to ask one of the team mates (they’re schoolmates, essentially): How did you learn so much, enough to make these incredibly sophisticated things while having what seems to be a complete understanding of how it works by yourself? What resources did you use to learn?
I had nothing but admiration for them, and asked in the humblest way I could. And his answer was ridiculously simple: google. That’s google with a small ‘g’, because I’d just realised the crucial difference between them and me —they grew up with google by their side.
Google is a word, not a company name to their generation and those after them.
I believe that that has a profound impact on how they think. This is not to say that every 16 year old is like them. The fact remains that guys like them make a very small percentage of their generation. Most still spend their time looking at and going after girls, trying to be cool, or maybe trying to ace every test to clinch some fuzzy idea of a bright future.
So they googled
What’s the big deal? Everyone can google. I speak like I’m some old man but in fact, I’m only 26. Google became mainstream when I was in junior college, and I’ve since learned a thing or two about how to get search results that I want.
But the big deal is this:
How many of us make use of google in a manner that is proactive to learn something new altogether?
Judging my own behaviour and that of my friends’, I’d say almost none of us do. Most of us search for learning resources for keep-sake, not for immediate use. Having come into close and regular contact with technology much later than these boys means we are older when we stumble upon the treasure trove of tutorials online. Older means less time to learn (as we like to think about it, anyway), and we end up being resource hoarders.
Thing is, there’s really no point in bookmarking sites like Code academy or Free code camp or some Udemy course. It’s like a pill — it only starts to work when you ingest it. Then you slowly digest it. To become newly skilled at something (like say, programming), you will need to take multiple pills as part of a course. It’s like antibiotics. You just have to keep going and finish the course.
You just need to use it
Google is there, you just need to use it. That’s basically saying that the manuals and tools are freely available, and all you need to do is manage your time and show up.
Taking inspiration from these young guys, I’m going to build some stuff I’ve been wanting to build for a while but have been putting off mainly because “I’m not technically sophisticated enough yet”. That’s actually my excuse to myself and to people who ask, verbatim. It’s flimsy considering the power of google is just a few centimeters above on my screen in that search bar.
The list of projects I want to do over the rest of the year:
- A drone that can fly, and can be controlled by a person.
- Some security camera that records footage whenever movement is detected.
- Single-board computer based home server.
- A video camera + server setup that records footage and automatically uploads them to my own server.
- An automatic electronic door lock with PIN access.
The plan from here for the rest of the year
I don’t really know just how achievable this is, but I know only one way to find out.
And if my progress learning web development full-time using Free Code Camp since almost two months ago is any indication, then I think it’s doable, though probably by a stretch when it comes to time.