On the Olympics, Iron Man, and Learning CS/Engineering

by Allan Wang

The Olympics have been on recently, and I’m going through that weird time in life where gold medalists are the same age as me. I’m partly amazed by the things young people are capable of (but should I really be?) and partly excited/horrified as I envision rubbing shoulders with Olympians in college this fall. Intramural sports are going to suck, but I pity those amongst us mortals trying out for sports teams.

Imagine a semi-competitive hockey player, attending a college, and trying out for the hockey team the first time. She was a top skater at her local high school - she set a few school records here and there - and was ready to compete at the collegiate level.  

She started attending an elite D1 school for hockey - Boston College, Wisconsin, etc. - and walked into tryouts. Warming up, she overhears some kids talking about how excited they are, how they discovered hockey as their life’s passion at 3 years old, and their favorite game. She’s about to jump in with her own favorite story, until she realizes the game the other skaters are talking about was at the Olympics. She realizes that she’s talking to Olympic stars and - cut to a screen grab of her shocked face - then walks out of the locker room. (Shout out to Team USA!)

This was me during September of my freshman year joining the robotics team. Seeing those awesome and scientifically inaccurate scenes in Iron Man of Robert Downey Jr constructing inventions in wildly short time spans, I decided that, I too, would be an engineer, and the robotics team would be the perfect place to start. And so, there I was, with dreams of learning nuclear astrophysics in a night, until I met a few people on the team, namely Adam (who debunked great physics ideas like infinite torque - spoiler alert, it doesn’t exist), tried to engineer, and realized I could not become an engineer for a living. Instead, I joined the CS division of the team, and took up coding, though, of course, I later ended up leading the marketing division of the team.

If the robotics team didn’t have different avenues outside of just engineering - computer science, marketing - I probably would have quit robotics and never touched tech again. If engineering had been all I knew tech to be, I would’ve naturally concluded that I wasn’t ever going to be a techie and would’ve never discovered all the other tech fields, so I consider myself lucky to have been exposed to CS, design, etc. in high school. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case everywhere. Many students decide certain subjects or career paths aren’t ones that they were made for early on - many decide back in elementary/middle school that “they weren’t a math person” or “humanities isn’t their thing”, usually due to a poor experience in certain class.

This is no different in tech. In classrooms all over the country, students are told to do one thing - code this script, use this littlebits kit, or play with these legos. In most cases, there aren’t many other options, and this leads to a very narrow view of technology being presented, which leads to the student adopting one experience as representative of all technology. If that first experience goes awry and alternatives are lacking, chances are students will believe they aren’t cut out for tech. The student will have lost a rewarding career path; our society will have lost a potential innovator.

It shouldn’t be this way. One experience isn’t representative of the whole field. But even with the recent hype for STEM across the nation, few viable, long term options exist within schools nationwide, especially outside of computer science. Diverse ones are nonexistent outside of a handful of private and magnet schools. The National Science Foundation estimates that there are 18,000 teachers trained nationwide to teach engineering. In comparison, we have nearly 4 million teachers in this country.

In NYC, the DOE is pushing for computer science to be implemented citywide, but it’s still lacking on the engineering front. This is understandable, given the difficulty of training teachers, developing curricula, etc. for over a million students across five boroughs. Any meaningful movement into developing programs outside of computer science in more than just a few select schools is many years away. That’s too long; it’s too important to learn tech skills now in the quickly-changing world we live in.

Tech is more than just the Hour of Code or Codecademy.

Learn more than just Scratch

Ah. Here’s the part you’ve all been waiting for. What Kinet-X does different. Our team of engineers and computer scientists began Kinet-X with the idea of teaching everything within a single program, from computer science to engineering to design to entrepreneurship. Since 2016 we’ve tackled the first two; we’re hoping to tackle the latter two this summer.

Walking into a Kinet-X class, you’ll find students coding away on a laptop or drawing out an algorithm on the board; a few hours later, those same kids will be drilling a slab of steel. For beginners, this is a fantastic way to be introduced into the world of tech; for experienced students this is a way to develop an understanding of new material or become well-versed at the intersection of CS and engineering. Families don’t have to find separate courses at Kinet-X - all our programs teach both engineering and CS.

In practice, some of our students first came to Kinet-X looking for a place to code for a few weeks and left with their favorite memories being the ones where they soldered an LED or created a metal-detector car. Some came in wanting to be Iron Man (like me!) and left dreaming of being  Mark Zuckerberg, developing websites.

Students don’t have to just pick one of the two. In fact, we encourage embracing both. Learning either CS or engineering is great, but it’s with combining the two that students are prepared  to face the challenges of the 21st century. Great coders can end up being software engineers at a startup; people who are excellent engineers AND computer scientists lead robotics divisions at Uber and Alphabet. 

So there you go. If you’re interested in learning tech, give it a shot at Kinet-X. We guarantee you’ll find something to love and succeed at - just maybe not hockey.

 

Allan Wang