When I was a kid, I remember my Grandpa Kamler’s house had a dug out basement. In it were the remnants of old typewriters as his career was to repair typewriters. (Kids, typewriters were like computers, only you couldn’t get to Youtube.)
Anyway, after he passed away, I remember we went downstairs to clean out his house. I found one of those 101 Projects for an Electrician Kit down there. It was probably from the 1950’s and came with a little soldering iron, some transistors and instructions to make the homemade radio. The whole thing looked like a modern day motherboard except if you connected to one capacitor, it did one thing and you connected to another it did something else. I think the only thing I got it to do was be a radio.
I wasn’t a very good engineer. But that little basic circuit board sparked an interest in me to figure out how things work. I would dismantle my Star Wars toys. I was one of the first kids I knew to get a personal computer (a Commodore VIC-20) after my cousin got a Radio Shack TRS-80. (Kids, personal computers were like iPads, except they didn’t have YouTube.)
I went to college to become a writer, but I drank too much beer. After fumbling around for a few years, I took a 6 month boot camp course to learn computers and one of the first things they had us do is build a computer from scratch. That boot camp, coupled with the old 101 Projects for an Electrician Kit and the BASIC coding I typed in cataloging all of my baseball cards sparked a passion that has sustained me into my 40’s. I went back to college and got a degree in Management of Computers and nearly 20 years later, it has provided me a house and a car and enough money for Google Fiber. (Kids, Google Fiber is the thing that runs YouTube.)
Ironically enough, I’ve spent 10 years of my professional career with the title “Engineer.” I was a Help Desk Engineer for 5 years and Systems Engineer for 5 years. Now I hold a title of Technical Project Manager and every day I work with… you guessed it… Engineers. Many of those folks got their starts by tinkering and building their own systems or soldering capacitors onto system boards or just playing games.
One of the best learning experiences I got in computers was getting three friends together for what’s called a LAN Party (kids, it’s what you’d call LAME.) Anyway, the first step of a LAN party (Local Area Network) is to connect the four computers so you can play the same game against each other. (Note: My wife nearly threw me out of the house when she came home to fine a darkend basement filled with four dudes illuminated only by the light of their computer monitors covered in wires and cheeto dust.) These LAN parties taught me core networking fundamentals that I still use today.
Anyway, the point here is that you have to learn by doing. And you have to learn through creativity. And you have to learn by having the guts to find out what a thing does if you change the values on it.
Today’s news is about a young boy who built a clock. He brought it to school and was arrested because the school thought it was a bomb. It looks very much like the old 101 Projects for an Electrician Kit that I found in my Grandpa’s basement 35 years ago. The other part of the story is that this self-proclaimed tinkerer is also named Ahmed Mohammed and he is Muslim. Oh, and the school is in Texas. (Kids, you’ll see this story on YouTube, but it’ll probably be in a Vine. — “So you tried to make a bomb?” “No, I tried to make a clock.”)
Generalizations aside, this is probably a very layered issue and maybe everyone’s got a good explanation. But today, #IStandWithAhmed because I was given a chance to tinker and now my day to day is to use that tinkering background to run multi-million dollar systems. (Kids, that was a #HumbleBrag)
Computers don’t give a shit what your race or creed or color is. They don’t care if you are a child or a grown up. They don’t care if you grew up on typewriters or Commodore 64’s or Lenovo T440’s. They only know 1’s and 0’s and they continue to change the world every day. We need more people to be encouraged to make things. They need to make clocks and radios because those foundations will help eliminate ignorance.
This story is about ignorance and creativity. Let’s make sure that the creativity wins out.
(Kids that’s a hashtag you should check out.)