Although the story I'm about to tell you now happened in November 2014, I believe is the kind worth spreading, so here it goes. R/GA Bucharest team welcomed the Spectrum Constanta School to the office for a chance to meet a group of students who have expressed an interest and talent for informatics.
10 students, including three winners from the Romanian Informatics Olympics, were selected to travel the 250km across Romania to Bucharest, and discover first-hand what being a programmer at R/GA is all about.
It all started with my colleague Mihnea Belcin who championed the idea of such an event few months prior, but when Mircea Georgescu told us about his idea of building a tank you could control from the browser, all of the sudden it all made sense. In less than two weeks we were all ready and expecting these really smart kids to show up.
Mihnea championed the idea of this event for the last few months, and worked hard to make it happen.
“I started my career in web development thanks to my informatics teacher from high school. As an accomplished programmer, I wanted to give back to those that had laid this path in front of me. That’s really how this idea came to life – organizing a workshop to show children what life as a coder is really like. Spending a day with some of the smartest guys from Spectrum School was an amazing experience. I got the opportunity to speak to them about the benefits of being a coder, showcased some cool projects we have built, and talked about the technology behind it. I hope this was just the first of a series of workshops, by the end of which more children will choose computer science as a career path” Mihnea Belcin
Mihnea not only shared R/GA’s story, but also taught the students exactly what a programmer job entails and what it takes to be successful, offering them valued insight into the industry that many students in their position may never get to experience.
Building a web browser-controlled tank
Mihnea and Mircea, these two awesome open standard developers, took over the responsibility of teaching the class how to assemble and connect the electronics, how to code two tank robots, all while explaining to them how the technology works. Each tank used a Raspberry Pi running a node.js server which allowed them to control the tank in real time using socket.io. They used the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi as outputs controlling a motor driver that powered the motors. In the end, they were able to use a web browser to control the tanks and battle against each other. It's impossible to describe how fun it was, so I hope these pictures will do a better job.
It's all about sharing and giving back
To those of us who witnessed these moments, it was all about sharing and giving back. Mircea said it so nicely
“Having the chance to show such smart kids how they can explore these possibilities has been a tremendous experience. It gets you out of your comfort zone and makes you rethink everything you know. It forces you to find simple explanations for complicated things. It’s the kind of experience I wish I had when I was kid! It was very challenging, fun and useful for all of us. I can’t wait to do it again.”
Being able to support an initiative like this is amazing. It's something I would encourage anyone to try out. Each one of us was given a chance at some point in our life, so it only makes sense for us to create new meaningful ones for this younger generation. When you have the opportunity to teach somebody, you challenge yourself, you learn twice over, and you get to live through an exciting, satisfying experience.
As the American poet Mark Van Doren so eloquently put it, “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” It’s a temptation we should all fall for from time to time.