Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has been an important part of my life from an early age. I grew up in a house where there was a bias towards these fields, and both my immediate and extended family had passions or careers in the space.
Making Learning Fun
At an early age, if any piece of electronics in our house stopped working (TV, hairdryer, fridge, etc.), the first thing my dad would do—with me standing over his shoulder—was take that equipment apart to figure out what was wrong. I learned about capacitors, resistors, soldering irons, relay switches, all under the umbrella and spirit of “fun” rather than “learning.” I remember my first electronic project kit from Radio Shack: the 150 in One. I spent countless hours with the toy, learning building experiments.
Like most kids, I was also into video games. When I was growing up, you had to program your own game in a language called BASIC, and it was common to see books on the shelves at stores that were entirely made up of code, with each chapter of a book being a video game. So I would transpose that code one keystroke at a time to the computer and accidentally learned to program at an early age.
This early exposure to the STEM disciplines helped shape who I am today. Without realizing what was happening at the time, I learned to think through problems in a decision tree, evaluate cause and effect and got comfortable with making a mistake, backing out of that mistake, and then going down the right path. This process taught me patience and diligence (transposing code and finding errors when transposing took much time and effort). It taught me computer logic and how to think through a problem step by step. It taught me to be resourceful and autonomous because I would experiment on my own, without a parent or other adult to help guide me.
The Benefits of Early STEM Exposure
I can take what I learned in those early days and apply it to many aspects of my life. I feel so strongly about the benefits of the STEM fields that we got our 11-year-old daughter into coding as well. She works through code.org (which I HIGHLY recommend for any kid), and they do a great job of making coding fun and interesting. I see her picking up the same skills that I did: thinking through a problem, experimenting, being comfortable making a mistake, backing out and starting again. We’re constantly on the lookout for educational activities around STEM, and we’re bringing our five-year-old into the mix as well.
My close encounters with STEM from a young age proved especially formative for me. This time is critical in any child’s development, and getting exposure to industries that prompt and cultivate creative problem solving, independence and a strong work ethic is invaluable. I’m a strong advocate for STEM education and support people getting involved in it at any time in life. It’s not a stretch to say that learning over my dad’s shoulder and working it out with that electronic project kit led me to where I am today and how InterWorks began.