Monday, June 17, 2013

Intel ISEF – KickStarter for life

With Intel ISEF 2013 related news sprouting around, I decided to look back to my own participation in year 2012 and reflect on what it gave me.

It’s been a whole year since I participated in Intel ISEF 2012 in Pittsburgh with my project studying alternative approaches to processor architectures and a lot changed during that year, thanks to the Intel ISEF itself. Recent Intel ISEF 2013 (congratulations to everyone who participated by the way!) gave me idea to think and reflect on how it affected me and what changed in my life.

I also captured my Intel ISEF experience in a short documentary.

Although I got the 4th grand award in Computer Science, I never really cared much about awards, since in my opinion they're only reflection of how particular group of people liked (and also understood, as I myself encountered many judges who didn’t seem to have any knowledge in the area of my project) particular pieces of work.

I think all projects are important, even if they don’t get any awards at all, because what we really benefit from is diversity, people tackling all sorts of problems and the importance lies in the work itself, not any award you receive (or don't) for it.

But I digress.

The point is that awards and any monetary reward is not that important, because what Intel ISEF really gave me was courage; courage to believe in my own work and decide to pursue my goals and my own ideas.

I'll shed some light on my mentality before the Intel ISEF, on my idea of the future, so you can better understand what it means to me. Before Intel ISEF and the national science fair that was a ticket to it (and quite important experience of its own as well), when I was still in high school, working on my project, tinkering with alternative approaches to processor architectures, my idea of the future was kind of bleak.

I knew I have to go to university, because it was sort of expected of me by everyone, get a degree because I’m supposed to and then find some job. I didn't know where I would land, I thought that I would end up in some software company, working on some projects of their own, projects I had no interested in.

And then maybe, in some free time at home, I would have time to continue my own projects, realizing my own ideas, because I love making stuff and I had (well still have, even more) plenty of ideas. It never once occurred to me that I anyone could take them seriously though they were just child hobbies to me.

However once I entered the national science fair on the suggestion of my high school teacher, things began to change. Judges seemed amazed with my project and I collected 1st place prizes all the way to the national round, where I got nomination for the Intel ISEF.

All that was very unexpected, when I started working in my project, I was just doing it out of curiosity and I had no idea that something like Intel ISEF even exists.

Intel ISEF itself was then incredible experience. It’s not just about presenting my project to judges, collecting an award (or not) and going home. What made the biggest impression on me were the opening and closing ceremonies, especially David Brian Johnson’s speech about how future is made and shaped by us, not something that passively happens to us.

His words about how we should each take our part in building the future resonated through me and were a big contribution to changing my view. No longer was my vision of the future idea of being employed somewhere, doing something I don't like (because that was quite my idea of what work is supposed to be – doing something you don't like and in your free time you can maybe do what you’re interested in) and working on my own ideas in spare time.

Intel ISEF gave me the nudge to pursue my own dreams and build something of my own. No longer are my ideas just silly playthings that I keep mostly to myself. Intel ISEF gave me the courage to share my ideas with the world.

Some of my ideas are more playful and artistic, many of them computer games, some are more serious, useful and scientific, but after all, both involve creativity and imagination. The only difference between science and art is, that in science, you have to verify whether your imagination matches the reality, while in art your imagination tells what the reality is.

So here I am now, a year later. A lot has changed. I started preparing launch of my own company, although I hate to call it that: it’s a creative studio for various ideas of mine. I hope that over time, it will grow and become support for more creative people, but if it will succeed, I can't tell, but if I don’t try, I'll never know.

I'm readying some hopefully interesting projects, while working on smaller ones (I recently released mathematical puzzle game called DeCalc, check it out!) in the short term. Without Intel ISEF and the previous national science fair, I wouldn't do things I do now. I even work with a lot of cool new technologies (like Leap Motion or Oculus Rift!) and I also help inspire others to start creating!

I quit university not even after a year, not because I don't like learning (I love it!), but because it was actually slowing me down (I prefer self-education, more on that here) and I continue studying on my own, in much more relaxed and enlightening way.

I'm still at the start of everything, but without Intel ISEF, I would be there. I would still be in school, losing time with (for me) useless throw-away-after-grading projects, having almost no time to pursue my own ideas, feeling like wrapped in heavy chains of restrictions and conformity.

But thanks to Intel ISEF, I can breathe. Awards and monetary rewards aren't that important. What’s important is that it gave me the right direction in life. Direction paved with creativity and projects that will try to pitch in in the task of building a better and richer future.

And for that, I thank everyone involved in that amazing literally life-changing experience.