Having fun, making friends, and learning along the way.
I have a special episode for you. I believe that as product managers and innovators, we have a responsibility to help prepare the next generation of innovators. I’ve explored this topic in a few past episodes and it is time to do it again. So, this episode is about encouraging you and providing you with ideas for helping future innovators.
For this discussion, I traveled to a study room on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). I met with a new student, 17-year-old Kyle Markland. While being accepted to MIT is a significant accomplishment itself, what Kyle is known for is his robotic video tutorials. He is a kid teaching kids. His story is an inspiration to Everyday Innovators, as we can also encourage an interest in robotics and other STEM topics, as well as innovation in general, by sharing our experiences.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[4:25] How did you become interested in robotics?
It started in fifth grade when my school bought a LEGO NXT set. I saved up for a few years and bought my own kit to experiment with. One of the first things I made was a version of the shark robot that’s now featured on my YouTube channel. I tinkered with it over the years and eventually got it to the point where I could display it in public. At the same time, I was part of a robotics team at my school.
[7:30] Why did you develop the YouTube channel?
I aged out of competition and realized that I had a lot of lessons and insights to share. I didn’t want all of the knowledge I accumulated to go to waste. I started by making a video to document how I did line squaring. The video itself was rough, but the information was good and a few experts saw it and became enthusiastic about it. They encouraged me to make more tutorials and gave me tips to make the videos better. I think it’s important to show kids that it’s important to learn along the way and things are not always going to be perfect the first time you do something.
[12:05] Can you share examples of how you’ve inspired other kids?
I get emails from people around the world — little kids, college students, even older people. It makes me feel good to hear from the people I’ve inspired and it helps keep me going. Last year, I received an email from a mother and her 6-year-old son who were using my videos to learn about robotics. I recently had the opportunity to meet up with one of my viewers in person when he was on the MIT campus. I’ve also heard from college students who said the tutorials have helped them with their studies. I also heard from a kid in Norway who made improvements to my programs and I am going to be featuring those programs on my channel.
[15:47] What did you learn during this process?
I’ve learned a lot about video production and presenting information in a professional and easy-to-digest way. My first video was made using an old camcorder and built-in microphone. I spent money on a good microphone and an HD digital camera that could make the videos look nice. The video format also evolved over time. I made my introductions shorter and got to the actual demonstration more quickly. I’ve also learned how to communicate with people in a professional manner. This has helped me interact with my college professors.
[20:50] How can Everyday Innovators help kids develop an interest in STEM?
I just started reading Mitch Resnick’s book called Lifelong Kindergarten and have been very inspired by him. The most important point he makes in the book is that teaching kids about technology must be based in creativity. He emphasizes the kindergarten format, where kids have the chance to play and freestyle while learning along the way. That’s exactly how I got started. I played first and am now learning the calculus that goes into it.
[25:05] How can parents help their kids get involved with robotics?
I recommend Googling FLL (First Lego League) or WRO (World Robot Olympiad) to find robotics teams and competitions near you. If there’s not a team in your area, ask your school board about starting one. When I joined robotics, it wasn’t at my school but now it’s a permanent fixture at the middle and high school.
[28:15] Is there anything you would do differently if you could start over again?
I would tell a younger version of myself to stay on this path. It felt so natural to progress down this road of learning. It was more of my own thing I was interested in. If someone else told me to do it, I would probably have lost interest in it. I take screen shots of the motivating comments people send me and look back at them when I’m in a tough spot. It reminds me that I’m part of something larger than myself and that I’m an inspiration to others.
- Kyle’s YouTube channel, BuilderDude35
- The BuilderDude35 website
- Kyle’s book, Building Smart LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Robots: Leverage the LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 platform to build and program intelligent robots
“Engineering perfection comes from not when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing more to take away.” – an engineering mantra originating from Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” -Isaac Newton
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it on your favorite social network.