Meeting young tech students

Yesterday I had a lot of fun. I met a class full of 10-12 year old students who are learning HTML, CSS and soon will be learning Javascript…  They are bright eyed, polite, eager and confident. They spoke about their HTML and CSS projects just like any group of tech folk I have met. Calm, confident the discussed their projects. They were very happy to meet me. They asked me questions and listened to my answers and asked follow up questions. They had all played Immune Defense that morning. They asked me how long it took to make my website, when my game was going to be released, and they told me my game was too hard to play. I showed them a few of our planned changes and I asked them if they would like to be playtesters, and they mostly eagerly said yes.

Some asked me about owning my own business. And why I got started making games that teach science. I explained that I was a scientist and that being a scientist is hard because we need more money to do more research. They asked, since have my own company now, do I have more money? I said, nope! Much less money now! I get to decide what we make and there is no one to tell me what to do, but that means there is also no one to pay me. The girls next to me asked, “Wait, you are the boss, but you can’t pay yourself?” That’s right, not unless I sell some games!

Another student asked if I had investors. I replied that “Investors want to make a profit, so I need to demonstrate that many people will buy my game. I need to show that I will return more money to the investors than they give me. I asked for a show of hands of who would buy the game as it is right now. A good third of them did raise their hands. One lovely young man shouted out that he’d pay $60 for it. When I asked why, he said “because it is hard and is full of science.” I smiled and I said that he was indeed my core market: the strategy game players and science fans. I explained that I want the whole class to give me their feedback so that more of them will find the game easier to play and fun. I want Immune Defense to have a wider audience. Why do I want a wider audience? “To make more money” several kids shouted out. That is right, I said, and returning back to the kid who asked about investment, I said, “This is what we are working on!”

I showed them some of the changes we are making to make the game easier, and frankly, more fun to play. I showed them our new GUI system and our new game play mechanics (these kids got the super-secret, not yet been released Immune Defense update, y’all shoulda been there.) Hopefully they all really do sign up to play test. (Hey guys! Please sign up!)

One short comment about getting more people into tech fields. We as bosses and colleagues can do more to appreciate the wide range of skills and characteristics of the people we hire and work with. For example, some people do not talk and do not raise their hands to ask questions, like one girl in the class yesterday. When I pointed out that she had not asked any questions, she said that she had two questions but that they were already asked by other students. A teacher or a boss or a colleague might interpret this as passive, as disinterest and might not think of her actions as those of a “go getter.” But she listened to the other questions being asked. This skill and behavior is also rare and valuable, this is a characteristic of a long term, marathon race type of “go getter.”

Oh, another short comment: calling on the kids drew them out, and uncovered new topics. Following the most outspoken kids tended to keep us on the same topic. The instructors had asked the kids to write down questions, so I knew they all had some, so I could systemically ask everyone for their questions, I surprised some of them, and the conversation jumped from game mechanics to website design. Websites are very important for marketing, so I now had a chance to discuss the difficulties I have as a game developer finding time to create and update my website.

Additionally, while talking to any group, it takes an effort to actually see the quiet people in the group. While speaking and taking questions or facilitating a discussion, my brain power is taken up by focusing on the questions I am hearing and by formulating my own responses. When I initiate a systematic scan of the room, and start asking each person for their input, it actually seems as if people appear suddenly out of thin air: people are there whom I did not even see before because I was so focused on the ones talking. So a systematic method of gathering input is important. I think that anyone who wants to be a successful leader needs to be on the watch for skills that are different from their own, personality types that help the group move forward together and perspectives that broaden the discussion to focus on.

After my experience at Luma Lab’s class, I could tell the class was was designed by and lead by some very thoughtful people. Having the students play my game that morning before my arrival, and having them right down questions ahead of time prepared the students but also enabled my systemic sweep of the students for their input. There are good things being done for kids and for kids who are members of under represented minority groups. Clearly Innovative and Luma Lab are doing a great job!

And one of the instructors, a college student named Vincent heard me complain about my website and how I wish I could get Immune Defense playing directly on the site. (Everything is possible, it just takes time, you know.) Vincent sent me the one line of html code that should do the trick. So if you see Immune Defense playable right here on, you have him to thank!

Posted in Game Design and Development
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One comment on “Meeting young tech students
  1. Melanie says:

    This woman’s bio in Fortune magazine reminds of quieter leadership skills I describe in this blog post. This woman, Elizabeth Holmes is an example of someone who has these marathon type go getter skills.

    here is a quote from the article in Fortune Magazine:

    “She looks like 19,” says board member Henry Kissinger, 91.

    Asked to assess her as a leader–because he’s seen a few–he responds, “I can’t compare her to anyone else because I haven’t seen anyone with her special attributes. She has iron will, strong determination. But nothing dramatic. There is no performance associated with her. I have seen no sign that financial gain is of any interest to her. She’s like a monk. She isn’t flashy. She wouldn’t walk into a room and take it over. But she would once the subject gets to her field.”

    And she does, when she begins explaining to me the “mission.”

    “Consumerizing this health care experience is a huge element of our mission,” Holmes says at our first meeting in April, “which is access to actionable information at the time it matters.” In our conversations over the next two months, she comes back to that phrase frequently. It is the theme that unifies what had seemed to me, at first, a succession of diverse, disparate aspects of her vision.

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