Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kids These Days

When I was 16 years old, my dreams were focused more on my first car and the pending freedoms that come with accessible travel.  Although my decision to pursue a career in engineering had already been solidified in my mind, it wasn’t something that occupied every waking moment.  Even my hobbies focused more on non-engineering things like sports, music, and girls – in no particular order.  I had outgrown LEGO, plastic model building wasn’t cool, and Lionel was for young kids and old guys who couldn’t golf.  Other than my drafting class in high school, I was a “normal” 16 year old boy who appeared, at least from the outside, like I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Those who knew me, though, realized I was a bit of a “whiz.”  (That’s what we called smart kids back then.)  I wasn’t scared to turn a computer on or off.  I took hold of my first CAD program, AutoCAD 10 on an MS DOS-based IBM desktop computer, like I’ve been pressing F8 and snapping to keypoints all my life.  I taught myself LISP.  My elders were amazed at my inherit abilities.  But, that is nothing compared to kids these days.

Take Alex Maund, for example.  Alex is 16 years old living in the UK, assumingly going through the normal activities of any 16 year old boy growing up in that part of the world.  Sitting with his friends one day, enjoying a hot beverage, Alex noticed that the cup is terribly designed.  The beverage inside is too hot for his liking, and the cup hot enough to toast his hand.  Conversely, the beverage cools too quickly.  Alex was never able to find the Goldilocks formula to get the perfect beverage temperature.  With nothing more than a science background from secondary school physics classes and his own curiosity, Alex went about redesigning the cup as we know it.

Variable Insulating Cup - Convection Cup

Alex’s school has educational licenses of Autodesk Inventor.  With a combination of the free tutorials, online resources, and sheer proficiency from just “using it a lot,” Alex was able to design his first and second prototypes of the cup using Autodesk Inventor.  The first prototype was little more than a couple of cylinders.  But as he expanded his concept and grew in proficiency, the second design was much more aesthetically pleasing and practical.

Alex didn’t stop with a virtual design.  Using Instructables, Alex had a 3D print made of the cup for free via Autodesk.  Then he heard about the 123D Design Challenge.  Alex finalized his Variable Insulating Convection Cup using Autodesk 123D and took home the grand prize in the competition.
Grand Prize Convection Cup for the Autodesk 123D Design Challenge

Designing the Grand Prize Cup

Alex is fond of Autodesk 123D because it is accessible by everyone, including 16 year old high school kids with an idea they would like to see take shape.  Because of his background with Autodesk Inventor, Alex didn’t need many external references to learn 123D, such as tutorials or online help.  He found the software easy to use but limited in features, especially compared to Inventor.  But, he says, anyone can create full parts with 123D’s features by applying “a bit of creativity.”  Alex’s Pro Tip: When making cylindrical objects, get to know the Revolve command.

If you hadn’t met Alex before, you would think he was a seasoned designer.  Besides having the obvious curiosity and creativity that makes for a great engineer, Alex’s design process is based on sound techniques.  “Start with a sketch,” Alex says.  A conceptual sketch is key to visualizing your ideas and is an excellent reference to maintain the big picture.

A Bright Future

First things first, Alex has to finish school.  Then, he plans on pursuing a Mechanical and Electrical Engineering double major.  He also doesn’t plan on stopping his hobby.  Take a look at a centrifugal force puzzle box he designed and several more projects on his Shapeways and Instructables pages.  Now there is an impressive CV.

Any hiring managers reading this should keep an eye on Alex Maund, that is, if he doesn’t get a full-ride scholarship to MIT and fulfill his dream of inventing new technology.  As for me, I think I’m going to start working on something to add to my CV and portfolio.  If this is what constitutes kids these days, years of experience may no longer be an equivalent qualification.
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