Prior to joining The Hidden Genius Project, Elijah Hynson (OAK5 Hidden Genius Alum) had a passion for video games and technology, but as he entered high school, he struggled with low self-esteem and lack of confidence. After joining our Intensive Immersion Program, Elijah gained the confidence boost he needed to pursue a career in technology and video game development. This fall, Elijah will attend the University of California at Santa Cruz with plans to major in Computer Science and Game Design.
What was your experience in the program like?
Without a doubt, my experience in the Intensive Immersion Program was life-changing. Before the program, I had low self-esteem and didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. I also had a difficult time connecting with my peers so learning about technology through playing video games became a hobby of mine since middle school.
After joining the program, I quickly realized that the bond and brotherhood of my cohort played a big role in helping me step outside of my comfort zone. We had the opportunity to learn about one another on a deeper level through various assignments, especially during the leadership lessons. In the leadership sessions led by Hodari (Director of Curriculum and Instruction), we talked about our backgrounds, passions, challenges, and goals with one another in a safe space. Hearing all my brothers share aspects of their lives showed me how similar our lives are as young black men.
Also, the summer business trips were fun because we would visit these big-name technology companies that you always hear and read about. These trips really helped me build up my communication skills because we were able to network with black employees and learn about their career paths which were inspiring. I really appreciate The Hidden Genius Project for exposing me to what it is like potentially working at a technology company and meeting people who look like me.
Describe the app designed during your time in the Immersion Program
The app I developed was a chat application called “The Modding Creed.” While the app itself was a simple chat room, the premise was supposed to be that the app served as a forum for game developers to put their knowledge in. People who are new to game design would go to The Modding Creed to gain insight on different techniques of development depending on genre, game engine and making the learning curve easier to handle. The app was built with languages such as Swift, a coding language used for iOS apps that runs exclusively on Apple hardware.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different than other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
The biggest difference I see in The Hidden Genius Project compared to other mentorship and training programs is the sense of family and how you never really ‘leave’ the organization. In regards to other programs, after you complete the main track, there’s not an option to continue working with the organization. As a result, the participants leave and if they are not passionate about what they learned, then they will forget everything because they’re not applying the knowledge they have gained.
With Hidden Genius Alumni, graduates of the program are almost immediately given an opportunity to apply their skills as Youth Educators, sharing their knowledge of computer science to people in the community and students in the Immersion Program. Because of these opportunities, you get the feeling that there’s a strong sense of community in The Hidden Genius Project, as new students get to meet graduates from previous cohorts and gain insight into the mindset needed to be a good businessman or a computer science practitioner.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
One of the skills I’ve learned in this program is problem-solving. Learning how to problem solve is super important when coding because bugs and errors will always come up in your code. So having patience and the ability to work through possible solutions until you get it right is critical.
Also, I’ve noticed how my overall personal confidence and self-esteem has flourished while being in the program. With the constant encouragement and positive support from my mentors, I now have a deep belief and confidence in myself in whatever I put my mind into.
What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?
To be honest, the most important thing I gained was getting a deeper understanding of systemic racism, and how society ultimately perceives black people, especially black men. As I continue to pursue a career in the technology and gaming industry, I understand this is a world where I have to mentally prepare myself for challenges and obstacles that I may have to face.
When you imagine yourself before starting The Hidden Genius Project, what’s different between that version of you and the current version?
The only thing that stayed consistent throughout my transformation in the program is my passion for technology, specifically computer science and video game design. Growing up, I would always be the stubborn smart-alec kid who tried to be cool and didn’t know what he wanted to do in life. Now, I’m a more open, social, and confident person with who I am becoming. I know who I want to become as The Hidden Genius Project gave me the ability to have a choice with pursuing a career in the gaming industry but also get a computer science degree as well.
On top of that, my experience with The Hidden Genius Project as a Youth Educator has led me to be a more effective leader, facilitator, and problem solver through various teaching opportunities. Also learning to be more flexible and adaptable.
In what ways have you remained involved with The Hidden Genius Project since completing the 15-month Intensive Immersion program?
Well, I’ve continued to support The Hidden Genius Project as a Youth Educator. Before the pandemic, I was co-leading an intro computer science coding workshop — using Pencil Code — to over 20 elementary and middle school students at West Oakland Youth Center with Paris Irving. The students were genuinely interested in the topics we were discussing and it was nice to see them have pride in the tech assignments and projects.
Since the pandemic, I’ve been assisting Hodari and the programs team by mentoring the OAK7 and RICH3 cohorts virtually for office hours and supporting online events while sheltering-in-place.
Last year, I had the opportunity to fly to Los Angeles with a team of Youth Educators and staff to support I Am Tech. I teamed up with Zebreon Wallace to lead a robotics workshop for youth and adults which included a relay race and a cat and mouse activity. This was my first time traveling with The Hidden Genius Project to help facilitate a workshop at a major event. I really enjoyed seeing how fascinated the youth and adults were about technology and robotics as everyone loved it.
Overall, working as a Youth Educator and preparing youth of color for the tech field has been very rewarding for me. This opportunity made it possible for me to practice my skills as a youth leader and I also learned how to adapt to situations when facilitating classes.
Through my perspective, we’re ultimately teaching the next generation of how technology will impact their lives in multiple ways. I mean, if we’re able to teach these kids about computer science, business, entrepreneurship, we’re essentially preparing them to defend their neighborhoods and keep them from being pushed out. People can use their experience from their neighborhoods to support themselves leveraging technology.
If you could talk to yourself just before you applied, what is one thing you would say?
Definitely always be open-minded. Having an open mind means that I’d be able take in new perspectives and approaches. This is important because perspective can reveal new techniques to solve problems.
What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?
I’d tell them don’t doubt your identity and what you love. It’s important to put passion into your work and that can be shown through how your app is developed. When the time comes to create your app, envision how you can be able to use your passion to make the world better than what it was before.