Ian Trawick, Cohort Oakland 6 (OAK6) Hidden Genius Alum always had a deep affinity for video games and computer science, so it came as no surprise that when we had an opportunity to attend a business trip to the gaming studio at Sony Playstation with The Hidden Genius Project that he was even more motivated to pursue a path toward becoming a software engineer. We sat down with 18-year-old Ian to learn how The Hidden Genius Project continues to support his growth as he enters his sophomore year as a Computer Science major at Cal State East Bay.

How have you’ve been?

My life has been good. I’m on the path that I wanted to be on, which is pursuing my computer science degree from Cal State East Bay and passing my courses. I’ve been going to school virtually since my senior year in high school through my first year in college so I’m pretty used to distance learning. This coming fall Cal State East Bay will be reopening the campus which is pretty exciting and I’m looking forward to experiencing college in person. 

How did you first learn about The Hidden Genius Project?

I remember when Ndene Diallo, Cohort Oakland 5 (OAK5) Hidden Genius Alum told me about The Hidden Genius Project in our computer science class in 10th grade at Oakland High School. Ndene knew I liked coding and he shared their purpose, including how they give you a MacBook and stipend. After he told me that I knew this program was different, especially since it was a program dedicated to Black males like me. A few days later one of my teachers recommended the program to me too and it further convinced me that I had to apply.

What was your experience in the program like?

I enjoyed being productive everyday in the program because we were constantly working either on our coding assignments, doing research on social issues and how we could help support our communities, or just hanging out with my brothers. I also liked going on business trips to meet employees at these technology companies and seeing the environments they worked in. I’m an experienced gamer and one of the most inspiring business trips I went on was to Sony Playstation where we had an opportunity to visit their gaming studio. We all had a chance to watch how they edit and produce video games which was pretty cool. Being able to tour and network at these different companies motivated me to be a software engineer in the future. 

One program highlight for me was being the second person in my cohort to complete my app. Not to have a high ego or nothing, but it felt good finishing my app before the deadline, especially on a project that I’ve spent so much time working on. I appreciate the MacBooks we were given too because it was such a great source for me to complete my assignments and projects, and to jot down notes.

Describe the app you designed during your time in the Immersion Program.

The name of my app was “Cxre,” pronounced ‘Core’. At first, I wanted it to be an app that was related to the human population, but I was more motivated to build a video game news app. My app would list news articles about video game updates and patch notes, esports, and gameplay highlights. I used xCode and Python to develop my app and design the listing features. One of the most challenging parts of creating an app is fixing all of the syntax errors that would come up after I run the code. I would fix one error and then another one would pop up and it just seemed never ending at times. It was a huge relief to finish and submit the app after all of the hard work I put into creating it.

How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?

The Hidden Genius Project is the only program I know of that is for Black male youth like myself that helps develop our characters. Being in a long 15-month program is a huge difference too because you’re committing yourself for a year and a half to learning about coding, entrepreneurship, and leadership. The staff really cares about all of the students that come through the program as they are always supporting and offering opportunities to us.

What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?

Computer science, communication, and time management are the top skills I continue to benefit from to this day. Even though I knew of some computer science basics, The Hidden Genius Project helped expand my knowledge of coding by teaching me how to code using Python and designing my own website and app. Because of their guidance and teaching, I am now doing well in my computer science courses at Cal State East Bay.

I also learned how to develop my communication and interpersonal skills through various group projects and presentations. The program really encouraged me to express myself in class discussions during our leadership lessons, especially when it came to politics and the economy.

Another skill that continues to be really helpful for me was understanding how to organize and manage my time. In my second summer of the program, I knew I needed to put in a good amount of time into my app project in order to complete it. There were times where I had to sacrifice hanging with my brothers during programming or hanging with my family to work on my app. It ended up working to my benefit as it helped me complete my app ahead of schedule. 

What was the most important thing you gained on a personal level (development, relationship, community, etc.) from participating in The Hidden Genius Project?

The most important thing I gained on a personal level from participating in The Hidden Genius Project is that the program matured me and taught me how to be a man. I was taught how to take advantage of opportunities, be organized, be professional, and how to stay on track.

How do you think your path might have been different if you hadn’t participated in The Hidden Genius Project?

I wouldn’t have the motivation and courage I have now if I hadn’t participated in The Hidden Genius Project, especially in the computer science area. I had a decent understanding of computer science but I always had a feeling I needed more experience if I was going to major in this field. After completing the program, not only did my technical skills greatly improve but also my confidence as a programmer.

In what ways has the staff of The Hidden Genius Project continued to support you since graduating from the program?

The staff has continued to support me by emailing me opportunities for internships that were engineering and computer science related. I remember receiving an email from Arnold Lopez [College Adviser] about a Google internship opportunity that was taking place in summer 2020. The internship was online due to the pandemic but that didn’t stop me from taking advantage of the internship. I learned about the C++ coding language and used it to design video game projects. These projects increased my confidence in designing video games using this specific language.

What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?

Stay committed to the program because you won’t regret it. Take advantage of the opportunities the program offers you because there are a lot of other people who can’t get what The Hidden Genius Project offers.

Since 2012, more than 7,600 students have revealed their genius through our Immersion, Catalyst, and Community Partner Programs, and so many more are waiting to shine.


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