From jailbreaking devices to cruising skateboards, Paris Irving (OAK3 Hidden Genius Alum) is a carefree and self-taught technological spirit who aspires to be his own boss. In the beginning, Paris often struggled with commitment, but after being exposed to the numerous career opportunities and brotherly love of our Intensive Immersion Program, he understood the long term value of The Hidden Genius Project. Now in his second year at College of Alameda as a Computer Science major, Paris is utilizing his entrepreneurial skills to create passive income for himself and his family.
How have you been holding up over these last few months dealing with this pandemic?
I’ve been focused on helping my family and taking care of business at the College of Alameda. When shelter-in-place went into effect, we switched to virtual learning and it was difficult to adjust as I’m not used to taking classes online all day. This change really pushed me to seek out virtual resources at school to support my learning throughout the transition.
Over the summer I became fascinated with learning about the stock market and financial literacy after using this app called Robinhood. I quickly become obsessed with researching different companies and watching videos on YouTube to get a better understanding of what it takes to invest and trade stock. The biggest thing I like about stocks and the financial market is the opportunity to create passive income for myself and my family.
I mean, who doesn’t like making money while sleeping? Also, Brandon [The Hidden Genius Project Executive Director] connected me with his father-in-law who works in the financial industry and he has been super helpful in showing me how to create and diversify my investment portfolio. I’m excited to see my investments grow over time.
What was your experience in the program like?
At first, I wasn’t really interested in what The Hidden Genius Project had to offer when I joined the program during my sophomore year at Oakland High School. I know I gave the staff a few headaches because I just wanted to play video games, ride my skateboard, and chill during the summer. Eventually, Brandon and Akeem [Programs Director] had to pull me to the side during the first few weeks because I kept giving them excuses as to why I couldn’t come to programming.
It got to the point where Akeem decided that he would pick up my twin brother, Perry Irving [OAK3 Hidden Genius Alum], and I every morning and take us to programming. This was one of the first moments I knew The Hidden Genius Project really cared about me, as Akeem would always give us motivational pep talks on the ride on the way to the program. Everyday Akeem would share the tech projects he was creating which encouraged me to learn more about computer science so I could create my own technology like him.
My interest in the program grew over the summer as I really enjoyed bonding with my brothers in the cohort and learning about being my own leader during our leadership sessions with Hodari [Director of Curriculum and Instruction]. Sometimes the leadership sessions were tough because I was kind of quiet. The program pushed me to be more vocal. The staff would randomly call on me to talk about my project or share my thoughts with my brothers to help me get over my fear of public speaking. It was interesting too because my brother was in the program at the same time and he was more outgoing than me. However, Perry would always encourage me to step out of my comfort zone and speak up, which I ultimately did, and now I can’t stop talking sometimes.
Also, the business trips were a great experience too because we got to eat great food and meet people who looked like me at these big companies like Facebook, Google, and Pandora. It was inspiring to see them at their office as they showed us what technology projects they were working on and how they got their jobs. Overall, The Hidden Genius Project has empowered and challenged me to see the Black community in a different way, especially in the field of technology and entrepreneurship.
Describe the app you designed during your time in the Immersion Program.
Good News in Oakland was a collaborative tech project that Sean Kennedy [Founder of Good News in Oakland] and I worked on during the school year portion of the program. The idea behind it was fairly simple as Sean wanted to share the good things coming out of Oakland and I could relate because all I heard as a young person was how bad The Town is. Every day I would hear something negative about where I live in East Oakland, especially when I was getting ready to go to school in the morning, and it would have an impact on me for the rest of the day.
I mainly ended up using XCode and Android Studios to help design the app which would list positive events and news coming out of Oakland, sort of like a news feed. Users would have the opportunity to leave comments, share posts with others, and recommend other great stories to highlight.
After working on that project, I decided to use my coding skills to combine my passion for skateboarding and technology by building my ‘Skate Park Finder’ app during my second summer. The goal of this app was to help skaters find cool and safe skate parks in their communities. I then ended up collaborating with my brother on his app project called Creation Skateboards, where people can design their own skateboards using a mobile device.
What specific skills learned in The Hidden Genius Project have been most beneficial for you?
During my time in the program and after as a Youth Educator, The Hidden Genius Project has strengthened my public speaking skills. With the ongoing support from the team, they helped me grow as a person to be more confident whenever I speak in front of large crowds or groups of people. Since I’m always presenting in front of my class at school or leading tech workshops, I know being able to communicate effectively is an important skill to have.
Also, learning how to think critically and taking initiative has really been helpful for me as a growing entrepreneur. Whenever I finish my school assignments, I intentionally put in the time to do research on companies, the financial industry, stock markets, and annual reports to help me gain a better advantage whenever I make an investment. You can’t just invest money into the first stock you came across so you really have to do your homework if you want to make money, instead of losing it.
How is The Hidden Genius Project different from other mentorship or training experiences that you have been involved in?
At the end of the day, The Hidden Genius Project just moves and operates in a different way. Everyone really goes above and beyond to support you during and even after the program. All they do in other programs is support you with homework and provide simple activities just to keep you occupied. But in The Hidden Genius Project, they really prepare you for the future by helping you gain technology, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills. Overall, I felt a real connection to the staff in the program and they ultimately challenged me to become a better person in life.
How do you think your path might have been different if you hadn’t participated in The Hidden Genius Project?
That’s a tough one as it’s hard to imagine myself without The Hidden Genius Project being a part of my life. I probably would still be hacking devices and riding my skateboard without having any real purpose or goals for myself. When I first joined the program I didn’t want to give it a chance because I felt it wasn’t for me, but now I’m happy that I stuck with The Hidden Genius Project because of all the support and training I’ve received. It’s fair to say that The Hidden Genius Project made me who I am today.
In what ways have you remained involved with The Hidden Genius Project since completing the 15-month Intensive Immersion program?
Since graduating from the program I’ve supported The Hidden Genius Project as a Youth Educator on several occasions From teaching tech workshops at West Oakland Youth Center, to Brothers Code, to International Tech Slam in London, I’ve really enjoyed teaching coding activities to young people all over the world.
Going to London last year was quite the experience for me as I’ve never been out of the country before. I said yes as soon as the team offered me the opportunity to teach tech workshops with my brother overseas. I could easily say it was one of the best moments of my life to visit another country and experience their culture while teaching coding workshops to the youth over there.
It was quite a fulfilling moment because my goal as a Youth Educator is to inspire the youth as I want them to have a great experience with what I’m teaching them when it comes to technology, entrepreneurship, or just even being a creator. I want them to use the skills I’m teaching them in a way that will hopefully change their lives forever. I’ll never forget while I was in London this one kid was super excited when I mentioned that I sometimes hack games on the side for fun. He pulled me to the side during the workshop to ask me about it and I ended up showing him a few things and he really appreciated it.
In what ways have the staff of The Hidden Genius Project stayed connected/continued to support you since graduating from the program?
Besides helping the team as a Youth Educator, the program is always sending me opportunities to develop my skills, invites to networking events, and even resources for college. They’re like family as they always keep in touch with me even if it’s just to see how I’m doing.
What words of encouragement do you have for future Geniuses?
The opportunities are endless with The Hidden Genius Project and I encourage all future Geniuses to take advantage of every single opportunity that comes their way.