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Growing Up Geek: Kevin Wong


Welcome to Growing Up Geek, an ongoing feature where we take a look back at our youth and tell stories of growing up to be the nerds that we are. Today, we have our very own Contributing Editor, Kevin Wong.
Okay, so let's get the pink pencil elephant out of the room first. Yes, that is a Superman t-shirt and yes, I thought I could fly -- with some help from my pops, of course. Back then I wasn't aware that physics had laws, and to be honest, all I thought holding me flat was my love for robots. What I did know was that Transformers were are awesome, and that ice cream was a perfect supplement for vegetables.

Skip ahead a few years, and the obsession with all things robotic was as strong as ever -- enter Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The blatant corniness and satire of the show was eclipsed by a newfound phenomenon that dinosaur robots could actually convert into gargantuan fighting machines. And even while riding another robot, they'd somehow always foil the plans of countless super villains. Plopping down in front of the tube to enjoy a 23 minute episode of explosions, acrobatics and mind-melting robotic amazingness was superior to candy, toys and sports combined -- to a five year old Kevin, anyway.

Do your parents still have an entire collection of blue, yellow and green transparent marble-like tokens, along with cases and cases of Pokémon cards? Wow, mine too! I've lost countless hours of my life to my obsession with Pokémon, and I'm hardly ashamed to admit it. My (still functioning) Game Boy was with me at every gym city battle, every new skill learned, and of course, at every stage of evolution. One of the happiest days of my life was when I received my purple translucent Game Boy Color and I could see Pikachu in a yellowish-green tint on my screen. Minor victories bring major joy.

I believe the single moment that defined my geekiness and solidified my future in computer science was during the Christmas of 1998. My parents reached from under the tree and handed my brother a rather large box, while I sat across the room on the other side, pensive and engaged. Little did I know that my parents pulled a switcheroo on me and denied my brother, proudly proclaiming: "Oops, this one's for Kevin!" Ecstatic that my older brother of six years just got served by my parents, I grabbed hold of the gift, ripped it open and discovered Pandora's Box of possibilities for me -- a LEGO Mindstorms kit.

My childhood obsessions stay with me, as vivid as ever, even today -- Japan's full-scale Gundam statue is practically my role model! Growing up alongside the internet really opened up the possibilities of learning and leisure. Thinking about games of my adolescence like Warcraft, Duke Nukem, and Doom still give me inexplicable highs. But instead of focusing all of my efforts on toy robot models, or trying to collect countless wild critters on my handhelds, I stuff a viewfinder or some Java code in front of my face. I spend most of my time now with a camera at my side, and ideal nights for me are editing exposure tones of hundreds of photos or having an hour long date with a code compiler. The geekiness didn't go away, it just evolved into a more productive form -- and without the use of rare candies, I might add!

Each day in Kevin's life is made interesting by the following: spam emails, new lunch specials at old restaurants, conversations he overhears at the post office, people that sit next to him on the train when ten other seats are open, and free samples of chicken at the mall. Follow him on Twitter (@kevinmwong) to hear more. So much more.

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