Time flies! In 2010, I was in 7th grade and just beginning to mature. In 2015, I graduated from high school in NJ and entered college. In mid-2019, I graduated from college and moved from NJ to the West Coast for my first full-time job. To commemorate the ups-and-downs of the past decade, I decided to reflect on my experiences and what I learned from them. Those takeaways are condensed into four themes, in no particular order.

1. Setbacks are often blessings in disguise

Failure is difficult to contend with in the moment. It hurts and sometimes makes us question our competence and self-worth. However, failure also presents valuable learning opportunities and needs to be embraced, even if doing so is difficult. Failing time after time and climbing back from rock bottom has taught me how to be resilient in the face of adversity, be humble and appreciative, and also enabled me to produce some of my best work. …

Science Olympiad is a team-based STEM competition that approximately 8,000 middle school and high school teams compete in nationwide. Science Olympiad was a major part of my life from 7th to 12th grade, and an experience that I am very grateful to have had. In fall 2016 (my sophomore year), I cofounded the Princeton University Science Olympiad invitational tournament with Edison Lee. Co-founding this tournament and scaling it up to become one of Princeton’s largest student-run organizations, has been among the most difficult yet rewarding endeavors I have undertaken. I hope to share part of that story with you today.


If you’ve ever attended a hackathon, you know how fun working on projects and learning in a fast-paced environment can be. There’s tons of technical workshops, speakers, mentors, great people, free food, energy drinks, hardware, and fun events. Maybe a bit of sleep too :)

A lot of work goes behind organizing a large hackathon like HackPrinceton, but not all of the work is “techy”. We grapple with many interesting logistical, communication, and management challenges, and I hope to give a glimpse of what some of those entail. …


David Fan

Research at Amazon Web Services. Director emeritus of HackPrinceton and founder of Princeton University Science Olympiad.

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