Imagine if school was fun. Wait — I’m being serious here. Instead of doing seemingly endless piles of homework and sitting through hours and hours of lectures, imagine if we could learn topics that actually matter in the future. What if, instead of sitting in a traditional classroom and learning how to find x or memorize dates, we could have a never-seen-before education that teaches us what we really need to know for the fast-changing future, focused around innovation and creativity and with this education, be able to apply it to the real business world with real products?
Welcome to FutureHACK.
FutureHACK aims to redesign how learning is done by teaching students to develop the necessary skills for having a career in the future. Instead of only teaching by traditional education ideologies, FutureHACK provides a comprehensive education by covering the applications of coding, writing, business skills, technology, math, etc. into an in-depth and experimental course to ensure that a student is well-rounded in addition to having a mindset for effective learning.
FutureHACK believes its students should discover their true passions and give themselves their own narrative. By allowing this to happen, students are actually able to put their ideas into effect, and transform them into real life products to influence and inspire society while building their own paths to success.
Since FutureHACK is a derivative of MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamps, the program was held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus. This would mean that the program would consist heavily of MIT curriculum and culture, with special emphasis on disrupting the status quo and not accepting things for what they are. FutureHACK encouraged extensive questioning and criticism of problems in order to find a better solution. FutureHACK celebrates one’s individuality, not one’s general averageness.
This year, I was fortunate enough to be apart of FutureHACK’s inaugural class. I can honestly say that my 2 weeks spent at the bootcamp were some of the best, most worthwhile times in my entire life.
The First Couple of Days
Our session began on July 16th (which happened to be my birthday!). After checking in at the Tufts dorms, I went down to meet some other campers before deciding to chat with the directors Ning Shirakawa and Joey Jeong downstairs.
Later, we had our first informal orientation, which was an overview of what was going to happen at the camp for the next 10 days. The instructors also gave a little bit of background about themselves.
Joey always had the motivation to find a passion and pursue it. For instance, after developing an interest in trading stocks at the age of 13, he began to pursue a career as a trader by practicing, studying, and failing with stocks before becoming a trader on Wall St. He and his partners also founded some other startups, most notably an investment company they sold for nearly $100 million, and his current one, EXLhub, an AI driven computer science learning platform that can teach billions around the world. Joey also developed another passion for education. While attending MIT’s Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, he was able to meet Ning, and together, they were able to found FutureHACK in order to change the face of education in today’s world.
Ning, on the other hand, has always been a rebel. After moving to Japan from China, she became frustrated with the Japanese education system. The first instance was during Japanese class, when she knew more kanji and was not allowed to use it, and the second was the inadequate English education she was taught in school. Because of her frustrations, she self-studied English and left Japan to attend both Duke University and MIT. She founded Taktopia with Yu Nagai in hopes of reforming the English education in Japan, and has had great success doing so.
Our first 3 class days were spent focusing on technology and engineering, taught by Dr. Ethan Danahy and his lab assistants from Tufts University. We began with a challenge from the book, A Long Walk to Water. The goal was to build the main character Nya either a device to help her walk long distances across the desert terrain or to make transporting the heavy jug of water more convenient. Later, we learned more about about Microbits, CAD (using a software called TinkerCAD) and 3D printing, along with buildling robots and incorporating motors and sensors with Lego Mindstorms NXT. Each of these technologies required us to learn a new skill, whether it be coding, hardware, design, or even presenting. Each process required us to think differently — if something didn’t work at first, we had to think of new & improved ways to get it to work.
Our last day with Dr. E combined all of the skills we had previously learned to solve a real world problem. We were given a problem about a Dachshund with back problems, and we had to create a viable solution to help alleviate its pain. After breaking up into teams, we began designing and building our device, taking into consideration the customer’s needs, likes, and dislikes. Once we built our device (called TrapDog), we pitched it to the judges who gave us feedback on our presentation and product.
What I liked about Dr. E’s lessons the most was the interactiveness. To learn, we didn’t just sit there and listen to him lecture. Instead, he made us do a lot of hands-on activities, and we learned more by doing. This type of engaging learning, in my opinion, is a lot more effective, as it forces one to actually get involved and experiment with concepts. Failing is encouraged, since it lets the person figure out what he/she has to improve on in order to progress.
Entrepreneurship Grind— 0 to 100
We then shifted gears to focus more on the core entrepreneurship curriculum. Much of the content was based on MIT’s 24 Steps to a Successful Startup and was taught by Ning and Joey.
Ning was the primary teacher of the entrepreneurship material. She taught us about an elevator pitch, the beachhead market, and market segmentation, all of which are critical to the formation of a startup.
For every lesson, we would have corresponding homework to reinforce what we learned in class. Much of the homework would be an application of the topic learnt in class. For instance, if the subject in class was elevator pitches, our homework would be to develop an elevator pitch about a certain product or idea to present to the class the next day.
Joey tended to focus more on the future and innovation aspect of the course. With Joey, we would have incredibly interesting and heated discussions about the future of technology, artificial intelligence, and at one point, quantum computing. Though these ideas may seem far-fetched, they’re actually coming a lot more rapidly than we think. Furthermore, he also stated that most jobs that exist in the future currently do not exist, and that we need to be able to prepare for this transition.
A couple of days into the camp, and we had another mentor join us: Sasha Varlamov. Despite only being 17, he had already graduated high school and had already founded a startup (EXLhub), which left most of us in awe. Sasha gave us lessons on computer science, specifically programming Arduinos…and subsequently got turned into a meme for that.
In addition to lectures, we also had a variety of guest speakers come in and talk to us. MIT professor Rajesh Nair gave us a lecture on the process of ideation. Semyon Dukach, former member of the MIT Blackjack team (and Miranda’s dad!) spoke to us about his experience directing the TechStars Accelerator and his new venture capital fund for immigrant founders. MIT Bootcamp Director Andrew Ngui came in to help us create a startup idea by questioning each aspect of our ideas. Choukri Mekkaoui, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, showed us his work modelling the human brain and said a quote that really inspired me, “Be the 3% that are the leaders and creators and not the other 97%.” Christina Qi spoke to us about how she broke the glass ceiling in a totally male dominated world of hedge funds to found her own startup, Domeyard, and about keeping individuality by showing us her love of Japanese anime. AJ Perez, founder of NV Bots, talked about his time as an MIT student and how NV Bots revolutionized the face of 3D printing. Lastly, Christina Björnström, President at Swedish American Chamber of Commerce, inspired us with her stories of failure and how she was able to overcome it to become the person she is today.
We also had a visit to Google Cambridge! We were invited to tour the offices by Daniel Schwartz, who acted as our tour guide. We began with a Q&A in a conference room with Mr. Schwartz, his partner, and a recently hired employee. They answered questions about the corporate culture, interview, and basically anything related to getting the coolest job at Google. Mr. Schwartz then led us on a tour, showing us the rooftop garden, game rooms, a fire pole, the library, and eventually his department, Google Flights. He spoke a little bit about his job before taking us to grab lunch at the ever famous Google cafeteria. Before leaving, a couple of us managed to jokingly scribble our numbers down on a whiteboard for Googlers to (hopefully) contact us about any available internships.
Caring about the caRing?
When Ning & Joey announced we needed to form teams for the final project, chaos erupted. We divided ourselves based on personality types: hacker (tech nerd or geek — usually the most sought after), hustler (CEO and salesperson), hatcher (Mr. or Ms. GSD — Get S#@t Done), and hipster (artist, designer). Each team was to have 1 of each persona present, leaving everyone scrambling to form teams. My team ended up being Kevin C., Emilse, Mohamed, Alexa, and me.
Our first night as a team was spent on thinking of ideas for the final project. We listed around 15 ideas, ranging from a parking app to backpack locks to even an automated farming tool. We decided to call Joey in to grill us on each of our ideas, so that we could identify any benefits and flaws to eventually pick our one idea. After hours of pure interrogation, we finally narrowed the idea down to a multi-functional ring targeted towards the prevention of date rape, which we eventually named the caRing.
Ning and Joey then assigned us the task of pitching to strangers at Harvard to not only gain useful feedback but to also improve our public speaking skills. For each person, we would pitch our idea, and in return, they would give us 10 reasons as to why it would fail. To tackle this task, we split up and ended up getting feedback from 26 people in the short span of an hour. Our team then met up again, compiled the results, and looked to see how we could address each of the comments. The information received had proven to be very useful, with it contributing to a lot of positive changes in the caRing, since it had allowed us to identify some major issues.
For the midterm competition, we had to create a TV commercial that would be evaluated on the following 4 criteria: team chemistry, humor, quality of the presentation, and customer focus. Simple as it sounds, we only had little time to complete this task so everyone was frantic to begin filming.
Kevin came up with plot for the film — the idea of 2 drastically different scenarios. The first scenario would consist of the protagonist attending a party without using the caRing and dying, and the second scenario would mirror the first one, but this time, since the protagonist had used the caRing, she would remain alive. Despite shooting and editing the commercial in less than an hour, we did end up winning the midterm competition.
To view the (incredibly cringy) commercial, use this link:
Ah, demo day. Truth be told, I still wonder how any of us managed to stay awake that day. The nights before consisted of hopeless cramming, stress, and lots of power naps.
Demo day began with each group desperately trying to finish their project. My group still had to finish the slides and actually plan out what we were going to say, as we ended up crashing too early the night before. This left us in a tense and high pressure situation, and the fact that Ning wanted us to practice our pitch to her an hour before everyone else added even more pressure.
Our first pitch to Ning & Miranda was an actual disaster. Since we had only finished our PowerPoint around 20 mins before, Alexa and I had rehearsed our pitch 2 times, meaning our presentation to them would be the 3rd time we would go through it. After pitching, they gave us a ton of feedback — 50 things to fix, to be precise, and we realized we only had a little more than an hour left.
After meticulously fine-tuning our presentation, we eventually pitched to some nearby strangers in E-52.
Though we wanted to pitch once again to Ning & Miranda, Ning was nowhere to be seen, so Miranda ended up dropping by. We did a final pitch to Miranda, who said we improved massively and gave us a couple of more last-minute pointers to include in our presentation.
Demo Day officially began at 3PM. The 5 judges would evaluate us on 4 criteria: team chemistry, proposed solution, customer focus, and business potential.
Divya’s group was the first to go, and they pitched a platform called Milestone, which would enable students to form a closer connection with colleges. My group went next, and we spoke about the caRing. Erica’s group (LifeSavers) followed us, speaking about their idea for thermal cameras used towards the eradication of human trafficking, and Maria’s group concluded the presentations by creating an app called QuickCuisine with quick and easy 10-minute lunch recipes to make for school, in hopes of providing a solution to the bad quality of school-provided lunches.
I really liked everyone’s presentation! Milestone had a very firm vision of what they wanted — they were able to answer each question judges had expertly, with minimal hesitation or stuttering. LifeSavers had an amazing idea — to be able to help so many victims of human trafficking was not only heartwarming, but also incredibly needed in today’s world. QuickCuisine had arguably the best bond. Just by watching, I could see that everyone in the team was very comfortable with each other, and this definitely showed in the presentation, since it was very natural and flowed well.
After long and tough deliberation between the judging panel, the awards were ready to be announced. It turned out that the caRing won the Best Technology prize in addition to the overall Grand Prize! We were ecstatic when we heard the news, and I’d like to thank all our mentors for guiding us in the process of preparing our final presentations. Congrats to everyone!!!
Outside the Classroom
Perhaps the best thing about the bootcamp was the bond the group developed. Even though at first it was severely segregated into boys-only & girls-only groups, as time went by, these walls broke down and all the kids grew more comfortable with each other.
Memes were also a integral part of our connection. They became factor that we laughed and bonded over throughout our time at the bootcamp.
Chantakrak (Chan) was a walking meme. His bubbly personality meant that he was always happy and outgoing. One time, he kicked a pack of ramen and the package exploded across the dorm hallway, with the majority of it spilling directly in front of Ning’s room. He then had to pick up each noodle strand one-by-one, as the rest of us stood there absolutely dying of laughter.
Sasha got turned into a meme after his Arduino lessons. Since he would never come out of his room, rumors began to spread that he had an…affair with his beloved Arduinos, which ended up turning into a huge joke amongst the students.
Gabe also got turned into a meme. During our midterm competition, he looked deep in thought while researching something. So, someone took a picture of him and Alexa photoshopped him onto the caRing logo as a joke, and it’s been a meme (that he doesn’t enjoy) ever since.
Weird Chinese videos were also a hit among Alexa, Ian, and me. Watching “Kuang Kuang’s Diary” at 1AM made us cry of laughter. We also attempted dancing to a CPOP video called “小雞小雞”. Turned out horrendous.
Our nightlife consisted of a variety of activities. After dinner, most of us would go play basketball or tennis. One day, we decided to shoot a podcast called Yu&Yu starring YU NAGAI! Singing, card games, and throwing cards were also other activities many campers participated in. There was another night dedicated to a talent show. For some of us, midnight snacking became a ritual; we’d eat instant ramen at 2AM, order pizza at 1AM, or munch on Asian snacks at 12AM.
Parties were a major part of our nightlife. We threw a welcome party for a group of Japanese campers who arrived for their camp, and despite the language barrier, it was a success! Chan also tried throwing a party in Sasha’s room. The first time he failed, but during the second attempt, Joey got a key which resulted in everyone crashing Sasha’s room while Chan blasted rap music to wake him up. There was also another time when everyone decided to get dressed up and hang out together.
With all the crazy and outrageous activities that we did throughout the bootcamp, I feel that it really brought us together as a group, connecting with each other through late night talks and sleepovers in the hallway.
The Shopping Trip
Throughout the entire week, I had been pestering Ning & Joey to let us go out and explore downtown Boston.
The issue was finding a mentor that could take us — Ian was nowhere to be found, Miranda seemed down, but Sasha was available. After 10 mins of nonstop begging, he finally agreed. Before we left, however, Joey gave us a mission: get Sasha a shirt that did not relate to coding.
We began our trip by splitting into 2 groups — the first would leave for Quincy Market/Faneuil Hall, and the other would go directly to Newbury St. The 6 of us — Alexa, Divya, Erica, Sasha, Brandon, and me — would end up going to Faneuil Hall first.
After stuffing ourselves with seafood & burgers, we then headed over to Newbury St., shopping at all kinds of stores like Lady M, Muji, and eventually Urban Outfitters. Since our team was determined to make Sasha a normal teenager (for once), we threw him some questionable shirts to try on before settling for an ugly Hawaiian shirt. Though it was initially done as a joke, he ended up buying it (for $44!) and wearing it for the rest of the day, much to our embarrassment.
We then walked to the Boston Common, taking some time to admire the scenery, take selfies, and joke around together.
Since none of us wanted to head back to Tufts, we looked for other ways to kill time. Eventually, we settled on going to get boba to drink. Despite the fact that the walk between the Boston Common & Tea-Do was not far, my phone decided to take us near Tufts Medical Center in a seemingly sketchy, dark area (thank you, Apple Maps). After we figured out the correct place, we got our boba (much to Chan’s disappointment), and slowly walked back to take the T home.
Even though it would seem like a normal teenage outing, it was truly a wonderful way to end the camp.
Lessons Learned + Future Goals
If I could summarize my learning experience into 3 major points, it’d be:
- Be the 3%, not the 97%
— Essentially, this quote talks about how one should be part of the 3% that goes above and beyond to create change, instead of being part of 97% that blindly follows. By being part of the 3%, one has the ability to pave the future for the rest of humanity.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of the team
— Prior to arriving at the bootcamp, I had always thought the most important aspect of a startup was the idea. Every single speaker we had continued to reinforce the idea that the team was more important than the product itself. I really didn’t realize how accurate that statement was until after the bootcamp. Though we may not have had the best or most perfected idea, my team had an insanely strong team chemistry, which is why I believe we were able to work well together to get things done, and in the end, win the final competition.
- Do not be afraid to fail!
— This was definitely something I’ve struggled with before. Prior to coming here, I’ve always had a fear of failure: I thought it’d make me look weak. However, after hearing numerous failure stories, I began to realize that failure is a normal part of human development, and that it is necessary in order for success to come through.
This bootcamp has had a profound impact on my life. It’s taught me valuable lessons, introduced a newfound passion, and brought a whole new community to me. Under the guidance of 2 amazing mentors, Ning and Joey, and the wonderful speakers from the MIT & Harvard communities, I now know that I have the ability to innovate and improve the world. As long as I have the determination to succeed, there is nothing that can hinder my progress.