Canadian-American speculative fiction and cyberpunk writer William Gibson is oft quoted as saying, “When you want to know how things really work, study them when they are coming apart.” This technical insight is something that Stefan instinctively understood from a young age. He put it into action by searching out, exploring and learning about any technological item he could find.
“I was always really interested in technology and remote controls. I’d wonder ‘How does this work?’ and take things apart to explore them further,” he recollects.
In the midst of this self-directed exploration, the single event of his young life that transformed his interest into a passion and opened his mind to a new world of technological possibility was a simple visit to a computer store.
“I remember asking ‘How does the computer know what to do?’ and the guy in the store talked about programming, scripts, binary—all that stuff. It blew my mind. How does something so complex fit in such a small place, like a CPU? That discovery and question sparked a passion within me—I wanted to know how to create that myself.”
In Grade 6, Stefan wrote his first program and, since then, he hasn’t looked back. When he arrived at Shawnigan in 2015 at the start of his Grade 10 year, he knew straightaway that he wanted to pursue robotics as a fine art option.
After a few initial hiccups as he adjusted to the busy pace of life at Shawnigan, Stefan started getting into a routine and managing his time more efficiently. With those key learning skills under his belt, he found more time, energy and creativity to devote to robotics.
“Robotics provides a platform for me not only to explore programming and building, but to apply what I’m learning in my classes, like physics and math,” he explains. “It also adds a competitive element. I’m not extremely competitive in sports, but robotics allows me to be competitive in my own arena.”
The Pacific Youth Robotics Society’s competitive season starts each year in the fall and can take successful teams all the way to the VEX Robotics World Championship in the spring. For the past two years, Shawnigan’s robotics group have ended their season at the provincial level; however, Stefan got a taste of the excitement of the World Championships in 2015. That year’s event, which was held in Kentucky, set the record at the time for being the world’s biggest robotics competition.
As a co-curricular, robotics offers its participants the opportunity to learn both technical skills and valuable life lessons. Stefan notes that, unlike many traditional sports, the added layer of complexity and unpredictable variables in a robotics tournament means that sometimes success owes as much to luck as it does hard work.
“There are many more variables that are out of your control,” he says. “But that’s just the way of the game.”
Central to the game and to the whole robotics ethos is an understanding of the importance of failure. The way that you learn anything in robotics, Stefan notes, is to face a failure of some kind and view it as an opportunity for learning rather than the end of the line.
As might be expected, Stefan’s approach to life and his post-secondary options reflect the qualities of ingenuity, persistence, focus and creativity that are so central to robotics. Life after graduation will see him heading to Ontario to study computer engineering at Queen’s University. His dream is to create a start-up that develops affordable technologies to help third world countries prosper socially, environmentally and economically.
“I’m excited for the next stage,” he says. “Coming to Shawnigan has been so beneficial in terms of helping me. I really want to get out there in the world and continue with my engineering goals and what I want to accomplish as a person. I always want to keep moving. That’s my drive—to keep going and moving forward.”