Mentor Monday: Meet Avinash

Often Bold Idea's youngest mentors can be the most effective at inspiring and relating to our student teams. Avinash Damania, along with his friends and classmates at Plano Senior High School, Brian, Karthik and Rishabh, are already accomplished coders and technology innovators at their young age. Seriously - it's impressive! 

We are so lucky to have them work alongside our younger students each week. Avinash is a huge inspiration to them in determination, curiosity and passion. We also can't wait to see where his path takes him next.

Meet Avinash...

How did you become interested in tech and programming?
I first coded robots in 5th grade PACE using the Lego Mindstorms series, and the competition we attended that year sparked my interest. Since then, I have learned Arduino and designed numerous machines and robots with that language.

Last summer, I interned in the Machine Programming and Electrical Assembly Department at Regal Research and Manufacturing, as part of the Plano Mayor's Summer Internship Program. We use the Mastercam CAD software to design and program G-code for the parts that will be fabricated by the machines.

This year, I learned how to program for the Raspberry Pi, enduring nonstop dad jokes from my father about it being an actual "raspberry pie" and that I should avoid eating it. Haha, thanks dad, very funny! Using the Raspberry Pi, I created a robot that utilizes self-camouflage, based on the technological principles of the Tower Infinity in South Korea. The robot learns to recognize and adapt to different terrains and lighting conditions over time by using machine learning algorithms.

What will you study college?
I’m a senior at Plano East in the IB Program, but I intend on majoring in Computer Science. I’m very lucky to have to choose between UT Austin, UC Berkeley, and Cornell University.

What are you working on now?
I’m currently doing research under Dr. Vincent Ng at UT Dallas in the areas of machine learning and computational linguistics. I won’t claim to understand anywhere near all of the stuff he works on, since most of it is extremely complex. However, I’ve been able to learn about neural networks and how they are used in Dr. Ng’s project on automated analysis of argument strength of student essays. (I hope he’s not evaluating this!)

What have you gained from being a mentor? What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
As a mentor, I’ve probably learned as much from them as they have from me and the rest of our fantastic mentor group. Not only do I get to revisit the basics of a variety of languages and technology, but the students question everything in a way that has made me change my own approach to learning.

What was your most memorable moment while mentoring?
My most memorable moment this year illustrated that idea. Another mentor (Brian) and I were working with some of our students (Jack and Adam) on an ice cream shop website, and the code just wasn’t working. Eventually, Jack figured out what the error was, and I put my head down groaning while the kids laughed. I realized a student found an error that the mentor missed. It just serves to show that as a mentor, I have as much to learn from them as they do from us. That moment also epitomizes the collaborative nature of our Bold Idea programs as a whole.

Is there anything that you wish you could tell your younger self about coding?
I wish I could have told myself to start using the rubber duck method much earlier; it really does work wonders for me. If I can’t figure out what’s wrong with my program, I’ll pick up my rubber duck and walk it through my code, telling it out loud what each line is doing. Usually along the way I will realize my mistake and fix it right then and there. While I did play with rubber ducks in bubble baths as a kid, it could have doubled as my coding buddy, helping me catch my errors.

Is there anything about our mission that really connects with you?
I love how the mission statement includes the phrase "as a team." It suggests that no matter your age or skill, everyone contributes to the team effort, and the experience benefits everyone involved. The children certainly get to learn more about coding and feed their growing curiosities, but mentors and facilitators and the adults making this a reality all benefit as well.

A team endeavors together and reaps the rewards together, and I think that feeling of inclusion and achievement is paramount in someone's childhood. I’m honored and delighted to help spark the next generation of young minds who will further technology, while still working to do so myself. I know I was once in their shoes; I want to make sure I can show my gratitude to everyone who helped me learn how to code (my parents, friends, and teachers) by giving back and helping the students.