Ayden King – Ohio Interview by Inspiring Teens Nomination and Photography by MacSnaps Photography Issue 41 of Inspiring Teens Magazine
The Nomination: Ayden King will be graduating this coming May and has over 32 hours in College Credit Plus from both Ohio University and the University of Akron. He spends much of his free time tutoring students of all ages. He is on the TEAMS (Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Math & Science) Competition Team, and in the Interact (Rotary sponsored) Club. He loves to Snowboard, work with coding and computer programing, and is currently a 4th degree Black Belt in Taekwondo. He has received various awards and honors during his high school career. He has a very bright future ahead of him.
Tell us about Taekwondo: I began Taekwondo around a month before I turned four years old was a way to help with my ADHD. I ended up enjoying it a lot and have stuck with it for almost 14 years now. I used to compete and even took third at nationals in Los Angeles before moving out of the competitive circuit. I've always just enjoyed what Taekwondo has brought to my life and constantly try to live by its tenets. This past summer, I tested for and received my fourth-degree black belt. In continuing my own Taekwondo journey, I have also volunteered and assist with teaching classes to help younger students as a mentor.
How did you become a programmer? I began coding during my eighth-grade year after reading an article about a program called AlphaGo from Google. If anyone recognizes the name, AlphaGo was a program that taught itself to play the Chinese game of Go. This was impressive because of the countless numbers of potential game states in Go and because most strategies relied more on intuition than logic. Thus, in learning to play the game Go, AlphaGo had, in some form, captured the magic of human intuition. And, honestly, I couldn't grapple with not being able to understand how Google's team had done it. Thus, I began learning several different coding languages before eventually settling on Python. I then spent my ninth grade year learning about and coding in Python. I think that the first program I wrote from scratch was a text-based Roshambo partner who would begin beating players who played the same hand each time. In other words, if a player continued playing rock, it would eventually start playing paper. At the end of my freshman year, I switched to learning about calculus. It might seem a little cocky, but derivatives and integrals seemed easy in comparison to the math I was preparing for, the math of neural networks. Neural networks require a form of calculus called Matrix Calculus. Matrix Calculus is a specialized notation of multivariate calculus for matrices. To vastly oversimplify, it is made to collect all of the partial derivatives of a function with many different variables simultaneously. Standard multivariate calculus typically only deals with two to three different variables at a time and calculates the partial derivatives in succession. Standard calculus just takes the derivative of a single variable. Hopefully, that explains why regular calculus didn't seem particularly difficult in my mind. It took me around three weeks to get through Calculus and Multivariate Calculus, but it took me around seven months to figure out Matrix Calculus. Even then, I was never as strong at it. The problem is that I couldn't find any material online explaining it, and even my Calc 1 professor felt that he didn't have enough experience with this specialized notation of calculus when I came to him for help. Thus, I was forced to just look up the code of other people's neural networks and reverse engineer how they'd taken the gradients. It wasn't a particularly pleasant process, but, eventually, I figured it out. A few weeks after I figured out how to do matrix calculus, I discovered software like TensorFlow and Keras. In other words, I hadn't really needed to do all that work because there was software that would have done it for me. Still, it definitely boosted my mathematical ability by a lot. Even so, I began using Keras daily because it allowed me to experiment with architectures and different layer types on a whim.
What pivotal figures shaped you into who you are today? Two pivotal figures shaped me into who I am today. Since their stories overlap, I’ll narrate each separately, to avoid entanglement. The first one is my mother. Mom is permanently disabled from several autoimmune/genetic disorders. Before becoming disabled, she worked in a cath-lab, leading to my knowledge of medical terminology. Humorously, in preschool, my self-portrait drew chuckles from privy teachers. I spared no details: Lungs, Kidneys, Ribs, and more. Evidently, my drawing was unique amongst the sea of my friends' stickmen. Mom underwent surgery after surgery, year after year, for "King"-sized hospital stays, saddling her with a plethora of medical bills. Having worked for the state, she was ineligible for Medicaid. I worried about her immensely, I’d regularly forget to eat lunch at school. Asleep one night, both hips dislocated simultaneously. I'd known she’d been in pain but not how quickly her body was deteriorating. After swiveling her legs to the ground, I helped her to her car, Mom refusing to admit that she needed help. The degeneration was extensive: she needed bilateral hip replacements. That’s one story among many. Despite obstacles, she ran the PTA! As you’ve probably guessed, I’ll always admire Mom's perseverance and indomitable spirit. Speaking of, the second one is my grandpa. PapPap was my father figure, role-model, and best friend from a young age. A former coal miner, he later shifted to a construction manager/engineer position for another company, despite no formal degree. He always made spending time with me a priority. This required unrivaled patience, given my ADHD tangents; luckily, he had the longest fuse of anyone. He fueled my interest in engineering and aptitude for tinkering. He taught me about circuitry, using mechanical tools, and running construction equipment. Tragically, five days before my twelfth birthday, PapPap was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic cancer. Losing him was always inevitable, but I couldn't fathom fate being so cruel amid Mom's health. I’ll never forget hearing his incoherent whimpers on the ER phone. He fought courageously for two years, but that day was the day he lost the war and I lost my hero. He’ll always have a place in my heart, but I've learned to treasure those memories, not mourn the ones I never made. I'll always remember his aphorisms and one-liners, and I'll always admire his patience and insatiable appetite for knowledge. Both pillars of my history influenced me in different ways: Mom showed me to get up, no matter how hard the fall. She also sparked my interest in the medical field and a desire to help others. PapPap showed me the value of patience and curiosity. He also stirred my interests in engineering and data science. With the addition of my self-taught coding prowess, Mom and PapPap's influences later merged into my love for biomedical data science.
Look for Ayden in issue 41 of Inspiring Teens Magazine!