Student Feature: Arthur Zhang

2019 US Invention Convention

*This interview has been modified to keep its length*

Arthur Zhang is one of the brightest minds in the Computer Science field for his age. He is a highly motivated, dedicated, and energetic fifteen-year-old whose achievements range far and wide. He is the founder and the lead instructor of the incredible KTBYTE Smart Things program and is the lead instructor of the intense KTBYTE Robotics course. He passionately loves computer science, smart things, artificial intelligence, and robotics, and has equipped himself with paramount software and hardware knowledge. Through years of education and self-learning, he has mastered an extensive portfolio of programming languages including Java, JavaScript, Python, C, C++, etc., and has mastered four state-of-the-art development boards. Currently, he is placed in USACO Gold and has won various STEM awards.His awards include the First Place in Grade award and the Best Engineering award at the 2019 National Invention Convention, Best in Grade at 2019 Northern New England Regional Invention Convention, Judge’s Choice at 2019 Global Conference on Educational Robotics, and First Place at MetroHacks IV, etc.

The Smart Things program starts on Sept 15, 2019!

Could you give us an overview of your current academic standing?

I am currently a rising sophomore in Winchester High School. Throughout my freshman year, I took all the honors classes, with my foreign language being Spanish. I also participated in many clubs, such as Botball, Math Team, and Science Olympiad.

What are some of your extracurricular activities?

My extracurricular activities cover a broad range in academic fields such as Botball Club, Math Team, and Science Olympiad Club. I also play saxophone in concert and marching band.

I am also working on starting my own extracurricular clubs at my school. I am currently working on an Artificial Intelligence club with Beaver Works*. I think this will be an excellent opportunity to introduce kids into this fascinating field that is powering our future.

* Beaver Works is an excellent center chartered by MIT Lincoln Laboratory and the MIT School of Engineering that is envisioned as an incubator for research and innovation.

Apart from Computer Science, what is your favorite subject?

I enjoy math and science as well. I enjoy math, as it encompasses the same thing I love about Computer Science – problem-solving. Being able to solve problems is fun, and finding a solution is great, and Math, where everything must have an answer, is an excellent subject for problem-solving. Science, I find really interesting, and I like learning how the world works.

I understand you enjoy competitive programming. Could you tell us more about these competitions?

I’ve competed in quite a few competitions. One that most people would be familiar with is USACO. Currently, I have successfully passed Bronze and Silver in USACO, and I’m presently in Gold.

* Arthur also competed internationally on the 2019 Global Convention on Educational Robotics, where his team won the Judges’ Choice.

What would your advice be to newcomers planning to place in USACO?

Through my experience, I found that it is essential to learn the algorithms in-depth, as you get to the higher levels. At Bronze and Silver, it’s straight forward, but in Gold, they love to use modified versions and combine them to trip you up, and it is vital that you can recognize them. Gold has no leeway in not knowing the algorithms as you will have to use multiple algorithms and be able to combine them.

What is the best part, in your opinion, about Computer Science?

In my opinion, it is the powerful way in which you can express your creativity and do completely new things. I think it’s a great way to bring your ideas to life, and also to inspire and help others.

What would you say is the hardest part of getting into Computer Science?

The initial stages are harder and demand hard work. The initial learning of the language is difficult and might be annoying at times. However, once you start the get the hang of it, everything begins to flow pretty nicely.

What is the most important skill you obtained from the lessons?

I think one of the most important skills I discovered was independence. I had to overcome problems that I experienced while programming and learned to solve these myself without being gifted the answer by someone else.

What is the most important skill you obtained from TAing lessons?

I learned how to speak more formally when talking to parents about their kids. I learned about the importance of etiquette in these sorts of situations. I also learned how to explain concepts in a way that made sense and also to help the student reach the answer instead of giving it to them.

What is the most important skill you obtained from participating in competitions?

One of them has to be communication. Through the number of presentations I had, I was obligated to learn how to present arguments and speak in public. I also learned to be calm under stress, and that when you get stuck, you shouldn’t spend too long on it, as that will often make things worse.

How did you get into Computer Science?

My first exposure to programming was when I was creating projects with the Lego Mindstorms NXT. I was about six to seven years old at that time, but I still remember building Alpha Rex, a humanoid robot, and programming him to walk around on my deck and sing songs. That was gratifying. Then, I joined an FLL team when I was eight years old, where I enjoyed programming the NXT, and later the EV3 as well. Later, I realized that the capability of the Mindstorms was limited, and I wanted to try something more powerful. Then, I was introduced to real programming with Java by KTByte when I was 11 years old. After taking the CS00W summer camp, I discovered that I had a deep love for programming. I decided to take other classes with KTByte and rapidly progressed into competitions.

How was your experience with KTBYTE?

It was great. I managed to learn a lot and enjoyed myself. I took a summer camp on CS00 at the beginning, which was incredibly fun and enjoyable and inspired me to take CS01b and CS02b weekend course later. I still remember the game we created in my first course. CS02b was eye-opening and allowed me to adventure into areas that I had not explored yet. KTBYTE then allowed me to get into competitive programming through their excellent CS91 and CS92 course. The legitimate problem-solving in competitions was fun. However, my favorite course was CS84, where I entered the AI world.

How does KTBYTE differ from others?

I find KTBYTE courses more intuitive and hands-on. The instructors are always there for you to guide you and make sure you understand concepts. You also get to apply these concepts by yourself, making it a great learning experience.

What was your experience teaching with KTBYTE?

My teaching experience began as a TA with CS00a at my 7th grade. It was fascinating to be on the other side of lessons – as a teacher instead of a student. At 8th grade, I become a TA for Robotics, and very soon a lead instructor of it. At 9th grade, I founded the Smart Things program. All of these experiences were fantastic. Personally, I loved teaching. I find it incredible to watch kids learn so fast and find it fascinating to see what they create.

Through teaching, I was also able to learn to recognize when a student needed help or was struggling. I also learned how to provide support constructively – guiding as opposed to giving the answer upfront.

As time goes, I am now in a position not only teaching students but also training TAs and even instructors. It is an enjoyable experience to be with these students, TAs, and instructors.

Have you thought about colleges at this stage? 

I want to pursue computer science in the future, so I hope to attend a college that has an excellent computer science program.

While I do have some dream colleges in the back of my mind while participating in my range of extracurricular activities, I am not actively thinking about college applications – I feel as though I’m a bit too young at this stage. My extracurriculars are more for my enjoyment and academic enlightenment. 

Finally, what advice would you give to parents who would like to get their kids off of distractions such as video games?

Video games are appealing for kids because they are fun. My advice would be to find something else fun for your kids, whether it is a sport, an instrument, or anything else constructive, that your child enjoys. Personally, for me, my interest is in Computer Science, so my pastimes usually relate to those areas. These include learning new languages and techniques, working on projects, building websites, etc. 

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