I had fucked up bad. It was certainly a relative low-point in my early childhood, and at the time it was absolutely the end of my existence as a human being. I failed my 6th Grade Science Fair experiment, and I don't mean my experiment failed. I literally got an "F" as a grade, but that was the least of my problems.

Let's take it back a few steps. As a kid, I was strategically lazy. All I wanted to do was play video games, build forts, go exploring in the woods, play sports, go to the beach, and try to maximize my time having fun (not very different from my mindset today). When you are maximizing your fun time, you have to minimize your non-fun time -- doing homework and studying, playing the piano and clarinet, reading books and doing chores. Chasing the massive, impromptu river caused by the collapse of our above ground pool deep into the woods to see where the water would go was infinitely more exciting than learning about the seventh president of the United States.

My First Experience as a Developer

The 6th Grade Science Fair posed a major threat to the maximization of my fun times. We were supposed to invest countless hours to study how seeds grew in different soil conditions or something uninteresting like that. At the time, I was completely fascinated by computers (still am) and decided that I was going to create a video game for my science fair experiment. For some reason my teacher let me run with it and off I went.

I spent all this time writing up a cool story about how this adventurer boy had to go on this quest to save the kingdom and fight a dragon. That was fun. I absolutely procrastinated anything at all that involved trying to program a computer. That was difficult. I had no idea where to even begin with the actual programming, but I kept telling my mother I was making progress (which loosely translated into my progress of achieving a new high score on Oregon Trail).

The weekend before the science fair, I was running out of options. I had written zero lines of code. I didn't even know what program to use to write the code. I was in deep shit. That's when strategic laziness came rearing it's ugly head.

The Master Plan

How could I possibly convince people at the Science Fair that I had wrote a computer program when I had actually done nothing? Most ofteh, the simplest answer is the best. I'm impressed at my little 12 year old brain for coming up with it.

All I had to do was fill up two floppy disks with a bunch of random files and tell people that my computer program was on there. I created a tri-fold poster with the abstract and hypothesis, some generic photos to make it colorful, and a report that pulled it all together. The genius of it was that there was no such thing as laptops or portable computers, so no one had any way of verifying that the two floppy disks were completely useless. Minimal viable effort unlocked.

The night of the science fair came and went. I stood by my booth with two blank disks for a while before I skipped out to play some basketball outside. My master plan had worked perfectly....

Crying in Front of the Class

During the next day of school, I felt on top of the world. I had just pulled off a great bank robbery and had gotten away with it, but I was a kid and I was dumb. I couldn't keep this amazing feat of strategic laziness to myself. Someone else had to appreciate the greatness of what I pulled off. I couldn't tell my mother or father, because they'd be pissed. I couldn't tell my brother for fear that he might tell my parents. So I told my friend at school the next day. Totally bragging to the max.

"Guess what I pulled off."

I'm the worst criminal. It didn't take long for my friend to tell his best friend who was incredibly pissed that he did all this hard work and I faked it. He told the teacher. And that was the end of my existence.

The teacher called me to the front of the room. Asked me if I cheated and pretended that two blank floppy disks were a computer program. I nodded. She told me that she had to give me an "F" for cheating. I started crying in front of the class. Game over.

Dealing with the Fallout

Mrs. McFadden knew me all too well. I was one of the best students in her class. I was given the option to re-do my science fair experiment, but it would come at great cost. While all the other kids were having fun playing during lunchtime and on breaks and going outside when it was nice out, I had to sit in front of the computer and actually program something and give up all my fun time. It was practically a death sentence, but I had no choice. I programmed some yes / no questions in BASIC with a random output. "Do you want to fight the dragon?" "Yes" "Sorry, you died a fiery death." "Yay! You slayed the dragon." It was pretty cool to present it to the class once it was done, but it was also the ultimate reminder of that time when John cried in front of the whole class. Brutal.

Lessons learned:

  • programming is really tough
  • bragging typically comes back to haunt you
  • sometimes strategic laziness isn't the best answer
  • crying in front of your classmates is the ultimate blow to your street cred
  • if you want it bad enough, you can fake just about anything :)