When most of us were making our way through first grade, Tanmay Bakshi was a programming prodigy.
His love affair with computer programming started out as fun and games at the tender age of five. “Computers just fascinated me with how they could do anything. They were like magic,” Bakshi told Quartz in an interview. “Just seeing my name on the screen or just seeing the color of the screen change, it was really fascinating. I wanted to know what went behind it and how it actually worked.”
“At five, everything was like a toy for me. I didn’t know that people did programming as a job, that people were paid to do this,” he said. “My dad [also a programmer by profession] was able to see that curiosity and was able to help me nurture that passion,” Bakshi said. His initial rendezvous with programming included experimenting with simple languages like FoxPro, Bash, and VB (Visual Basic).
After Bakshi forayed into the world of programming, there was no stopping him. He designed his first major application when he was eight. By age nine, when most of us were still learning basic arithmetic, he had released his first iOS app, called ‘tTables,’ that helped kids learn multiplication tables. At 12, Bakshi became IBM Watson’s youngest programmer, even detecting a bug in the system. (Since then, IBM has invited Bakshi to conduct a main-stage session at its annual conference, and he continues to work under mentors at the company.)
Now, the 13-year-old is also an author and a teacher.
In 2011, Bakshi launched YouTube videos—Tanmay Teaches—designed to teach budding coders the tricks of the trade. “I started it with a goal, which was to help and reach out to 100,000 aspiring coders and beginners to help them along their journey of learning programming,” said Bakshi. “I’ve reached around the 3,900 mark there.” He has also authored a book titled “Hello Swift,” a beginners’ guide for iOS app developers.
With his packed schedule, the one thing the Ontario, Canada, resident doesn’t have time for is going to a traditional school. For the past two and a half years, Bakshi has been homeschooled. When he’s not coding, creating YouTube tutorials, or serving as a keynote speaker for the likes of Apple, Walmart, IBM—and soon, India’s IT industry association NASSCOM—he enjoys biking and playing table tennis.
These days, Bakshi is working on a project, “The Cognitive Story,” that is trying to help a quadriplegic woman communicate. “When she was seven, she could communicate properly. Now she’s twenty-nine and she cannot communicate at all,” Bakshi said about “Boo,” who is named after the only sound she can make. “Now we’re really trying to see how we can use the cognitive tech to augment her ability to communicate with the outside world.” Bakshi’s role in the project is to use cognitive computing, deep neural networks, and artificial intelligence technology to decipher EEG brain waves in order to try and understand what she’s saying.
Below are a few more glimpses into Bakshi’s life from his conversation with Quartz.
Who is your role model?
Steve Jobs, because of how he was so passionate about everything he would do, and how he had this perseverance to stay dedicated no matter what.
What advice would you give to aspiring young programmers with big ambitions?
There are three things I’d like to say here: Start small, start easy, and start playing. First of all, you have to be passionate about programming before you can program. You have to not be afraid of errors and you have to just keep trying. Every time you find a solution to an error, you’re never going to face it again. Every time, you do that, you’re just getting better and better at programming. And, of course, every problem has a solution.
If you were not a programmer, what would you be?
I definitely think a teacher. I absolutely love to share my knowledge. Whatever I learnt here, everybody does not need to spend their time and their energy to learn what I’ve already learnt, that I can show them. And really, why reinvent the wheel of knowledge when you already have someone who can share it with you?
What’s one thing on your wish list that you haven’t done yet?
One of the things I always wanted to do is get my book signed by Amitabh Bachchan.
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