planning-mdIt would seem that the opposition to the the Ahmed Mohamed situation has derided into an almost comical “debate” as to whether or not his homebrewed clock was worthy of being considered an invention or not; and I suppose therefore questioning his motives?  I am not sure really what the purpose of adults denigrating a 14-year-old is, but I would be willing to bet good money most of the folks voicing this opinion couldn’t set the time on their VCR. When we had VCRs. If you are  under 20, please Google VCR 🙂

So here’s the thing. I have a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from UMBC. A Master of Science in Systems Engineering from Johns Hopkins. I am also a licensed Professional Engineer and Certified Energy Manager. In short, I have a little experience dealing with electronics and engineering. I also tinker around most evenings and weekends, just like Ahmed.

Let me assure everyone, what Ahmed did is amazing.

Most folks seem to bask in willful ignorance. Very much so when it comes to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. We seem to think the Hollywood portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man is how “real inventing gets done.” We also live in world of iPhones, iPad, Android tablets and Microsoft Surfaces.  Thus the idea of “simply” taking existing components and slapping them together can’t possibly be worthy of being called an invention, right?!  Wrong. So very, very wrong. In fact, that’s how literally very consumer electronics device is built. If you think for a moment that every component in every device you buy was invented by a single company, well, I have so ocean front property in Arizona I would love for you to look at.  Much of modern “inventions” is really “just” integration of existing components, perhaps with something unique thrown in every now and then. But be assured “simple” integration ain’t that simple! Even the “simple” process of refactoring a design into a form factor requires engineering discipline.  That is why for example it takes a few years for a new generation Xbox or PlayStation to get a “slimmed” version.  If you are over 40, Google that to understand what I am talking about.

So here’s to the naysayers. Engineers of today started their careers by tinkering just like Ahmed. And if you had dared to insinuate my creations weren’t worthy of being called an invention I’d probably amaze you with language that would make a sailor jealous. You myopic definition of “invention” does a disservice to those who spent years tinkering away in their labs and workshops to make things just a little better for humanity. The least we could do is show a little gratitude. I will also let you in on a little secret.  Every engineer, scientist, technician, theorist, hell even artists, builds on those who come before them. And this goes back for 1000s of years.  If you think invention is a divine flash of light in the brain of a lone inventor, well, I’d call you a moron. But that’s not my style. Instead, allow me to recommend a book called “The Inventors” by Walter Isaacson. It would serve you well to educate yourself before speaking on topics you are quite obviously ignorant about.

While I have your attention, I am going to assume that if you are a naysayer you probably don’t understand the importance of testing and failures. You probably believe that being innovative can be planned, that if you just follow a recipe for inventing that you can go from point A to point B and poof, you will have something that “just works”.  You opine at the waste of resources when something fails a test. Let me educate you that failure is part of the process. If you aren’t failing you aren’t trying. And at least Ahmed is trying.

Actually, on second thought, the least we could do is act like adults. Shaming a child for anything, let alone for being curious and inventive, doesn’t really reflect well on your character.

Ahmed my friend, keep inventing, making, hacking, creating, mashing, coding, designing, and dreaming!  Ignore those who get off on nitpicking definitions of words and humiliating a nerdy kid. You are way further along to becoming an engineer than I was at 14, and I think I’ve turned out okay! 😉

Let me leave you with this quote from Teddy Roosevelt:

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”