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Stephen Leonard on STEM and the Frustration Inherent to Engineering
16th April 2020 • Data Driven • Data Driven
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In this episode, Frank and Andy interview Stephen Leonard, Andy's son, about his upcoming first SQL Saturday Talk, digital natives, engineering and STEM, and old movies like "Aliens" and "the Matrix."

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Hello and welcome to data driven,

the podcast where we explore the emerging field of data


We bring the best minds in data,

software, engineering, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Now hear your hosts Frank Lavigna and Andy Leonard.

Hello and welcome back to data driven,

the podcast or we explore the emergent fields of data

science machine learning an artificial intelligence.

If you like to think of data as the new

oil then you can consider us.

Car Talk 'cause we focus on where the rubber meets

the virtual road and with me on this epic journey

road trip down information superhighway.

Although I think we have to be sequestered because of

the pandemic is Andy Leonard,

how's it going? Andy, hey it's going well Frank,

how are you doing, brother?

You know I'm doing OK,

I'm doing OK, we're in lockdown.

I'm in. My wife is actually on an important work

meeting and I have the kids.

In the room with me so you might hear in

a frequent interjection,

but I understand that Speaking of kids,

yeah, we have a very unique guest.

We do, we do have Steven Ray.

My older son is joining us for the first part

of this an we want to talk to him because

at least in this it is first part because he

is about to deliver his very first sequel Saturday presentation.

Yes Sir, very cool. So I know a little bit

about the back story to this so.

Steven, why don't you, uh,

kind of do an intro to yourself.

You're just. Quick bio I know and he probably knows

everything about you,

but most of the rest of his home.

Well, I'm for the uninitiated.

I'm Steven. I'm Andy's son and or as I normally

refer to him.

Dad, I do stuff with small AI and neural Nets.

I also work with Raspberry pis specifically.

Sorry iot devices, specifically Raspberry pie.

Zan, Jetson, Nanos working a little bit less with the


Recently I've been doing more work with the pies.

And, uh, pretty soon on the 25th I will be

presenting my first sequel Saturday class and I guess I

just got lucky enough to do it on the first

several virtual SQL Saturday. Call it whatever you want,

lock or unlucky based on the world events.

I'll be teaching class on how to install SQL Server

on a Raspberry Pi 3B and I'm working on a

solution for the four as well.

Very call and it's my understanding that you actually you're

actually studying.

Was it telerobotic? Not telerobotics but.

Was it? Does a really cold like $10 word for

it that Angie,

Oh, Mecatronics Mecatronics That's it?

Yes, Sir. Cartoon yes it does.

I'm uh, it's It's, uh,

it's really just all the I believe there are like

12 or 13 official realms of engineering,

or at least the ones that they teach in college.

And it's sort of all of those mixed into one

like hyper focused,

really hard class and I really just chose it because

when I walk into the when I walk into a


if someone has a question,

I just want to be able to answer it.

I want to be sort of the most helpful I

can be and I figure if I'm well enough versed


As much engineering as much as much of the realms

of engineering as I can be,

I figure I can be pretty helpful.

That's pretty, that's the plan.

A chip off the old block there Andy.

Well, he, uh, you know his.

I'll say Frank, he's probably better at it than me

because his mom has a lot of background training in

multitasking type tasks.

She was 911 dispatcher for awhile and to graduate from

that course.

They they literally play five or six conversations at the

same time.

And she had to write down and track all of

the conversations and respond accordingly.

So it makes for a good project manager,

which is awesome because I have exactly zero of those


so he has. He has more of that than I


but I think he definitely gets his ADHD for me,

which this is Frank. We've talked about this about weaponizing

things that maybe hindrances in some fields an you know

that I hear some of that in Stevie's plans here

because rather than just go after one discipline.

You know, just pick up a discipline of engineering,

mechanical or electronics. You know he likes the idea of

kind of popping between disciplines and.

You know, I, I think that so he's kind of

leveraging the ADHD there.

Yeah, I, I mean I.

I think that if you can,

it's one thing to kind of play to your strengths

and quote Unquote fix your flaws.

But I think there's a whole new level of self

improvement that I've kind of discovered over the last four

years or so.

Is weaponizing your flaws. Yeah,

you know what we talked about this with anti fragile


Antifragility and not seem to loves books on that.

you and I are both huge fans and I'm still

working on getting him to come on the show.

Frank I don't know. I don't know if we're going

to be able to pull that or not,

but I have two goals here.

Is you're well aware one is to make contact with

him and two is to not get blocked on Twitter?

Yes, so he's although if you're for the listener,

if you're not familiar with the lab he's been,

he's been on fire lately with Twitter,

as well as his one of his big sticks is

risk prediction and risk modeling and risk management.

Although he would call it something else,

and he would probably smack me across the face for

calling it risk management.

But honestly, it would be an honor.

Do snack Crossface by to lab in my agree.

Agree yeah, but he's on fire both on Twitter and.

He's making crazy money on this on the fund that

he manage is.

Oh wow, OK, I didn't realize he still managed to


I didn't know either, but somebody reported that he made

either 360%.

A three 3600% or 36 times I don't know whatever

it is,

but he's in March. He made a ridiculous amount of


partly because I think he predicted a lot of the

long tail effects of the Cove in pandemic.

Wow, yeah, if you look at him on Twitter lately,

don't get blocked for him though.

Please yeah, I'll try not true.

I can live without kind of that pseudoscience biohacker knowledge

from his Twitter feed,

but I don't think I could live without to labs


Yes, I'm here. Which again we will share that story

in full detail.

Later, you're laughing. I am laughing now.

We were going through that phase of.

A kind of anger denial and all that.

Now we're kind of laughing at it were accepting.

That's where we have accepted it.

An yeah, so we've gotten over it.

But yes, we need your child.

We have. We have ignored him and we want to

talk about his product now.

You gave him advice that he should Chinese.

He combines the more likely his proposal to speak would

be accepted.

Yeah, and you know this Frank from our relationship and

I've been doing this for.

Along time when I get,

you know, once I got to to be able to


I started reaching out trying to help others do it.

'cause it was such a rush and I had.

I had a couple of of men tease,

I guess actually present at the pass summit 2019 in

Seattle back in November and you know,

that's just a huge, huge,

great failing and you see the kind of picked up

on that as well.

You heard it when he was talking about his motivation,

part of it as he wants to be able to

help just as much as possible.

But yeah, it came to me.

I don't know ten months a year ago he said


I want to. I want to do a presentation.

He's been traveling with me to events over half his

life and.

He said, You know, the very first thing I told

him is,

I think that's awesome. You'll do a good job,

but here's what we're not going to do where we're

not going to get you picked because you're my son,

but I'll do the same thing for you.

I do for everyone else,

and I did. That was my next piece of advice.

Was my first real piece of advice.

Was picked something shiny, and by Shawnee I mean you

know something new.

A little edgy an he picked 2.

Uh, an when he first told me about it inside,

I was thinking that's a pretty big bite,

but I didn't share that until just now with him,

but he jumped right in on it.

Franken, I would estimate in the first couple weeks.

He probably put 100 hours on this.

After that. You know he's probably been averaging 50 or

so hours per month or so and I would say

he's got a good solid 400 hours into it before

he got it to work.

And that was a couple months ago.

He actually got it to where he got SQL Server

running on one of our π three is.

So yeah, that was that was a very,

very interesting way that happened to.

I solved it while hanging out I.

It honestly looked like I was building a weapon in

a college that was that was really where it happened

is I was setting in the lobby of the college.

My mother works at. And you know the HD MI

cable was too short sided hanging out of the port

and everything.

But you know I just kind of threw my hands

up and laid back and the desk lady kind of

looks over me like are you OK?

It was it was. It was a very interesting time,

but when I finally got it was just like everything

that I had been waiting for.

Just kind of crashed down on me.

All the money we'd spent on replacing the walls.

I was hitting my head into,

it was just it was.

It was worthwhile. We've been there,

Stevie. I mean, Frank and I both done that an

I've shared this story.

In fact, this is completely unrehearsed

I I've I've shared with people on a bunch of

different times.

When I talk in class is about this.

You know I will. Failure is normal and my demo

for that is I will walk down stairs on a

break and you and your siblings are homeschooled here and

I'll say guess what my code just did and what

is it that you reply in Unison user?

Exactly what you told it to exactly what I told

you right?

Not not what I wanted but exactly what I told

it to.

Yes. But you experienced that.

Go ahead, go ahead now.

You've experienced that, and what I shared with you as

we were going through,

and I do this with everybody that you know,

I have a opportunity and it's truly an opportunity.

It's an honor to mentor anyone when I have that

opportunity to share with them.

Listen failure. You gotta look at failure as the latest

step on the path to success.

And really, what you'll see is when you succeed,

the number of times that you failed will actually kind

of set the bar.

How good it's going to feel.

When you succeed. Was alright,

so yeah, no you were totally correct.

It was. It was the you kind of get to

a point where I explain this to it to my

best friend who was,

you know he works. He helps me work with this

as well.

And I explained it to him and the way I

kind of explained it was I reached a point where

jumping off a Cliff was preferable to continuing to work

on this. And, uh, you know,

I just kept pushing through it.

And finally, once you get to the end,

it's just everything sort of it.

Just kind of collapses on you,

really. It's like being in a building and it's just,

it just feels so good,

just all the all the weeks of hitting your head

against a wall and being angry and not figuring out

not being able to figure out why it's giving you

this error and that error.

And why is this breaking and why I can't get

Docker installed after I've installed it 3 times before on

the same kernel?

You know, it's just. It's all these things over and

over and over again.

Just finally hit you and you just go.

Yes, it's completely foreign to both Frankie.

Now we write code and it just works the first


every time, right? Frank, Oh yeah.

No, it's true. He's never come downstairs.

I've never heard dead come downstairs and go Dang my

code didn't work today.

It's always just man that was perfect.

There's actually a cartoon where it shows the same skeptical

look of a person in front of a computer.

And it says my code didn't work and I don't

know why that was the first captain.

The second one is my code worked the first time

and I don't know why.

It again, if your code works the first time,

then either you forgotten something it didn't work and it's

just not telling you,

or you need to stab yourself with a fork and

wake up,

right, right? Or you kind of like something is bad,

so going something even worse is going to happen.

And what I anticipated, right?

Which I think a lot of folks,

I think you know. I learned this when I was

doing a couple of years ago.

This is back in the Windows 8 days when I

was in evangelism.

Uh, I spoke to a bunch of high school kids

and I kind of did this summer course on writing

apps and stuff like that.

And like I thought, I bombed it the first day.

Like really bad, because it just kept compiler,

kept happening problems and there were some driver issues and

I worked through it an I talked to kind of

like the coordinator with the local high school and he

goes no. That was awesome because a lot of these


they see how programming is represented on TV and it's.

Everything works the first time and I'm like looked at

him like we both kind of set in Unison.

Nothing ever works the first time,

and if it does, I'm very,

very suspicious. Very sets to write a lot of folks.

They think that they get there,

they get their hands kind of dirty with code or

stem an the first time.

If it doesn't work, they think it's them.

But no. I mean that's frustration is on Fortunately or

unfortunately a large part of engineering.

Right, and that's that's the that's the issue I run

into when when I tell people that I run into

or people that I know that I work with computers

and you know, they tell me stuff like Oh well

that's I'm not smart enough to that.

Or that's too hard. I could never figure that out.

And then there's two kind of groups and that's the

first group is well,

you're so smart an my answer is no,

I just spent a lot of time in it and

the other the other group that I run into is

that like are the people who have seen.

What's the movie called? The oceans,

movies and there like in.

They asked me how nice you know how it feels

when you finally hack the mainframe and get through the


And it's really just like the reality that you run

into when you start getting into doing programming and engineering

of any sorts really,

is that? It's nothing like what it's portrayed in the


In the movies, in the general consensus of how it

works is nowhere near how it actually works.

Right, right? I mean it it to everybody,

it almost seems. It's almost it's almost synonymous to rocket


I've seen to the at least of the general public

that I've talked to is they think it's some sort

of thing that you have to go to college and

get a degree for, when in reality you can learn

it in your Mother's basement in six months.

Now that's true. Patience is under rated,

I think in our society and this and a lot

of the folks that what differentiates kind of someone who.

Is good at, this is just the patience.

The tenacity. I mean you've demonstrated this.

I think you've internalised it now,

right? But you know a lot of folks,

I think in result of this pandemic are going to

start pondering new careers as they should,

right? You know, just. It makes a lot of sense,

and I think a lot of folks have to realize


Programming is frustration.

Yeah, it's it's definitely. It's definitely not a career that.

4. Uh, what's the word I'm looking for?

Not short minded, but sort of short sighted people who

look for instant gratification,

right? Although I would say that.

As someone who, as someone who has been,

I've never been formally diagnosed with ADHD.

But you know, people close to me have said I'm

high functioning ADHD.

Uh, which is? You know I'm not going to argue

with that,

but there's a lot of folks who were quote a

quote on the spectrum or on a spectrum of some

sort who who do work in Tech.

Which is interesting because I think part of it is

part of ADHD is.

I'm not an expert on this,

but is the ability to focus on one task for

a very extended period of time,

yeah? Yeah, hyperfocus, yeah. So if you are listening to


go ahead. Oh, I was just going to say I

completely agree with you.

That's that's really how it is,

at least for me. I'm not sure how it is

for other people with ADHD.

I can't speak for everyone right,

but how it is for me is if there's a

task that I'm just set on completing.

I just do it. I mean,

it's it's hard to really explain.

I just have an idea and I want to do

it and I go and do it,

and I do it until it's done.

That's how it is. Yeah,

I think its tenacity is the real skill tenacity in


I like that and having an end in mind like

for me when I first learned programming,

this was. Steve, this is like probably Stone Age for


I mean there was no Internet.

I didn't even have a modem,

but she probably even know what a modem is.

Oh, so, So what did you name your Dinosaur?

The one that you wrote to school?

Obviously. I know you had some for cleaning the house

is right,

but what was the name of the one that you

wrote to school back on I we called him Rodney.

I don't know why. Oh OK,

cool because my dad was Rodney Dangerfield then.

Which is probably another name you don't know.

I was gonna say. Yeah,

hold on 1 second.

Look that up in the Wikipedia.

Yeah, it's like it's like the Spiderman movies again where

he's talking about.

There's really, really old movies like back to the future

and aliens,

right, right? Yeah, that was,

uh. Now give me...




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