School robotics team opportunity for self-taught coder

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For many, coding is a skill. For St. Maries student Jacob Spence, it was a fun challenge that may lead to a lucrative career.

Jacob is the lead coder for team Jack Bots, a FIRST robotics team for students at St. Maries High School. Along with a number of other students, he is tasked with making the robot perform tasks on command.

He explained his team will be coding using Python, a computer coding language that he said is versatile and easy to use. Jacob himself is fluent in many other computer languages, and has spent half his life learning the craft.

His work with the team, he said, is the first work he’s done outside of his own hobby.

Jacob Spence, the head programmer for the Jack Bots robotics team, taught himself computer coding through online programs. In addition to making robots, his skills will translate to a career later in life.

Jacob Spence, the head programmer for the Jack Bots robotics team, taught himself computer coding through online programs. In addition to making robots, his skills will translate to a career later in life.

“I was hoping this robotics project would be the first big thing I could point to and be proud of,” he said.

Jacob credits his uncle Micah Page with sparking his interest in coding. At age eight, he watched and learned as Mr. Page walked him through the steps of web design. Naturally curious, Jacob went on to research computer coding through the Internet, teaching himself a number of programming languages and techniques.

“I really love the puzzle aspect of it,” he explained. “Everything you have to tell a computer to do, it takes this thought process in breaking down this problem. It’s a really fun and interesting puzzle, and it’s something when you finally understand and find a solution, it feels really good.”

Beyond being a fun hobby, Jacob said his coding skills have proven useful in his schoolwork. Rather than use a calculator for his math homework, he said he often builds his own program to solve problems.

If he continues to pursue coding, Jacob said he will have many options available for a future career.  A growing number of professions use computer coding as part of their daily routine, ranging from cutting-edge computer developers to electricians using computers to manage a building’s systems.

“My dream job would probably be in programming artificial intelligence,” he said. “Any form of programming would be great fun, but AI is so cool because a computer can just learn by itself, and you can teach it. I’m not experienced enough to build my own AI, but I can dream about it at least.”

He is also considering cyber security, a field that itself is related to any number of modern jobs, from technical support to “white hat” hackers who find and fix security weaknesses in computer systems.

For those who want to learn coding, Jacob said that more than enough resources are available online to get started.

“There are a ton of sources online, I can’t stress that enough,” he said. “There are many online tutorials to get you started, and online somewhere every language has a database of every single command you can enter into that code. From there, you can experiment and see what works.”

As for the robotics team, Jacob said the team has progressed rapidly since they first received its challenge. With the help of volunteers, it is almost ready.

“We’re super far into construction,” he said. “We have some amazing volunteers who have been really helpful. Right now, we’re totally on track, and I think we’re going to get it powered up and wired soon.”

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