“Every person who is studying computer science is now writing down your username for future reference” – Reddit user
Eighteen year-old UBC Okanagan campus student Eric Huang, known as Kristler on the social news site Reddit, made the homepage of the popular business and technology site Forbes.com last week. As he had many times before, Huang helped a high-school student with a computer programming question that the student had posted to Reddit. What was different this time was the over 100 responses Huang woke up to the next morning.
“I was still half asleep when I checked my phone notifications,” says Huang. “I scrolled down on my phone and I just kept scrolling and scrolling and it just didn’t end! I answer a lot of questions on Reddit, so this response was serendipitous.”
The comments were in response to how Huang had helped the student. Instead of just answering the question posed, Huang, as one reddit user observed, helped “a high school student to think like a programmer instead of doing his homework for him.”
In the Reddit thread entitled, Changing the color of a bug based on direction, a high-school student asked how to create a program for a particular programming problem. Huang responded with, “Since this is a class assignment, I’m not going to answer it for you, and neither should anyone else.” He then went on to ask the student probing questions that helped the student discover the answer for himself.
Praise from professional programmers, instructors and teachers for Huang’s clear, competent approach to teaching began filling up the Reddit thread. Many assumed Huang was a professional programmer or teacher and were shocked to learn he was an 18-year-old student. One commenter stated, “You did an excellent job of stepping back from the code and determining for each mistake the student was making, which specific programming concept was wrong or missing.”
Huang has some experience as a teacher. In 9th grade he organized and taught the First Aid class for his secondary school. In high-school he also took an elective in Peer Tutoring and worked in his school’s learning support centre helping kids with learning disabilities.
“I really enjoy answering questions for people,” says Huang. “I especially enjoy explaining concepts to people with little to no prior experience, because I feel like I can do a really good job coming up with examples and analogies that make sense. I find it really fun too!”
Huang was born in Taiwan, but has lived in Vancouver since age five. He began his studies in the Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences at UBC’s Okanagan campus this past September. Huang hasn’t settled on a major yet, but is interested in either computer science or mathematics. His professors are sure he will excel at whichever he chooses.
“Eric is an exceptional student,” says Associate Professor of Computer Science Ramon Lawrence. “He has demonstrated very strong problem solving abilities and participates enthusiastically in class. He has a bright future in computer science.”
Huang may be only 18, but he is already looking ahead. He would like to eventually obtain a PhD, and work in the field of mathematical cryptography.
“I’m fascinated by numbers that make bank accounts and passwords safe,” says Huang. “I like the blend of practical computer science, abstract algebra and higher level math. The application is useful, but I am more interested in the theoretical side. Instead of working on the implementation, I would like to focus on the research and figure out the next step in this field.”