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The Last Lecture

girls who code at laptop id tech camp

While on vacation in Argentina, I have taken the time to read many books, but the most profound to me has been The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.

If you’ve read it, it’s more than a book. It’s one of the greatest head fakes ever. And if you don’t know what I mean by head fakes…you’ll just have to read the book!

Mom gave me the book for Christmas. I opened it up, and never put it down. My wife and I headed to an Estancia in the mountains of Argentina (we left the kids at Grandma’s). All I wanted to do was read the book.

The author, Randy Pausch, lived in Pittsburgh and launched the Alice project. He was big on getting kids into learning programming and computer science–and that peaked my interest for obvious reasons. Also, my mom raised me to be a big Steelers fan too, so that really did it for me.

Randy was a Professor at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. He was a guru in Virtual Reality, and through his website and this book, he left a lasting, living legacy for me, for you, for his kids and family–and for millions around the world. I underscored a bunch of lessons I wanted to remember. If you don’t get around to reading the book, here are a few of my favorite lessons:

  • His dad taught him “just because you’re in the driver’s seat, doesn’t mean you have to run people over.”
  • “Anybody out there who is a parent, if their kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let them do it. It’ll be OK. Don’t worry about the resale value on the house.”
  • “It’s important to have specific dreams.” Starting from childhood. This might be the biggest lesson I learned. Take time to think of an write down your dreams. Then find a way to live them out. Why not?
  • “You’ve got to get the fundamentals down, because otherwise the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.”
  • “When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you, that means they’ve given up on you.” Your critics are the one’s that care about you.
  • Building Self Esteem: Give kids “something they can’t do, they work hard until they find they can do it, and you just keep repeating the process.” You can’t “give” self esteem. You have to build it.
  • Teach by using the head fake. You have to read the book to understand the context.
  • “Brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

OK, these lessons are just a few of my favorites from the first 100 pages of the book. These lessons seemed to be lived everyday by an awesome guy whose teaching and lessons live on. I hope to pass on some of these lessons to the thousands of kids that attend our summer technology camps at Carnegie Mellon, and the rest of our computer camps in the U.S. and Canada.

After I put the book down, I reflected a bit, while simultaneously overhearing a conversation from a couple who used to live in Pittsburgh, but had moved to Austin. The kind lady had taught at the University of Washington (where I went to school) and her husband was a cardiologist in Austin. We hit it off, although briefly. They had two awesome kids, and they were in Argentina to do some serious horse riding. We engaged in conversation–I told them about the book I just finished. I asked the son what his dreams were. One of them was to go and study in Spain. (I lived and worked in Spain previously). I gave the son my business card and told him to email me when he was ready to live out that dream–I’d put him in contact with some great people. The family thanked me. I probably wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t read the book.

Read it. It just might make you a better person. And maybe that is the real head fake.